The Washington Post, along with many other newspapers across the country, continues to use November as its annual opportunity to explore philanthropy and giving in the community. In today’s Business Section I read a great article that profiled 11 leaders from various fields here in the Greater Washington, DC region. (Yes, I actually read the paper; I still get the print edition!) It asked each of the leaders some frank questions about their giving, such as how much did they give, had the focus of their philanthropy changed recently, how they set their priorities and how they gauged impact. It was very enlightening, both in the thoughtfulness of their responses, but also in the general similarity of their responses.
Many of them either had kept or actually increased their giving during the economy. Most were focused on “safety net” issues, but not all. Some did remind readers that arts and culture organizations need funding as well. Many emphasized the importance of giving locally, of helping those in their own home communities or the communities in which their employees/customers worked. And the importance of demonstrated impact continued to crop up as an important factor in their decision to support various organizations. These are all themes we hear repeated again and again, but it was encouraging to see such a diverse range of community leaders reinforce them in such a way.
So what’s the lesson here?
Nonprofits – are you paying attention? You want to know what’s motivating donors to give? Here it is right here! Go read this article.
Get into the habit of being in regular conversation with your donors, especially your major donors. Fundraisers should be able to link their ask to a donor’s passion. And the only way we’re going to know that is by listening. “Why do you feel so strongly about helping others in need?” “Why is it so important to you to help our local community stay vibrant and strong?” If you look at the questions posed in The Post article, you should have a general answer for each of those questions for each of your top-level donors. Imagine the tailored impact you could have, the truly meaningful conversations that could take place if you understood what was driving your donors!
Have a look. What lessons do you take away from this piece? Let us know what you think.
The Washington Post – On Giving 2011
It’s November. That means it’s the season for holiday giving guides and spotlights on philanthropy.
This month, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, in partnership with the United Way of the National Capital region and Razoo , hosted the very first Give to the Max for the Washington Area. It was a tremendous success, with more than 17,000 people participating, resulting in more than $2 million in contributions to hundreds of organizations. The event energized many nonprofits to get creative, especially in areas of social media. Among those, For the Love of Children (FLOC) raised nearly $87,000 in that single day, and Little Lights Urban Ministries made their mark by bringing in 729 donors through the event.
Late in October, the 2011-2012 edition of the Catalogue for Philanthropy was released. This compendium of nonprofits from throughout the Washington, DC area serving a wide range of constituencies provides interested donors a highly targeted mechanism through which they can participate in thoughtful philanthropy. Other publications such as the Charity Choices DC-Area Guide, and the Post 200 spotlight on charities and associations on November 7th, all bring the needs and accomplishments of the nonprofit sector to the attention of the general public.
These are just a few of the many lists and publications that are out now to help donors make wise decisions. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has released its fall/holiday 2011 “Wise Giving” guide, which is focused on social media. Charity Navigator, which has come out with a revised system of rating nonprofits, has also released its annual Holiday Giving Guide.
Is your nonprofit using these portals and guides as ways to learn about donor behavior? Are you using these sites to promote your nonprofit’s work?
Take time to find out how your nonprofit can benefit from promoting thoughtful philanthropy.
The 2010-11 Catalogue for Philanthropy was released late last year. Published by the Harman Family Foundation in cooperation with a number of local partners and volunteers, it’s a specialized resource for nonprofits and donors here in the DC area. It highlights the work of more than 300 small community-based nonprofits AND provides donors an opportunity to undertake high-impact giving right in their own back yard. Since 2003, the Catalogue has helped to raise more than $12 million to featured nonprofits here in the area.
For more information, visit www.cfp-dc.org
The firm’s October 2010 News You Can Use e-newsletter focused on the advice being given to donors. Specifically it looked at two lists of probing questions that donors should be asking charities before they make a gift. The assertion is that if we take time to review these questions in advance, we can be better prepared when potential donors confront us with their issues or concerns. Donors are increasingly looking to be in an ongoing dialog with their charities, a dynamic that sets them up as active investment partners rather than passive contributors only. They feel they have a stake in your organization’s success, so they want to get some answers before they become part of your organization’s family.
A year ago on this blog I posted Charity Navigator’s “6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating” encouraging readers to be ready with answers. This is an important topic, which is why I’ve brought it up again.
So what do YOU say when donors confront you with challenging questions? What steps have you taken to prepare yourselves for the inevitable surprising requests? How have you worked with your colleagues to make sure you had the answers ready when those questions came?
Leave a comment below and let’s see what others are doing out there to really engage their donors.
I will leave you with some thoughts to get the ball rolling:
- For example, we know that donors are increasingly worried about the trustworthiness of organizations. What are you saying to potential donors who day, “Can we trust you? Are you an honorable nonprofit?”
