Nonprofit Periscope

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Posts Tagged ‘fundraising

Sometimes it does hurt to ask.

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As a development professional, I think of my home mailbox as my little fundraising lab. Every week I get a flurry of donation appeals from groups I’ve given to in the past, as well as some I haven’t, and on the elevator ride up I run a quick triage:

  • Maybe
  • No
  • Why did I even get this?

For months I’ve been getting appeals from a global nonprofit whose work I respect. They focus on a single condition, and their results are both visible and inspiring.  My little cousin was born with this condition, so I have a personal connection to the nonprofit. I’m an ideal annual-level donor for them. And they seem to know it, because they mail me an appeal EVERY MONTH.

As fundraisers like to say, the worst that can happen is that a prospect says no. But that’s not really the worst that can happen.

We’ve all gone through this: you get a donation appeal, you send back $25, you mentally check it off your to-do list…and then they ask you again. Often, you get the next appeal–from the same group, remember–before you get an acknowledgment for your first gift. And when that second one comes, you think, “Wait, didn’t I just give these guys money? What do they want now?”

Which is exactly what I thought every month as that aforementioned group’s logo peeked up at me from my stack of mail. Finally, my escape came: an appeal that said “Give now and we’ll never ask you for another dollar!” Yes sir, I thought. That’s exactly what I want. They got another $20 and I got a sigh of relief. Freedom! No more guilt at recycling the envelope, unopened, with the disfigured child on the front, a single tear sliding down his face.

Until the next month. You know what happened. Cue disfigured-weeping-child envelope with enclosed fundraising appeal. Cue disbelief, perhaps naive. This time, I didn’t just say no. I felt officially alienated.

There are many reasons this organization could have sent me an appeal immediately after I literally checked the box that said “Please remove me from mailing list.” Among them:

  • Their administrative staff hasn’t entered my mailing preference in the donor management database yet
  • I’m on more than one of their mailing lists
  • They always ask please-remove-me donors one more time
  • They figure it can’t hurt to ask again

Of those reasons, only the last two are reprehensible, even disrespectful. No, my hand didn’t skid across the please-remove-me box by accident. Yes, I thought you meant it when you said you’d never ask me again. I feel like whoever’s on the other end of that trifold two-color mailer is definitely not listening to me.

As a fundraiser, I understand the need to ask. But as a donor, I’m baffled by the lack of comprehension that I don’t want mail from this group anymore. My fellow fundraisers–and I ask this purely out of curiosity–what possible reasons do you have NOT to listen to your donors?

Whether you’re a donor, a fundraiser, or both, you probably have experience with this. Do you agree that sometimes it does hurt to ask?


Written by eclawson

November 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM

When philanthropy turns passive

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I’m doing a bang-up job on my New Year’s resolution so far.  Just like I resolved, I’m donating X amount of my income to charity each month.  I have a handful of my favorite nonprofits, from the local to the international, and they get money from me every month to employ homeless people in Seattle and woman survivors of war in Bosnia, and to protect civil liberties and abused animals and the environment.  My life is good.  I have more than I need.  So I can afford to give back and still pay my grad school loans.

And thanks to direct debit, I automated it all.  A certain day comes and poof! my money goes forth to do good.  That’s how I know I’m on target.  There’s no other option.  I have to do literally nothing each month (except not lose my job) and my favorite nonprofits get my donations.

It’s so easy. And it’s so passive.

Dan Pallotta has a new post on passive philanthropy, a must-read for fundraisers and philanthropists alike.  He bemoans the “least-you-can-do” attitude of many nonprofits, which divvy up donors into major gifts (often above the $50k level) and…everyone else.  Like me.  Guess which group gets most of the attention from the development staff.  And by attention, I mean cultivation and opportunity to make a difference for nonprofits and their missions.

Dan (who I realize I wrote about recently as well, but the man knows his stuff) points out that letting the “everyone else” group of donors get away with the least they can do not only lets down nonprofits, but also fails to tap into the potential of these donors.  His story about pushing young donors to give more than they (or I) would think themselves capable of struck a chord in me.  If someone asked me to give $5,000 to a group and cause I’m passionate about, would I whip out my checkbook?  Probably not.  But the thought of such an opportunity thrills me. Being able to give so much is a privilege.  Being asked is an honor.  And actually considering it is only a little crazy.

