EP37 - Alex Wilson - Featured

Episode 37: Decrypting Crypto for Nonprofits—Bitcoin Donations and Beyond, with Alex Wilson

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 37

Decrypting Crypto for Nonprofits—Bitcoin Donations and Beyond, with Alex Wilson

In this Episode:

What happens when socially conscious millennials and others profit billions of dollars from cryptocurrency investments? They look for ways that their windfall can help those less fortunate.

This year, one platform alone will handle over $100 million in cryptocurrency donations to nonprofits. And they expect it to 10x next year.

What started out as a novelty in the tech and finance space has now turned into a three trillion dollar movement that impacts most aspects of life today. Yet, it still seems complex (cryptic?) for nonprofits to get involved. Between the technical aspects and the legal implications, most nonprofits have been hesitant to dive in.

Alex Wilson co-founded The Giving Block when he saw that nonprofits had a hard time overcoming the hurdles necessary to accept and process Bitcoin donations. He joined us this episode to demystify cryptocurrency donations for nonprofits and why it’s important to join the movement sooner rather than later.

[00:00:04.370] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us.

[00:00:20.970] – Boris
Hi everybody and welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today is one of my favorite topics of late. I’ve been studying it a bunch lately. I think it’s got so much possibility for good and for humanity as a whole, whether it’s going to nonprofits or ways that it can revolutionize the way that we do so many things, including finances. It is the subject of cryptocurrency and on a broader level, the blockchain technology and I was very excited to get the co-founder and I believe CEO, he could correct me if I’m wrong of The Giving Block, Alex Wilson to come on the show.

[00:00:56.910] – Boris
Alex was formerly a management consultant where he worked with Fortune 500 companies to develop strategies around emerging tech like AI, IoT, Blockchain and cryptocurrency. As he went down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole as I’m doing right now, he began investing in and advising early stage cryptocurrency startups. Now he’s turned his attention to the nonprofit world, where he equips nonprofits to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency donations with The Giving Block.

[00:01:25.110] – Boris
Founded in 2018, The Giving Block is the leading crypto philanthropy platform, making cryptocurrency fundraising easy for nonprofits while empowering donors to give Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to their favorite causes.

[00:01:38.730] – Boris
When I asked Alex what his superpower is, he quite simply said, it’s helping nonprofits fundraise crypto. Let’s bring him on to the show to talk to us about that and why it’s so important. Hey, Alex.

[00:01:49.230] – Alex Wilson
Hey, Boris. Thanks for having me on today.

[00:01:51.330] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you. As I said in the intro, I’m really excited about this because I want to learn more about it and about the way that you guys work and definitely share this opportunity with organizations that may or may not already be considering it, but definitely should as I think will make the case today. Before we get into that though, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, Alex? What’s your story? Why are you doing this?

[00:02:13.050] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So the back story, it’s pretty interesting, actually. Like you said, before starting this, I was a management consultant. Back then it was kind of the first time crypto and blockchain sort of went mainstream for the first time. You might have seen headlines about Bitcoin hitting 20,000 for the first time in end of 2017, basically.

[00:02:32.970] – Alex Wilson
Around that time a bit earlier, I got really, really into just trading and investing in cryptocurrency and was basically obsessed. I was like, I want to do nothing but think about crypto all the time and was thinking through basically different applications for it. And by the end of 2017, started to notice people, of course, making a lot of money as the market grew and also looking for ways to donate some of that Bitcoin or other crypto back to nonprofits. And we found that there were very few nonprofits accepting crypto at that time and there wasn’t a very easy way to accept crypto.

[00:03:09.570] – Alex Wilson
My co-founder, who was a good college friend of mine, Pat Duffy, he happened to be working at a nonprofit at the time and I dragged him into trading crypto, kind of kicking and screaming at first. He was a bit of a skeptic, but we started talking more and more about crypto and different applications. And in December of 2017, we saw something on Reddit called The Pineapple Fund. The quick story on that is this was an anonymous donor who posted on Reddit saying, “I’ve made a lot of money investing in Bitcoin and now I want to give a lot of that money away.” And essentially said, “Hey, nonprofits apply for some of this money, in this case Bitcoin, below in the comments.”

[00:03:48.210] – Alex Wilson
And they stayed totally anonymous and ended up donating about $56 million worth of Bitcoin to about 60 different nonprofits. And for many of those nonprofits, that was their first time accepting a Bitcoin donation or any type of crypto donation. And we saw that there essentially wasn’t a very good way of accepting crypto. There was a lot more we could be doing. So in 2018, Pat and I essentially decided to start The Giving Block and now we’re here.

