Blog Archives

Strategies for turning your volunteers into donors

On Tuesday, I completed my three-part blog series on “Non-Profit New Year’s Resolutions” with a post about volunteerism. Coincidentally, later that morning I opened an email from my friends at VolunteerHub containing a guest blog attachment about a study they recently completed about volunteerism. The two posts were not coordinated, but I suspect this is the blogosphere gods telling us that 2015 better be “The Year of the Volunteer” at your organization. I hope you enjoy the following guest post from VolunteerHub’s Corbit Harrison.

Here’s to your health!

Study: Best Practices for Converting Volunteers to Donors

By Corbit Harrison
Chief Operating Officer at VolunteerHub

Is one of your new year’s resolutions to increase donations?

If so, then it would be a great idea to target your volunteer base. Volunteers are among the “warmest leads” for donors and most familiar with your organization. In fact, the recent Volunteering and Civic Life in America study reports: “Volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity as non-volunteers. Nearly eight in 10 (79.2 percent) volunteers donated to charity, compared to four in 10 (40.4 percent) of non-volunteers.”

So, here’s the big question: how does a nonprofit convert volunteers into donors?

VolunteerHub recently surveyed 200 nonprofits on their best practices for donor management. The results show that many nonprofits are still struggling to tap into the true potential of monetary donations made by volunteers.


Below we share some of the challenges — as well as some remedies — that your organization may want to consider for its own strategic planning purposes.

Challenge: Tracking donor management is time-intensive

There’s a laundry list of reasons why, but the end result is the same: many nonprofits are behind the curve when it comes to implementing new technology. So, perhaps not surprisingly, one in three nonprofits responding to our survey are still manually entering data into spreadsheets in order to document donor information. Another 15 percent use a system of their own creation.

Solution: Implement a dedicated CRM

Approximately 50 percent of respondents utilize a constituent relationship management (CRM) system for tracking purposes.

Of those using a CRM, a name that comes up often is Blackbaud’s The Raiser’s Edge. It is the most widely-used CRM among those surveyed (51 percent of this subset). Additionally, once a system is in place, users tend to stay with it; seventy-two percent of respondents have remained with the same electronic donor tracking software for two years or more.


Challenge: Donor management processes are clunky, and data is scattered

Eight in ten of those nonprofits responding to our survey report that their donor management practices leave room for improvement. Manual data entry and validation issues head up the list at 40 percent, with close to another 20 percent identifying the isolation of volunteer and donor data sets as problematic. Other issues cited include ineffectual donation tracking and spotty donor engagement.

Take a look at what some of your nonprofit colleagues shared: “We have multiple pieces of information in multiple places… hard to have transparency around contact information as it relates to volunteers [and] donors.” Another writes, “The biggest headache pertaining to donor tracking and engagement is that it is outdated and inefficient.” Still more comment that tracking volunteer to donor conversion metrics and/or keeping contact information up-to-date present problems.

Solution: Get volunteer management and donor software to “talk” to each other

Best-in-class volunteer management systems and donor management applications are designed to keep their respective data all in one place and integrate with one another. This combines data from both volunteer and donor groups for much more efficient marketing and fundraising efforts. Synchronization between the two systems offers a 360-degree view of your constituents, by-passing the need for time-consuming manual data imports or exports.

VolunteerHub’s integration with The Raiser’s Edge, among Blackbaud’s other CRM solutions, is the perfect example of how integration can build new synergies.

Download the Donor Management Study

Ready to make 2015 the year of converting volunteers to donors? Download our study of over 200 nonprofits and learn:

  • CRM utilization rates
  • Donor management best practices
  • How to reduce manual data entry
  • How to engage more volunteers and donors
  • Tips for converting volunteers to donors

Click here to download the executive study.

Here’s to making 2015 your best fundraising year yet!

About Corbit Harrison

corbit harrisonCorbit Harrison is VolunteerHub’s Chief Operating Officer and has been actively helping nonprofit organizations engage constituents for over 10 years.

Fundraising New Year’s Resolutions — Focus on volunteerism

new years resolutionsIn my last two blog posts, I talked about a USA Today article from John Waggoner titled “Resolutions you can keep,” which I came across during my New Year’s Eve Napa Valley vacation. I previously mentioned there were three important fundraising concepts in the final two column inches of this article that non-profit organizations should take to heart as they start a new year. Last Tuesday’s blog was about sustainable giving strategies, and last Thursday’s post focused on sacrificial giving and upgrade strategies. Today, I am finishing this three-part series with a post about volunteerism.

