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Who’s Got Next? February 19, 2013

Filed under: individual donors,strategic fundraising,young donors — fundtimes @ 6:26 pm

If the average life expectancy in the United States is 78, then you might consider my life to be half-over.  Unless you don’t want to see me curled up in a fetal position crying.  But, as my children have shown me, I must nonetheless get up, wipe my nose on my sleeve, and keep it moving.  This adage also applies when it comes to considering how best to use my financial resources while in the land of the living.  Fortunately, I’m not alone.

A recent report titled, “#NextGenDonors” examines the giving trends of major donors between the ages of 21 to 40.  Commissioned by the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University and 21/64, this report describes how this cohort is poised to inherit over $40 trillion in wealth, examines their ideologies on giving, and predicts how 21st century giving will be impacted by emerging donors of the nation’s most affluential families.  While this report is useful for nonprofits with access to high-net worth individuals, the lessons gleaned from this research can also be applied when considering how to identify the giving capacity of young people who are low- and medium-dollar donors.

  • Know Your Donors.  When was the last time you looked at your donor list? Better yet, how often do you monitor the response rate of either your direct-mail or email campaign? If you never thought to segment your donor list, there’s no time like the present.  Dividing your donor list by age, giving history, and giving method may give you some insight into how younger (and older people) contribute to your effort; allowing your fundraising staff the insight needed for more targeted individual appeals.
  • Unearth Your Board. Fundraising is a key duty of any nonprofit board member.  This is especially true when employing strategies to recruit and engage younger donors.  Consider asking your board to identify a few of their younger colleagues to recruit for board membership.  Or, ask your board to invite at least five young people to sit on the host committee in preparation for your next event. Research has consistently shown that younger people desire active roles when it comes to supporting the nonprofit sector so providing opportunities for direct engagement is critical.
  • Cast Wide Your Net. When identifying next generation donors, diversity is often overlooked. As was the case in the #NextGenDonors report, the cohort surveyed and interviewed was overwhelmingly white and female. With the U.S. population expected to become a “majority-minority” by the year 2043, nonprofits must begin to think more broadly about how to engage a variety of communities as donors (rather than recipients).  Diversifying your board and management staff are a few ways to begin this important work.

What strategies has your nonprofit identified in cultivating the next generation of donors? 


Fear Factor: The Fundraising Edition January 14, 2013

Filed under: strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 6:19 pm

Everybody is afraid of something.  Whether it’s spiders, heights or sifting through clothes at Filene’s Basement (shudder), we all experience some sort of phobia.  And fundraisers are no different.

Truth is, asking people for money can be a very scary thing.  Sure, we’ve all heard those cute soundbites reminding us to put the “fun” back into fundraising. Or the adage that raising money is not about the dollars itself, but about making friends (preferably loaded ones).  While there is truth to these messages, these ideas inadvertently overshadow the anxieties that many nonprofit leaders face in asking people to fork over their hard earned money to support a cause.

So how do you effectively overcome your fear of asking people for money? Turns out, the answers lie among salespeople in the for-profit world.  In a recent article written by international sales expert (and self-professed introvert) Grant Cardone in Entrepreneur magazine, Cardone offers nine tips on what he does to overcome his timidity in completing sales.  The following excerpt highlights four tips that I think are most useful in helping nonprofit leaders like you to build your confidence in advance of the next fundraising ask:

    • Get passionate. I become so excited about what I’m selling that I have to share it with the world. Becoming passionate about your product or service makes you less interested in how you are perceived and more concerned about showing excitement about what you have to offer.
    • Do one thing a day that you fear. It’s very important for me do the things that make me most uncomfortable. You need to be courageous and make a point of facing your fears, no matter how big or small. The single scariest thing for me was visiting my customers or prospects in person. So that is exactly what I did first thing every day to get over my fear. It instilled courage in me, belief in myself and changed my focus from limitations to possibilities.
    • Observe people for their differences. After a series of failed sales calls, you may start to see all prospects as likely rejections. What you need to do is take a moment and observe how people are different from one another. This will stop you from thinking that everyone is going to respond the same way your last few prospects did.
    • Help other people make sales. Anytime I go a few days without making a sale for myself, I immediately offer my help to other salespeople because it’s a great way to get outside yourself. After several failures to close, a salesperson can become introverted and anxious. But by working with someone else’s prospective customers and having nothing to lose yourself, you will feel more relaxed and regain your confidence. Once you score a sale for someone else, it’s back to your own prospects again.

What fears do you have in executing direct asks? What techniques have you used in overcoming these fears?


Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth November 13, 2012

Have you ever considered turning down a donation?  This may seem like a strange question in today’s economy, but knowing the answer may impact your bottom line in more ways than one.


In my first job as a fundraiser, I was introduced to the wonderful world of grantmakers.  Channeling my inner nerd, I would often research the history behind the formation of a philanthropic institution, paying careful attention to the ways in which wealth was accumulated.  I came across foundations who built their endowments through a variety of means; some of which would be viewed as highly unethical these days.   In an era where information is readily accessible (I dare you to google yourself), I wonder how many nonprofits consider the source of  funding prospects?  Turns out The Real News Network (TRNN) does.