[00:04:20.130] – Boris
And now you’re here. Clearly, there is opportunity. Clearly, there is need. I mean, talk about the market driving the need. We’re talking the donors want it. So it definitely behooves organizations to be able to accept it and to work with it, assuming that it’s a good idea for them specifically, which I want to dive into when it is and when it isn’t. But first, there’s a lot of terms out there. Hopefully most of our listeners already know what cryptocurrency is, what blockchain is, what Bitcoin is. But can you give us just a 30-second primer on the subject so that we’re all up to speed?

[00:04:56.430] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. 30-second primer and I guess first to start with a couple of terms to clarify. So there’s Bitcoin, which is the first cryptocurrency. Now, there is thousands of cryptocurrencies out there and the underlying technology that most of these are using are called blockchain. So Bitcoin is still the largest and most well known. Cryptocurrency, for the sake of explaining it, we’ll pretend we’re just talking about Bitcoin.

[00:05:21.690] – Alex Wilson
So with Bitcoin, one thing that’s made it so popular and so unique is it’s essentially a way of democratizing access to financial services. It’s not backed by or controlled by any one company, country, or anything like that. It’s essentially governed and managed by the community and the users, so anyone can use it at any time. It never closes, it never goes down. You can send money around the world 24/7 and it’s incredibly transformative for a lot of use cases.

[00:05:55.770] – Alex Wilson
And one of them is actually… one of the reasons it’s been in the headlines so much is because there’s only ever going to be 21 million Bitcoin. So there’s built in scarcity of it. And the reason that’s particularly relevant right now is because people are more worried than ever about things like inflation, where the cost of things are going up and the value of the US dollar is worth a lot less than it used to be. So people are looking at Bitcoin as sort of this digital gold or this alternative store of value. And that’s one of the reasons it’s really picked up in recent years.

[00:06:27.870] – Boris
Very cool. That’s a great explanation. There’s a lot of other applications that are happening on the blockchain that I’m excited about also that I’m hoping nonprofits are going to be able to start capitalizing on soon, but definitely cryptocurrency and Bitcoin as the biggest one is the most important thing that they need to be thinking about right now. So what are you seeing out there in the nonprofit sector since you guys started three years ago? What’s been going on in terms of cryptocurrency and donations for nonprofits?

[00:06:57.990] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. I mean, it’s probably not surprising to hear that it’s really picked up especially in the last year and a half, two years. The first year was pretty tough, convincing nonprofits to be accepting crypto and not that many others are doing it. But Interestingly, most of our early clients were actually nonprofits who were already accepting crypto because of those Pineapple Fund donations, but they weren’t happy with how they were accepting crypto. So we set out with a mission of creating a better way for them to accept crypto.

[00:07:26.070] – Alex Wilson
So for the first year or two, we didn’t have a ton of clients. Now it’s taken off dramatically and we have over 700 nonprofits working with us and we expect to be working with over a thousand nonprofits before the year is over. And I think nonprofits are starting to realize what a huge, untapped market this is. And it’s important that nonprofits really think about this as a totally new donor demographic and not just a donation method. And nonprofits, I think, are often surprised to hear how big this market is, too.

[00:07:57.870] – Alex Wilson
I mean, the cryptocurrency market as a whole, the market cap is more than $3 trillion now. People are usually surprised to hear that number. And there’s over 200 million users around the world using crypto and that number is about doubling every year. So it’s a huge market and there’s a lot of opportunity and donation volume and the number of nonprofits accepting crypto is increasing dramatically. But there’s still a lot of opportunity to be an early mover and a relatively first mover as a nonprofit since not everyone is accepting crypto yet.

[00:08:31.710] – Boris
Those are some great numbers and stats there. Do you know—or maybe you know at least through your platform about how much has been donated with cryptocurrency over the last, let’s say, year?

[00:08:43.290] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So this year alone we’ll process over 100 million in donations…

[00:08:47.570] – Boris
That’s amazing!

[00:08:49.290] – Alex Wilson
which is pretty amazing. And we’re expecting to do about a billion next year based on our projections of new clients coming online and partners.

[00:08:57.750] – Boris
Wow. Okay. Okay. That definitely should alert everyone out there that’s listening that this is not something that’s just a fad, which I know a lot of people think Bitcoin is pure speculation, which there is a lot of speculation involved in that, but it’s real and it’s being used and you’re either taking advantage of it or you’re missing out at this point.

