Fundraising Lessons from Philanthropy Lessons

I’ve always said that nonprofits could learn a lot about good fundraising just by reading some of the advice and guidance that’s being given to funders.  Whether it’s Charity Navigator’s “Tips for Donors” or “Giving Guidance and Tips” from the Wise Giving Alliance, there are plenty of excellent roadmaps showing donors how to give, how to choose a nonprofit partner, and how to spot organizations that are doing well, as well as those who are not making much of an impact.

Each of these tips and guiding principles can be easily turned around and shaped into sound advice for nonprofit leaders.  For example, when the Wise Giving Alliance tells donors to “resist being pressured,” nonprofits should take note of this advice and make sure that appeals – whether by phone or in person – respect the prospect’s right (and need) to make a thoughtful decision.  Or when Charity Navigator advises donors to “start a dialogue” regarding programmatic results, nonprofits should be prepared, and have on hand compelling (and understandable) information describing the impact their initiatives are having on the issue or cause they address.

I mentioned Exponent Philanthropy in my previous post.  They are currently in the midst of their annual conference in Chicago, and I’ve been getting daily highlights of the conference’s proceedings.  In today’s email, I was pointed toward their Philanthropy Lessons website.  Supported by the Fund for Shared Insight and released in partnership with The Chronicle, Philanthropy Lessons features real stories of giving in action from funders and grantees from all across the country.  The lessons are shared both as short videos as well as blog posts.

The videos contain fantastic advice that, while intended for donors and funders, provide extremely useful insight for nonprofit leaders.  A few things stood out as I listened:

  • Funders are being told to “get out of the office” and see their grantees in person. (Fundraisers are being told the same thing all the time!)  Reach out to your donors and invite them over to come and see you!
  • Many donors interviewed in the video spoke passionately about the “experiential” nature of interactions they have with nonprofits and the community being served.  Funders are looking for that authentic experience, not the perfect performance.  (So it’s alright if the kids are making lots of noise or the clinic is bit chaotic.  That’s your reality.)
  • While funders might enjoy site visits, some were clear that overly structured site visits, where the executive director pulls out a very formal agenda, are a bit of a turn-off.  So that well-rehearsed “dog and pony show” might not be the best approach.
  • Empathy goes a long way in any relationship, and relationship building is a critical component of both sides of the philanthropic equation.  Funders need to remind themselves that it’s hard for a nonprofit when funding has to be scaled back or eliminated for various reasons.  But nonprofits must realize that these are hard decisions for the funders too.  They don’t want turn away from a favorite nonprofit partner, but sometimes they have to make tough decisions, just like nonprofits do.

These are just a few of the insights I gained in reading through the posts and watching the videos.   I am sure more will come as I check out the remaining videos. 

Take a look at these and other advice being given to donors.  Think about how your nonprofit can help its current and potential donors to have the best possible experience.  Talk openly about the type of relationship you want to build with each other. Demonstrate that you are ready to (and are eager to) engage with them as an active partner.   As one of the funders said, “When they let us in, then the work begins.”  Share your visions for how each of you can have an impact on your community, issue or cause.   



The Board "Get" - Is it really working for you?

I have a potentially challenging idea for you to consider!  And believe it or not, it was something I hadn’t thought of before!   It’s yet another complicating factor that affects board-secured giving.

The whole topic of board "give/get" policies is complex to be sure.  But chance conversation recently gave me a some insight that I think is useful.

I was having drinks with an executive director here in the Washington area earlier this week and the topic came up of board member giving and board member “gets.”  He raised a great question:  After how many years does a board member-secured gift stop being a “get?”  He cited an example from his own organization where a board member broad a donor in, which was great, but from that point on the relationship really evolved into one between that donor and the organization - not the board member.  Left up to the board member, this donor would have likely been asked to simply renew their $1,000 gift annually.  Instead, the ED was able to engage that donor, with significant 5-figure contributions being the result.

If board members do nothing but simply make their own gift and then secure the same group of donors each year (and thereby consider their work done) an organization’s ability to build its donor base is significantly limited.

I know some boards for whom the “get” requirement specifies that each board member must secure $xx of NEW money each year.  Their previously secured donors, while critically important to the overall bottom line AND with whom they should play an ongoing stewardship role, do NOT count toward their annual “get” total.

Think about that.  How would your organization’s donor base expand if board members were required each year to achieve a percentage of their board-secured gifts with new donors?

Food for thought. (Actually I think it was a beer!)