On this day of giving thanks, I’m resharing this post from 2018 about true donor gratitude, from a heart filled with love.
All my best to all of you and your loved ones for this Thanksgiving.
You might want to read about the history and myth of Thanksgiving while you are waiting for the turkey to roast.
We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.
But then organizations revert to form by tiering their gratitude to the size of the gift. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report. Big givers get their names at the top of the donor wall. They are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.
The little gift donor barely registers.
Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think what kind of sacrifice might come with that gift? Someone of limited means or on a fixed income may have reached deep to send their donation.
So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.
With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:
“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.
“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).
“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.
“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!
“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”
Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.
More on donor gratitude
You may not be surprised to hear that COVID has caused a major drop in volunteer participation, according to a report from Fidelity Charitable – but fundraisers should take notice. Volunteer experiences can be an important point of entry for many donors, particularly Millenials. The study is summarized in today’s Mass Nonprofit News.
Sixty-six percent of volunteers report ending or decreasing their volunteer commitments since the crisis began. Only 11 percent have increased their volunteer hours. Of those who maintained or increased their commitments, about 80 percent participate online, compared to just 11 percent before COVID.
As with other COVID impacts, we can only speculate whether these changes in behavior will stick when we arrive at our future “normal.” In the meantime, it’s a good idea to engage with idled volunteers now to sustain these valuable relationships.
While looking at all those exciting resumes, it’s easy to forget to bring the necessary rigor to your interview. Don’t get swayed by all those gobs of money allegedly raised!
As we learned from the ground breaking study UnderDeveloped, it’s really hard finding a fundraiser you can afford with the experience you need. Don’t be charmed by the individual and hire for all the wrong reasons. We share our cautions in our article: The Ten Worst Reasons For Hiring Your Development Director
To be more confident about who you hire, be meticulous about reference checking.
Another screen is to be very thoughtful about the types of questions you ask in your interviews. Here are some tips:
What kinds of questions do you want to ask in your interview?
- Because you need someone with both fundraising knowledge and the ability to execute, ask questions that probe for technical skills in action.
- Consider questions that uncover the candidate’s personal attributes, like creativity, passion for achievement or people skills.
- Be sure to ask about your candidate’s approach to work to help you understand how they might fit in your workplace.
- Because you wanted dedicated professionals, ask about professional membership, professional development and service to the profession or philanthropy.
- And of course, it’s important to know where they are heading, so ask about their future ambitions and goals.
Guess what development director. Board member fundraising is hard work.
Your board members aren’t going to start fundraising just because they are now on the board. And you can’t scold them into participating.
You’ve got to treat them as the individuals they are. If you invest time in these directors, some will become strong partners with you. Others may participate around the edges. With the proper attention, all will give.
Change happens in stages
Most of us don’t leap from never doing something to suddenly being good at it. We usually need to contemplate our new role, convincing ourselves that the benefits of doing the new thing are greater than the cons of doing it. Then we need to prepare, to develop the skills we need. With those skills, then we are ready to act, taking a small step forward into doing. After that it’s practice, practice, practice. And with the right supports to enable the new thing to eventually become second nature. .
What do board members need from you?
Above all, they need to really get the need for raising money. No, not the financial statement line item. The compelling case for support they can understand in their hearts, as well as their head. How the money links to the outcomes. You can never explain this enough.
So show them. Create the transformative experience that knocks their socks off. A day volunteering in your food pantry? That bird banding session with your super caring staff? A special trip to capitol hill?
Help them find the large donor in themselves. Have a relationship building strategy for each board member, just like you would have a strategy for any of your prospects.
What else do they need?
On the practical side:
- The right assignment that corresponds to their planned movement up the change ladder
- Leadership from you, the professional
- A menu of options from a well-developed plan
- Personal training, coaching, encouragement
- Logistical support
- Your gratitude for their work
- Celebrating their baby steps and the big ones
And for yourself… when thinking about board member fundraising, start with the willing few. Then work your way deeper into the pack.
I was cleaning my workshop files and found this compact, or volunteer fundraiser commitment, I created a few years ago. Feel free to share.
Here’s my volunteer fundraiser commitment.
- discover joy in raising money for my favorite cause
- ask, otherwise I’ll never know
- rely on my team for advice and support
- only volunteer for assignments I know I can complete
- ask for help when I need it, as soon as I need it.
- take risks and not fear failing
- remember the words of hockey star Wayne Gretzky: You miss 100% of the shots you never take
- send in my notes from all of my meetings and contacts.
- I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to start!
More reading for you
I was asked today by a client: Can we run fundraising for investments like staff that were identified in our strategic plan? Say a “non-capital campaign?”
Yes you can. Universities and hospitals do it all the time. Their big comprehensive campaigns usually include lots of stuff like buildings and equipment. But they also don’t overlook other capacity and operating needs, like new staff or programs.
To maximize success for a campaign like this, reframe the way you talk or think about donor motivation.