[00:09:19.950] – Alex Wilson

[00:09:20.310] – Boris
So why would… let’s talk about this donor demographic that you’re talking about. I talk about avatars all the time and I think it’s the same thing. What is the donor avatar that is going to be donating? How are they different whether they’re donating in USD or in stock or in cryptocurrency? What sets them apart?

[00:09:42.690] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So the interesting thing about this demographic is and maybe it’s not surprising, but they tend to be younger. Right? A lot of millennials and Gen Z’s were the early adopters of crypto. And over time, as this goes a bit more mainstream and big companies getting involved that will normalize in terms of the ages of people involved. But right now, still pretty heavily millennial-Gen Z. They are, of course, very, very tech savvy. And often they have pretty much all of their investments in crypto. Right? They prefer investing in crypto and holding crypto than stocks or other traditional asset types.

[00:10:17.130] – Alex Wilson
So we’re finding with these donors that they tend to be relatively wealthy. I mean, the average crypto user has an income over $100,000 a year. And because of that, we’re also seeing high average donation sizes. So average donation size over $10,000. So more than ten times the industry average for a credit card donation. And beyond that, they continue to have a lot of interest in supporting crypto adoption. Right? Like crypto made them a lot of money and they have an interest in seeing crypto continue to succeed. So they get really excited when nonprofits start accepting crypto, they start talking about crypto. It’s in some ways also very validating for them.

[00:11:02.370] – Boris
Yeah. So by donating, they’re kind of evangelizing—at the same time—cryptocurrency?

[00:11:07.890] – Alex Wilson
Exactly. Yep. And we push that messaging, right? Like, the more you donate crypto, the good thing for the entire industry.

[00:11:13.710] – Boris
So I understand that for sure in terms of evangelism. But are there any other reasons why don’t they first convert? For example, if they believe in a nonprofit, why not convert their Bitcoin or their Ethereum, whatever it might be into US dollars and then donate?

[00:11:30.690] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So great point. And the simple answer is for tax reasons. And if you’re familiar with how it works for donating stocks to a 501(c)(3), with crypto it’s very, very similar. And the reason for that is because the IRS has classified crypto as property. So as a donor, when you donate your Bitcoin or other crypto to a nonprofit, the donor does not have to pay capital gains tax on the appreciated crypto, and they get a fair market value on the donation at the time of donation.

[00:12:00.270] – Alex Wilson
So as an example, let’s say someone has $100,000 in Bitcoin. If they donate that one Bitcoin directly to the charity, they get a write off for the full value of that Bitcoin, and the charity receives the full value of the Bitcoin. Versus, if they sell the Bitcoin first for us dollars, they’re then going to have to pay, let’s say, 20% to 30% tax on it and then donate the remaining 70% to 80% of what the full value would have been. So it’s really a win-win for both sides. And of course, the nonprofits aren’t having to pay tax on either because they’re tax exempt.

[00:12:37.530] – Boris
That is a great explanation, which really clarifies why accepting Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is smart for organizations due—for lack of a better word and a smart way for savvy crypto investors to also be donating instead of converting it back and forth. But we know that although it’s volatile overall, Bitcoin specifically has shot up. I think most of the cryptocurrencies, except maybe for what was the one based on the Netflix series that just went to zero?

[00:13:15.310] – Alex Wilson
Squid Game.

[00:13:15.550] – Boris
Yeah. Squid Game had the Squid coin. That one went to zero. So that was clearly not a good idea. But everything else Bitcoin is now at what? Over $60,000?

[00:13:24.130] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. It’s actually more like $68,000 even today. And that’s a really good point that I just remembered something I wanted to bring up, too. A lot of these donors are going to their financial advisors and saying like, I need to donate some to offset my taxes, what should I donate? And the short answer they’re usually getting is whatever asset has appreciated the most for you, donate that first. And for most people, that tends to be crypto because in both the last five year and ten year period, it’s the best depreciating asset class in the world. So for most people, it’s the most tax efficient way for them to give.

[00:14:00.970] – Boris
Awesome. Alright. So, assuming that our listeners are still with us and fascinated by this subject and are already sold let’s say to some degree on the idea of accepting cryptocurrency, what does it take for them to do it? What does it take for them to get set up to accept crypto with or without your services?

[00:14:19.090] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So we can do a kind of in parallel of what it looks like with us versus kind of trying to do it on your own. The first thing is, you need a cryptocurrency wallet to be able to accept these donations. Getting that wallet set up could be compared to, from a process perspective, like opening let’s say a bank account. Because the cryptocurrency exchanges where crypto is traded are regulated in a very similar way to banks, so they have to collect information about your organization. They have to know who’s going to be using the account and what the purpose is, things like that.

