My Philosophy of Giving

May 31, 2010

I received an email from a reader at Actually Giving few weeks ago and she mentioned how rarely, as fundraisers, we talk about our own personal giving. Today I want to talk a little about my theories as to why I give, and first thing next week I’ll post where and why I give money.

I prefer to give deeply instead of giving broadly. When I first started in fundraising, I was shocked at how little money people actually gave. I realized that, through my giving to church, I could actually be considered a major donor at most organizations. Giving is about choosing a couple of organizations and making a significant gift. I’m a big advocate for monthly giving as it allows someone to give small gifts throughout the year that add up to one big gift.

In the back of my head, I’ve convinced myself that I’m a great fundraiser. In order for an organization to get money from me, they have to do as good of a job in cultivating me as I think I’m doing with other people. For example I expect to get a thank you letter within a week, if it’s someone I know I appreciate a thank you call or email. I love when I get a thank you letter and it has a little note on it even when the note just says thank you. So I’ve created a bit of a high standard. Because of this I find that it can be difficult for a new organization to acquire me as a new donor.

On Wednesday I’ll give some more specifics about where I give to and why. What is your philosophy of giving? Do you believe that fundraisers should be philanthropists too?


Loving the Luxuries

May 26, 2010

Peter Singer encourages us in his book, The Life You Can Save, is to cut back on your weekly coffee or stop purchasing bottled water and use this money to international organizations working with global poverty. I am in agreement that I personally (and if I can be so bold, so does most of America) have more luxuries than I need. But having luxuries is not wrong. It may be a good idea to have a few less cups of coffee or a few less bottles of water and give that money to nonprofits. But that is not a complete answer. Just the other day, I learned about a bottled water business that, for every bottle of water you buy, provides the equivalent of three times that amount of clean water for the third world. And, you would be hard pressed to find a coffee company that is not giving back to the coffee farmers that supply their coffee. It is often these luxuries that fund our very jobs allowing us to be able to give money back.

But to me, the larger concern is in our own perspective on our luxuries. These luxuries many times fuel the progress of mankind and advance a great deal of social good. Art is a perfect example. To me much of art is exhaustively financially overpriced. But it represents how much we as a culture can value beauty, ingenuity, and creativity.

There has to be a balance between minimalism and extravagance that allows our donors, and the everyday American, to feel okay about having money. Fundraising exists because many Americans have disposable income. I don’t agree with Peter Singer when he talks about giving up a cup of coffee to help someone in need. We will always view our gift from the perspective of what we gave up to give it. Most giving comes after we’ve paid our bills and set our budgets. What if it came before? What if we included charitable giving when we sat down at the table to figure out what we could spend this month? Instead of giving up coffee, what if we took a real look at what we wanted to accomplish and gave to bring about that outcome? People will respond more positively and generously when they have an opportunity to understand what their giving can mean.


Who is Doing the Most Good

May 24, 2010

I recently read a book by Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save. In this book he talks about how we can make a global difference in poverty and how a small amount of money can go a long way in saving lives. When I read that book and think about the work of an organization like Charity Navigator, it appears that there may be a ranking of different kinds of nonprofit work as more valuable.

An unspoken ranking system that I’ve seen developing is: global poverty, global health, local poverty, then education and healthcare, then the arts. This kind of unspoken ranking concerns me, and I am really curious what you think. From a purely financial perspective, I can understand the cost benefit of saving the most lives with the least amount of dollars, but that line of thinking would make me believe that the value of life is based only on how much it costs to live. It might cost $15,000 to save someone in a local hospital, or $5,000 to keep a homeless person off the streets. Should these people be forgotten because we could save 100 people in another country for the same amount of money? I guess I would say no, as a fundraiser. I hope we can raise money to help people locally and globally, and I’m glad that there are organizations and donors in both groups.

