WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Posts tagged ‘fundraising’

Simple Gifts

December 5th, 2013

With the sensory overload of the holidays in full swing, I was heartened by the success this week of #GivingTuesday, a national day to encourage charitable giving at the start of the holiday season. The initiative began last year when its founder, Henry Timms, Interim Executive Director of NYC’s 92nd Street Y, asked a simple question: “On the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, could we trigger a new day of giving after two days of getting?”

What struck me as refreshing about Timms’ approach was the selfless way in which he set up #GivingTuesday not to be of primary benefit to the 92nd Street Y — a nonprofit organization that relies on philanthropic contributions — but to raise consciousness generally of the societal benefits of charitable activities. The 92nd Street Y has even been careful to brand its involvement in a self-effacing way, with only a small logo at the bottom of #GivingTuesday webpages. By focusing its energies on helping others, the 92nd Street Y is “walking the walk” for the #GivingTuesday core value of giving, rather than getting.

I have often wondered whether nonprofit arts and culture organizations, in spite of inexorable pressure to generate philanthropic support, would be better served in the long run by pleading a little less often for direct contributions and a little more on behalf of others in the communities they serve. In his book Give and Take, Wharton organizational psychology professor Adam Grant contends that “most people operate as either TakersMatchers, or Givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.” Grant’s premise is that Givers (assuming they figure out how to avoid being exploited) are invariably more successful than Takers or Matchers. According to the New York Times, Grant’s research also demonstrates that “helping is not…a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”

So, if “nice guys can finish first” by focusing on service to others, the question is whether nonprofit groups can, too.  If charitable organizations act collectively to raise awareness of the needs of others and encourage contributions that may go elsewhere, would they raise more funds than they can by pushing for end-of-year direct contributions?


Joe Kluger is a Principal in WolfBrown’s Philadelphia office and wishes everyone much health and happiness this holiday season.

Whenever I work with a nonprofit board on major gift fundraising, I intone the First Axiom of Resource DevelopmentFundraising is not about asking for money; it is about building relationships. I also present Laura’s CorollaryThese relationships are built on mutual passions, reflecting (1) the personal experiences of the board member and the funding prospect; (2) the societal issue(s) being addressed; and (3) the nonprofit’s mission. An “ask” should be an opportunity for the donor to express deeply felt connections to the cause in question and to feel like an agent of change. In my experience, if donors don’t see a gift as an opportunity for self-fulfillment (and, admittedly sometimes self-aggrandizement), they don’t write much of a check, if any at all.

I was introduced recently to the idea of a “Jeffersonian Dinner,” a donor cultivation model that addresses the three elements of Laura’s Corollary — beginning with personal experience, then connecting that experience to the larger trends and challenges in society, and then exploring the role of the nonprofit organization in addressing those challenges. The Generosity Network website lays out the advantages of this approach: A Jeffersonian dinner “enlists new allies…. helps to create and disseminate ideas…. expands attendees’ networks…. and spreads knowledge about and interest in your organization.”

Here’s how it works: A dinner host invites eight to 12 people with diverse expertise, interests, experience, and networks. Each invitee provides a brief biography, which is sent to the group in advance along with a “starter question.” The question is designed to elicit personal stories relating to the topic of the dinner. For example, if the dinner is focused on the role of museums in K-12 education, the question might be, “Tell us about a childhood experience in a museum that had an impact on your life, and why.” A moderator manages the conversation, which moves from personal stories to their connection with larger interests of the group around the topic, and then to the work of the nonprofit, how the organization could further its mission, and attendees’ interests in following up on the discussion.

The dinner echoes the purposeful nature of Jefferson’s own gatherings and follows his rules for dinner guests at Monticello: only one conversation at the table — no one presents, no one monopolizes, no side conversations, and everyone participates. I have not yet had an opportunity to work with a client to try a Jeffersonian dinner, but the model is building its track record and enthusiastic practitioners. I would be interested to hear from any readers of this edition of On Our Minds who have convened such a gathering.


Laura Lewis Mandeles has been with WolfBrown for more than 20 years in the Washington, DC area office. She has led numerous strategic planning processes for cultural organizations of all types, and provides a range of resource development services, including feasibility studies, development assessments, fund-raising counsel, and case development.

And of the present, too! My interest in this topic is both personal and professional. I have a “millennial” daughter in her first job out of college, and as I urge her to set aside some of her earnings for charity, the professional part of me wonders, “what organizations will capture her attention and how will they do it?” According to the second annual Millennial Donors Report from consulting firms Johnson Grossnickle Associates and Achieve (Find the executive summary here and the full report here), this generation (defined as 20-35 year olds) are givers-93% of the 2,953 survey respondents from seven nonprofits made a charitable contribution, although most of the contributions were small and spread out among many organizations.

Some of the findings of the study reinforce fund raising principles from way back: the younger generation is most likely to give to a compelling mission or cause carried out by an organization they “trust,” and that trust is often established by a personal connection. Interestingly, celebrity endorsements were a non-starter (motivating only 2%). Volunteerism was high among respondents (79%), and not surprisingly, Millennials are looking to technology for information and engagement. Non-profits need to pay attention to how they fare in web searches, as that is a primary tool for Millennials to learn about potential recipients of their charitable dollars. Most interesting was the finding that although only 49% gave online, 58% would have preferred to give that way, indicating that non-profits are still behind in facilitating giving through technology.