[00:14:54.010] – Alex Wilson
So whether you work with us or someone else, that’s always going to be part of it. There’s a pretty stringent compliance process to this, which is part of the onboarding. If you’re working with us, we also have a donation widget and a fundraising platform where we’d help you get donations. We’ve really worked hard to develop the full ecosystem of what it takes to fundraise crypto beyond just accepting crypto.

[00:15:21.010] – Alex Wilson
If you want to take crypto on your own, it’s certainly possible. It’s a bit technical and confusing, but you certainly can do it. But you’re going to be pretty limited in finding nonprofit-specific solutions, even ways of collecting donor info. You won’t be able to automatically convert the donations necessarily, or automatically tax receipt them. So it’ll be essentially much more manual and time consuming if you do it on your own. But you certainly can do it on your own. And we’ve seen plenty of nonprofits start that way and then kind of graduate to working with us when they found it’s taken too long or been too confusing.

[00:15:52.450] – Alex Wilson
And for us, we’re really trying to help nonprofits fundraise crypto, not just accept it. So we’re doing campaigns. We’re having one on one meetings with our client success team to help you market this. We always joke that we’re trying to keep the nonprofits from writing Bitcoin as two words on Twitter, because if you do, you might scare them away. There’s a lot of nuance to the marketing and the fundraising even with how you talk about it and when you talk about it, all that kind of stuff.

[00:16:18.070] – Boris
So you mentioned that you help them learn about the donors. Is that right? Because I know there are some laws about know your customer, that people need to collect certain information. Right? Everybody knows—that’s heard of Bitcoin—everybody knows that hackers like to ransom in Bitcoin and that it’s a great vehicle for money laundering. And obviously nonprofits don’t want any sort of connection with that whatsoever. So how does it work in terms of when you get a donation? How much do you need to know about your donor in this case? And how do you track that and report that?

[00:16:52.510] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, definitely. So that’s a really common sort of misconception that comes up as they’re like, “Oh, wait. I thought only criminals use crypto, right?” Or something like that. And it’s actually kind of the opposite. I mean, Bitcoin and crypto is the most transparent form of money ever created. And there’s even some interesting stories where the FBI and DEA have publicly said they wished everyone used crypto because it would be so much easier to follow the money.

[00:17:17.410] – Alex Wilson
If you remember that big Twitter incident where a lot of celebrity accounts were taken over and hacked and people were trying to basically get money from people, they only caught the person who did that because they used Bitcoin and were able to follow the money. If they dropped a duffel bag full of cash off somewhere much, much harder to trace than Bitcoin since every transaction is permanent and public.

[00:17:39.370] – Alex Wilson
But anyway, on the donor side of this, most nonprofits are applying whatever their existing gift acceptance policy is. So you have the option of taking anonymous gifts if your gift acceptance policy allows for that, or you can require every donor leaves their name, email address, or other information you might want to collect. What we’re finding is, though, even for the nonprofits that allow anonymous donations, the smaller gifts will often be anonymous because they don’t want to fill anything out for $50 donation, but the larger ones, let’s say $10,000 and up tend to not be anonymous because people want credit for them and often recognition.

[00:18:19.270] – Alex Wilson
So you won’t see too many anonymous million dollar gifts even if you’re willing to accept them. In the background too we’re also running scans using blockchain analytics to monitor all the incoming transactions, make sure they aren’t coming from any illicit sources and things like that.

[00:18:35.830] – Boris
Are there like repositories of, or databases of wallets that are known to be associated with fraudulent activity that you guys scan for or how does that work?

[00:18:45.010] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, exactly. So there is lists from OFAC and FinCEN they call it like the blocked list that can be compared against to make sure you’re not taking any donations from those.

[00:18:55.810] – Boris
Cool. So when it comes to the donations, let’s say we’ve decided to accept crypto donations whether we’re working with Giving Block or we’re doing it on our own. How do we then need to report these donations in our annual filings? Is it money? Is it property? Is it some other asset class? What is it?

[00:19:14.890] – Alex Wilson
Yes, it is property. So you’ll record it very similar to stock donations if you’re already taking stock, so it’s going to be reported as a non-cash contribution, and you fill out the same forms as you normally would for that.