So, the third (and final) notable thing that Waggoner said in the final two inches of his newspaper article was:

If you can’t afford to give money, give your time: The most rewarding way to feed the homeless is by hand. And anything you give to charity will probably leave you feeling better than you did on New Year’s Day.”

Some of you may be wondering how volunteer recruitment, retention and management is related to resource development. The simple truth is that volunteers are a “resource” . The following are just a few of the things volunteers will bring to the table for your organization:

  • new ideas
  • access to grant opportunities
  • specialized skills
  • wage replacement costs
  • donor dollars

I once read that a study looking at lifetime giving of traditionally cultivated donors compared to donors who started as volunteers found that those who start off as volunteers gave significantly more over their lifetime. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Volunteers are cultivating themselves better than any of us could do through a site tour, coffee meeting or house party.

volunteersA few days ago, I reviewed a PowerPoint training on a fundraising website that I run for a client. I stumbled across the following startling statistics pertaining to volunteer management:

  • Americans volunteered over 8 Billion hours of service in 2007. Those hours are worth more than $158 Billion (Volunteering in America Study, CNCS)
  • Households that volunteer give 40% more to charity than those that don’t volunteer
  • 80% of volunteers will give financially if asked
  • Fewer than half of the non-profits that rely on volunteers have adopted volunteer management programs

The last bullet point was shocking to me.

If your organization relies on volunteers and doesn’t have a written volunteer recruitment, retention and management plan, then I sincerely hope you take today’s blog post to heart and make it your 2015 New Year’s Resolution to correct this oversight.

Even of your organization isn’t reliant on volunteers, I encourage you to consider doing something in 2015 to change how you approach the idea of volunteerism. Doing so can have a profound impact on your resource development efforts.

The following are a few good links to other resources I think you will find interesting and helpful:

What does your non-profit organization do to attract, retain and manage volunteers? Do you have specific resource development strategies focused on helping volunteers cross that bridge and become a donor? Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Other New Year’s Resolutions?

A good friend, who also happens to be the CEO of a non-profit organization, sent me a nice note last week after reading one of the posts in my “Fundraising New Year’s Resolutions” blog series.

In addition to updating me on some of the progress he’s made with donor stewardship (see the chocolate covered strawberries section of the July 24th post titled “How to ‘surprise and delight’ your non-profit donors“), he also shared with me a new non-profit blog he is following that calls itself “Nonprofit With Balls“.

I’m not joking around, and the truth is that this blog’s post titled “Ten resolutions for the nonprofit sector for 2015” is kick-butt! If you are looking for other ideas for New Year’s resolutions, I encourage you to click-through and check them out. It is definitely worth the click!

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Fundraising New Years Resolution — Upgrade Strategy

new years resolutionsIn my last blog post I talked about a USA Today article from John Waggoner titled “Resolutions you can keep,“ which I came across during my New Year’s Eve Napa Valley vacation. I mentioned that there were three important fundraising concepts in the final two column inches of this article that non-profit organizations should take to heart as they start a new year. Tuesday’s blog was about sustainable giving strategies. Today’s post focuses on sacrificial giving and upgrade strategies.

So, the second notable thing that Waggoner said in the final two inches of his newspaper article was:

How much you give is, of course, up to you. C.S. Lewis noted that if your charitable donations don’t pinch or hamper you in some way, they are probably too little.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my first significant charitable contribution was a $1,000 annual campaign pledge to the Boy Scout council that employed me back in the 1990s. I used that story to springboard off into sustainable giving. The funny thing is that the same Boy Scout story pertains to the second Waggoner quote that I’m using today.

So, there I was in my Scout Executive’s office and he was debriefing me after my first ever solicitation of a donor. It didn’t go especially well, and he pointed out that I hadn’t yet turned in my personal pledge card prior to going on my solicitation appointment with another fundraising volunteer.

He helped me see the importance of “making your gift first before asking others to make their gift.” Of course, he seized the opportunity and solicited me on the spot.

First, he asked me if I had decided how much I planned on pledging. I explained that I had never made a pledge to any non-profit organization and was thinking about making a $100 contribution.

give til it hurtsThen, he launched into a story about the importance of what he called “sacrificial giving” and “giving until you can feel a little pinch in your wallet.” The following are just a few of the reasons I recall from that conversation why it is important to give until it hurts:

  • You will feel good about supporting a mission that you love
  • You will be demonstrating your passion to volunteers and donors
  • You won’t feel like you’re asking someone to do something that you aren’t doing yourself
  • The fear associated with asking people for money will melt away

While I was skeptical at first, I took the plunge with a $1,000 pledge. In hindsight, my Scout Executive couldn’t have been more right, especially about “eliminating the fear” associated with asking people for money.

