Why engage philanthropically with causes that hold their programming hostage and offer small trinkets as rewards for making a gift?  The premise of the disruption fundraising technique is to annoy people enough that they take action.  It is akin to the child pulling at their parents pant leg and chanting, ‘mom, mom, mom…’  The conclusion available to the audience is that the cause can think of no more inspirational way to connect with its followers than to aggressively panhandel.

Is the disruption model reflective of a relationship built on trust and loyalty or manipulation and transactional interest?

Secure Funding

The topic of fundraising receives proportionally less time than is actually committed by organizations on the typical nonprofit board meeting agenda.  Most causes certainly report on their development/fundraising efforts but what does not get discussed is the amount of time the enterprise attributes to the effort of securing funding on a daily basis.  What if our enterprises ran like a Kickstart campaigns?  You complete a form, uploaded an introductory video, outlined your purpose and business plan and let the market place determine your viability?  If you campaign reaches its goal, you are funded and proceed; if not you work on obtaining other sources of financial backing.  The freedom that the Kickstarter model offers is tantalizing.  You make a heavy investment in fundraising upfront but then have the financial security to move forward with your project, instead of making little steps in-between runs to solicit contributions.  Nonprofits, politicians, artists, researchers, educators, and doctors should all be able to focus the majority of their time on their craft.  Of course connecting with those who invested in your dream (and their dream) is vital but it should not keep one from practicing your talent.  

How would your cause operate if you knew your revenue stream was secure for a year?  What would it bring into focus that is currently blurry?

Taking A Clue From Fundraising

Fundraising is a bit like playing the board game Clue.  You need everyone in your organization to be traveling from room to room constantly.  Go to the library, kitchen, and conservatory.  It is a bit like the daily routine of taking your kids to school, spending the day at your workplace, and getting a workout at the gym.  While there you can be an admbassador for your cause’s amazing work.  You are a walking billboard and it is easy advertising. 

The next level is start inquiring about what is taking place in each room.  Is Professor Plum in the study?  At this level you are asking your board and staff to start discovering what is compelling to those who have or are considering making a philanthropic investment in your cause.  Perhaps you represent the local animal shelter and meet a donor who has made an initial contributions to the shelter but is a leadership donor to other enterprises in the community.  You can start a conversation with, “I see you are supporter of the local theater company.  I so appreciate that as I am a fan of the company and attended last season.  I am wondering what makes them so compelling to you?”  You are seeking some insights into what drives their philanthropic investments.  What do they believe?  What needs are they trying to meet?  How do they decide?  At this level you are an advocate, seeking specific information about what drives specific donor’s intentions.

Somebody needs to accuse Colonel Mustard of murder in the Ballroom with a wrench.  In the same way, there are key people in your organization who are uniquely motivated to ask for a philanthropic investment.  If you have assembled the right information from the ambassadors visiting all the rooms and added important details from the advocates then the ask is is a bit like the Accusation in Clue.  You will not get an answer until you ask.

Have fun playing.

To learn more about fundraising models, Kay Sprinkle Grace offers some of the leading models worth exploration.
Beyond Fundraising: New Strategies for Nonprofit Innovation and Investment, 2nd Edition

The Ultimate Live Auction Item?

If you hold a fundraising gala with an auction component invariably you encounter unique items that are difficult to value.  Common examples include fine bottles of wine, a vehicle, or luxury trip.  All seem like solid winners at first glance.  What could go wrong?  Imagine three magnums of library wine worth $5,000 being auctioned for $500.  Who makes the call to the winery to share the news.  Or having the winning bidder of the car contact your organization the next day and express their desire to have the car in a different color, additional features added, and delivered many states away.  The luxury trip that includes airfare and a stay in a major European city suddenly consumes days of staff time as they work desperately to book the hotel and flights during the height of tourist season when the winning bidder decides travel during the blackout dates.  Are you going to say ‘no’ to the donor who contributed ten thousand dollars?

A couple questions I have found helpful when evaluating an auction lot that may appeal to a limited market.

  • What is the purpose of the auction?
  • Will the lot help achieve the auction’s purpose?
  • Will the auction item generate buzz or a marketing message that will draw significant attention?  Tickets to the last taping of Oprah’s talk show might make your cause the talk of the state.
  • What does the sponsor/contributor of the auction lot need in return?  Marketing, seats to the auction, personal recognition, a chance to speak at the auction, future business transactions, a guaranteed reserve.
  • Is there a reserve (or cost) to the item?  What will the organization net from the lot?  Is the lot worth having the winning bidder contribute a significant sum for the return on investment (i.e. cause pays $40,000 for a vehicle, winning bid is $55,000, net of $15,000 to the organization)?  Is there a more effective way to raise the same amount of money?
  • If the winning bidder of the unique lot does not participate in bidding on other lots and skips contributing to the fund-a-need, does the organization meet its revenue goal?
  • Are there at least two individuals committed to bidding aggressively on a the lot?  One person can tell you that they are willing to bid to a specific ceiling but without competition they are not going to bid against themselves.
  • Does the organization maintain the resources to manage or leverage the requests for exchanges or refunds?  Do you have the appropriate restrictions listed in the auction catalog and a person of standing who can enforce the fine print?

