Wisdom Wednesdays: Lessons From Misfits – What Rudolph Can Teach Us About Donor-Centered Fundraising

by Heather R. McGinness, CNM, CFRE

December seems to pack two months of activity into 31 short days.  Advent, holiday gatherings, shopping for presents and — for fundraising professionals — year-end giving all quickly overwhelm our calendars.  Amidst the chaos, however, there is one event that I make a point of reserving time for every year: the annual airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Its 60 minutes on television have had a special place in my heart since the first time I had the pleasure of watching it, and my enjoyment has not waned over the years.  This year, it occurred to me there are a lot of lessons we can learn from Rudolph and our friends on the Island of Misfit Toys — lessons about what it means to be donor-centric.

McGinness-Heater-2013FLet’s start with Hermie, the elf who really wanted to be a dentist.  He felt like a misfit because he was unable to live out his purpose.  He knew he was called to do something but lacked direction on how to realize his dream.  This a feeling that is also true of many of our donors.  They, too, are searching for purpose.  Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, writes, “Humans are driven by a will to establish meaning in their lives.  They need purpose.”  In The Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri J. M. Nouwen writes how fundraising can fulfill this need for purpose, saying, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”  When we connect donors to our mission, we’re offering them a way to discover their purpose, to use their gifts in a way that fulfills both their needs and those of the world.  Think of how happy Hermie is when (spoiler alert) he’s finally given the opportunity to fulfill his purpose of being a dentist — that’s the sense of joy our donors receive when their philanthropy has purpose.

The Misfit Toys can also teach us a few things about how we engage with our donors.  From Charlie-in-the-Box to the train with square wheels on its caboose to the spotted elephant (my favorite), they all wanted one thing above all else.  They wanted to love and be loved in return.  Isn’t that what our donors want, as well?  Philanthropy is, translated from its Greek roots, love for humanity.  Through their philanthropic giving, donors are showing love for their fellow humans.  We are called upon to reciprocate that love and can do so through good stewardship practices.  Prompt and meaningful expressions of gratitude, using gifts as the donor intended, reporting back often and in multiple ways about how the gift was used and the impact it had are all ways to shower donors with love.  The simple act of giving our donors the same care and affection they give to our mission is transformative — not unlike giving a spotted elephant a forever home on Christmas.

I’m also convinced that Yukon Cornelius is a fundraiser, and not just because he’s out looking for silver and gold.  The first clue is his communication style, which is very donor-centric.  He recognized that the same message won’t work for all audiences.  While adrift on a piece of ice with Rudolph and Hermie, he observes, “This fog is as thick as peanut butter.”  Rudolph says, “Don’t you mean pea soup?,” to which Yukon Cornelius responds, “You eat what you like and I’ll eat what I like.” How often do we try to feed our donors pea soup?  Many failed direct mail appeals are the result of focusing too much on our own preferences and forgetting that we’re writing for our donors!  What really solidified my hunch about Yukon Cornelius’s secret fundraising career, though, is how he developed a relationship with the Bumble (a.k.a. The Abominable Snowman).  While everyone else feared and avoided the Bumble, Yukon Cornelius got to know him and discovered what motivated him.  It turned out that the Bumble wanted to fit in like the other misfits in the story, but he also wanted to be helpful — the formerly ferocious beast was beaming with pleasure when he put the star on the North Pole’s Christmas tree!  Nouwen reflected about fundraising professionals, “We have something to offer — friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, ministry with those in need, and these things are so valuable that people are willing to make their resources available to sustain them.”  We, as fundraisers, should follow Yukon Cornelius’s example and listen to our donors, get to know them, and help them in their desire to be helpful.  Don’t pull your donors’ teeth, though; that’s one technique I don’t think applies.

And what about Rudolph himself?  Rudolph knew he was different because of his glowing nose and, frankly, was embarrassed about it.  He tried to cover his nose and, when that didn’t work, he ran away, identifying with the other misfits.  His nose went wherever he did, though, and he apologized later when its glow caused the Bumble to discover his fellow runaways.  In the end, he learned that his nose could serve a greater purpose and he used it to light the way for Santa’s Christmas Eve journey, bringing joy to the world. That, my fundraising friends, is what we need to remember.  We often feel embarrassed about asking donors to give, sometimes even apologizing for our work, but we needn’t do so.  The funds we raise serve a greater purpose for our donors, for our missions, and for God’s Kingdom.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  You, as a fundraiser, light the way for your donors to join your mission, for your organization to move its mission forward, and for your mission to make a difference in the world.  Remember the story of Rudolph and let your light shine, for you are helping God’s gifts reach God’s children!