With all that being said, I believe Waggoner’s second to last paragraph in the USA Today article begs the following question:

Does your organization have an “upgrade strategy”?

Fundraising analytics demonstrate that an individual’s first contribution is almost never his/her largest one. In fact, a donor’s first contribution is usually a token gift and very often a test. Uh-huh, you heard me right. The research data that I’ve seen indicates that:

  • Donors want to see what their contribution will do
  • They are interested in seeing how you engage them
  • While they likely already believe in your mission, they want to really believe and want you to show them why they should
  • Many donors are looking for signs that your organization is well-run and financially stable and responsible
  • Some supporters (and I count myself as one of these types of donors) actually look forward to hearing success stories about your clients

So, if you’ve done a good job with stewarding your donors in 2014, then you need to have a strategy to ask your donors to consider making a larger contribution in 2015.

upgradeYour strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the following is a simple upgrade strategy that one of my former employers put together:

  1. Identify donors who are ready to be asked to increase their giving
  2. Develop your case for support
  3. Identify volunteers with relationships to targeted donor
  4. Ask those volunteers to upgrade their personal contribution
  5. Solicit (making sure to involve someone they know well and who has also recently increased their giving)
  6. Steward (focusing on what the increased giving resulted in)

When developing your case, make sure to answer this simple question: “What will an X% increase in giving help your organization do and how will that in turn meet the donor’s needs?

Of course, answering this question means that you need to know your donor and their needs, which likely means you’ve been talking with them about their philanthropic dreams/desires.

If you don’t like simple, then you might want to look into developing a donor recognition society that caters to the needs of donors who increase their giving. This donor society should contain considerations like:

  • Special mention in your annual report
  • Special communications
  • Special recognition

The operative word, of course, is “special,” but the trick is to make the recognition feel appropriate and not over-the-top. Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen some organization’s use to make their recognition societies feel special:

  • Quarterly get together (usually mission-focused)
  • Routine communication specifically for members of the recognition society
  • Small gift typically designating membership in the society (e.g. coffee mug, lapel pin, etc)

You shouldn’t go out and hire a skywriter to thank these donors, but you do need to go above-and-beyond if you decide to go down this path.

Does your organization have an upgrade strategy in place for 2015? If so, please scroll down and share it in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

If you want to read more about upgrade strategies, I found a really nice blog post from Joe Garecht at The Fundraising Authority titled “How to Upgrade Your Donors“.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Fundraising New Year’s Resolution — Sustainable Giving Strategies

new years resolutionsLike most Americans, I took a little time for myself at the end of 2014. I spent some of it celebrating the holidays with my family. I spent a little more of it celebrating the nuptials of an old friend. I spent the remainder of it in Napa Valley ringing in the new year over a few nice bottles of wine. While recharging my batteries, I came across a USA Today article from John Waggoner titled “Resolutions you can keep“. Maybe it is the wine talking, but I believe there are three important concepts in the final two column inches of this article that non-profit organizations should take to heart as they start a new year. I will focus on each of these three ideas in my next three blog posts. Today’s post focuses on sustainable giving strategies.

As I just mentioned, Waggoner dedicated the last two inches of his new year’s resolutions article to charitable giving. The following is some of his advice to readers:

It’s easier to give to charity if you put some money aside each paycheck, just as you do for your own savings. You’ll get a tax deduction for your donation, of course, but they’s not the reason to give to charity. Government can help alleviate some of the world’s woes, but not all of them — and when you give to charity, you get to choose how your money is used.

Three short sentences. Lots of wisdom!

penniesAs a donor, I discovered long ago that if I want to make a large contribution to a non-profit organization it probably won’t happen by writing one large check. While some people on this planet have that capacity, my bank account balance isn’t fat enough to do something like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. However, “large contribution” is a relative term, and I made my first meaningful, sacrificial gift at the age of 27 when I pledged $1,000 to a local Boy Scout council while earning $27,000 working for that same organization.

At first, giving away almost 4% of my gross salary seemed impossible and crazy, especially when looking at expenditures like student loans, rent for a suburban Chicago apartment, not to mention food and transportation. I wouldn’t have ever been to write a $1,000 check at that time in my life. However, when the person soliciting me for that gift helped me see that a $1,000 annual campaign contribution was merely $38.46 per paycheck, I was hooked!