I believe that the world of fundraising is big enough for us all, and I am glad that there are a number of different kinds of organizations that can reach out to donors’ individual passions. The pull to save the most lives or make the “biggest difference” does speak to me in a unique way. How can nonprofits that do not serve the poorest of the poor make their message just as powerful? This brings us back to why we give. The power to address needs in your own community will often trump the needs of those we don’t know or to whom we feel no connection. Nonprofits need to be able to do a good job reaching out to the donors in their backyard, so to speak.

Do you think that one sector of nonprofit work deserves money more than another? Is there an unspoken ranking of nonprofits with your donors or in your community?


Building Your Event Menu

May 19, 2010

My boss knows her food and has provided me a number of tips that have helped me as I’ve developed menus for my events. Here is a checklist I go through when ordering food. This has helped keep the food at our events diverse and relevant to a large group of people.

  • Have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
  • Chicken is a great option, but make sure every dish is not chicken.
  • Don’t let all your vegetarian options be only cheese options. Often the standard vegetarian dish is a meat dish with cheese replacing the meat.
  • The standard vegan dish is often grilled vegetables.
  • Make sure to have something for your vegan guests. Grilled vegetables are a great fallback if you cannot come up with other options.
  • Try and have both healthy and unhealthy options. For example, don’t only have greasy fried foods, but also have some fruit and other options. Also, try to make your healthy options more exciting than just fruit or vegetables a la carte.
  • Think about the colors and textures of all of your dishes. Are you going to have 3 dips that are all the same color? Do you have all red food? Try to mix it up.
  • Serving something on a cracker can make a great appetizer, but don’t let all your appetizers be different things on crackers or bread. Add some satays or dips.

Question: Legal Advocacy

May 17, 2010

Depending on your nonprofit’s certification you are under different laws surrounding the kind of legislative positions you can take. This is an area in which I have very little knowledge but am curious about. I wanted to reach out to you as nonprofit professionals all over the states regarding what you know about legislative advocacy.

What is the limit of the advocacy a 501(c)(3) can do? Can you support political candidates, bills that affect or do not affect your organization, or encourage your supporters to legislate on your behalf?

If you could post a comment and share what your organization does regarding advocacy, that would be extremely helpful. Make sure to include your nonprofit’s status or whether you’re a government agency.


Markham Mark of Distinction

May 13, 2010

Last year I posted about this award and I wanted to post again when they opened the award this year. Here are the details.

Markham Vineyards is opening submissions to their annual Mark of Distinction program. They are giving two $25,000 awards to programs who are making a distinct mark in their community. Nominate your program on their website before July 19. The top nonprofits will be highlighted on their website starting August 10 with the top two projects to each receive $25,000.


Featured Fundraiser: James Tobias

May 12, 2010

This month’s Featured Fundraiser is James Tobias. If you ever would like to nominate someone for Feature Fundraiser just send me an email. – Jason

What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?

Photo of JamieI work as the assistant director of development for L’Arche USA. L’Arche specializes in providing care to adults with developmental and intellectual disorders. L’Arche homes are found throughout the world. There are 16 homes and 3 emerging communities here in the US. My primary responsibilities are with annual giving, stewardship and data management but I also manage social media, HTML design, communication pieces, board management, grants and some major gift prospects.

What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?

I love development work. I have been doing it for almost 10 years now and it is always dynamic. I enjoy new challenges and changes and development work is always in flux. I also have been blessed to work for non profits whose work I believe in, which makes the job that much more rewarding.

What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?

Embrace change and new ideas. I hear often of how many organizations resist changing or tweaking operations just because it isn’t the way they have done it in the past. In this environment you have to be willing to take a chance and keep up. My only caveats are not to make too many changes at once, otherwise you don’t know which was successful and give a new idea time to be successful. Often new ideas are too quickly dismissed without seeing the whole process to the end.

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?

In my current job there is little budget for acquisitions so it has been a challenge to find creative but low cost ways to find new donors.

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that you’d like to share?

Donors can be anywhere! I once was discussing a new program with a friend in a coffee shop. A man overheard the conversation and asked me to send him more information on the program. I did and he gave a very nice gift.