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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? 


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


Engaging Your Email List May 8, 2012

Filed under: individual donors,strategic fundraising,young donors — fundtimes @ 3:53 pm

In the February issue of Fund Times, I interviewed my colleague Zach Ragbourn on best practice strategies for using social media to raise money online.  In that post, Zach affirmed the validity of email as the most cost-effective way for a nonprofit to begin cultivating new donors.  But, as in face-to-face relationships, I’m a strong believer that this online interaction can only be successful when you keep in contact with the people on your nonprofit’s email list.

Now I know that we all get inundated with emails each and every day.  I mean, do I really need to be notified every time that store has a sale?  Is that birthday coupon I got for $5 off from Uno’s really going to sway me from making my own dinner this week?  As interesting (and yummy) as these corporate emails are, I’ve often wondered how much thought the nonprofit community puts into their email blasts?

At the moment, I receive emails from about six nonprofits, both local and national.  While I don’t know the thinking behind their online fundraising strategies, I have considered how these messages impact my willingness to both give and become involved in their cause.  The following is a quick list of “do’s and don’ts” to guide you as you consider how your email fundraising strategy may help – or inhibit – folks from giving to your nonprofit.

  • Do: Set up an email marketing strategy – Never underestimate the power of planning when it comes to crafting and sending emails to your list.  The best time to do this planning is alongside your yearly fundraising plan; this way, your messaging is directly aligned with actual fundraising goals.  For example, if your nonprofit is planning an event, you can cater your emails around this occasion, highlighting its importance, encouraging people to buy tickets in advance and inviting friends to come.
  • Do: Segment your list – It pays to understand your nonprofit’s interaction with the people on your email list.  To illustrate, I’ve received emails in the past inviting me to participate in some in-person activity or meeting.  More often than not, I RSVP, but things have come up where I wasn’t able to make it.  The nonprofit’s follow up email to me? Thanks for attending.  Not only does this show that the organization is not paying attention to their constituency, but they also have no idea who was actually present at the event.  This carelessness could easily turn a potential supporter away so it’s best to invest in a system that allows you to easily divide your list for more targeted emails.
  • Don’t: Beg – It may be very tempting to start – and end – every email with a pitch for money.  This is after all the ultimate goal of a fundraising email right?  While it’s okay for some messages to make direct asks for funding, first consider the interests of the people opening your email.  Perhaps, they’re really curious about the direct impact your organization has made on the people it serves.  Maybe they would like to know more about how your organization came to be or what your staff enjoys the most about the work.  Engaging your list first through stories about the human experience can often provide the emotional charge needed for someone to make a gift when you finally do decide to send that direct ask email.
  • Don’t: Ignore the power of smartphones – According to Microsoft Tag, by 2014, mobile internet is slated to surpass desktop internet usage.  So what does this mean for your nonprofit?  It means that the people on your list are probably going to take action in response to your email campaign if they are able to look at your message through their smartphones.  As I said earlier, we all get inundated with emails all day long so ensuring that your messages are mobile-friendly is just another way to stay relevant in your reader’s inbox.  Trusted programs like Constant Contact and MailChimp provide mobile-friendly templates, while also allowing you to track the impact of your email messaging in real time.

Now it’s your turn.  What types of strategies have you used to effectively engage potential donors through email?  What hasn’t worked for your nonprofit?


Engaging Donors Online February 7, 2012

If you asked me to describe my experience with social media, I would bore you to death with random stories of my Facebook and Twitter timelines.  Perhaps, I would tell you how I inadvertently use these tools to stay abreast of local and national news (what’s a Sunday paper?) or to boost the marketing profile of an organization.  Or more importantly, I would tell you what my friend had for breakfast.  At any rate, I am not the best person to ask if your organization is considering how to effectively use social media for online fundraising.

Thankfully, I know Zach Ragbourn.  Who, you may ask, is Zach?  Not only does his humor rival mine (we should go on a traveling road show, I swear), but Zach is the resident guru of both traditional and online communications.  So, when I asked him to share his experiences with online fundraising, he was more than happy to spread the wealth (pun intended) with the faithful readers of Fund Times.  Here’s what he had to say.