- Donors want to see results; they simply don’t take our word for it anymore that we’re doing the good we promise out there in the community. They want to see tangible data that demonstrates those results. What does your organization do to communicate its results and impact in a way that engages donors while not overwhelming them with lengthy reports?
- Recently there has been a greater emphasis on methodology, forcing nonprofits to explain exactly how they plan on addressing their various issues, causes or programs. But balanced scorecards and logic models are still not the norm in nonprofit management circles. How does your nonprofit help its donors to understand the means by which you hope to accomplish your mission? How do you communicate that in a way that inspires understanding and confidence among your supporters?
- Donors are being encouraged to find charities with which they can establish long-term, committed relationships, not just one-time giving opportunities. What is your nonprofit doing to position itself as an organization worthy of long-term support? How are you set up to maintain and strengthen those important donor relationships over time?
Share your stories. Let us know what’s working in the field! Thanks.
The podcast from the June 9, 2010 Extra Credit session, “Just Tell Me What You Want – Answers to the Unexpected Things Prospects Say” is now available. This was the first in a series of free teleconference training sessions offered by the firm and presented by Marshall H. Ginn, CFRE.
Click on the link below for the handout that was used during the 30-minute presentation. For more information on the session and for additional resources, visit the Extra Credit page on the firm’s website.
PDF Handout – JuneExtraCreditHandout
MP3 Audio File – 060910ExtraCredit
One of our clients held a gala this fall. In response to an invitation, one individual sent them a reply saying, “I’m sorry I can’t make it, but here’s $5,000.”
“That’s a ‘come and see me’ gift,” I said to the executive director. I encouraged this staff leader to get on an airplane and go visit this person who had just made such a generous, spur-of-the-moment gift. From my perspective, if someone can simply write a check for $5,000 based on an invitation to a gala, they have the capacity to do a lot more. A visit with that person could yield another gift, perhaps right on the spot. The organization could secure a commitment from that donor to make a similar gift for a number of years in a row – a so-called “sustaining” annual gift. At a minimum, they will have begun the very valuable process of effectively stewarding this donor’s relationship their organization.
Are your donors asking you to come and see them? Do you take the time to look for those out-of-the-ordinary, unexpected gifts that come your way? Is your annual fund staff trained to notice these special gifts? Is there a system that flags extra large gifts from the direct mail program for special attention? What do you do when you find these donors? The answers to these questions can form base of a good, sustainable major gifts program.
Many donors want to be noticed. All donors want to be thanked. While it might seem extravagant to get on an airplane to go and visit that $5,000, think of the return on that investment. For the price of a $300 airplane ticket and a $25 cab ride, you can help secure that $5,000 for future years – not a bad payoff to be sure.
Watch out for those “come and see me” gifts. Your donors are calling…you better answer.
I know we are all very busy, but it’s important to take the time to read some of the really good research and commentary that’s out there. Organizations and individuals are putting out useful information and perspectives that can help us in our daily work, in our interactions with funders and donors, and in thinking strategically about our organizations.
Last week I read an amazing article in the Standford Social Innovation Review, “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” I cannot recommend this enough, and it goes right to the heart of a critical issue nonprofits are facing today. Written by Ann Gregory and Don Howard from Bridgespan, it lays out the details of the vicious cycle that’s leaving nonprofits of all sizes starved for critical operating funds. This ongoing cycle of deprivation erodes organizations’ ability to function as well as to accomplish their mission. To break it down, here are the three components of this cycle:
- Nonprofits neglect infrastructure and misrepresent data (about expenditures)
- Funders have unrealistic expectations (regarding what it costs to run a nonprofit)
- Nonprofits feel pressure to conform (to the funders’ paradigm)
It is a chronic problem, and it is resulting in poorly performing organizations, burnt out staff and frustrated donors. It is also resulting in beneficiaries’ not getting the services that they deserve and need.
The solution lies equally with both nonprofits as well as with the funders. Nonprofits need to be courageous and tell their donors and funders what it really takes to accomplish their mission effectively. Nonprofits also need to resist the urge to “hide” fundraising and other administrative expenses. Funders, for their part, need to increase their interaction with their grantees. They need to work more closely with these organizations and increase their understanding of the real-life challenges (and expenses) of running an effective nonprofit. Funders need to challenge their old assumptions. Both funders and organizations need to collaborate more closely if the cycle is ever to be broken.
Check this article out. Use it to start a lively discussion at your next board meeting or staff meeting. Ask your donors how they evaluate these issues. Learn from this conversation.
It’s time to stop starving.