Heather R. McGinness, CNM, CFRE is Senior Consultant & Account Executive for Meyer Partners and hails from the Island of Misfit Toys.  You can talk with her about best practices in fundraising or why spotted elephants are awesome at heather.mcginness@meyerpartners.com.

Wisdom Wednesdays: Women Give 2014  Report

by Jeanie Lovell, CFRE

In mid-November, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) — part of Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy — released the fifth report in a series of signature research that focuses on gender differences in giving to charitable organizations.  Women Give 2014 shares exciting new research on women, religion and giving.  This is the first study of its kind to examine the intersection of religiosity, gender and age in a single analysis.  Some findings are surprising and may have potential impact on all ALDE members and the organizations we serve.

Lovell-Jeanie-webThough the research explores a complex topic, WPI does an excellent job of breaking down the data into salient points.  I won’t go into the full details of the research, but will offer a few highlights to pique your interest.  (It really is fascinating, and I encourage you to read the full report!)

Here’s a brief snapshot of how the research was structured.  The study focuses on two age categories: 44 and younger, and 45 and older.  The question of religiosity is sorted into three categories:  people who frequently attend religious services; people who infrequently attend religious services and people who aren’t affiliated with a religious tradition (a group labeled the “Nones”).  As for giving, this study focuses on two groups of charitable organizations:  religiously identified and not-religiously identified (NRIOs).  It purposely does not focus on giving to congregations.

According to the report, “The influence of religiosity on giving is frequently used to argue that those who are more deeply engaged in religion are more likely to give and give more to charitable organizations.”  This is the standard religiosity-giving story.

Based on the findings of Women Give 2014, while the older demographic confirms the standard religiosity-giving story (where those affiliated with religion — regardless of how frequently they attend — give more than those who are unaffiliated with religion), a shift emerges among younger women.  Notably, the younger “Nones” gave two times larger amounts than women who have a religious affiliation but don’t attend services regularly.

For those among us who may have been concerned that declining church attendance would reflect less generosity in the larger community, this study seems to dispute that concern.  (While the larger worries about the overall decline in participation in organized religion remain, that’s another topic for another blogger.)  The good news is that charitable giving remains strong — even among those who aren’t religiously affiliated.

“This study suggests that the trend of declining affiliation does not foreshadow a decline in giving to charitable organizations.  It suggests, instead, the need for nonprofits, both religiously identified and NRIOs, to create different relationships with, and build different networks among, constituents by gender and age to assure that resources continue to be available to meet society’s pressing challenges.” (p. 4)

This is just one finding.  (Read the full report to learn more.)  Research can be a great catalyst for larger discussion—Agree?  Disagree?  Question?  Let’s take full advantage of the excellent research being conducted in our professional field to strengthen our knowledge and our charitable organizations.

(Note:  Other reports in WPI’s Women Give Research Series are available at www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/womengive.)

Jeanie Lovell, CFRE, is Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Campaign Co-Director at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.  She also serves as Program Director for Women, Faith, and Finance, Luther’s collaborative women’s philanthropy program.  Jeanie recently received the Outstanding Professional Fundraiser Award from the AFP Upper Mississippi Valley Chapter and is Secretary of the ALDE Iowa Chapter.  

Wisdom Wednesdays: What do You Need?

by Jon Dize

What’s in your Wallet?

No, I’m not asking you to empty the contents of your wallet for a gift (unless you want to!).

The once-popular TV credit card commercial would run through all the wonderful things that the person or family could do with just the right piece of plastic in their grasp.

playmobil-penI’d like to challenge every nonprofit leader, board chair and finance staff member with the following question: If someone were to walk into your office today and say, “I have $100,000 (or $10,000, or $1,000) to give.  What do you need?,” would you have an answer?

