Nonprofit Periscope

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Posts Tagged ‘philanthropy

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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One-off or a way of life?

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Small donors have a lot to feel good about right now.  During the 2008 election cycle, our current president benefited from a reinvigorated wave of small donations.  In the throes of a recession, small donors are hailed as the great untapped potential of American giving.  Donor literature swirls anew with phrases like “every little bit helps!” and “Your dollar makes a difference!”

And in the aftermath of disaster in Haiti, small donors attained new celebrity in the news for collectively contributing millions to relief efforts in $5 and $10 increments via text message.  There has never been a better time to be a small donor.

While this is remarkable, there’s a danger in over-celebrating gifts that are small, one-time, and reactive.  They’re vital but not enough.  People, animals, and the environment suffer even in the absence of earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and other disasters.

The blogosphere, including the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance, is doing an admirable job of a balancing act: on one hand, recognizing the need for and impact of small donations (and by small, I’m talking $5 and $10 a pop, which may be considered “ultra-small” by many fundraisers); on the other, reiterating the need for long-term assistance and for awareness of underlying aggravators such as racism.  The American Red Cross and other nonprofits are pushing the message as well, at least as far as I’ve seen in their acknowledgment emails for the small gifts I made in the past week.  (Online, not by text, and for general operating funds, since the Red Cross and other agencies do more than just disaster relief.)

As obvious as this message of sustained giving may seem, to stick in the minds of most (actual and would-be) donors, it must overcome a formidable foe: the news cycle.  In a matter of days or weeks, another story will take over the airwaves and column inches, and news consumers will begin to forget about Haiti again.  Many of us do what we can when reminded, but reminders can be scarce, easily ignored, or even unwelcome.  As a result, giving is often ad hoc, not institutionalized.  The holidays show us that much every year.

So on a day reserved for remembering a man who, among many things, said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”, use the momentum of mobilization around Haiti’s earthquake relief as an opportunity to assess and institutionalize your giving.

  • Do you only give after a disaster?
  • Do you only give when asked?
  • How could you set up monthly donations, weekly volunteering, regular clothing or food drives, etc. to help others year-round?

Texting $10 should be the beginning, not the end.

Written by eclawson

January 18, 2010 at 3:28 PM

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 Amazon.com 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