Which leaves me feeling even more bereft and restless about my automated monthly contributions.  I used to scoff at the idea of throwing money at a problem, and now I’m doing it. As a fundraiser myself, no less. For shame, I know.

So how do I break out of this quicksand of passivity? Give more? I can’t. At least, not if I want to pay my loans and feed the cat (and myself) and put gas in the car and maintain my addiction to Cheerios.  Do I stop giving and start volunteering? I don’t have enough hours in the week for all the groups I give to.

The closest I can come to a solution is that I should keep up on what’s happening with my chosen nonprofits–read their literature, attend their events, tell my friends and family why I give to them, maybe blog and tweet about them (for what it’s worth).  Maybe I’m less cut out to be a philanthropist than an evangelist.

If you’re a fundraiser, how do you connect with your non-major donors?  If you’re a non-major donor, how do you fight the seduction of passive philanthropy?

Written by eclawson

March 1, 2010 at 9:47 PM

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Three views of fundraising

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I love fundraising.  I’m borderline evangelical about it.  And I love my new job, too, even though it’s not really fundraising–same department, but just this side of, well, not interacting with donors at all.  And donors are the best part of fundraising. I miss them.

But the best part of blogging is getting to read other bloggers’ brilliant insights, and recently three posts have fueled my brain.  All three deal with perception of fundraising, and from different angles: what it is, what it’s not, and what it should be.

First, Dan Pallotta‘s post “Haiti Is a Marketing Lesson,” observing philanthropy through the lens of giving to Haiti, credits the media for spurring $560 million in Haiti relief.  The terms he uses are straight out of Economics 101: The media “are building demand for purchasing charity for Haiti on a massive scale. And, small wonder, massive purchasing is occurring. How much do we think would be given to Haiti if the story ended after one news broadcast on the day it happened?”

According to Dan’s observation, philanthropy is a mechanical response to marketing. Push the right buttons on donors and the money will flow.  And he goes on to posit the wider application of this money machine:

“Imagine if we gave humanitarian organizations the freedom to build this kind of demand for a cure for malaria or the end of breast cancer. Imagine if we relinquished our fixation on keeping short-term fundraising costs low and set our gaze on what it would take to ‘sell’ enough charity to solve long-term problems. I’m not talking about mimicking traditional corporate advertising, with dumbed-down jingles, adolescent humor, or inauthentic feel-goodism. I’m talking about investing massive resources in reimagined creative approaches — serious, photo-journalistic, perhaps documentary-style educational ad campaigns with all the gravitas and dignity these urgent causes deserve.”

What’s missing from this setup? Fundraisers.  The Haiti crisis was a shining example of charitable money without the charitable middlemen.  (The corporate middlemen of cell phone companies or Internet interfaces are another matter.) Even’s Dan’s marketing campaigns are just that–marketing.  No donor cultivation.  No relationship-building.  In short, no fundraisers.

On the other hand, I’m not knocking text-message giving, or Internet-giving, or any giving made with the friction-reduction of technology. I’m just asking: how does an organization build relationships with donors who interact only with a keypad or computer screen?

Then again, why even cultivate $10 donors?  Patrick Sallee’s post “Fundraising isn’t begging” examines the role of street canvassers, who act as (often annoying) middlemen between charities and donors. Canvassers, he says, reflect poorly on the organizations they work for. “Is this what you want to say about your brand?” he asks. As both a former canvasser and a former donor to canvassers, I agree. There’s a thin line between canvassing and begging, and I can’t even tell where it is. When I was canvassing, passersby avoided me as if I was covered in sewage.  When approached by canvassers, I give out of pity–because I’ve been there. (Dear ACLU and Greenpeace: I love you, but it’s true.) And yet as bad as canvassers are for a nonprofit’s brand, they at least go a step closer toward building a relationship with their donors than text-message giving does. They chat, they answer questions, and they otherwise put themselves on the line for their organizations or causes. Canvassing says, “I am willing to be rejected and exhausted for terrible pay just to help someone/something else.” And for that, I have mad respect. Way to walk your talk, canvassers.