As Waggoner said, putting a little money aside from each paycheck can add up and quickly become a very nice charitable gift.

Of course, the challenge for your non-profit is figuring out how to help your supporters and donors come to this conclusion without offending them.

One strategy that I don’t believe ever works is telling a donor what they can do without. For example, I once heard a fundraising volunteer suggest that forgoing one cup of Starbucks coffee once a week would be the equivalent of a $250 charitable gift.

My reaction? Bite your tongue!

Why in the world would you ever want to frame someone’s charitable giving as a choice between doing good and consuming something they obviously enjoy? (And if you do employ this strategy, then you better be 100% sure the donor values your mission a lot more than they value what you’re suggesting they give up.)

The following are three strategies I find more effective and suggest you look at integrating into your 2015 resource development plan.

Workplace campaign

workplace givingThe United Way figured this one out a long time ago, didn’t they?

Get permission from a company to talk to their employees about your mission, and then present them with an opportunity to make a contribution to your organization by using payroll deduction. Genius!

This strategy speaks directly to the idea in Waggoner’s USA Today article when it comes to setting aside a little bit of money from each paycheck. It is made even easier through payroll deduction because that which you never see is difficult to miss, right?

It is important to note that non-profit organizations who receive funding from United Way are most likely prohibited from engaging in workplace giving. If you are a United Way agency, please check your funding agreement first before approaching local businesses about the possibility of establishing a workplace giving initiative.

Of course, a workplace giving campaign doesn’t have to look like what the United Way has pioneered throughout the years. The Boys & Girls Club of Fort Atkinson approached it from a different angle with their “Blue Jeans for Blue Doors campaign“.

If you are interested in learning more about workplace giving, then I suggest clicking here to check out what Grant Space (a service of the Foundation Center) has to say on the subject.

Monthly giving

monthly givingSince the Great Recession of 2008, many non-profit organizations have explored and developed monthly giving programs. This strategy has been very popular with European charities, and it is akin to the “set it and forget it” mentality of our society.

Like a workplace giving campaign, a monthly giving program allows your organization to re-frame the solicitation. So, rather than asking for $1,200, you ask them for a $100/month contribution. For many people, $100 per month feels a lot more realistic than a $1,200 annual gift.

One of my favorite monthly giving programs is Chicago Public Radio’s “High Fidelity” program. Your non-profit organization can learn a lot from benchmarking this program.

If benchmarking isn’t your cup of tea, then I suggest you read Joanne Fritz’s article titled “Why Your Charity Should Have a Monthly Giving Program“. Afterward, you should look into signing up for Pamela Grow’s “Nonprofit Monthly Giving — The Basics & MoreeCourse

I’m an avid reader of Joanne’s work, and I’ve taken Pamela’s monthly giving eCourse.  You won’t be disappointed!

Polish your annual campaign pledge drive

As I shared with you earlier in this post, I learned the value of sustainable giving when I made a pledge to my local Boy Scout council’s Friends of Scouting annual campaign pledge drive.

If you currently operate an annual campaign pledge drive as part of your resource development plan, I suggest the following:

  • Look at your 2014 campaign data and determine what percentage of your donors made pledges versus outright gifts
  • Review your campaign materials (e.g. internal case statement, pledge card, external case for support, etc) and look for verbiage about pledging
  • Assess your internal systems (e.g. donor database, financial management software, accounts receivable procedures, etc) and determine if it is possible to add more monthly pledge reminders to the current workload
  • Add a training section on how to emphasize the power of pledging to your annual campaign kickoff meeting
  • Target your 2014 donors who made outright gifts with a specific solicitation message asking them to increase their gift by pledging/paying it over a longer period of time

Does your organization have other strategies on the planning table for 2015 when it comes to promoting sustainable giving? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays . . . Think Big!

merry christmasHappy Holidays, DonorDreams readers! It is Christmas morning and my inner child woke me early. I’ve been sitting on the couch, enjoying a silent cup of coffee, and waiting for everyone to wake up.

Honestly, I cannot wait to give my gifts. I am literally fighting the impulse to wake everyone up. While looking out the window and sipping my coffee, it dawned on me that I forgot to get my DonorDreams blog subscribers and readers a holiday gift.

Let me first start by wishing all of you a happy holiday season. This time of the year is obviously not about gift giving, but it is about connecting with your fellow human beings and doing something that comes from your heart. With this being said, I’ve decided that my gift to you this morning is a BIG IDEA.