TRNN considers themselves to be “…a television news and documentary network focused on providing independent and uncompromising journalism.”  To this end, they do not accept government or corporate funding choosing to solely raise money through the individual donations of their viewers.  This mantra is even boldly placed at the top of their website.  Now this may seem like an unimportant detail to most.  But for a donor looking to ensure that their money is given to an organization that will truly advance independent media, this promise may be the sticking point needed for them to write that check for years to come.


So how do you determine the need to vet donations to your nonprofit? Below are a few points to consider:

  • Ethics Outweigh Need: If your organization is committed to promoting a specific ideology (think: marriage equality), then it makes sense to scrutinize funding prospects (despite their tasty sandwiches, approaching Chick-Fil-A is not a good look). Let’s face it, nobody likes a hypocrite.
  • Need Outweighs Ethics: If your nonprofit works to address the physical needs of people (think: homeless shelter), then the beliefs of a potential donor or institution may be less of an issue (you will approach Chick-Fil-A because darn it, people have to eat).
  • It’s All Filthy Lucre: Perhaps the source of donations is simply a non-issue for your organization.  You may find it impossible to fully separate your nonprofit from money gained through the promotion of unfavorable beliefs or unethical business ventures.  All you know is that there are folks in your community that rely on your organization to help them overcome life’s biggest challenges.  To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it ‘The Present’.”


What do you think of vetting donor prospects? Is it worth the investigation?


The Politics of Donating September 10, 2012

Filed under: individual donors,strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 4:23 pm

Anybody that knows me knows that politics are not my forté.  In fact, I find the entire campaign season about as compelling as watching ’90s reruns of the (not so) riveting Power Rangers.  Point blank, I just don’t care too much for a lot of dramatics and high-flying antics.

However, this past August, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released an interesting report called, “How America Gives.”

How America Gives

Photo Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig, ABC News

As its name suggests, this study provides an in-depth look at individual giving across the country; segmenting the data in a variety of ways including along political party lines.  If your nonprofit is interested in beefing up the way in which you engage individual donors, then this report is for you.

Click here to read the entire report and access the online interactive tool to learn more about individual giving trends in your nonprofit’s community.


Fund Times Turns Two! August 7, 2012

Filed under: accountability,capacity,foundations,strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 1:19 pm

Wow, I can’t believe the end of this month marks the second year of Fund Times!  If this blog was a human being, that would make her a wee toddler (yes, its a girl). Hey oh!

(@ @)

But seriously, thanks for sticking with me as I share all things fundraising.  I hope the first two years have truly been beneficial in helping your organization to strengthen its fundraising strategies towards long-term sustainability.

So grab your virtual slice of cake, two scoops of ice cream and take a trip down memory lane with me of my favorite posts.  Enjoy!


Turning Your Fundraiser’s Frown Upside Down July 9, 2012

Filed under: capacity,nonprofit leadership,strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 7:02 pm

In the March 2012 edition of Fund Times, I offered some quick tips on how to assess your organization’s capacity to fundraise, specifically related to human capital.  But once you’ve figured out your staffing requirements, how do you retain high-quality development folks?

According to a recent blog post in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the cost for nonprofits experiencing high turnover amongst development staff is incredibly high.  For example, the average amount of time that a fundraiser stays on the job is 16 months and the overall costs (both direct and indirect) of finding a high-quality replacement is $127,650.  Given the average salary for a fundraising team hovers somewhere between $110,000 and $125,000, the cost of development turnover is not to be taken lightly.

So how do you avoid fundraiser turnover?  Below are a few “do’s and don’ts” to help you maximize job satisfaction for your ever-essential fundraising staff.

  • Do: Clarify Roles – There’s nothing more frustrating for a fundraiser than to not know the extent of their job responsibilities.  Are they solely responsible for contacting potential donors or will the executive director share in this strategy?  Will fundraising staff be required to attend foundation meetings alone or will board members and/or program staff be involved?  As you may already know, fundraising is a true team effort so clarifying the role of your development team early on helps them to understand how best to rally their co-workers in raising much-needed funds.
  • Don’t: Undermine Fundraising Staff –  Since fundraising is a team effort, it’s important to support your development team in their endeavors.  From rallying staff to help stuff envelopes for your annual direct mail appeal to emphasizing to your program/accounting team the timeliness of getting required materials to development (e.g., project updates and monthly financial reports), having vocalized support from the executive director is critical to reducing a culture of departmental silos when it comes to fundraising.  After all, fundraisers are tasked with raising the very salaries of staff anyway so it pays (literally) to have a culture of “all hands on deck” ;).
  • Do: Show Your Appreciation – Contrary to popular belief, nonprofit employees appreciate a bit of praise every now and then.  Yes, those in the charitable sector are often there because they feel a personal connection to helping those in need, but this does not give leadership carte blanche to forego a fist bump every now and then, especially with fundraisers.  Raising money is a stressful task to begin with so telling your fundraising staff how much you appreciate their work will likely go a long way in fueling job satisfaction.
  • Don’t: Skimp on Professional Development – As a self-professed overacheiver myself, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of encouraging your fundraising staff to pursue additional training in other revenue generating strategies.  Local organizations like The Foundation Center, Maryland Nonprofits, and the Center for Nonprofit Advancement provide a wealth of both free and discounted classes related to fund development.  Membership organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals also offer peer networks for your development staff to both share and gather best-practice techniques on the art of fundraising.  Indeed, investing in your current fundraising staff will certainly prove to be much cheaper than having to hire new people.

