With some nonprofits, there seems to be a disconnect. These groups have operated using the same fundraising methods as they did twenty years ago, perhaps with the same leaders leading the organization.
They fail to look at national giving trends that show individuals giving more than 70% of all contributed income and only 15% made by grants and foundations, with even less by corporations. It is these same organizations that continue to disregard these philanthropic findings and keep on doing things the same old ways that they have always been done. Many of them are still chasing grants and foundation that perhaps take months to make decisions and often will not give again. It is these same organizations that will pursue funding and put their missions in jeopardy suffering from extreme mission creep. Even grants and foundations want to know that an organization can be self-sustainable.
Well, you know what happens to folks who resist change? They can no longer go on.
This fact is the reality.
And, reality while tough, is causing those organizations who embrace it, to move ahead.
What is this new (or not so new) reality? Well, the once dominant paradigm of transaction fundraising has moved to relationships and transformative fund development. This fact means that no longer are transaction special events king, but long-term sustainable donor relationships rule. That is what our donors are exactly craving. They don’t want to make one-time gifts and then go away. They want to have long relationships with organizations that are making the difference that they believe. Once an organization begins to think and act along these lines, they see tremendous results.
So banish the few choices for donors, banish the no segmentation, banish the standard donor communications, banish the reliance on special events, banish trying to fit your donors into YOUR boxes and not theirs. Banish, banish, banish – your old ways of thinking before you disappear.
Is your organization stuck in the dark ages of fundraising?
First you need to document your funding priorities with custom tailored cases for supports that can be used to match up to a funders priority.
Once you have outlined your needs, the next steps are to do some detailed research to identify potential funding sources. It is best to document a foundation schedule that includes the foundation’s priority areas, critical deadlines, and application process, among other items. There are some helpful grant research tools available including The Foundation Center and the Foundation Directory Online. While this is a subscription based software, you can check your local library or community foundation for free public access.
Then, you can then move to contact the potential funding sources and cultivate relationships. Yes, even the grant and foundation process is about cultivating and stewarding relationships. It’s not just about submitting proposals and then wishing for the best.
Now, write your application. Answer all the questions as needed – nothing more, nothing less. Then hit submit, and wait, often a few months. I should add; you can submit many applications now online. While that does make the process somewhat easier than in years past, it has its complexities with character limits, some background materials to submit, etc.
The proposal awarded? Congratulations! Be sure that you can administer this grant before you get the award or even apply. You need to keep a detailed compliance record to be able to report back to the foundation promptly how the organization used the gift and the outcomes obtained. Be sure to keep close attention to the reporting deadlines and ensure that reports get submitted. And, most important determine how you are going to acknowledge and thank this foundation for its gift.
One pet peeve of mine, inadequate tracking systems. More than once, I have been the staff person coming into a new office and finding out that the organization did not submit a report in the past. Imagine my dismay, when I need to figure out how the organization used the grant money three, four, or even five years earlier. Don’t let this happen in your organization. Report timely and ensure proper documentation through an organized file tracking system both electronically and paper.
If you didn’t get funded, don’t dismay. That happens more than you think. Take this as an opportunity to reach out to the funding source to determine what the reasons for this decision are to be able to refine your proposal moving forward and to determine if there is still a possibility of perhaps receiving funding from this foundation in the future. Maybe the proposal wasn’t meeting a particular priority area of the foundation. Perhaps another project would have more suitable. Or maybe the foundation just wasn’t a good match.
Also, send an acknowledgment letter to the foundation even if you didn’t get a grant. Thank them for their time and consideration, and they will be sure to remember your organization in the future. Don’t hesitate to keep this foundation up-to-date on your programs and progress. Cultivation continues even if you didn’t get this award.
So, just like all aspects of development, grant writing is about doing appropriate research, building relationships, and then making the ask. And, of course, don’t forget the stewardship in following up, reporting, and keep them apprised of your progress.
Yes, I have a motive, and it is a bequest. As a young woman with no children, I have already created my estate plans. Yes, I have. And while those I love will be taken care of as they should. There is a time after they are gone when my assets held in trust will be given to a charity which will receive the bulk of my estate.
You may ask, why?
Well, undoubtedly motives for donors are all different. Some decide to leave money in their estate to avoid taxes, some choose to leave money to obtain recognition. There is a whole host of other important motivations. For me, it is because I want to give to a charity which has given so very much to me. And, this gift that I make on my death will be impossible for me to make during my life.
We all tend to live on a set amount of disposable income. While I have had saved and invested, surely I am not willing to take a chance and spend down a considerable amount of my assets while I may still need them. I still have a long life yet to live. However, after my death, who cares! At that point, I will be able to make the single largest gift that I will ever make. For me, that is enough. More than I could do while alive.