This big idea isn’t my idea, and I didn’t create it. However, my gift this Christmas morning to you is “the act of sharing a BIG idea with you.”

I hope you enjoy this TED Talks video of Katherine Fulton talking about the future of philanthropy.

Somewhere in the next few days, I hope you reflect back on Katherine’s teachable point of view as well as all of the giving you just did with your family, friends and charities. While doing so, please circle back to this blog post and share in the comment box section below your thoughts on the following:

  • What is the future of philanthropy?
  • What is your role in creating that future?
  • Who did you envision in the picture frame that Katherine projected on the screen at the end of her presentation? Why?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Don’t wait until your donors die

in memoriamOn Saturday, I attended the funeral of my father’s aunt — Ruth Merriman — in Crystal Lake, IL. She lived a long and amazing life and her family will miss her dearly. While sitting through the service listening to her children and grandchildren eulogize her, I couldn’t help marvel at the things I didn’t know about my distant relative. For example . . .

  • Aunt Ruth was the first female to be voted the president of a School Board in the State of Illinois
  • She was a Girl Scout volunteer earlier in life
  • In her retirement, she loved her volunteer work at Good Shepard Hospital in Barrington, IL

Aunt Ruth was the picture of philanthropy, and I only kinda/sorta knew that. How embarrassing!

As I came to this conclusion, it dawned on me that many non-profit organizations are in the same boat with their donors.

Donors are part of your organizational family, but oftentimes they are like distant relatives who you don’t know very well. I wonder how many times a non-profit organization found out that someone was “into their mission” only after the donor had passed away?

Of course, the only solution to this problem is to get out of your office and visit with your donors.

  • Invite your donors to coffee or lunch
  • Ask them to attend your events
  • If they stop donating to you, re-engage them and visit

A good friend of mine did exactly this when he accepted the position of President & CEO of a non-profit organization.

relationship buildingHe first started looking for people who had once been loyal supporters but for whatever reason stopped donating. Then he found mutual friends (e.g. board members, former board members, volunteers, donors, etc) and asked them to assist with a re-introduction. On a go-forward basis he simply engaged in relationship building.

While relationship building varies with different donors, it involved nursing home visits, cigars, and field trips to visit the organization’s facilities in the case I just referenced.

If this sounds simple, I assure you that it is. BUT resource development doesn’t have to be complicated.

Sometimes you find great people. Other times you uncover amazing stories. Once in a while, you rediscover a passionate donor who adds you to their estate plan for $500,000, which is exactly what happened in the case of my friend.

What are you doing to engage your donors and bring them into the inner circle of your non-profit family?

In other news . . .

Speaking of maturing donors and relationship building, I am reminded of BREAKING NEWS that was recently announced.

Did you hear that Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation into law extending the IRA Charitable Rollover retroactive to the beginning of 2014? This legislation allows individuals over age 70½ to directly transfer up to $100,000 per year from an IRA account to one or more charities.

Of course, the catch is that is retroactive to January 1, 2014 and only covers contributions through December 31, 2014.

If you want a better/clearer explanation, check-out Tony Martignetti’s vlog on this subject.

Happy Holidays . . . and here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What would #RetentionWednesday really look like?

RetentionWednesdayI sometimes get freaked out by how much tech companies seem to know about me. I get a glimpse into that reality when I look at the ads being targeting at me on my computer screen. However, this topic isn’t what I want to talk about this morning and needs to be put in the parking lot for another time. What I really want to blog about today is one of those Facebook (or maybe it was Google) ads that caught my attention a few weeks ago. It was an ad from DonorPath advertising its “free” #GivingTuesday companion consultation service that they branded “#RetentionWednesday“. Once I got past the genius business move by Brian Lauterbach, my mind started spinning on what that Wednesday might actually look like.

As I started conceptualizing a day of stewardship activities, all of the typical tactical things came to mind such as:

  • Organizing a thank-a-thon
  • Hosting a “handwritten thank you note writing” party for volunteers
  • Email (or snail-mail) an impact report to your donors
  • Launching a YouTube channel packed full of alumni or client testimonials
  • Hosting a donor reception (patterned after a tradition chamber of commerce business after-hours)
  • Hosting a town hall meeting on a subject related to your agency’s mission
  • Launching a monthly coffee klatch for donors who want to talk with your CEO, board president or any number of people associated with your non-profit

OK, OK, OK . . . I could go on and on and on with stewardship activities and the list would be endless. I suspect you could do the same thing.