“Sure, I would,” you quickly reply.  But do you really?  Given 30 minutes, you could think up all kinds of wants and needs, but if put on the spot, could you whip out a piece of paper (or bring up that PDF on your iPad) to show this dream donor the projects, programs, dreams, etc., where his or her money could make a noticeable impact?  Could you produce that piece of paper that could help you do all of the wonderful things you talk about in those long board meetings?

I challenge you to write that list now.  Type it into an email on your phone.  Or ink up the napkin in front of you.  Now.

To help get the thought process going, think of the following:

  • Capital campaign needs (these items are probably the first pictures to enter your head)
  • Other capital needs (the preschool director does keep mentioning they need new carpeting)
  • Endowment needs (wouldn’t it be great?).
  • Technology needs (the Windows XP computers are a bit slow in the volunteer offices nowadays … )
  • New program ideas (Marketing?  Expansion?)
  • Constituent needs (donor recognition dinner!)
  • Outreach needs (the carnival will be a blast next year)
  • Staffing needs (now we can hire that advancement guy Dize keeps talking about!)

Dize-Jon Headshot 2014Go ahead and write down the pie-in-the-sky ideas as well as the $500 bench in the garden.  You never know what will ring true with that cheerful giver sitting in your office waiting for your list.

Make sure to also place a good guesstimate on the cost of the items on your list, and even rank them in order of cost and what you would want first.

Did I mention that you should make this list now?  You never know when God will present the opportunity.  Heck, you could even keep your list in your wallet.

Jon Dize, CFRM, serves as the Director of Advancement for The Lutheran Schools Partnership in Fort Wayne, Ind.  He is also President of the Indiana-Michigan Chapter ALDE.  Contact him at jond@tlspartnership.org(260) 203-4510, on LinkedIn or via Twitter: @JonDize17.

Upper right photo credit: orangeacid, on www.everystockphoto.com  

Wisdom Wednesdays: Latest Giving Trends Mean a Lot for You

by Jon Nelson

nelson-jon-2013-webIn the past few days two interesting and insightful reports on the state of philanthropy have been released by The Chronicle Of Philanthropy and The Nonprofit Research Collaborative.  As you constantly work to improve the efficiency of your development program it is vital to stay apprised of the latest trends related to charitable donations.  Such knowledge can help inform where to direct resources to gain the most immediate support — and sustainable support — for your mission.

With very current data, The Nonprofit Research Collaborative just released their “Nonprofit Fundraising Study — Mid-Year Update: Covering Charitable Receipts at U.S. & Canadian Nonprofit Organizations for January to June 2014.”  The entire study features 38 pages of in-depth data and figures with findings tailored to your region, type of organization, organization size and much more.  It’s a data junkie’s dream and can help you see how your efforts match up.

Their biggest finding was that “52% of responding organizations saw charitable gift dollars rise so far in 2014. Education and arts organizations were the most likely to see growth in funds received. Health and human services were less likely. In this study, 7 in 10 respondents said their organization is on on track to meet fundraising goals for the year.”

Again, this shows that there are big opportunities for you and your organization based on giving trends, and the report illustrates just where these might be for your situation.

Pressed for time?  Can’t read the whole report?  It’s pretty simple to skim and find what you need, but The Collaborative also developed this infographic that boils it down to easy-to digest infosnacks (click on it for greater clarity):


The Chronicle Of Philanthropy posted an article about shifting giving patterns on October 5, “As Wealthy Give Smaller Share of Income to Charity, Middle Class Digs Deeper,” by Alex Daniels.

“As the recession lifted, poor and middle class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less.  At the same time, according to a new Chronicle analysis of tax data, wealthy Americans earned more, but the portion of the income they gave to charity declined,” Daniels said.

Does this mean you should stop working with wealthy donors?  Of course not!  As the article notes, the wealthy have a lot to give and still are giving a lot: “Even though wealthier Americans donated a smaller share of their income, the total amount they gave increased by $4.6-billion, to hit $77.5-billion in 2012, using inflation-adjusted dollars.”

While this data can mean and say many things, the most important points to note are that giving motivations may be changing, and therefore you have a major opportunity to gain more support for your organization if you can determine why these changes have happened.  There’s also the simple fact wealthy constituents have more to give.  Just because they’re giving a smaller percentage in general, that doesn’t mean you can’t go against that trend if you ask the right questions.