But Patrick’s right–you’re begging with credentials.

So if fundraising is just marketing (per Dan), and is not canvassing (per Patrick), what should it be? Jessica Journey answers that in her post “Fundraiser, Are you a Living Donor Coordinator?” Jessica compares the ideal for nonprofit fundraisers to the role of the individual who guided her through donating a kidney recently, a gift considerably more ponderous than $10 via text or canvasser. And in that comparison, she offers a list of questions for fundraisers to ask themselves, including “Are you easy to get a hold of?” (as text-message giving is), “Are you helping donors make an informed decision?” (as canvassers are), and “Are you there for the whole process?” (as neither text-message giving nor canvassers are).

Jessica’s post picked up on something that both Dan’s and Patrick’s, though apt, missed: fundraising is about relationships. And while I may no longer technically be a fundraiser, I see this in the office every day: front-line fundraisers keeping in touch with our supporters, from the $10 givers (though not on a personal level) to the major givers, to make sure their needs and preferences are known and considered. As Jessica’s comparison suggests, giving is never just about the recipient.  A donor is not an ATM to be marketed to, or a passerby to ply. Nonprofits enable donors to help others in ways that are effective and accountable, and if a donor is serious about helping others, she will want to build a relationship with nonprofits that can help her do so.

This is what I miss about being a fundraiser: interacting with donors who want this relationship. Granted, not all do. Some will text $10 or humor a canvasser for $20 and never be heard from again. But building a relationship with those donors who want it is part of creating a culture of giving. And that’s something neither marketing nor canvassing can accomplish.

Written by eclawson

February 14, 2010 at 8:36 PM

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Double the impact, double the warm fuzzies

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Christmas aside, I made December a month of gifts for a different reason: every day I’ve been giving a gift, whether it be a gesture, a donation, or a pint of blood.  And in  the course of these gifts, I’ve found that I love being a donor almost as much as I love being a fundraiser.  And I’ve stumbled across several don’t-miss-it gems of the donation world: matching gifts.

For anyone not in the know yet, these fundraising campaigns involve a donor (often anonymous) who offers to match every dollar raised, sometimes even two-for-one, during a specific time period.  As a donor, especially a small one like me (true in both stature and bank account), matching gifts are a chance to give twice the capacity without twice the hole in our wallets.

With that in mind, check out three nonprofits currently running matching gift campaigns ending this week (links will open donation page in new window):

1. Muttville (San Francisco, CA) finds homes for elderly dogs that otherwise would meet bad ends in shelters.  In honor of their 500th adoption, an anonymous donor is matching all gifts through December 31.

2. CARE empowers the world’s poorest women to lift their families out of poverty.  A group of donors will match every contribution dollar for dollar until December 31.

3. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center received a pledge from the parents of founder Jeff Bezos to match, two for one, every donation made for immunotherapy research by December 31.  (Full disclosure: the Center is my employer but I am not involved in this campaign.)

Do you know of another matching gift campaign in the final countdown this week?  Post the link in a comment so others can start 2010 with some doubly-good karma.

Written by eclawson

December 27, 2009 at 7:02 PM

A Recession-Era Nonprofit Job Search Success Story

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The following is my final guest blog post for Idealist’s 2009 Nonprofit Career Month, wrapping up this week. For dozens of posts from a range of fabulous nonprofiteers, visit the Nonprofit Career Month Blog.

Once upon a time, there was a securely employed nonprofit staff member, drawing a good salary and benefits doing things she loved to do for an organization she adored with colleagues she would have given a kidney to, gladly, had any of them needed one. But something was missing: her family. She knew that she would never be truly happy as long as she was separated from them by thousands of miles. So she journeyed back to her homeland…unemployed.

It’s a true story—namely mine. And as Nonprofit Career Month wraps up, it occurred to me that my job search might serve as an encouraging fable—or a cautionary tale—to other nonprofit job seekers, whether first-timers, sector-switchers, or just hardy fools like me who say “recession be damned, I quit.”

I can’t promise that my experience is at all typical or replicable. But caveats aside, here’s the advice that worked for me…and what didn’t.