Giving USA and The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University have also published a monograph on this subject (Charitable Giving and the Millennial Generation, available for purchase here). This study looks at giving trends across different generational groups from the Great Generation to the Boomers to the Xers to the Millennials. Some of its findings (based on 2006 and 2008 data) are considerably at odds with the Millennial donors survey-e.g., it notes that only 33% of Millennials gave and 21.6% volunteered. Nevertheless, the monograph points to a potentially bright future: Millennials and Gen Xers are the most educated generation in history, and the Center’s studies have shown that people with a college degree tend to give $1,900 more annually on average.

Bottom line: cultivate these donors now through multiple personal and electronic engagement strategies in order to build their trust and capture their potential for giving down the road. It’s a long-term investment that will pay off.

What Motivates Donors?

June 15th, 2010

Over the past year, Rebecca and I have been hard at work on a major study of Bay Area donors.  The results were released last week, and we’ve created a special page on our website where you can download the results.  There are three reports:

1.  A high level summary report, It’s Not About You…It’s About Them: A Research Report on What Motivates Bay Area Donors to Give to the Arts and Artists, which should be of interest to funders, arts agencies, and others who seek to help artists and small arts groups raise funds for programs.

2.  A series of case studies, Field Reports from the Fund For Artists Matching Commissions Program:  Unlocking the Potential of Individual Donors, which describe how some of the individual artists and arts groups successfully raised funds.

3. A detailed WolfBrown report on what motivates Bay Area donors to give to a range of arts programs and projects, including results of a survey of over 3,000 donors, for research geeks who want to read the whole bloody thing.

The research was co-commissioned by The San Francisco Foundation and East Bay Community Foundation, as part of an effort to better understand the success of their Fund For Artists Matching Commissions program, through which Bay Area artists raised more than $1.3 million since 2004.  I am particularly grateful to our partners in the research, John Killacky and Diane Sanchez, as well as Marcy Cady and Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaborative, for all of their support and good thinking.


Anyone trying to sort out the new world of fundraising in the digital age should consider the research and findings of The Next Generation of American Giving:  A study on the multichannel preferences and charitable habits of Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Matures. It sorts out by age segment how people learn about charities, get involved, and decide to give. The big lessons: “Fundraising is profoundly multichannel,” and “The younger the donor, the greater the number of ways they give.” To be effective, organizations have to reach out to all generations in multiple ways and provide a variety of paths to involvement and donation, including traditional direct mail, but also encompassing newer social media channels. It also means that organizations have to structure internal fundraising, communications, and technology operations in ways that integrate those functions toward shared goals, and that fundraising database applications have to be able to track all of the different ways organizations are connecting with donors. It gets harder and harder to tell which solicitation a donor is responding to in a multichannel model. Where did they hear about us? What message connected with them? These questions can leave us scratching our heads. But the study also points out the eternal fundraising truth that, “There is not a single tactic or giving channel that is nearly as important as the quality of your message and your ability to inspire, arouse, and engage the hearts and minds of your donors.”  We live in interesting times.



April 2nd, 2010

Are we at the cusp of a new, more democratic model of funding the arts?  Several weeks ago, Joe Kluger wrote about Pepsi and other corporations that are using social media to crowd-source grantmaking.  Power to the people?  Not so fast, says our friend and colleague John Shibley. “I admire the faith you place in the masses.  I wish I shared it.”  Shibley argues that crowd-sourcing might be good for rating restaurants, but might not be an effective approach to solving complex social problems.  ”If popularity proved quality, then TV ought to be full of masterpieces.”  Personally, I am less interested in the application of the American Idol principles of audience engagement to grantmaking than I am in exploiting the potential of web-based technologies to drive new approaches to fundraising.  Last year, I followed with interest several news stories about online fundraising initiatives.  The Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan’s one-day Community Foundation Challenge-Arts and Culture on August 18 generated over $4.9 million for 75 arts groups, leveraging $1.6 million in matching funds from the foundation, well surpassing the original goal of $3 million.  With just $500,000 in matching funds, GiveMN, a Minnesota fundraising campaign, raised $14 million through a 24-hour “Give to the Max Day” event via the Internet, donated by 39,000 people.  Check out the next-generation fundraising site, www.GiveMN.org, funded by the Minnesota Community Foundation.  And The Pittsburgh Foundation through its Match Day in October, raised $1.5 million in online gifts in 22 minutes and 11 seconds.

What fascinates me most about all this is the power of the ‘limited-time’ event to capture the attention of the public.  What would explain why tens of thousands of people flock to a website at the same moment in time to donate?  While I would like to think the matching incentive is a motivation, as well as the immutable deadline, this alone doesn’t explain it.  Most certainly there are other, more subtle, psychological factors at play, both altruistic and selfish.  The emergence of community-wide online fundraising “events” underscores the critical importance to arts groups of being able to mobilize their constituents electronically.  New technologies are reshaping the giving patterns of ordinary people who understand that they can play a small, meaningful part in changing the world, or at least their own community.



Diversity of Donors

July 27th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what motivates donors to give to the arts, and how their giving patterns relate to their core values – both inside and outside of the arts. In partnership with Helicon Collaborative, we are currently working on a study on donor motivations and values for The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) and East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), and have recently been engaged to survey San Francisco Symphony donors. As part of this TSFF/EBCF study, we facilitated an intensive donor interviewing exercise with a number of small community arts groups and individual artists who are recipients of matching funds through the Fund For Artists initiative, a program of both foundations. Key learnings from these interviews shed light on the deep meaning that small gifts hold for many donors, when they believe that their gift makes a difference. It was also interesting to note that the donors’ most important values often lie outside of the arts (e.g., social justice, the environment), and that arts projects that tap into these value systems were successful in raising funds from individuals who do not normally support the arts. Perhaps by stepping back to ask the bigger questions about what is important to donors, we can better understand the diversity and breadth of their interests and communicate with them more effectively. The report from this study will be released at the end of the year.

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