Jon Nelson, Beloit, Wisconsin, is Associate Director of ALDE.  He is also Principal of Nelson Business Communications, LLC.

Wisdom Wednesdays: What’s Old is New Again

by Jon Dize

In the fundraising world, we’re often encouraged to “try something new,” to “keep it fresh” or we’re told, “don’t do it like we’ve always done it.”  While these are great concepts to keep in mind, in many instances, we’re finding that the tried and true methods are called that for a reason: they work!

Dize-Jon Headshot 2014For instance …

  1. Millennials: They were the future of giving!  The future part appears to be correct, but as in “their future,” or “when they get older.”  Reality shows us that those 55 and older have the greatest proportion of available assets to donate, and are still our prime constituency for long-term, cheerful giver support for organizations with limited resources to devote to fundraising.  Not to discount the abilities of the Millennials’ impact on the future, but not until the house is paid for, the cars are paid for, the kids are out of college and there’s more available time to devote to their causes will the impact truly be known.
  1. Text giving: Seems like only yesterday that donations by text was going to change everything!  Do you know of anyone that’s still giving to his or her favorite organizations by text?  I don’t.  Online giving is certainly increasing, and so are credit- and debit-card donations (I don’t carry a checkbook except on very rare occasions), but donations the old fashioned way with checks still dominate in many circles.
  1. How about the death of direct mail?  When was the last time you received a newsletter, request letter or save the date postcard?  Yesterday, today, and most likely tomorrow!  While our email inboxes are certainly populated with more e-newsletters than ever, studies are showing that the tried-and-true method of mailing requests and information are still an effective way to gain a donor’s attention.

While development is always changing, and we need to be nimble, it’s imperative to pay attention to what hasn’t changed, what still works and what will continue to be important into the future.

Jon Dize, CFRM, serves as the Director of Advancement for The Lutheran Schools Partnership in Fort Wayne, Ind.  He is also President of the Indiana-Michigan Chapter ALDE.  Contact him at jond@tlspartnership.org(260) 203-4510, on LinkedIn or via Twitter: @JonDize17.

Wisdom Wednesdays: Endowment Building: The Future of Organizations

by Jon Dize

In fundraising circles, we’re taught that annual giving helps keep the lights on, but endowments ensure your long-term viability.  How do endowments help?  Use the 5 percent rule: if an organization has an endowment of $100,000, then they could earn $5,000 ($100,000 x .05) every year, forever.  Move that example to a $1,000,000 endowment, and leadership could enjoy an extra $50,000 in operating funds without doing anything else.  Period.  Think about that.  What could you do with an extra $50,000 a year?

Should investments in the fund grow more than 5 percent, the annual benefit can grow, too.

Dize-JonNow that you know why you need to support an endowment, I suppose you would like to know how to move forward …

First and foremost, you need a plan.  I love plans.  You can’t get where you want to go without a plan to get there.  Below are some basic suggestions for your plan:

Begin with a GOAL:

  • Start with a program’s funding as your goal.  Want to provide for $50,000 in scholarships every year?  $1,000,000 is your goal (rule of 5 percent).  Want to pay for that new position?  Maybe $250,000 is right.  Want to make sure $5,000 goes to Costa Rica missions every year?  $100,000 will do it.
  • Start with a minimum in mind.  Maximum?  The sky’s the limit with this fundraising system!  Do not limit yourself.

Next, you must PROMOTE the endowment:

  • Promote the endowment in general.
  • Promote the impact that endowments can provide.
  • Promote how the funds will be used.  Talk about your goals.
  • Promote past gifts to your endowment, who made the gift, the impact it made, etc.
  • Promote how to give to the endowment.  Add it to the offering envelope, have brochures in the narthex, list it on your website, etc.
  • Need more promotional ideas?  The ALDE website has resources, or shoot me an email at jond@tlspartnership.org.

Last, (arguably, first!), you need MANAGEMENT of the process:

  • Management should come from an Endowment Committee.
  • Manage the process with an Endowment Policy.  I love helping creating policies for endowments, gift acceptance, distribution, investing and segregated funds because good policy makes work easier and more effective.
  • Manage the investment.  Lutheran and other church bodies have several options to look at, and perhaps your hometown has a good bank trust department.
  • Manage the promotion as listed above.  Fundraising staff, fundraising committees, board members, called staff, etc.  Keep it in front of everyone.