I had the fortune of being involved with a leading charitable auction that was generously supported by a leading luxury car manufacture.  Each year we would announce that the car you see outside the auction tent is the car you get (insert Robin William’s speech about the three wishes as the Genie in Aladdin, “no exception”).  Within seventy-two hours of the auction each year we would receive a call from the winning bidder asking for assistance in trading or altering the features of the vehicle they had won.  We were in the car business with no automobile showroom experience.

I Was Going to Call

Yesterday’s post reminded me of another situation where a promise to follow-up goes unfilled.  Last year I received a series of letters from a university asking me to consider the project that they were implementing and that I should expect a telephone call from a dean at the college the following week.  Two of these letter found me at my home address.  I read them and awaited the call.  Nothing happened.  Finally a third letter came asking for a donation.  I figured that the project was: 

A. Not that important since the dean never called
B. My gift was going to be too small to have an impact
C. This was not the university’s top priority
D. The money had already been secured and therefore they did not need to contact me

 This experience was a firm reminder that your institutional word and promises have a tremendous impact on your organization’s outcomes.  

What organizations have made promises and then exceeded your expectations?  How?  Which causes have you stopped doing business with because they never delivered?  How much effort separates the first group from the second?

Like a Politician

What can those of us involved in fundraising learn from politicians when it comes to raising money?  For starters there are ways not to collect contributions, such as the voicemail left by Eleanor Norton.  Even a skilled politician fumbles with the idea of asking for a donation, even in this case when it borders on corruption.  What we can learn from politics is that certain approaches work in the short-term.  Creating an environment laced with fear, an uncertain future, and serious repercussions if the other party’s candidate is elected generates an urgency to give.  What endures is a message of a brighter future, a shared belief, a common value system.  Fear inflicts immediate pain but hope endures.  Look no further than the number of emergency appeals that circulated the nonprofit sector during 2009.  Many claimed all would be lost without additional funding.  It worked for a few months but the appeal would not float today.  Donors understand that enterprises that have not adapted to the new economy and its realities probably are not sustainable.  However, the same causes that appealed for an investment in a greater good and a higher purpose could recirculate the same appeals today and receive a warm reception.  Throwing a life raft off a burning platform is the right thing to do when the the structure is sinking.  Tossing a life ring into calm seas when all is well seems irrational.  Much of politics is based on creating a sense that the platform continues to burn daily.  Much of the social sector is based on creating a better future.  Which path your philanthropic dollars follow is a personal choice.  Which one is more rewarding is also based on individual assessment.  Understanding the techniques deployed by fundraisers is fundamental to success.

What inspires your fundraising efforts?


A piece on NPR suggested that consumers are getting more comfortable with their financial position.  They are willing to invest in purchases that they had previously postponed.  Does that mean that donors are willing to make long term commitments to campaigns that are seen a viable and necessary?  What are you seeing within your social sector enterprises?  Are funders returning?  Are they willing to discuss multiple year commitments?

I am seeing some great leadership giving taking place.  I am also witness to organizations being more purposeful when they design a request or submit a proposal.  Donors are no longer a limitless resource.

Who is in the room?

Great reminder for those of us in fundraising.  I was recently speaking with an organization that asked a donor for a leadership gift.  The donor has a long history with the cause and has been very supportive in the past.  The individual even said the request was with her capacity range.  The donor said she would consider the request but wanted to speak with her husband.  After a spousal conversation the couple contributed at a generous level but many factors below what had been requested.

Perhaps the spouse should have been at the initial meeting.  The donor understood the opportunity and found it compelling.  The donor was unable to align her husband’s willingness to make a philanthropic investment with her passion.  The enterprise realized too late that it was missing a critical decision-maker when it scheduled its original meeting.

Do you have the right people in the room when you are requesting a philanthropic contribution?

The Magic of Asking

A colleague reminded me today that you never get the contribution you hope for if you ask for less than your goal.  How many times has an organization hoped a donor would give $1,000 or even $1,000,000 but been afraid to ask for the full amount?  Often they get a gift more in-line with the amount they request.  If you believe the need is real, the opportunity aligns with the donor’s values, and the capacity of the donor is verified then ask for the full amount.

It sounds like a simple strategy but every meeting needs a person who can make the request.  Do you have an ‘asker’ on your team?  Do they get results and do they enjoy the process?  Consider your enterprise well served if you have a team of talented fundraisers.

Giving the Gift of Philanthropy to Your Kids

We Give Books and the Pearson Foundation released a powerful study focused on how to introduce teens to philanthropy.  What my parents considered charitable giving has morphed into a whole sector of social causes and opportunities.  The model my children will encounter intrigues me on a daily basis.  I distinctly remember my parent’s dinner conversations regarding their volunteer activities and service on nonprofit boards.  My own role in the social sector comes from a seed planted many years ago by parents willing to discuss their giving philosophy.

A top ten list of basic parenting practices emerged
that differentiates “giving teens” from “non-giving”
teens. “Giving teens” report their parents did the
following on a frequent basis.

1. Explained how I can help other people by
my actions.
2. Encouraged me to speak up in family discussions.
3. Spoke to me about the volunteering and
charity they do.
4. Supported me on things I cared about.
5. Told me why they were proud when I did
good things.
6. Encouraged me to be my own person.

 Read the rest of the top ten list and the entire report.

How are you reaching youth or your own children?  How does your organization make philanthropy a experience that rewards the whole family?  Is your enterprise engaging the next generation of donors?