Q:  Online fundraising has gained a lot of media attention in recent years as nonprofits look to expose their brands to a greater number of people. What do you think is interesting or unique about engaging donors online as opposed to face-to-face?

A:  When people talk about social media, they tend to focus on the interaction: sharing, replying, re-tweeting, liking, and commenting on each other’s items. All of that is absolutely vital in building a relationship with a potential donor, but it’s not fundamentally different from the old way of doing things. We’ve always built relationships and worked to engage donors, and social media has given us new tools to do that.

What’s new, however, are the speed-of-light sharing options, and the branding expansion opportunities they bring. Every time you work to build a relationship with a potential donor on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, you’re also taking a first step toward exposing your brand to a whole new audience.


Q:  There has been a lot of debate about the effectiveness of social media in fundraising. What has been your experience in using online tools such as Facebook and Twitter to help nonprofits raise money?

A:  If your social media efforts have an effect on fundraising, it might be tough to tell at first. Maybe you’ve built up a relationship with a donor on Facebook, convinced her of the value of your work, and she’s become invested in your success. When she receives a fundraising email, she may make her first donation through that email. In a perfect world, she’d include a note with her donation, saying, “I wouldn’t have made this donation if not for your social media efforts!”.

That probably won’t happen, so the best we can do is take steps to be sure that if a member of your social network is in the mood to give, she has the opportunity… and has a unique, trackable link to follow. Collect data at every turn, and decide for yourself whether social media is having an effect on your fundraising.

In my experience, direct asks are rarely successful.  However, social media has been invaluable in building a sense of urgency and importance around a campaign, and those are two factors that dramatically increase the odds of a prospective donor making his or her first contribution. Nonprofits that use social media to roll out campaigns – either action campaigns or fundraising campaigns – can help create that urgency and sense of value in their members and communities, and nonprofits can see improved fundraising when they use social media to demonstrate the value of their work and their members’ support.


Q:  I’m a true believer that a nonprofit should use a variety of tools to raise money, both online and off. Which online programs and/or product(s) would you suggest to a nonprofit looking to venture into virtual fundraising?

A:  Nonprofits wanting to venture into online fundraising should start with email. It’s still the most cost-effective, and still provides you with the best data on what’s working and what isn’t. Chances are that you already have some sort of online program, and have developed a list of people who are used to hearing from you. Build on that, keep them energized, and offer them new ways to stay engaged.

One of those new ways to stay engaged should be an active and useful presence on the major social media networks: Facebook and Twitter. Spend the staff time to keep up with your list, weigh in, reply, and share your organization’s perspective on things.

A great tool to start with in social media is a link-shortening account with a free service like Google ( or Those services let you see how often your links are clicked, which is invaluable data during the early and experimental days of building a social program.


Zach Ragbourn is the media relations and online communications manager for Alliance for Justice in Washington, D.C.  To learn more about Zach, connect with him on Linkedin


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? 


Party For a Purpose March 7, 2011

When was the last time you partied for a purpose?  And by purpose, I don’t mean “I-wish-I-could-play-in-the-sandbox-but-I’m-too-old-so-the-bar-will-do.”  I mean, when was the last time you attended an event that was mutually beneficial for you AND someone else?  I hope that it is with this frame of mind that you and your colleagues will consider hosting a fundraising event for your nonprofit this year!

Fundraising events are an effective strategy for both cultivating existing and prospective donors.  Not only are attendees able to learn more about your organization, but the event allows you to personally interact with individuals who share your organization’s worldview.  And this is not just a great strategy to schmooze individual donors.  Local businesses can also get in on the action as a supporter of your cause.