Jon Dize, CFRM, serves as the Director of Development for The Lutheran Schools Partnership in Fort Wayne, Ind.  He is also President of the Indiana-Michigan Chapter ALDE.  Contact him at jond@tlspartnership.org(260) 203-4510, on LinkedIn or via Twitter: @JonDize17.

Wisdom Wednesdays: Can We Accept That Gift From a Donor?, Part Three

by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

In addition to the Gift Acceptance Policy and understanding when and why gifts may be refused or declined – topics we considered in the past two weeks – below are some key points to consider when you evaluate your fundraising policies and procedures.  They may seem obvious or simple, but these are questions you must ask of yourself and your organization to ensure an effective development program.  After all, a small error is no small matter.

  1. Miller-DawnIs there a procedure for processing gifts and maintaining database accuracy?  Is there a written procedure for entering and recording gifts?
    1. Is the Development Office reconciling with the Finance Office?  Different staff members working with the same information can result in data inconsistencies.
    2. Is the word “Street” spelled out or is “St.” used for address?  Is it “Mr. and Mrs.” or “M/M”?  Contact information can directly affect the quality of your data and the number of duplicate records.
    3. Are you using fund codes, appeal codes and campaign codes consistently? Otherwise your reports and queries may not be pulling accurate information.
  2. Is there a donor privacy/confidentiality policy?  A staff and volunteer privacy/confidentiality policy?
    Folks that have access to your database or other donor information need to know and understand that it is a privilege, not a right, and the information is the property of the nonprofit.
  3. Is there a written procedure for acknowledging gifts?
    Is the expectation that gifts are acknowledged within 24-48 hours?  Does the Executive Director sign gifts over $1,000?  Board chair signs gifts over $5,000?  Whatever your parameters are for acknowledging gifts, they need to be stated in your policies and procedures manual.
  4. Is there a donor recognition/stewardship policy?
    1. At what giving level would/should a donor’s name be added to a donor wall
    2. What about recognizing donors in an Annual Report?  Or with a small token of appreciation?  Again, donor recognition practices need to be clearly stated in your manual.
  5. Is there IRS language on receipts and acknowledgement letters?
    For example: ABC Charity is an IRS approved 501(c)3 organization.  This acknowledgment of your contribution is provided pursuant to Section 170(f)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Under present IRS guidelines, since no goods or services were received in return for your contribution, the entire amount is eligible for consideration as a Charitable Tax Deduction.
  6. Is there a permission/opt-in/opt-out policy for sending email communications to benefactors, volunteers, etc.?
    Don’t blast your contacts with e-mail information unless they’ve agreed to it.
  7. Is there a policy for conducting new special events?  Use of the charity’s name and logo?
    Where do you want your organization’s name to appear, or not appear? Could be a sticky point!
  8. Is your organization registered where it raises funds?
    1. Please consult a qualified professional adviser if you are uncertain about state and federal registration issues affecting your nonprofit.
    2. You really don’t want to get into legal trouble over a $50 gift … or a $5,000 gift!

~Partially adapted from AFP’s Ready Reference Series, Developing Fundraising Policies and Procedures: Best Practices for Accountability and Transparency

 Keep a policies and procedures manual within reach in the development office and review annually.

Not sure where to start?  Below are a few quick references that your organization may find helpful:

At the end of the day, we as fundraising professionals are charged with raising funds for our nonprofits and properly stewarding our donors’ gifts.  Policies and procedures should enhance our fundraising operations, not hinder our progress.

Begin to draft, or revise, your fundraising policies and procedures today!

Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE, is Director of Consulting for Fund Development Services at Zielinski Companies in St. Louis, Missouri. She can be reached at dmiller@zielinskico.com or (800) 489-2150.

Founded in 1957, Zielinski Companies helps nonprofit and religious organizations address their financial, management and planning needs. The firm has a broad range of consulting service areas, including: Fund Development and Mission Advancement Consulting; Audit, Accounting and Tax Services; Property and Facility Planning; Organizational Management and Planning; Long-term Care, Facility and Staffing Consulting and Cash Management and Credit Card Services. For more information, please visit www.zielinskico.com.