I should add that at one point, I had a significant number of charities in my estate to benefit from my death. And, that is where stewardship comes into play. For you see, some charities are so intent on “chasing” the big donors that they forget about those little folks making small gifts out of their disposable income. What they fail to think about is that for some, this giving may just be the tip of the iceberg. Since estate gifts are surely revocable, all donors whether large or small should be stewarded in some way appropriate to each.
I can’t tell you how many times during my career that an organization I was working with received a bequest from a donor who may have made one $10 or $25 gift during their lifetime.
I have thought long and hard about those local charities and have narrowed it down to one – one that is extremely near and dear to my heart and one that treats me like a person when I visit, call, or make a gift.
This week, I had a conversation with one of my very first clients. And, I wanted to share their success story. You see, too many groups don’t want to invest in donor acquisition because they know that they will lose money – in the short-term. Who intends to invest in that, particularly if you are only thinking of the organization’s short-term success.
Well, this group had a total of 700 names in their donor file. And, they were in serious trouble operating in crisis mode. Person after person told them that they should not invest in donor acquisition, but really what choice did they have. They knew that their donor file was suffering from natural attrition, and if they didn’t do something, they might as well not do anything at all.
They bit the bullet and against all odds decided to invest in donor acquisition. They hired a professional list brokerage and donor acquisition company who then supplied recommendations and advice on the records that best met their needs and premiums well suited to and representing their mission. Lists are usually anywhere from around $80 to $150 per thousand names and addresses for a single use. They also invested heavily in the acquisition renewal process, so that these first-time donors, would give again through a very intensive mail series. And, in fact, for the first seven donor acquisition pieces that they sent they did lose money. But, then the tide turned, just like it should with donor acquisition, and they began to see positive returns. And, not just with donor renewals, but with the acquisition mailing itself.
Now, several years later, they make money with their donor acquisition efforts. In fact, they are seeing donors who are sending in substantial donations as a result. In fact, they have received donations from donors renewing at $25,000 or more.
Further, they recently sent an urgent appeal to their donors in need of upgrading their sprinkler system. The result of this appeal mailing – net over $100,000.
So, when they started back in 2011, they had a donor list that had no more than 700 names. Today, that list has grown to well over 40,000 names.
Do you think that donor acquisition is way too costly for your organization? For this one small organization, it was, but if they wanted to be around, they had no other choice. While you may think that you cannot afford to invest in donor acquisition, imagine what could be achieved for your mission if you had a donor file that increased by over 5,500 percent in five years time!!! How long has your donor file remained at the same stagnant number?
Donor Acquisition is THAT important to consider, and I know that you don’t want to, but to move your organization forward, you must. Your data file is declining just by merely being. What are you going to do about it?
More on donor acquisition in future blog articles.
Younger donors don’t give as much. You can chase the Millennials and the generation whatever’s, but if you don’t take into consideration the family life cycle, then you are misdirecting your energies.
What is the family life cycle I hear you ask?
Wills and Gubar (1966) identified nine distinct life cycle stages of a family. 1966 – and this information is still relevant! They believed that that the age and composition of the family unit has a direct impact on the buying patterns of families. And, as the family moves through the life cycles, these stages change as well.
For instance, at certain points, giving decisions are made jointly with spouses, starting a new family impacts discretionary spending patterns, and levels of disposable income vary over the lifetime of a family. That is why you see younger people not giving as much – while raising a family, they have less disposable income to give away, saving for their child’s education, and their retirement. As folks age and their children grow up, these same folks have an improved financial position with more disposable income and fewer demands on the future and tend to give more.
Since 1966, there have been changes in the family unit that bring to mind some questions – what about single parent households, families having children later in life, and other family units? How do those impact philanthropic giving patterns?
However, overall, I think it is fair to say that looking at where a family is in their particular life cycle stage is an important indicator of their propensity to give, and why I believe that younger folks, while wanting to be, just cannot be as generous as their parents.
We are all so very guilty of appearing to listen to someone, but yet already forming a reply in our head..
You know, you are sitting with a donor and rather than listening, you are rehearsing what your response may be.
Are you missing some critical information when you don’t listen intently? Sure!
It is so critical to listen intently, without an already pre-conceived agenda in our mind.
You may miss key donor motivations in that pre-thinking. Here is an excellent case as an example.
I was once meeting with a donor who I thought may be interested in supporting a particular project – Rosary distribution. However, it was when I was meeting with that individual donor and asking deep, probing questions, that I learned that their interest was not in fact with what I thought it may be, but in fact with an overseas ministry in France. If I didn’t spend the time to ask questions, probe deeper, and listen, I may have missed the relevant cues that would direct me to share the ministry of importance to that donor. That donor later went on to make a significant gift to support this ministry in France. A gift towards Rosary distribution may have been certain, but probably would not be at the same gift level.
It is so critical to put aside personal and professional agendas and spend the time to listen to our donors and to understand their motivations for possibly making a gift.
