A New Kind of Philanthropy

March 31, 2008

Sometimes I am frustrated by the idea of what is known today as “Philanthropy” or “Fundraising.” The unspoken definition of these words is “asking for money from wealthy people.” I think that is misleading and misinterpreted. In some ways the modern day idea of philanthropy exists because of the gap of wealth between the top 1% and the rest of the world.

But I would like to suggest that philanthropy and fundraising are for people of all ages and wealth demographics. It is all about relationships with people and wanting to make a difference. I have been amazed by how much change one person can make if they concentrate on their community of friends and a compelling idea.

I think that people today want to tell there friends about the needs in the world and want to give of their money but they feel like their circle of friends and their “small” donations can’t really make a difference. I want to suggest that with many organizations (like the ones you’ve seen on my Org of the Month) you can make a huge difference as an every day person. A ten dollar donation goes a long way with an organization like SEDA, Epic Change, or Wellspring.

In todays technology world sometime just telling the story or voting for an organization can provide significant gifts. Think about the recent competition on Ideablob or the 2007 America’s Giving Challenge. Those ideas are supported by the every day person that take a few seconds to vote or give a few dollars.

What can we do?
• Leave a comment below with your idea
• Join the conversation on the A Small Change Facebook Group
• Check out one of the Orgs of the Month and offer to help out

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Fund Drives with Businesses

March 27, 2008

Earlier this week I talked about Starting a Food or Fund Drive. Now I want to provide you with some specific ideas in talking with and approaching businesses. Businesses want to make a difference and are a great environment to raise grassroots support.

Some great ways to get the word out with local businesses are to approach local Chambers of Commerce, Kiwanis, or Rotaries. Ask them to put something in their weekly or monthly newsletters about your upcoming fund drive. Ask these groups if you can come to a meeting and talk about your organization. There are also a lot of online communities specific to local industries or locations and they can be a great place to get the word out there. Approach the community managers or local bloggers and ask them to talk about your fund drive program.

When sending out to direct mail lists or email lists make sure that you are following up by phone. Businesses are busy places so you might have to call a few times and leave a few messages. Target team leaders and human resource professionals when trying to run employee drives. They can be great people to connect with to set-up a drive in their business.

When working with businesses for a special fund drive campaign it can be a great idea to talk with members of the executive team. Talk with them about matching their employee’s gifts or sponsoring the program for logo or other kinds of corporate recognition.


Starting Food & Fund Drives

March 25, 2008

Community drives are a great way to get businesses & community groups involved in your organization. They are also a great way to build and grow your donor base. How do you get started? What are some important things to think about?

The key to success in grassroots work is to make things simple and easy to multiply. Take a core issue connected to your organization and create an easy to use package. Where I work we do food drives and fund drives. Fund drives are the easiest because they take the least amount of supplies. You need to have a quick and easy idea that can be explained in a few sentences or less. Create a document explaining the program, and start to plan who you are going to approach.

Set up a multi-tiered approach where you send out a letter to your regular community & business supporters (or volunteers) asking them to get involved. Post some sign-up information on your website and include some info in your e-newsletter. I would suggest setting a time line so that your program can doing something in a specific issue or program. Individual fund drives usually raise more when they are for 2 weeks or a month instead of an designated time or a couple of months. When the drive over a short set amount of time everyone involved is focused during that time.

Set things up so that each drive is specific to your organization with a financial connection to your mission with equivalences. Like a gift of $10 will feed one family, or provide books for one student. This way you are setting up everyone with a specific expected gift amount per individual person. If you are a food bank incorporate a food drive option. Or maybe it makes sense to collect coats or cell phones or something like that. Be creative.

Does your organization or has your community group run a program like this before? Tell us about it. Was it a success? What tips and pointers do you have to share?