Some background: During college and grad school, I completed 5 internships in various nonprofits, worked abroad full-time for a few months, put in a few summers at a candy shop, and had logged only 15 months of continuous, full-time employment before beginning my job search. That put me solidly in the “entry-level” category. My experience: communications and fundraising. My passions: animal welfare and fundraising. My timeline: it’s been two months since I landed in Seattle. My goal: to get a job that I could live on, without backsliding too much in terms of salary or title.

What didn’t work

1. Long-distance job searching.
I started applying for jobs in Seattle before I got here. I submitted at least 10 applications…and got zero interviews. There are some tricks to it, but ultimately I decided I was better off relocating first and then looking.

2. “It’s a numbers game.”
We’ve all heard stories of job-seekers who applied for hundreds of jobs without scoring a single interview. And we’ve all heard that “it doesn’t matter how many other people apply if you’re the one who gets hired.” I confess: once in Seattle, I applied for 8 jobs. Of those 8, I landed interviews with 4. That’s a 50% interview rate. Yet if I had applied to 100 jobs, I would not have gotten 50 interviews. In the nonprofit sector, jobs are wildly diverse, and passion matters. So if you find 100 jobs you’re passionate about, either you don’t understand the job…or you’re starting to confuse passion with desperation.

3. “If you build up your personal brand right, employers will be calling you.”
Applications themselves took up only a few hours of my job search each week. I spent easily twice as much time on Twitter, my new blog, Brazen Careerist, LinkedIn, and other sites, building up my “personal brand” and trying to become a recognizable face in the sea of job candidates. One prospective employer said in an interview that he’d found my Twitter feed…and liked it. But no one fanned a contract in my face just because I tweeted something witty. (In fact, I believed before this, and still do, that personal branding is a lie.)

What worked

1. “If you find the perfect job, make yourself the perfect candidate.”
I found a new résumé format that made my application more readable and attractive. I was selective about the jobs I applied to, even if it meant going a week with no new applications. And even if I didn’t prepare every application as meticulously as I should have, I carefully customized the cover letter and résumé for each. And once I began doing all that, I actually started landing interviews. If I had to bet on anything that made the difference in my job search, it was that trifecta of readability, selectivity, and customization.

2. Dumb luck.
My first interview came about because I stayed up all night to finish and submit the application. There wasn’t even a deadline mentioned in the Craigslist ad. I was just crazy about the job. But it turned out that the organization had a 24-hour-on-call mentality, and the hiring manager was impressed with the 6 AM time stamp on my email. I would say this is another score for passion, which I mentioned above. But had the hiring manager not cared about my all-nighter, I would have been passed over for someone with more experience. I was told as much in the interview.

Another interview came about because I included a cover letter with my web form application, which apparently no one else did. I did this because I was taught always to include a cover letter. Again, I would say this means “always go above and beyond what’s asked for,” or even “always include a cover letter,” but if the hiring manager had been the type to be annoyed by extra materials in the application, mine would probably have been tossed. Instead, my surprise cover letter conveyed passion, which led to an interview…and a second…and a third.

The wild card

1. “It’s all about who you know.”
I’m not a networking fan. I passed up networking events when I arrived in Seattle; I neglected to set up informational interviews; I forgot to call my aunt’s friend who used to work at Microsoft. But after my third interview mentioned above, my dad suggested I send him my résumé to email to his colleague’s wife, who used to work at the organization.

I balked. “Dad,” I said, “this isn’t the era of patronage anymore. I got the interviews because of my own merit. I don’t want it to look like I need insider help to be a strong candidate. Plus, she doesn’t even know me! What would she possibly say that could help?”

My dad shrugged. “Well, think about it,” he said.”

So I gnashed my teeth over it a little more and finally sent him my (customized) résumé. I figured that was it.

But when I got the call a few days later with the job offer, one of the first things the HR person said to me was, “We received a very impressive letter from [Dad’s colleague’s wife] about you.” I can’t say for sure whether it made a difference in my being hired. But if I had to do it again, I’d use that connection in a heartbeat.