However, the thing nagging me was that stewardship and retention need to be more than just a handful of tactical activities done on the Wednesday after #GivingTuesday. I suspect that DonorPath’s branded service, which is likely just sampling of their more holistic fundraising consultancy services, addresses this issue and helps clients create a larger stewardship/retention plan for the upcoming year that uses #RetentionWednesday as a springboard.

2015 graphicSo, I guess I’m feeling a little bah-humbug about the entire idea of #RetentionWednesday. If I were king for a day (a scary thought), I would decree 2015 “The Year of Retention“.

Oh heck, if I were king for a day, I could do better than that. Right?

I would decree “donor-centered culture” as something mandatory before the IRS bestows non-profit status on any organization.

Ahhhhh, that is much more authoritarian and king-like. LOL  I suspect that I might be able to get used to being king.  ;-)

If achieving a donor-centered culture of philanthropy sounds hard to some of my DonorDreams subscribers, the truth is that “Donor Retention” is becoming a bit of a cottage industry in the non-profit sector in recent years.

For example, my company — The Healthy Non-Profit LLC — would give its left arm to work with your non-profit organization on cultivating and growing its culture of philanthropy.

In addition to my consulting practice and Brian Lauterbach’s DonorPath firm, there is Jay Love’s Bloomerang donor database service, Penelope Burk’s Cygnus Applied Research, Roger Craver’s DonorVoice, and a ton of others. As I said earlier, it is a burgeoning cottage industry that feels like it is getting bigger every day. I suspect this is likely a testament to the growing donor retention crisis in the non-profit industry.

What are you doing to increase retention of your donors? At its core, does your agency have a culture of philanthropy? If not, then what are you doing to change that culture? Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel because we can all learn from each other!

Are you a little lost with the entire “culture of philanthropy” thing? No worries. I’m embedding a wonderful YouTube video of Tony Martignetti (of the famed Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio show) speaking to the New York City chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals about “Creating a Culture of Philanthropy Throughout Your Nonprofit“. It is an hour-long video, but definitely worth the click!

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Philanthropy is emotional. Is your agency embracing this reality?

philanthropyI was on the phone yesterday talking with Pamela Grow over at The Grow Report about a toolbox project I’m currently work on. During that call, she shared an emotional donor story, and my response was simply “philanthropy is emotional“. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to get neither Pamela’s story nor my simply conclusion out of my head. Whenever something like this happens, I always take it as a sign from the “blogger gods” that I need to write about it.

So, that’s what you’re getting this morning . . . a handful of stories and examples from my life to prove the point that philanthropy is emotional and ask what you’re doing about it. Hopefully, you can share a few stories and examples of your own.

What exactly is philanthropy?

I know that when I think of “philanthropy” my mind immediately wanders to non-profit organizations and charitable giving. However, the concept of philanthropy is much more expansive than just money being donated to agencies. The following is a simple definition that Google spit out at me when I asked:

Philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, “promoting the welfare of others” includes volunteerism, advocacy in addition to charitable giving.

live unitedOur United Way friends totally get an A+ on this one because they’ve been running around for a decade now telling us to LIVE UNITED which encompasses the following ideas:

  1. Give
  2. Advocate
  3. Volunteer

I guess when I step back and look at the bigger picture of philanthropy, I can’t help but wonder how it can’t be an emotional activity. After all, the act of reaching out to help someone else and expecting nothing in return is a selfless activity that is rooted in love and caring. Both of which are emotional. Right?

My first tearful national conference

youth of the yearMy first Boys & Girls Club national conference was in New York City in 2001 literally months before the terror attacks.

During one of the general sessions, the 2001 National Youth of the Year stepped to the big stage and told his story, which included:

  • a father who had died
  • a mother who was addicted, in prison and infect with HIV
  • a Boys & Girls Club that became home
  • hope and inspiration

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

His story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.

A donor’s tears

tears2Fast forward to one of my first engagements as an external consultant. I was assisting with an organizational assessment and conducting interviews with board members, volunteers, collaborative partners, donors, former donors and various other stakeholders.

The organization was experiencing a number of pain points and found itself under scrutiny by the newspaper, television stations, and its supporters. As if this wasn’t bad enough, those who the agency served were starting to organize and protest.

I had the privilege of interviewing someone who had “done it all” including:

  • program volunteer
  • fundraising volunteer
  • board member (I believe two different stints on the board)
  • donor

There she sat, sharing her perspective on the current state and desired future state of the agency, and there were lots of tears.