Tangible Donor Cultivation

March 24, 2008

So how do we really treat donors differently? What does it really mean? What does “Donor-centric” actually look like? It is one thing to talk about new ideas and a totally different thing to have tangible ways of carrying them out. I think that a major key to All Donors as Major Donors is to remember, “people not process.” We cannot forget that our systems can only be secondary to the people that are a part of them. Many donors don’t care about donor lists, quarterly coffee visits, and an annual solicitation. But some do so we should adapt our processes accordingly. I’ve received a bunch of great ideas from you and from a few individuals on LinkedIn. Here are a few tangible suggestions. Please add your own ideas & experiences as a comment below

  • Aubrey suggests that when a donor calls take an extra couple minute to actually talk to them and to make sure you thank them for their continued support.
  • A few ideas from Amy J. Good, a Nonprofit Management grad student at, Regis University, “Personal invitations/tickets to special events; Let them know you saw an article in the newspaper about them; Phone call from a board member for no other reason but to thank the donor for their gift.”
  • Paul Cusimano says, “People cannot be thanked enough. Every step of the way, let them know you are there…don’t forget about people.”
  • Marcus Fish recommends, “doing a bit of research about each donor/prospect…check [their] files/database, google their name, and look at where they live.”
  • “Send holiday photo cards with pictures of some of our kids engaged in programs, invitations to tour the school, and I always make a phone call to donors on the same day we receive a major gift from them.” Jim Price, Executive Director, The Child’s Primary School
  • “Include a series of check boxes on direct mail reply cards that let donors choose how often they hear from me. The boxes would be things like ‘Please ask me for a gift only once a year’ or ‘Please ask me for a gift only during the Holidays’. This let the donor decide how often they wanted to receive mailings from me, and subsequently, my response rates went up while my expenses went down. And my donors were happy.” Sandy Rees
  • “A handcrafted thank-you card from an actual service recipient. Of course, this isn’t always plausible; but the underlying theme is right on. Figure out a way to really connect a constituent, funder or supporter with the people they’re actually helping, and they’ll stay with you forever.” Trevor Scheetz, Program Coordinator at Business Volunteers Unlimited
  • “Let your donors know exactly where their gifts went. Whether you do it via an annual report, a special end-of-year thank you to all donors, or on your website, make sure people know that even the smallest gift made a difference.” Dana Camacho, Development Manager, American Academy of Periodontology Foundation

Christopher from NPower Seattle:

Connection to mission is what it’s all about right? If a member of your constituency isn’t feeling it, or feels stronger connection to another mission, then what are the chances of that long-term relationship continuing to grow? In my mind the best way to build that relationship is to identify those things to which the constituent connects best and be sure that you are “keeping them in the loop.” The birthday cards, phone calls and events mean nothing if you are not using them to provide a clear and consistent message that your mission is something that resonates with them, and is something exciting to be involved with. We are not selling the mission, we are inviting them to be part of something important.


More from Epic Change

March 19, 2008


I hope you had the chance to visit the Ideablob website to help out Epic Change in their competition. Check out yesterday’s post for more information on Epic Change.
If your non-profit is interested in becoming an Org of the Month download the sign-up form and send it to infosmallchange@gmail.com

What sector do you raise money for and how is that different from raising money in another sector?

While right now, we’re working on an education project in the developing world, the Epic Change approach may be adopted across many sectors: we may eventually fund a health, poverty, art or other type of project. Let’s call the segment we focus on the “social innovation” sector. For us, these are primarily donors who feel that traditional charitable models have been ineffective and others who feel that they’ve been excluded from charitable giving because they didn’t feel they could personally give enough to make a difference. To appeal to this group, we’ve focused our fundraising efforts on two key ideas:

Partner Empowerment: I believe the reason social entrepreneurship and social innovation have become such popular ideas recently is because many people are starting to believe that traditional models of giving haven’t yielded great – or sustainable – results. A parent of one of the children at the school we’re building in Tanzania once said, “If you tell a man he is weak, he will be weak; if you tell a man he is poor, he will be poor.” And yet, many charities seem to do just that by employing fundraising models that foster long-term relationships of direct dependency that, in my opinion, serve to perpetuate and reinforce an implicit sense of inequality. At Epic Change, we believe that local leaders possess the strength, power and resources (i.e., their stories) to improve their own lives and communities – and even to improve other communities in need elsewhere on the globe. Every relationship we enter into between a donor and an Epic Change partner has an exit strategy that’s based on our partners’ (i.e., loan recipients’) development of their own stories into sustainable sources of non-charitable income. Our donors like the idea that their contribution yields a long-term solution rather than a short-term band-aid or, worse yet, and endless cycle of continued dependency on charitable contributions.