My story has an idyllic ending (or is it a beginning?). I’m back with my family in the region I love. And after seven weeks of job-hunting, I was offered a position that draws on my fundraising experience, with a more-than-livable salary and impressive title, for a compelling cause, in a highly-regarded organization whose employees sing the praises of their workplace.

In the recession-era job search, I know I’m luckier than most. But since two friends have both landed their dream jobs in the past two months, I also know I’m not alone in my luck. So if I can share it with you in the form of advice, thoughts, or a glance at your résumé (I’ll even send you the format I scored with), please let me know: Elizabeth dot clawson at gmail dot com. After all, a cautionary tale does no good if it goes unheeded, and a success story isn’t really one until it creates success for someone else.

Written by eclawson

October 26, 2009 at 12:11 PM

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Gettin’ around

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It’s no secret–I’m a fundraiser at heart, and I’m not shy about insisting that it’s the best nonprofit career out there. Read more about it in my guest post for Idealist’s Nonprofit Career Month blog.

Written by eclawson

September 30, 2009 at 4:07 PM

Is the road to good paved with cash?

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One of the most fascinating love-hate relationships in the nonprofit sector involves the taboo subject of money—or whatever euphemism you want to use. As a nonprofit fundraiser I did the dance myself. Nonprofits don’t need big checks in the bank; they need “funding.” They don’t need overhead funding; they need “mission support.” They don’t even need fundraisers anymore; they need “supporter developers.” Money is the longest four-letter word in the nonprofit vocabulary.

Let’s call a spade a spade here. Nonprofits need money. They may not distribute profits to shareholders á la private sector, but in a way, they distribute the benefits of their social investment to those who may not own shares, but still have a stake in the nonprofit’s work. So nonprofits don’t need money just qua money. They need it to help others. And that’s a staggering responsibility they willingly accept. The struggle is constant, the learning curve is steep, and the stakes are high. This is clear.

Enter the private sector. For-profit businesses have money, and many lack a philanthropic outlet, so there’s a promising fit between the two sectors when one is willing to fund the other for the greater good.

It’s a haughty courtship when businesses intervene and insist nonprofits are financially naïve and should be less “soft.” But is this warranted? Do nonprofits have an obligation to be more like businesses to ensure their work continues?

An article from Monday’s Telegraph (UK) puts this tension in a specific context: venture philanthropy. The featured executive describes how Impetus puts nonprofits through a rigorous assessment and planning process before funding them. The results so far are impressive: the income of the nonprofits Impetus works with has increased by 29 percent a year, and the number of people they help has increased by an average of 53 percent “every year over a five-year period.”

An undercurrent of condescension belies the tension here. The sub-headline for the article reads: “The slash and burn culture of private equity seems ill-suited to the warm and well-meaning charity sector. But perhaps that is just what the latter needs.” That is, nonprofits—soft, gentle, and brimming with good intentions—need a firm hand to steer them toward the best results. With Impetus’ steering, nonprofits have helped more people. At least in this case, the private-sector model improved upon the nonprofit-sector purpose. Maybe money is the answer.

An older article from Third Sector (again, UK) goes even further. The headline pulls no punches: “You have a duty to make money.” This time the featured executive is the winner of the BBC’s version of The Apprentice. And he isn’t shy about telling nonprofits what to do: according to the interview, nonprofits “that fail to maximize their money-making potential are failing in their duty to their beneficiaries.”

So not only do nonprofits need money (as long as we’re going to talk dirty here), they have a responsibility to their clients and communities to aggressively seek money. And both interviews depict the most accountable, efficient, effective model for money-seeking as found in private enterprise.

1) Both featured executives come from the private sector and stake their careers on venture philanthropy.
2) Money doesn’t solve everything (see: crippling nonprofit regulations, bad PR, etc.).
3) The executives work in Britain, which regulates its nonprofit sector far more than the US government does, making the operation of nonprofits a more public affair.

But that said, is it going too far to drive nonprofits to make more money? Is it underhanded to hold up needy clients as justification? And does the private-sector model overlook the creativity and resourcefulness that nonprofits have used for centuries to do their work with less money?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section. Don’t worry, it’s free.

Written by eclawson

September 1, 2009 at 6:24 PM