Why was she crying?

Simply said, she understood the importance of the agency. She had witnessed and participated in the transformational gift this organization provides its clients. Her tears were rooted in frustration and fear.

  • Frustration that the current issues haunting the agency were getting in the way of fulfilling its mission.
  • Fear that the current issues might permanently close the doors and impact clients.

Her story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.

An executive director’s tears

tearsI often find myself standing in parking lots after meeting “kicking stones” with staff, board members, volunteers, etc.

After one meeting, there I was in the parking lot with the executive director and their eyes started to pool with tears. It would be simple for me to chalk those tears up to:

  • being “sideways” with the board president
  • tight cash flow
  • inability to expand services
  • pressures being brought by partners to build organizational capacity
  • powerlessness to be able to give hard-working staff a raise

In reality, this executive director was thinking about opening up a job search and leaving the agency because they weren’t sure that they were the right leader to solve these challenges  The stress was eating them up.

The tears stemmed from the fact that they saw program staff, volunteers, and clients as part of their extended family, and the thought of leaving was akin to divorce or death.

Non-profit staff dedicate their lives to promoting the welfare of others. They are usually donors. They typically work for a lot less than what they could earn in the for-profit sector (by choice). They see, touch, hear, and feel “mission” on a daily basis.

This executive director’s story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.

What are you doing?

Are you on the same page with me now? Do you believe that philanthropy is emotional? If so, then what are you doing to infuse emotion into the following functions at your non-profit agency:

  • marketing and PR?
  • resource development and fundraising?
  • board governance?
  • staffing?
  • programming?

One of my favorite non-profit PSA commercials is the one featuring Denzel Washington talking from his heart about the roots of his philanthropic spirit. Every time I see this commercial it brings tears to my eyes. Click the video or YouTube link to view this iconic public service announcement and bear witness to another emotional example.

Please take a minute or two to scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences about an emotional philanthropy story. It is the holiday season and a time to give. So, why not give the gift of inspiration to your fellow non-profit colleagues?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-profit leadership is the great equalizer

leadership2Last night I had the privilege of being invited to a non-profit organization’s year-end holiday party stewardship event. In attendance were board members, capital campaign volunteers, auxiliary members, and various other stakeholders. There was no solicitation presentations, but there were a few powerful testimonials from alumni and lots of gratitude. The energy in the room was palpable, and I was reminded me of the old expression that “hope floats“.  It was in this dynamic setting that I had an amazing conversation with someone about the power of leadership.

In the middle of the event, I got locked into a conversation with a former board member. He is an alumnus of the agency’s programs, and he did two different stints on the board of directors. So, the conversation naturally migrated to how much the organization has changed throughout the many decades he has been involved.

Right in the middle of the conversation about organizational change and capacity building, this gentleman paused, appeared to reflect genuinely about what he was going to say, and then said:

“It is all about leadership and who the board hires to lead the organization.”

While I like to think your organization’s formula for success is about a variety of ingredients, I can’t really argue with this wise alumni and former board member’s assessment. I’ve seen lots of organizations overcome large gaps in their formula for success just because they have the right leaders sitting around the boardroom table and sitting in the CEO’s seat.

This comment also got me thinking about a recent CEO job search process that I helped a client lead. There was lots of conversation around “what does the right person look like” and what skill sets and experiences does the right person need to possess.

leadership1The following is a list of competencies and skill sets the search committee reviewed during its search criteria conversations:

Communication skills

  • Informing
  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Writing

Decision making skills

  • Analyzing
  • Fact Finding
  • Innovating
  • Judgment
  • Problem Solving
  • Systemic Thinking

Developing Organizational Talent

  • Coaching
  • Delegating
  • Performance Management
  • Providing Feedback
  • Staff Development

Leadership Skills

  • Developing Commitment
  • Empowering
  • Encouraging Innovation
  • Facilitation
  • Influencing
  • Leading By Example
  • Managing Change
  • Providing Recognition
  • Team Building

Personal Initiation Skills

  • Contributing to a Positive Work Environment
  • Organizational Awareness
  • Personal Development
  • Proactivity
  • Professional Development
  • Striving for Excellence

Planning Skills

  • Action Planning & Organizing
  • Business Planning
  • Monitoring
  • Project Management
  • Recruitment
  • Strategic Planning
  • Time Management

Quality Skills

  • Implementing Quality Improvements
  • Satisfying Customer Requirements
  • Using Meaningful Measurements