So if you’re ready to throw your hands in the air and have others wave them around like they just don’t care, the following tips will guide you in implementing a successful fundraising event:

  • Plan Ahead. It is absolutely essential that you allow plenty of time to plan for a fundraiser.  The rule of thumb is to start planning at least six months in advance.  This allows ample time to develop a theme, secure a venue, and contact a guest speaker or honoree (if applicable).
  • Think Outside the Box. I’m a firm believer that fundraisers do not need to be overly formal.  Should the event be held at a hotel? Probably not.  Must there be a three-course dinner included? Not really.  When thinking about how your event would run, don’t be afraid to pick nontraditional venues like a vineyard or conservatory.  The most unique location I have ever heard for a fundraiser was the lower level of a mall.  Move the kiosks out of the way and voilà, let the mix and mingling begin :).

  • Delegate Tasks. Given the complexity of fundraising events, you or your staff may be tempted to execute it all on your own to ensure its success.  This makes sense if you have a large staff, but if your nonprofit is like pantyhose (overstretched), you may want to consider delegating tasks to your board or advisory committee.  For example, if you have a board member that has a spacious house, they might be the perfect person to ask to host the event and provide food and refreshments.
  • Consider the Source. When considering revenue sources for the event, don’t rely on ticket sales alone.  Consider raising the big bucks through sponsorships and the formation of a host committee.  Creating sponsorship opportunities is great for two reasons: (1) it allows your nonprofit to raise significant amounts of money in advance of the event and (2) it provides local businesses the opportunity to emphasize their commitment to community improvement.  Host committees are also a great funding source.  This committee is usually responsible for donating a certain amount to the event (e.g., $250-$500) and encouraging their friends/family/colleagues to attend.

What do you think about these strategies?  Do you have any additional ideas on how to make fundraising events a success?


No Donor Left Behind November 1, 2010

Filed under: individual donors,nonprofit leadership,young donors — fundtimes @ 6:23 pm

Leave it to me to draw a connection between fundraising and education reform. This past month, my boyfriend and I saw the critically-acclaimed documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”  Without spilling the beans on the plot, I’ll just echo what everyone else already knows: our public education system is systematically leaving thousands of children behind.  Ignoring the potential contributions of young people is a social ill that unfortunately does not end in the school system.  Nonprofits are also at fault.

As a proud 30-something year old woman, I have never been asked to donate a financial gift to a nonprofit.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I was officially approached after I complained about not being asked.  Is this the way I envisioned being courted as a potential donor?  Absolutely not.  But perhaps the reason for this thoughtless approach is, well, the lack of thought involved.

According to a 2008 report released by Campbell & Company, Generations X (born 1964-1981) and Y (born since 1981) gave a combined total of approximately 36% of the total average gifts donated to secular and religious causes among all surveyed generations (other generations were Boomers, Silent and Great).  While older generations still lead the pack in giving, there is a significant amount of money that nonprofits are leaving on the table by failing to engage younger people.

So what’s next?  Below are some quick tips to help your nonprofit cultivate us today so that we will continue giving tomorrow:

  • Encourage E-Pledges. It should come as no surprise that most young people (heck, people in general) are on a budget.  Allowing younger donors to pledge a certain amount and then having a portion of the pledge debited from their account each month is a great way to allow those with limited means (but who mean well :)) to support your organization’s mission.
  • Invite us to Get on Board. Consider enriching your nonprofit’s leadership by cultivating Gen X and Y as board members.  Including us as stewards of your organization ensures that creativity prevails, not only in raising additional dollars but in defining the long-term strategy of your nonprofit.  Organizations like the Associated Black Charities in Baltimore, Maryland know the importance of cultivating young and racially- diverse leadership  through their Board Pipeline Leadership Development Project.  I participated in their last training cycle and am excited to say that I am in conversation about board service with a local college!
  • Social Media Matters. There has been a lot of conversation around the usefulness of social media in cultivating additional revenue.  Overall, the response has been mixed.  Those concerned with the potential return on investment are unsure if the staff time it takes to maintain a Facebook and/or Twitter page is worth the amount of money that these tools may bring in.  But rather than look at social media as a passing fancy, it is still a tool that your organization can use to inform and engage younger people in your organization’s mission.  Being open to new ways of communicating will ensure that your nonprofit remains dedicated to building a community larger than what you’re already used to.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas on how to effectively engage Gen X and Y in ensuring your nonprofit’s long-term sustainability?