To get some help here, we’ve turned to the really smart folks at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. They frame the difference in terms that create a shared vocabulary for speakers of For-profit and Nonprofit English.
For the Nonprofit Finance Fund, build money (for “philanthropic equity”) is qualitatively different from buy money (for program execution). Builders invest in your enterprise capacity, not your services.They are more likely to be interested in enabling your growth with large gifts. They may only be providing you smaller annual donations because you haven’t piqued their true interests.
Buyers pay you to provide services to others. Buyers may be willing to contribute enough, if communicated well, to cover your other operating costs (too often considered “overhead” But that’s another article). But buyers don’t provide sufficient income above current costs to finance major new initiatives.
The takeaway: recognize, as the biggest nonprofits do, that you need institution-builders as well as buyers for your services and products. Read more
I am ever so thankful for a donor moment of insight.
When I’m working with a client on a strategic planning project, with their board and staff we routinely interview a selected group of stakeholders. They might be colleagues, political or government leaders, relevant businesses, funders, donors, volunteers … anyone with special insight. And it’s super great when two or more of those categories overlap.
A few days after a recent interview, I received a follow up email from a community leader-donor. They remembered something else they wanted me to share.
The donor had received the latest annual report. Like most of these reports, it included a list of donors. In this list, the organization had made a special effort to note donors who had given continuously.
Unfortunately, what was recognition for some was a rebuke for another. My donor felt hurt by not being included in this list. You see, this donor had been a donor for many long years. But, due to a few years of tight finances, there was a gap in their giving.
They were no less loyal. They started giving again when their finances improved. But that didn’t seem to matter. And now they were reconsidering future giving.
I completely sympathized. I feel this way whenever my college sends out its annual report with the same listing. Though I’ve been giving for many many years, I’ve missed a few now and then. Once I gave two gifts in the same fiscal year which knocked me out of the continuous recognition.
Think! What are you trying to accomplish with that public list of donors?
In this case, the intent was to reward some donors and inspire others to similar continuity. But it unexpectedly caused hurt feelings on the part of another long time donor.
Penelope Burk documents a number of concerns learned from donor research in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising. One that stands out are listings by gift range. A small donor might be making a huge stretch to give what they do. Yet they will never seem as valuable as those big donors for whom the gift that got them top recognition might be a drop in the bucket.
As the folks who care most about our donors, we’ll do better if we set aside convention and think of more creative ways to recognize and acknowledge our donors. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s complimentary membership is a good illustration of the return when you put donor needs first.
So, using that donor moment of insight shared above, here’s a simple solution:
Fundraising fundamentals were the topics of the talk by Robert Beagle, the now retired VP for Advancement at the University of Rhode Island at our AFP chapter’s 2018 annual meeting. The chapter members appreciated hearing from a seasoned professional.
Here are Bob’s tips from many years of successful fundraising:
- Above all, relationships are at the core of fundraising. Develop trust with your donors. They want to hear from you when you aren’t asking for money. Stay in touch, stay connected.
- Find common ground with your donors. Get to know your donors so you understand what is important to them. Be curious about their lives and what they value.
- Be an effective listener. You get to know your donors by listening to them. Donors want to talk about themselves.
- People don’t give to your organization because you need money. Donors want to know how you are making a difference, how the community is benefiting. Donors don’t give to “losers.” Why give to the cancer center? Donors want to give to helping people live, to curing the disease.
- Never assume you know what a donor wants to give to. The number one mistake for many fundraisers is making decisions for their donors before you even have a conversation. Find out what your donors care about and want to give to.
- People don’t give to meet your goal. Why should anyone care about your goal? Bob hates appeals that are all about how much funding you need to reach the end of your fiscal year. Translate your needs into benefits and outcomes – what are you going to do with their gifts?
- Always remember that giving is an investment. Just like investing in stock, donors want meaningful returns. They can give for the short term and for the long term. And if their investment in you produces those returns, they’ll invest again.
- Be prepared to explain how your organization makes a difference. Why are you relevant? What are you doing that others aren’t? What would happen if your organization went away? These are the fundamental components of your case for support.
Bob also shared that he felt that marketing studies can be very, very helpful to fundraising as a way to understand your community and donors. And that a good donor management database is an essential part of every successful fundraising program.
I’d agree. Fundraising fundamentals. And the key to success.
Did the ACLU take your donors after the election?
One question asked of me more and more in the recent months is how the election is shaping charity. How can we, the local nonprofit doing what might be considered “non-essential” work—arts organizations, independent schools, small service organizations—compete with established national organizations that have a renewed relevance? How do we go toe to toe with the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee?
The 2016 US President Election changed the landscape for charitable contributions. That’s an undeniable fact. It overturned established order in the United States across the board. In particular, it mobilized a groundswell of grassroots efforts. More than ever, people are putting their money into third sector solutions, looking for help in applying pressure to the public and private sectors.