Relationship Skills

  • Conflict Management
  • Meeting Skills
  • Negotiating
  • Networking
  • Relationship Building
  • Teamwork

Safety, Health & Environment Skills

  • Fostering Organizational Wellness
  • Supporting a Safe Environment

Hmmmm? Leadership is the great equalizer, but it certainly starts looking complicated once you begin searching for it.    :-)

What skill sets have you looked for when trying to hire or recruit the right leaders into your non-profit organization? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-profit bloggers for whom I’m thankful

thanksgivingWe are just a few days away from Thanksgiving, and I’m getting in touch with my gratitude muscles this week. If you’re anything like me then you’re probably a “lifelong learner” and love to read about bigger and better ways to engage donors and practice the art of resource development. One of the ways I feed my need to learn is reading other non-profit bloggers. Today’s post is dedicated to some of my absolute favs.

Joanne Fritz at

I started following Joanne almost a decade ago, and I just love how she breaks down complicated non-profit things into really easy to digest bite-size pieces. She tackles the basics as well as the complicated. Click here to check-out a handful of her “fundraising basics” posts. When you’re done with those articles, I suggest you keep on clicking. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Joanne has been the “ring leader” for a monthly non-profit blog event called the Nonprofit Blog Carnival. She recently announced that she was stepping back and handing the torch to Pamela Grow. We all owe Joanne a debt of gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Thanks, Joanne! You are one of the best non-profit bloggers I’ve followed throughout the years. I so appreciate your point of view.

Pamela Grow at The Grow Report

As I just mentions above, Pamela is taking over “ring leader” responsibilities from Joanne as it pertains to the Nonprofit Blog Carnival. I think we all owe Pamela a big “THANK YOU” for stepping up!

However, Pamela is also the person behind The Grow Report, which deposits a weekly e-newsletter full of fundraising best practices in my inbox.

In addition to her weekly nuggets of wisdom, I’ve signed up for one Pamela distance learning sessions — “Nonprofit Monthly Giving: The Basics and More” — and I’ve purchased one of her eBooks — “Successful Fundraising for the One-Person Shop“.

All of Pamela’s stuff is simply amazing. If you haven’t checked her out yet, I assure you it is definitely worth the click.

Tom Ahern at Ahern Donor Communications

Tom has to be one of the foremost donor communications experts in our field. He can take a blah direct mail piece and make it sing. He can also transform your donor newsletter into a piece that inspires and raises money. He is simply a genius according to many of his clients.

I’m not sure how often it happens, but at least once a month I receive his “Love Thy Reader: About Donor Communications” e-newsletter. I just love Tom’s perspective on resource development and donor communications. His catchy subject lines and headlines always pull me into his stories. For example, his recent publication read “How the Evil Robot killed my monthly gift“. LOL! How can you resist opening that email?

I’ve participated in webinars featuring Tom. I’ve also purchased a DVD from 501 Videos featuring Tom. He is simply a treasure to the non-profit sector!

Click here to see some of his past newsletters. My advice? Keep clicking and then subscribe!

Chris Davenport at 501 Videos

I just mentioned how I purchased DVDs featuring Tom Ahern, and I did that through 501 Videos.

You know Chris Davenport . . . he is the guy behind “Movie Mondays for Fundraising Professionals“. His weekly FREE movies are awesome and always engaging. I especially like the fact that they’re usually around 5 minutes long and a perfect compliment to my first cup of coffee on Monday morning.

In addition to his free Monday morning movies, he sells tremendous DVD resources, and I’ve never been disappointed in what I’ve purchased. In fact, just this morning I received an email from Chris about something he is calling his “BIG BOX of EVERYTHING” offer. It is essentially 70% off of a lots of different videos and resources.

I’m giving this purchase serious consideration.

I know. I know . . . $489 is a lot of money, but I can seriously testify that his stuff is that good. I’m not sure what I will do, but I’d have to be crazy not to give this offer serious consideration.

Everyone else . . .

The risk of doing a blog post like this one is that you leave people out because you quickly run out of room. People like Dani Robbins at Nonprofit Evolution, my friends at Bloomerang, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America CEO’s Jim Clark’s blog, Gail Perry at Fired-Up Fundraising and many others.

Thank you to all of you who take the time to develop content and share it with the world for free.

ALSO . . . Thank you to those of you who take the time to read and comment on non-profit blogs. As I always say, “There is no need to re-invent the wheel. We can all learn from each other!

Here’s to your health . . . Happy Thanksgiving!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847



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