Broad and Transparent Giving

March 11, 2014

There seems to be a fear in the traditional non-profit world in telling donors too much, or in revealing too much about your organization. I think there was a time when donors asked fewer questions and demanded less accountability. Today more than ever before donors want to know that their money is going to make a difference and is being used to the very best of its ability. What does that look like?

Many charities today ask you for a gift to do something and then put that money towards general greatest needs. A reader had a great comment in responds to my grassroots fundraising post. Many solicitation letters are written where donors are asked to give to this specific program but the money goes to the greatest needs of the organization. This is not always the case there are organizations where if you “buy a goat” or “sponsor a child” that money goes to that specific kid or for that specific animal you purchased. And I think that is incredible. But it doesn’t always work that way.

We in the non-profit world need to be very careful about what we say. If we are asking for money for X and give it to Y then that is a problem. You might say, “that is how it works” or “if I ask for general support my case is not compelling enough.” A great solution proposed by this reader is to explain what the costs involved in doing your organization’s mission are. This is often called creating equivalences. For example it might cost a homeless shelter $50 to feed 30 people or cost a relief agency $10,000 to put a fresh water well in Africa. You can ask for a gift of $30 dollars to help your homeless shelter then go onto describe the kinds of things that $30 dollars could do. Things like feeding people or providing them a bed for the night. But do not say the money will go directly to feeding people unless that is the plan for the money.

Here are some other articles on this topic:
Wall Street Journal- How Can Charities Make Themselves More Open
Donor Power Blog- More Donors are Growing Hard Noses
Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog- Open Up or Else

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Engaging Board Members & Volunteers

March 4, 2014

Lets talk a little more about getting donors (and board members) involved in your nonprofit. I think that it is important that we do not take a too narrow view of fund development. Every nonprofit has a lot of different needs that vary from simple volunteer tasks like sorting or answering phones all the way to creating an IT infrastructure, crafting a marketing campaign, or advocating on behalf of the organization. Wouldn’t it be incredible if a nonprofit started to view volunteers, donors, and board members all with the same value? How often have the lines been blurred between all of these different areas? A good nonprofit will learn how to use these vested individuals in greater depth.

A reader wrote a great comment in response to my posting, Using Board Members to Fundraise. I think that you can change “board member” to “executive volunteer” and get the same result.

“My claim is that to maximize your board’s effectiveness (at fund raising or whatever else) the organization needs to look at things in reverse. ‘Who are my board members, why are they here, and how best can we use what they bring?’”

This represents a profound shift in thinking. What would happen if a nonprofit really thought this way? I think that it would result in some incredible partnerships, new programs, and increased donations.

I really liked the questions that were asked in that post but I might rephrase the question just a little bit. I think that if a nonprofit can really use it’s board members greatest skills they would get a lot further. But, I think that it is important that in doing this they do not lose track of their mission. So my rephrase would be, “Who are my board members, why are they here, and how best can we use what they bring to further the mission of the nonprofit?” Maybe that redirection to connect the volunteer work with the nonprofit’s mission is what makes a good fund development staff member.

One last thing. When you start down the path of engaging volunteers in their passions and their skills start small. It is going to take time to create the working relationship between your nonprofit and that specific board member or volunteers. I have known a lot of volunteers that come in really excited and want to do 100 things and they don’t end up doing 1. But the most profound impacts that I’ve seen have been board members that came in to do 1 or 2 things and followed through. Make sure you sit down and talk with this volunteer about what they can do and what they want to do. Before you do anything else go back to your organization and talk to them about what the organization needs to do to be able to use those skills and abilities. Make sure to follow up with the individual (in person or by phone) and talk about how the partnership will work and what the organization is doing to support their work. Continue to check in to thank them, see what kind of additional support this volunteer might need, and see how the project/task/involvement is going. If they want to engage in a deeper way or do some additional things make sure that it will not stop them from being able to finish the task they are on. You can tell them the organization is not ready yet or the need is greatest with the work they are doing right now. Only tell them that if it is true. Explain to the volunteer why you are not ready yet.

Do you have any examples of using volunteers well or and comments? Let me know I think we are starting a great conversation on this topic. Be sure to read the comments as some really insightful things have been said.