Ultimately, social innovators are interested in our longer-term strategy to eventually avoid the “donation” model altogether; the Epic Change approach is based on the entrepreneurial hypothesis that eventually we’ll be able to raise funds to support our projects primarily through sales of storytelling products and loan repayments rather than traditional donations. We see our current donors as start-up investors and, hopefully, future consumers of Epic Change products.

Donor Empowerment: Unlike fundraising efforts in many sectors, so far we’ve put minimal emphasis on large gifts (though that would be nice!) and are really trying to cultivate a broad base of small donors/investors who can give to our cause with their time and energy as well as their financial contributions. We try to keep these donors engaged by constantly connecting their contributions directly to the impact of their gifts through stories in our blog and email communications. We also provide them with as many opportunities as we can to get directly involved in our efforts, and tools they can use and adapt themselves to spread the word as friendraisers – like YouTube videos they can circulate via email and widgets they can deploy on their own social networking sites. I’ve seen Nirvan Mullick at The One Second Film call this concept “micro-collaboration,” the process by which “many people to work together in lots of little ways to collectively create something bigger than we could alone.” This idea definitely seems to resonate with our base.

Any pointers for organizations in your area that help non-profit professionals?

LinkedIn has been a really helpful tool for connecting with great advice on several topics about which I’ve had questions. There’s a broad network there of non-profit and for-profit professionals who have, in my experience, been really receptive to questions I’ve asked, and provided me with great answers and references to a range of helpful resources. I actually met Jason, the host of this blog, on LinkedIn. Because we’re located in a small town in Florida, I’ve found limited resources in my own geographic area, but more than plenty using online social networking tools.

Do you have any problems or questions that you would like to ask for answers from the philanthropic community?

As I mentioned, it’s only been six months since we received our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. While I have some experience in grantwriting, we’ve been waiting to approach granting organizations until we’ve demonstrated some success so that they’ll really take our request seriously. Just last week, the doors opened to a school we funded in Tanzania – in only three months since we provided our original loan, a significant accomplishment that I believe provides some insight into the potential of our organization. At what point do you believe a new non-profit is ready to make the leap into applying for grants? Are you aware of any granting organizations that may be particularly applicable to our mission and stage of development, or our current project in Tanzania?


Org of the Month: Epic Change

March 18, 2008

This month’s Org of the Month is Epic Change. This non-profit is a pioneer in online fundraising and has a lot of really great things to say. Below is a short YouTube video about the organization.


Help Epic Change right now. Visit Ideablob where Epic Change is competing to win $10,000. Vote on the Ideablob site for Epic Change to help them win.

What is your non-profit about? And what areas do you serve?

Epic Change helps hopeful people in need share their “epic” true stories in innovative, creative and profitable ways to help them acquire the financial resources they need to create positive “change” in their communities. We use donations to provide interest-free loans to local grassroots leaders to finance their community improvement efforts. We then facilitate loan repayment by collaborating with our partners to share their stories through products that generate income. Finally, we “pay it forward” by recycling repaid loans to help fund Epic Change in other communities. Our first project is focused on rebuilding and expanding a primary school in Arusha, Tanzania.

What are the major fundraising programs you have?