I argue that time is the most important element when doing major gifts. One needs to take the time to listen and explore to know the donor better. Time and deep listening are the glue between the donor and the organization. Time and deep listening are what leads to long-term relationships.
We need to push our organizations to remove those expectations that keep us limited in the time we spend with our donors. Each donor is different, and we should not pen the relationship into key metrics. Rarely does a relationship fit into expectations and measurement. Relationships are organic and dynamic. And, most importantly relations are about deep probing, and intently listening.
Very rarely does a major gift fit into an official timeline.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the number of people dying in the United States will double in the next forty years. WOW!
Hard to read, but surely reality. And, sometimes reality is stark.
The Baby Boomers will soon be facing retirement, old age, and eventually death. And, Baby Boomers will have more wealth to leave behind – significantly more than previous generations.
Researchers have been hard at work calculating the details behind this transfer of wealth. Their findings? They estimate that approximately $41 trillion will transfer between 1998 and 2052 from a predicted eighty-eight million estates. Of that $41 trillion, it is estimated that $6 trillion will transfer to charity.
However, as large as these statistics are, only around 18% of the nation’s wealthiest individuals presently leave a gift to charity in their will. While data is insufficient, it is estimated that a small percentage leave a gift in their will.
So, are nonprofits so focused on their annual operating support that they are failing to include planned giving as part of their fundraising strategy? Are we just not asking enough? I would garner to say this is very accurate. Most of the organizations that I work with are so focused on meeting the day-to-day operational needs of the organization that they cannot even think beyond into the future. Or if they can think about the future, they just don’t want to talk about death. Or they fear that they will take away from their annual support. Or they are just impatient, and can’t wait for planned gifts to mature because the income won’t be forthcoming for many years. Or perhaps they have such high expectations within their departments to produce that their focus is more on immediate returns and not for the long haul.
We keep talking about this enormous transfer of wealth, but what are we doing as fundraisers to begin the conversations. Conversations in our organizations that confront current expectations by our superiors to raise money for today. Or how we as fundraisers don’t want to grapple with sensitive topics as death with our donors. Or because we as organizations need the money today to keep the doors open for tomorrow. Or maybe because we don’t have enough knowledge about planned giving and what it is, so we just don’t want to bring up the subject.
All organizations both large and small absolutely must begin thinking about legacy giving.
I know one thing for certain, these statistics point to us as fundraisers to do a better job. And, so the question is, what are you doing to do that better job?
This week, I read a post by the very insightful Veritus Group. In the post, they asked,”When you think of your donor, do you first think of them as a source of cash – as a way to reach the goals you have set?”
This question indeed touched a cord in me. How many organization believe that donors are ATMs. We go to them; we ask them for a certain amount of money, we get the gift, and we get a receipt.
I have worked for organizations that think donors are partners. How refreshing. And, then I have worked for organizations, that think donors are money as in the “We need money now!” donor.
I have a difficult time hearing donors referred to in this way. I can’t conceivably fathom such talk about another human being, mainly relating to them as if they were a transaction and not a living, breathing person with feelings, and beliefs, and values.
Over my career, donors have personally “cared” for me and my well-being. When I have been traveling, they have provided me with dinner. We I was in a new town, they ensured that I got home safely. When I was sick, they called. We built relationships. We were people connecting for a higher purpose. The “Show me the money attitude” just doesn’t work for me.
Do you view your donors as mere money machines? Do you love your donors just as much as they love your mission? Do you believe that donors should be treated with worth and dignity?
Ethically, I asked myself, would I as a donor want to be thought of or treated in such a transactional way? I couldn’t answer yes.
We are in a noble profession. We transform communities; ourselves, and the donor through the process of fund development. That is what I believe in about what I do.
And, ethically, I can’t operate otherwise.
Donors give to us because we have the highest ethical standards to do what is right. Trust is the basis of all we make possible.
Perhaps we need to revisit the “Donor Bill of Rights” and ensure that there is a clause in there about “to be treated as I would want to be treated by another, not as a machine, but as a person who has beliefs in and the capacity to support a mission.”
As a fundraiser, what I want remembrance for is my success on the job, both monetarily and ethically.
For many donors who hold great wealth, they sometimes want to do more than just give. In fact, they want to shape directly rather than just support a charitable cause. This term is often called, “hyperagency.”
In most cases, that is fine. In fact, it is very welcomed. Paul Shervish, Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, noted that hyperagency is “a distinctive characteristic of major giving because such donors are capable of establishing the institutional framework in which they and others live.” They want to produce rather than support.
Not often, but in some cases, the donor upon giving an enormous gift expects the organization to do what he or she wishes, changing the whole agenda of the organization. They want to determine what happens and when programmatically.
To me, this can become dangerous territory. For you see, just because someone has extensive wealth and wants to give it us, does not mean that we have to entertain “mission creep.” Our organizations have been founded to serve a community through a particular mission. It is the obligation of the organization and its Board of Directors to ensure the organization’s programs, and mission continues to be relevant to the community that it serves.
We often see “mission drift” in cases where organizations “chase” foundation funding just because it is available and whether or not it meets the orgazation’s mission. As a result, programs develop that are not mission consistent, and the organization begins to take on areas that they do not have a specialty.
A case in point, in 1907, a $3 million bequest left to Swarthmore College met this description: It was made conditional on the school ceasing all participation in intercollegiate sports. (Though tempted by the much-needed funds, Swarthmore turned the gift down.)
So, are you tempted to keep the gift or would you turn it down?
Well, if the gift is going to subject your organization to terms it couldn’t possibly meet or that are not consistent with the core mission, then yes, I say it needs to be turned down. Turning down a gift is a rather difficult decision. But, you must realize that you are bound to the donors’ wishes once you accept it. If you can’t abide by the terms whether impractical, unethical, or for other reasons, then you just need to say “no!”
The dilemma mentioned above points to the importance of having a Gift Acceptance Policy in place. Yes, I know these policies are so mundane, and I know you don’t have the time to create them, but, when you start seeking major gifts, you just may come across a situation like this. Even the smallest organizations have found themselves with donors wishing to make contributions that have binding strings attached. And, when you are small, it becomes especially difficult to say no to a massive infusion of cash.
This situation is more of an ethical and moral question. But surely, the ethics involved in fundraising must be a topic that your organization discusses at a strategic level (meaning Board), and Gift Acceptance Policies provide a basis for that discussion.
So, you don’t always have to say “yes” to a donor who loves you too much. In fact, sometimes, it is best to say no, if it means you won’t hold true to your core mission and the community that you are bound to serve.
The one best tip I have for nonprofit newsletters – stop calling them newsletters. I am of the mind that this title creates a great deal of confusion both for the nonprofit and the donor.
First, donors are like investors. They are giving their financial resources to support something, dare I say, a mission in which they strong believe. Investors don’t get newsletters; they get quarterly investors reports showing them the return on their investments. And, sometimes, investors even get conference call options to review the investment reports and ask questions. How novel?
Secondly, its sets a small nonprofit or an inexperienced development person up to think that what one should include in a newsletter is exactly that – news. So, over the course of my years in the field both as practicing development director and consultant, I have seen way too many newsletters that report on things like what events are coming up, what events have just passed, and little at all about the donor. And, even more, many of them ask for yet another gift. More of a “Save the Date and we need more money” vs. “This is what our date made possible and thank you so much.”
Thirdly, the title newsletters suggest long, boring “newsy” stories. You know, stories you would likely find in say a newspaper, for instance. And, we know that best practice has found that these types of stories no longer work. Donors are skimmers; they look for photos, captions, headlines, and short, pithy text. Their eyes scan the copy, and, often, don’t even read it word for word.
So, what do I propose we title this nonprofit donor communication workhorse? Let’s see, how about something along the lines of “Your investment report?” or what about “Your impact statement?” or perhaps even “Your insiders report?”
Or, well, why don’t you think on it, and comment below.
Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate. The way we talk about donors sometimes makes me think that we are in relationships. And, in a sense, I guess we are.
Cultivation, what is it?
Well for one, it’s about learning more about a donor and his or her interests and how our cause’s mission intersects with their personal passions.
It is not about educating the donor on what our cause does and how they can get involved. It is not sales or persuasion. It is more about matchmaking. You know, just like in “real life” relationships. It is about learning what motivates them to give and why. Learning about what stirs their soul and makes them feel good.
As with all relationships in life, listening is paramount. We must listen authentically to our donors and not have a hidden agenda. You remember those first days of dating when you hinged on every word of your love? It is the same thing. Ask questions and then listen intently.
For me when I was doing major gift work, I made it an aim to get to know something new about each donor every time I visited with them. I developed long-standing relationships that were genuine and had the organization at its deepest heart.
I have spent countless hours sitting in donor’s homes learning about their lives both big and small. I have had lunch served to me by famous people. I have spent time in a donor’s office getting to know how they got involved and what keeps them involved. I have had donors treat me like family, insisting that I stay for dinner – they made it special just for me.
Each donor will want or necessitate different types and levels of cultivation. Some may want a tour of the facility, and others will want to meet with staff, serve on a board or committee, attend events, or be an advisor.
Most importantly, it is the donor that directs the relationship. The time spent together getting to know each other. This time is set by what makes the donor feel most comfortable.
I never felt as if I could rush this relationship, nor should you. Like all relationships, let it evolve organically over time and it will bear fruit, both for the organization, for yourself and the donor. In fact, the gift will be a transformative moment.
Share with me in the comments below your most poignant donor cultivation story.