Sharing Some Great Ideas (From a Donor's Perspective)
At our last monthly “Premium Donor” Zoom call (see how you can join our next one at the bottom of this email), we decided to change our format a bit. Instead of focusing on a particular subject related to fundraising, we decided to focus on actual interactions I’ve had in the prior weeks — typically with fundraisers, but also often with donors. I’ve noticed that people seem to love hearing about a “day in the life” of a major donor — vis a vis fundraiser interactions. Fundraisers, as both professionals and also as donors in their own right also learn from hearing from each other’s experiences.
To that end, I’ll be periodically sharing some of the highlights — both good and not-so-good — of my daily interactions with nonprofits and their fundraisers. All shared, of course, with the hope that doing so will help to improve the sector and how we do business.
I’ll start with three things that happened in the last week we can all learn from.
First, I just returned from a trip to New Mexico where I spoke at a gathering/fundraiser for a young women’s peacemaking organization that I’ve been supporting for several years. While wandering Santa Fe in between events, I stopped at a women’s clothing store that had an unusual brochure on the counter —next to some of the items for sale. The brochure was surprising because it was titled “Naming Opportunities”. I was confused — naming opportunities for a dress shop? Turns out that the brochure was to promote naming opportunities for a new section of the city’s local — and highly regarded — art museum. I thought that surely someone who had been to the museum had accidentally dropped their brochure at the counter while they were checking out. But no, that didn’t make sense, because there was a neat stack of these brochures sitting in front of me. Were there other flyers/brochures nearby to promote local businesses? Nope — just this one.
And then it hit me. The brochures were specifically targeting the people who shopped at that clothing store. The store was located near the arts district, so there was an assumption that some (or many) of the store’s patrons might be interested in art and that they are also likely to be “of means” (despite the fact that the store was very moderately priced.) The brochure was super simple (and several pages long) and very appealing visually. By explaining and showing photos of various parts of the new museum wing, it told the reader (in a matter of minutes) that they could be part of something important happening right in the area where they were standing.
This was particularly unusual and, IMHO, exciting because the brochure didn’t assume anything on the part of the reader. There was nothing suggesting that the brochure was targeting people “in the know”, nor was there anything implying that this was an exclusive offering just for a select few. It also didn’t imply the reader must be aware of this museum project (although anyone walking in the area would have seen that there was some construction going on in the museum area). The narrative (short, sweet and to the point) explained what some of the highlights of the building were by detailing what some of the naming opportunities were. Included in each opportunity section was a line or two about the reasons for the specific “named” area and the impact it would have on the museum and/or the larger community.
Prices for each “naming opportunity” were clearly stated, without any embellishment or extra wording included. The prices weren’t that different than the prices on the artwork I saw at many of the art galleries in the area.
It seems clear to me that this was a non-fancy, non-exclusive and very open offer for anyone with an interest in giving or art or Santa Fe — or all three — to participate in a very specific and meaningful way in this project.
I’ve always had some discomfort about the “quiet periods” that accompany the early days of capital project fundraising. I do understand why the silent phase is done, but having been told once that I wasn’t “on the list” to be briefed on the project and its giving opportunities, and that I’d have to wait until the “next phase”, the concept is off-putting if not anger provoking. Maybe the new museum wing had a silent phase — maybe not. All that I know is that I see what appears to be a transparent opportunity to give, even if I’m just a tourist visiting the town for a few days.
The second interesting thing that I witnessed happened at the actual fundraiser that I spoke at. Part of the event, which was for a number of the organization’s existing fundraisers and their guests, was a “paddle raise”. I had seen a paddle raise at one other event a few years ago, and I thought it was interesting, but I wasn’t sold on the concept. After seeing this very successful paddle raise, I’ve become a fan. (If you’re not familiar with paddle raises, read here and here, and be aware that they do vary a bit from event to event.) Note that this particular paddle raise did not coincide with any other type of fundraising ask (no live or silent auction, per se, no drawing), just cash donations to support specific needs of the organization.
Before you read on, note that this nonprofit was very clear in all of their communications that this paddle raise was a (short) portion of the evening’s schedule. This is important to recognize because I believe strongly in the “no surprises” method of fundraising — where the fundraiser is honest about their expectations of any interaction. I wrote a piece about this in my book, where a fundraiser (executive director in this case) made a “deal” with me that whenever we scheduled an interaction (lunch, call or otherwise) he would always let me know at the time of scheduling if an “ask”(solicitation) would be part of the conversation. If he doesn’t say anything about an ask when the appointment is set, I can trust 100% that an ask will not be made. For almost a decade, he has honored that promise. And guess what? I have one of my strongest and most long-term relationships with this leader and his organization. You’ve sold tickets or tables for a gala or event? Don’t surprise those guests with an additional ask (or three) at the event. Let them know in advance what to expect.
Back to the paddle raise. The paddle raise as conducted in Santa Fe required no additional staff or software — the existing staff, volunteers and board members put it all together themselves (working together as a team — yay!) It was made clear that each dollar category was to specifically help a particular part or program of the nonprofit’s work, and there was no “attitude” one way or another towards people who gave a large donation or a smaller one. At this event, I saw a community of people (including some of the staff!) coming together to give what they felt compelled to give. It was fast, easy, and fun — and it made a good chunk of money for the organization. __________________________________________________________________
Finally, this interesting donor/fundraiser interaction happened. This one relates to a message you might have heard from me before — the importance of recognizing and working with donors with DAF accounts (Donor Advised Funds.) In the last two weeks alone, I had the same frustrating experience while trying to make a donation to an organization that I previously supported. In both cases, the donation was to support an upcoming event that the nonprofit was promoting, and in both cases, I felt like an outlier because I wanted to pay from my DAF.
Specifically, I read the materials sent to me, decided I wanted to support the event, and I went to the event’s online page to make my gift. There were multiple support/sponsorship categories available, so I picked the one that I wanted and checked that box. I scrolled down to pay, and once again I found that I could only pay via credit card. There was simply no way complete the transaction by checking the box with the donation amount and then checking another box saying I was going to pay via my DAF.
Of course there was a note at the bottom telling me that I could email or call the office, but I just wanted to get this wrapped up and done. (I did this on a weekend and really didn’t want wait until the coming work week, when the office was open, to deal with it.) My DAF account allows me to request the donation immediately online, and to then — within seconds — receive a confirmation of my request that I can then email to the organization as a way of confirming my gift.
Despite my nearly pleading with organizations (for years now) to fix this problem (it’s a super easy fix), the problem persists. The sad part is that the nonprofit’s reticence to recognize DAF holders when they ask for money makes donors like me often feel that our DAF money isn’t welcome, and that we should just cough up the credit card number and get over it. I know that we can do better on this issue, mostly by just acknowledging that there’s, oh, about 250 billion dollars in DAFs that’s not going to nonprofits so quickly. I guarantee that many of those DAF holders are having the same experience that I just had, but I also guarantee that there are loads of donors out there who want to give to your organization. Putting roadblocks in the way of their giving isn’t such a good idea.
All in all, it was a good few weeks, as I had far more positive interactions with nonprofits than negative ones. As usual, I learned from both types of interactions. I hope you will learn from these as well, and I look forward to your feedback!
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