Our 501(c)(3) status was approved only about six months ago, and so far we’ve raised nearly $40,000, primarily through small individual gifts made online from our families, friends and colleagues. These gifts have been enabled through the use of a suite of online tools from Network for Good and Facebook to Care2 and LinkedIn. We recently won a $1,000 grant from the Case Foundation and raised over $6,000 in about three weeks through our successful participation in America’s Giving Challenge; we were in the top 5% of nearly 500 participating US-based nonprofits. We always have our eyes out for interesting opportunities; we’re participating in the Ideablob competition right now and we’re submitting an entry to the NetSquared MashedUp contest as well.

While our next steps are to cultivate local fundraising chapters from our current list of supporters, and to reach out to corporate donors and granting organizations for additional seed money, we’re hoping that in the next 3-5 years, we’ll be able to generate the majority of our income through loan repayments and the sales of Epic Change products based on the stories of the people we serve.

What geographic area does your charity serve and where is it located?

Epic Change is a registered 501(c)(3) located in Florida. While our first project is located in Arusha, Tanzania, our next project location is unknown. We imagine that the repayment of our original loan to a school in Tanzania may, for example, eventually fund a clinic in Peru, an orphanage in Eastern Europe or even a program for the homeless in the US. So, the impact of donations to Epic Change are not limited to a particular geographic region.

Any tips on how to approach donors in your area?

Actually, given what we’ve learned so far, and the premise on which our entire model is based, I believe the best way to approach donors in any area is with a detailed, well-told story that personally connects potential donors to your cause, which echoes recent research by Wharton marketing professor Deborah Small. That said, I believe there’s a delicate balance to be played when telling stories to generate interest and encourage donorship. Most non-profits also have compelling stories of happiness, transformation and hope to share. It seems to me that hope and inspiration may be more powerful tools in cultivating potential donors than fear, guilt and sadness.

For one example, check out this story about Glory, a 9-year-old girl who attends the school we’re building in Tanzania. While her incredibly difficult situation is presented realistically, the story is primarily one of optimism and hope. Glory’s story was taken from a blog entry I wrote during our last trip to Tanzania. To me, a blog that’s updated frequently is the single best way to keep donors involved in the story of your organization and the impact of your work. Of course, for donors who aren’t RSS feeders, blog entries can serve as the basis for emails or mailings as well.

Read more tomorrow from Epic Change.


All Donors as Major Donors

March 12, 2008

Here is a crazy idea. What if we treated all of our donors like major donors? What if instead of cultivating and personally soliciting donors we started treating them all as if they were major donors?

This is a question I’ve been pondering in my head over and over again for a number of weeks. It is linked to the concept of what is a major donor and why do we only personally cultivate donors at a specific level? To get a little more background on where this idea has developed look at Turning it Over to the Donor, and The Rich Young Ruler. I have a follow up article for this ready for Friday and I’d love to include some of your comments, arguments for & against, and ideas.

I think it is a little untraditional and want some of your expert opinions. This idea first crossed my mind when I realized that I am a “major donor” to the church that I go to. I do this out of a passion for the work of my church and because I’m connected to it’s purpose and mission. And I think that is what we want from all of our donors. I’ve struggled sometimes because in non-profit we will often set a value on each donor based on their circle of influence and their giving capacity. But we in non-profit have set our expectations extremely low. I often will spend more time cultivating a give from a wealthy person to give what equates to small gift in proportion to their wealth and forget that the “normal” donors are often giving a much higher percentage of their wealth with a gift of the same size.  There are many wealthy people that are giving generously out of the money that they have-don’t misread me. All that I am saying is that percentage wise a $500 gift costs more for someone who makes $50,000 a year than $1,000 gift from someone who makes $150,000 a year.

Giving is connected extremely closely to the way we think, act, and believe it is often at the heart of who we want to be. Check out What Motivates Giving and a collection of experts answering the same question at the Giving Carnival: Motivation. In non-profit we have a unique opportunity to partner with people and connect to the passions of their heart. This kind of connection doesn’t have a distinction between annual fund and major donor. This kind of fundraising is all about one on one relationship.

I am really interested in your input here. Please comment below if you like/dislike, agree or adamantly disagree. And I’ll highlight some of this conversation in a follow up article.