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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


Move the Crowd December 6, 2011

Hip-hop legend, Rakim once rapped that to him, “MC means move the crowd.”  Now before you get the urge to clap to this, you may be wondering what these lyrics have to do with fundraising?  Well, plenty.

Last year, I wrote several blog posts highlighting tips on how to effectively engage individual donors and ask for their support.  When cultivating donors, most fundraisers will tell you that real success occurs when they move a prospective donor from cheerleader to long-term donor.  But, how do you do that without having to purchase an additional (and sometimes expensive) constituent relationship management system (e.g., Raiser’s Edge, DonorPerfect)?

Here are three strategies on moving various stakeholders from fans to funders:

  • Volunteers.  Let’s face it: volunteers are an invaluable asset to any nonprofit.  Not only do they selflessly give of their time and talent to advance a charitable goal, but they are natural “foot soldiers” capable of spreading an organization’s good works.  So, what’s to stop you from asking them for financial support?  Absolutely nothing.  When soliciting a donation from this group, consider segmenting your requests based on their natural interests.  For example, if your nonprofit offers a tutoring program to public school students, you should ask tutors to contribute to your campaign to raise money for school supplies.
  • E-Newsletter Sign-Ups.  Your organization has a monthly e-newsletter.  You’re excited about how large your email list has grown. Yet, it’s not always clear how these folks heard about your nonprofit or why they even care about your mission.  So, how do you work to translate their interest into financial gifts?  For current sign-ups, consider highlighting a specific issue in your upcoming e-newsletter and following up with a direct solicitation explaining how a financial gift could help address the issue.  For new sign-ups, consider making an ask when someone first signs up.  I recently signed up to the email list of the NAACP and the follow up email not only thanked me for signing up, but it directed me to get involved in my local community and become a paying member.
  • Facebook/Twitter.  Someone likes you. Another starts to follow you.  Before you begin sleeping with a knife under your pillow, contemplate how your nonprofit can turn these social media fans into bonafide donors.  There’s no better way to engage these subsets than through an in-person event (aka, tweetups or meetups).  After all, who doesn’t like to mix and mingle over drinks and little crostinis? While it is certainly up to your organization to decide if you want to do a special event for  Facebook and Twitter followers only, my advice would be to simply share a note on both sites inviting these folks to your annual fundraising event.  Whichever method you choose, make sure you pay attention to the names on each list and don’t invite someone twice to the same event ;).

What other strategies would you recommend on moving fans to donors? 


Time is Money September 13, 2011

Filed under: capacity,in-kind donations,strategic fundraising,volunteerism — fundtimes @ 1:36 pm

For nonprofits, volunteerism is the best thing since sliced bread, especially in these tough economic times.    According to a recent report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Americans spent a total of 8.1 billion hours volunteering in 2010.  This increase was most significant among Generation X (people born between 1965 and 1981) as they devoted 2.3 billion hours to service last year.  While one could argue that the economy has freed up a lot of time for people to lend to charitable causes, this may not necessarily be the case.  In fact, the data from this report is consistent with generational patterns about the volunteer life cycle (i.e., volunteerism rates tend to be high during the teen years, drop significantly during early adulthood, recover as individuals pass through their the mid- to late twenties, and peak in middle age).

So what does this mean for YOUR nonprofit?  Well, for one, this data affirms the altruistic value of most people.  Oftentimes, it is not the pursuit of the almighty dollar (or even a fancy schmancy title) that gets folks to put in their best work to forward your organization’s cause.  In a world where xenophobia and self-preservation reign supreme, volunteerism (like its play-cousin, philanthropy) is still a significant source of in-kind contributions for the nonprofit sector.  But, the previous statement is only true when you effectively manage this free-will offering.

Below are some quick tips to consider in soliciting and stewarding volunteer support:

  • Free ≠ cheap. While it’s true that you do not pay volunteers to work, this does not lessen the value that they bring to your organization.  Having said that, be mindful of the way in which volunteers are organized within your company.  If possible, consider hiring someone to recruit and manage your volunteer base or restructuring the responsibilities of your current staff to fill this need.  Still have to tighten your purse string?  Consider using social media (e.g., LinkedIn and craigconnects) to reach out to the volunteer community.
  • Leverage impact. Strong community involvement is a great way to show potential funders and donors that your organization is worth supporting.  And while reporting the number of volunteers that you have is a start, consider adding a financial value to their support as well.  Case in point: Civic Grind.  Launched in 2010, this social enterprise company was created to advance progressive growth in under-resourced communities throughout the Baltimore-Washington region through the civic-engagement of Gen X and Y African American professionals.  In its first year, Civic Grind ran a blog post about a local nonprofit.  One of its readers saw the article, reached out to the nonprofit’s executive director, and offered to write a grant proposal pro bono.  Shortly after that, the executive director received news that their proposal was approved and they would be receiving a $50,000 grant!  This story is a real-world example of the financial impact that volunteers can have.  
  • Steward well.  Since volunteers ultimately add to your organization’s bottom-line, it is imperative that they are treated with respect among your staff and board.  Have an annual fundraising gala?  Consider dedicating a portion of this event to acknowledging the contributions of your volunteers.  And don’t just wait until a public event to say “thank you”.  Let your volunteers know you appreciate them all year long.

How have volunteers contributed to the success of your organization?  What other advice would you offer on how to effectively translate their support in advancing your financial goals?