What are your thoughts on how best to retain your fundraising staff?  Are you finding it harder or easier to keep your development folks in this economy?


The Circle of Giving June 6, 2012

I have always been fascinated with the concept of “community building”; the process in which a group of people come together to learn from and nurture each other towards a  shared goal.  This fascination led me to study community social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell where I was first introduced to the nonprofit sector and the altruism that fuels a lifetime commitment to empowering folks to live their best lives.  One of my professors, Dr. Meg Bond (who I love more than she’ll ever know) had a poster in her office with a list of simple messages illustrating how to build a sense of community that I still remember to this day.  So when I decided to become involved in philanthropy (whose etymology means “the love of humanity”), I felt the alignment of my passion and ultimate career choice.  This is what I imagine people feel when they decide to become being involved in a giving circle.

Giving circles is a form of philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund and then decide which local causes to support.  I wanted to know more about this type of community-based philanthropy so I reached out to Kezia M. Williams, Chairwoman of Washington, D.C.’s Capital Cause to find out more about this giving practice.  Below is what she had to say.

Q: Giving circles have increased in popularity over the past decade.  As a young professional, what attracted you to become involved in philanthropy?

A:  During the 2008 Presidential Election, I volunteered with a team of grassroots organizers to plan low-dollar fundraisers on behalf of a candidate.  Through teamwork, we were able galvanize financial support from young donors in six different cities, and challenge them to collectively give small amounts to the campaign.  Overall, these efforts yielded $250,000, an amount that was raised from various individuals who contributed no more than fifty dollars each.

Not only did this volunteer effort show me the power of giving, but it highlighted the impact that collective philanthropy could make.  Once the campaign ended, I convened a group of organizers and we discussed how we could continue our efforts on behalf of a cause versus a candidate.  For 10 months we brainstormed, debated and drafted up plans for a cause-focused organization that would re-define philanthropy among young people. The result was Capital Cause, a nonprofit organization that would involve young people in collectively giving back their money (capital) and time (cause) to address community issues.  Overall, we wanted to revolutionize the concept of philanthropy by making it accessible to all people regardless of donation amount.  This ran counter to the widely-accepted definition that only rich people could self-identify as philanthropists.

What Capital Cause represents is a movement of young people who believe that collective cause-focused action can change the world.  The organization achieves this by recruiting donors to contribute small amounts of time and hours by participating in: fundraisers, Giving Circles Projects or joining our Young Philanthropist Program.  The end goal is to create a new generation of donors.

Q:  Most nonprofits are experienced in approaching grantmaking foundations for financial support, mainly because of the popularity of these institutions.  In your experience, how have people found out about the funding that is available through Capital Cause?

A:  Capital Cause is still a young organization, and we are diligently working to inform the D.C. Metropolitan community about our various grant opportunities.  Our capital director, who manages our financial giving, proactively researches nonprofit organizations that are doing work in our cause area of the year and sends grant information to them.  Our capital director also works with our PR team to promote grant opportunities on our website and through social media.   We believe that if we continue to proactively inform the community about our grant opportunities, nonprofits will begin to contact us for financial support.  To date, we’ve seen a steady increase in grant applications which proves this point.

Our cause director also manages our Giving Circles Projects, which is a program that connects the skills and talents of our members to nonprofits in need of specialized assistance completing short-term projects.  In the past, volunteers have assisted nonprofits with creating websites, designing promotional brochures, completing phase 1 of a school’s accreditation and planning a free laundry day for poverty-stricken families.  We are actively promoting this grant opportunity – which a gift of donated time and talent – to nonprofits in the D.C. area as well.

Q:  As an active board member, what has been the most rewarding part of joining Capital Cause?

A: I work with a stellar team of Changemakers who are serious about achieving the Capital Cause mission.  Though each person has their specific roles and responsibilities, board members choose not to work in silos.  Together we brainstorm solutions to challenges and create opportunities from roadblocks.  In the past, I have joined boards where having a title usurps the importance of doing the work.  Capital Cause is a refreshing change from this, and I am honored to be a part of this group of servant leaders.  I see the value of philanthropy daily, when I watch my colleagues work selflessly to improve the lives of others.

Kezia M. Williams is a community leader, young philanthropist, and social entrepreneur, who has experience working in the fields of nonprofit management and organizational development. As Chairwoman of Capital Cause, she has led the growth of the organization from five vested members to over 3,000 young professionals committed to employing young philanthropy to affect real change.  For more information about Capital Cause, please visit their website, join them on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter