Small to Middle Donors and Obama

July 28, 2010

I received some great comments and encouragement from, Major Gifts or Middle Giving, a couple months ago. I’m searching for answers to what this program might look like. What needs to happen is a technique where you can cultivate a fan-base in a way that is personal to them. Or, we need to find a way to cultivate middle giving donors in a low-cost, time-efficient way.

In Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg (you can read an earlier interview with him), they talk about a technique employed during Obama’s presidential campaign showing a new kind of value in asking for small gifts.

“If Obama had asked for $100 million in the weeks leading up to the election, he probably wouldn’t have gotten it. Instead he told people to donate whatever they could – a few bucks even – and then he was able to return to them over and over. In other words small is the new big.”

This started my mind thinking about all of the opportunities that social media can provide for us. Often nonprofits send off regular annual mailings that sometimes fund a direct need and other times fund an ongoing annual need. These letters often ask the donor to stretch their giving beyond what they have done in the past to upgrade their giving. I believe we do this because it can cost a lot of money to send a mail-out multiple times a year. But social media is free. What if we sent an email out to our donor-base regarding specific needs? Instead of asking for $100 from one donor, we would ask him to be a part of a group of people raising $100,000. We could also provide an opt-out box and let him know we will connect with him in a week’s time if we do not reach our goal. We could also encourage donors to fund specific needs as they develop. If they are funding in smaller specific amounts, maybe they would make more small gifts adding up to a higher overall total.

I don’t see this as a comprehensive donor strategy as I really believe in the power of monthly giving. I’m just throwing out one idea that popped into my head as I was considering this. What other ideas do you have, has this sparked any thinking for you?


Do You Talk or Do You Listen?

July 26, 2010

I have met a lot of extroverted fundraisers; they are people who like to talk and be listened to and can often speak eloquently and persuasively about the causes of their organization. However, I’ve always enjoyed listening more than talking. I have found that many donors want to talk about themselves, why they do or do not give, and what they do.

One of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned is that a person feels a lot more of an affinity with your organization if it feels like they have been able to share about themselves. This has left me with a question inside. Which is a more valuable trait for a development officer to have– to be able to speak with charisma and eloquence. or to ask good questions and be a good listener? We obviously cannot have one without the other. In fact, a good relationship is built on give and take, on two way conversation. It is important to be able to make your case and persuasively tell your organization’s story. But, it is equally as valuable to be able to understand what a donor’s interests truly are and how the organization links to them.

How do you go into a donor visit? Do you go in with questions or with answers and a presentation? I imagine that you probably do both depending on what stage of the solicitation process you are in. I know quite a few outgoing development professionals but not nearly as many introverted ones. What kind of development professional are you? Any introverts out there that share my story?

Success Breeds Success

July 21, 2010

No one wants to be a part of a failing project; people like to participate in success. This is why it is often easier to raise the last $100,000 than the first $100,000. Everyone wants to know that they have funded a project that is really going to fulfill the initial vision they gave to.

It is a special kind of person that likes to be the first to give. More often than not, people want to know answers to the following questions: how much has already been raised, who has already given, how long have you been raising money for this specific project? This is why capital campaigns don’t go public until a large percentage of the money has already been raised. Everyone wants to know you will accomplish what you’ve set out to do, especially when it includes their giving. Here are some tools you can use to let success breed success:

  • Show progress. Regular updates that donors are giving and giving generously are important to keep the momentum of a campaign going.
  • Set attainable goals. Achieving a goal motivates everyone to be successful and improve the next time. If a goal is too large no one will even try to make it. It’s easier to set a small goal and achieve it and then set a little larger goal and achieve it than to jump into achieving a large goal.
  • Invest in your givers. Use those individuals who have already given to encourage their friends and community to give. These individuals want to see you succeed or they would not have given.
  • Make sure your goal is not arbitrary but serves a specific need. Raising $10,000 because it sounds like a nice number is not motivating. Raising $11,000 to furnish a room at a hospice is more motivating because people understand that their gift will make a specific difference and why you need money to make that difference.

What are some other tricks of the trade? How have you brought about success with your campaigns? Any best practices?

Donor Flavors

July 19, 2010

There seem to be three distinct kinds of discussions that I have with donors: story-based, fact-based, and recognition-based. Many solicitations will have one or two of these themes in them, but one of them always comes out on top. Each of the below strategies are built around how a donor would best respond to a solicitation proposal.

Story-based. This kind of donor conversation centers on a current or past donor story. Most of my solicitations are story-based as I find that people like to hear examples of how money has changed lives even if it is not what their money will specifically do. I’ve often found that if an organization is raising money for greatest needs this can be a good strategy to get unrestricted giving.

Fact-based. A donor who responds to a fact-based proposal wants to know exactly what his or her gift is going to do. These donors often view their giving as an investment in social good. They will want to know answers to questions like how many people will this serve, why do you do what you do this way, how much of what I’m funding is staff? Many of these proposals become restricted or designated gifts. This kind of donor wants to ensure that his or her money goes to a specific exact need.

Recognition-based. Some donors want people to know about their giving or their on-going contributions to an organization. These donors want to know how their gifts will be recognized. Getting a big gift from these individuals will mean you need to give big recognition. Sometimes this giving will be tied to a specific project in a building. But, often a recognition-gift discussion talks more about the legacy of a donor and how you can recognize that legacy and the money can be used in some form to greatest needs.

Have you seen any patterns like this when you’ve worked with donors? Many solicitations will often pair strategies together. Does your style of fundraising lean towards one of these themes over another?

Interview with Adam Penenberg

July 14, 2010

I recently finished reading Adam Penenberg’s book Viral Loop. The book focuses on technology-based businesses from the last 10 years who have grown virally. I found the book extremely thought-provoking, bringing to light observations I’d seen for a long time but never verbalized. It was a really good read. The author has offered to answer a few questions regarding a nonprofit application of his book.

You talk about finding a funding model that you can tie to a sustainable viral loop, can nonprofit do something similar using donations or fundraising?

Absolutely. Viral marketing relies on people passing on information they deem worthy–whether it’s a link to a funny video on YouTube, a political message, petitions, etc. If a nonprofit has a passionate core group of donors then the key would be to incentivize these donors to reach out to their social networks of friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. It would work well with a specific campaign. Ideally, the non-profit could create a Facebook application that could incentivize donations. Let’s say your organization is called Save the Cats (STC). I’d set it up like this: Create a Save the Cats branded app fueled by virtual currency. Just by downloading the you receive $100 in STC dollars. They can be spent at any number of retailers that donate inventory the retailer would like to sell anyway. You then get $30 off a shirt from the Gap, $20 off a rental car, $40 off a pair of rollerblades, etc. As your cash reserves dwindle you can earn more virtual currency–it doesn’t cost STC anything–by getting 5 friends to download the app and donating a certain amount of money. It should be small increments, say, $10 each. And so on and so on. Once you have a large enough installed base you can try al sorts of things. At the very least you gain thousands or even hundreds of thousands of new names to add to your donor lists. You raise money for your non-profit. And you spread your message. It’s a win-win-win for everyone involved.

Do you know of any nonprofits that you feel are using viral techniques you describe in your book well?

Causes on Facebook has something like a quarter-million fans. And it’s viral. I don’t know of many charities that have adopted viral models, other than the odd video or webpage the originators hope would go viral (for example: RSPCA viral charity communications). Barack Obama’s presidential campaign online was helmed by a founder of Facebook and it was viral–and very effective. I think political campaigns and any non-profit with a strong message could deploy viral marketing methods to multiply the impact of their fundraising at very low cost.

Do you have any recommendations about nonprofits that are thinking about engaging in social media and participating in online community?

Go where people are: Facebook, with its 500M users, and LinkedIn. Offer value. Give people a reason to donate to your cause beyond the usual appealing to their better nature. People are constantly bombarded with requests for money. You need to make your users feel engaged so much so that not only will they donate, they will spread your message for you–even without being asked.

Should nonprofits stay current with new and developing technology and online trends?

Obviously. Direct mail is very expensive and it annoys people. Calling people at home is even worse. It’s much more cost-effective to create a social media strategy that induces people to raise money for you through their social network of friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.

Could there be synergy for start-up viral businesses to work with nonprofit communities in a similar way to how Facebook approached universities?

As long as the business and non-profit share similar goals. Obviously KFC sponsoring breast cancer awareness is not an ideal partnership. But I like the idea of retailers working together with charities. And one of my favorites is Blanket America ( You buy something, and Blanket America will give a similar article to a person in need. In other words, Buy 1 blanket, you automatically donate 1 blanket. It’s charitable capitalism, in which the mechanism of giving is taken up by the retailer, not the buyer. In fact, the buyer just by doing what he normally does–buy a pillow, blanket, or something else–he is donating to someone in need. It’s a pretty interesting trend and offers all sorts of viral possibilities. The key is bridging the gap between businesses and charities. Once done, it’s very powerful.

Has YWCA Touched Your Life?

July 13, 2010

Nonprofits across the United States touch lives every single day. As one of the largest community based organizations in the world YWCA has been a part of all of our lives. YWCA is often a focal point in our communities connecting and helping our neighbors for generations. YWCA seeks to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

I want to collect some stories about the good work of our local YWCAs. Leave a comment below telling us a little more about your story.

Have you ever:

  • Received assistance or services?
  • Volunteered at a local center?
  • Donated money?
  • Heard a really good story from a friend?

Share your stories and ask your friends to share theirs. I look forward to hearing more about what YWCA is doing in your city.

Make sure to note which city you are writing from. On Friday July 30, 2010, A Small Change will make a $50 donation to a YWCA in the city with the most stories (comments).

Development Work Like Pastoring

July 12, 2010

We have a unique opportunity to partner with people in areas of their passion. In our culture, money is often a taboo topic, yet as fundraisers it is something we talk about often. Where we give or do not give our money often says a lot about us and what we believe in. In conversations with donors I’ve often heard, “I wish I could give more.” I’ve had donors tell me, with sadness in their face, that they are not in a place to give. These are opportunities to bless a person by helping them understand the difference they have and are already making in your organization. This is the essence of pastoral work, talking with someone about building life direction and leaving a legacy. We can come alongside donors to encourage them as they accomplish their heartfelt goals.

I’ve been reading Ask Without Fear by Marc Pitman, great book with some quick and easy tips on fundraising– I’ll write a bit more of a review in a future post. I’m not sure he would share my theory that development work is like pastoring, but he had a story that I think still illustrates my point. Marc speaks of an experience when he went on a solicitation call to an individual that had previously been very generous to his organization. When he asked for the individual, the wife came to speak with him instead and he learned that the day before the husband had died.

“This is one of those sacred moments we get as fundraisers. I stayed with this widow for three hours, hearing about their life together, the trips they had recently taken, seeing her pottery kiln, listening about her kids. I was able to minister in a way that few others could have.”

I’m not making a claim that pastors are like development officers, only that there are some similarities in the way we work with people. What do you think? Have you ever had these kinds of conversations with donors?