So, yes, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee and others saw an uptick in donations in the last quarter. Often a huge increase as many donors went into emergency spending. I would not expect that to persist at quite this level for the next four years. I do think they’ll continue to have a prominent place in many donors’ minds (and their checkbooks) for that time.
You, the smaller nonprofit with a local or regional focus, may well have seen a decrease in donations at the same time those national organizations were seeing record contributions.
But did the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the International Rescue Committee take your donors away from you? The answer to that is, unless you provide the same services as those organizations, probably not.
Because they weren’t your donors.
A donor who, when faced with an emergency, chose to redirect their charity from a local organization they have a giving history with to a national organization they had no history with was not that local organization’s donor. Not in real, practical, terms. They were not a partner in the work. They were unconvinced by the case for support that the organization’s mission was worth funding.
It’s a mistake to view that as the success of the ACLU, or Planned Parenthood, or the International Rescue Committee in attracting those donors away.
That’s a failure in not convincing those donors to stay.
This election, and many of the donors who have been most called to action by it, put a high premium on grassroots efforts. If that’s the narrative takeaway, then how can it be that large national and international nonprofits hoovered up those donor dollars from grassroots nonprofits? If you’re a nonprofit, your job is to effect change. Your job is to overthrow the established order, to take people’s complacency with the way things are and blow it up.
The question you should ask yourself is not, “how do we compete with huge nonprofits?” The question should be, “Why is it that our donors didn’t perceive our work as vital, even in an emergency?”
Then go and tell them that you’re vital.
Because you are.
Direct mail, smiling kids photos, Arab-American founders – the fascinating fundraising of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
You’ve heard the advice. No happy kid photos, they raise less money than sad faces. Focus on larger gifts. Millennials don’t do mail. I heard a counter, fascinating fundraising story Friday.
It was shared by the closing keynote speaker at the 2017 Yale Philanthropy Conference .Richard Shadyac, Jr., President and CEO Of ALSAC. ALSAC is the fundraising and awareness building organization whose sole mission is to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. ALSAC provides three-quarters of the funds that support St. Jude.
With a theme of Transformation, Mr. Shadyac generously shared his story and a lot of ALSAC fundraising data that might challenge some of your assumptions.
First, a little background on ALSAC and St. Jude:
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was founded by Danny Thomas, an actor, comedian and star of the The Danny Thomas Show. Danny Thomas was the stage name of Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz, an American citizen of Lebanese heritage. You can read the story of St. Jude’s founding here.
When Danny Thomas founded the hospital, he didn’t want the doctors and researches to worry about raising money, which he took on as his commitment. As part of his fundraising, he approached other Arab-Americans to give back to their adopted country. Folks came together to found ALSAC, American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, a 501c3 with the sole purpose of raising funds for St. Jude.
Today, the donors to ALSAC represent folks from all backgrounds. But this remarkable founding story by Arab-Americans other than Danny Thomas was unknown to me.
Mr. Shadyac,whose father was the first CEO of ALSAC, said that when he took over in the 2009 as the third CEO, the recession was taking its toll on giving.
So he made some gutsy decisions.One in particular was to invest heavily in direct mail, as everyone else was pulling out due to declining returns and rising costs. But that decision was the right one for ALSAC. Direct mail works for them, he said, including mail to millennials!
He described a data-driven department, investing in technology, donor service and research that drives their fundraising. He and his staff are driven by a passion for the mission, taking seriously the commitment they make to the children and families they serve, who pay nothing for their treatment, travel, food or housing during the 3 year average stay.
Here are the remarkable fundraising statistics:
- ALSAC is on track to raise $1 billion (with a B) from 10 million donors this year.
- 68% of their giving comes from households making $75,000 a year or less. If you’ve read the Gilded Giving report on the drop in giving by middle and lower income households, this statistic bucks that trend.
- The average donation… hold on to your hat… is just $34.
- Their biggest solicitation source is direct response, with 45% of their donations coming this way. Second biggest at 20%, is planned and major giving.
No pathetic children
Mr. Shadyac started his talk with a video and photos slides throughout his talk. I noticed immediately that these were upbeat images, images of hope, caring, and even happy, smiling faces. The types of images we are cautioned not to use in acquisition mailings.
So I asked the question about the images being shared with us. Mr. Shadyac said that if you had a spectrum, with harsh images of children sick with cancer on the left, and those smiling, joyous faces on the right, their philosophy starts in the middle and runs to the right. “We are selling hope.” Not false hope, as children are still dying from cancer. But when St. Jude started most childhood cancers were death sentences. Today, that’s an 80% survival rate for cancer. St. Jude’s shares all of its research and treatment protocols for free.
Yes, the children are bald, signaling immediately that they have cancer. But at the same time, those faces beam hope.
And one more, Mr. Shadyac wanted us to know, you’ll never see St.Jude use a child to ask for money. Never.
One more opportunity from Mr. Shadyac for you: PSAs, Public Service Announcements, are highly under-leveraged for communicating your cause.