[00:19:27.070] – Boris
But then are you actually receiving… but you are actually receiving cash, aren’t you? If you’re converting it back out. Or is it only… when do you—I guess I’m trying to figure out, if you’re accepting Bitcoin and holding it, is that one kind of filing versus if you’re accepting Bitcoin and then instantly flipping it back to USD or whatever denomination your organization operates in, does that work differently?

[00:19:50.590] – Alex Wilson
There’s a little bit of nuance with that difference, but in general, in both cases, even if it’s automatically being converted, you’re still technically getting crypto for a split second before it converts. So you’re technically still getting the non-cash asset before it’s converted to cash. The place where the nuance comes in if you’re holding crypto, is I believe there’s different filing requirements if you hold an investment for more than three years. I’m not an accountant or an attorney myself, but just from talking to clients, I’ve heard of that nuance once it becomes three years.

[00:20:26.170] – Boris
All right. Cool. So it’s coming up on end of year really fast. I know GivingTuesday… I get their newsletters and they’re talking every single week, “hey, counting down, counting down, counting down.” Most organizations have been planning their year end fundraising campaigns for over a month now, at least. I’m just checking my calendar. We’re almost midway into November. There’s not a lot of time left before they’re doing their full blast. Is it too late to get involved this year? Should they already be thinking for next year instead?

[00:20:56.710] – Alex Wilson
They can certainly still get involved in this year, but definitely going to have to move pretty quickly. So our end-of-year plan, we run Crypto GivingTuesday, and that starts on GivingTuesday the same day on the 30th. And we run that in parallel. And then we do a month-long campaign in December, which we call Bag Season. We’ve got different initiatives throughout that month-long campaign. For example, this year, for the first time, we’re doing NFTuesday, which is basically GivingTuesday but for NFT-related philanthropy, which has been amazing, seen a huge boom in that. Many multimillion dollar donations coming out of that.

[00:21:31.870] – Alex Wilson
And another new thing we have this year, too, is our Crypto Giving Pledge, which is our spin on the traditional giving pledge that Gates and Buffett started but for high net worth individuals in the crypto community. We’ve got charity concerts. We’ve got all sorts of stuff going on throughout December. So even if you aren’t set up for the 30th of November, there’s plenty to catch for the whole month of December and we expect to raise more in December than the rest of the year combined. So even if you only catch a week or two in December, it’s still definitely worth your time because this isn’t going away and then you’ll be set up for all of next year, too.

[00:22:05.830] – Boris
How long does it take to get fully set up and started with you guys?

[00:22:09.130] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. Usually about a week on average.

[00:22:11.590] – Boris
Okay. So definitely still some time there. And then you mentioned GivingTuesday and your own spin on GivingTuesday. They’re an amazing organization. I love them. And they provide all kinds of marketing collateral, if you will. Copy for your newsletters or social media. Do you guys do all that kind of fun stuff too?

[00:22:28.030] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, we do. We send all of our clients what we call a marketing toolkit, which is going to be this long document of like when and how to talk about this and post on social media, put stuff in your newsletter. It’s going to say, all right, on the 30th you post this, on the 5 December, we recommend posting something along the lines of this, and a lot of it can be copy-and-pasted or slightly tweaked to incorporate your mission. Things like that.

[00:22:53.230] – Boris
Cool. You mentioned NFTs too. So obviously those are hot right now in terms of buzz if nothing else. A lot of art is going in the direction of NFT as well as other products and projects as well. So how does it work to… are you accepting NFTS on someone’s behalf, or what is it that you guys are doing with NFTuesday?

[00:23:16.450] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So with NFTuesday, what we’re generally encouraging creators or artists or NFT platforms to do is to donate a portion of their NFT sale proceeds to charities that they care about. Because one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is when you sell an NFT, you’re actually getting cryptocurrency. So now those creators get a lot of cryptocurrency and they want to be able to donate some of that crypto for the same tax benefits that we talked about earlier. Because when they’re selling their NFTs, they’re creating huge taxable gains when they sell the NFT and donating some of that crypto directly afterwards is a great way for them to reduce some of that tax burden. So we’re seeing huge, huge demand for that. And I mean, millions of dollars a month being donated from NFT creators.

[00:24:05.830] – Boris
So you guys are doing a lot of the work in terms of marketing this. You’re already out there talking to them and trying to create these campaigns, really on behalf of nonprofits and the nonprofit world as a whole, which is pretty cool. I’m sure you’re not just doing this out of the goodness of your heart. How does it work? Although obviously you are to some degree because you wouldn’t be working with nonprofits. How does it work in terms of your donation platform and fees? I know most CRMs and donation management systems take either a percentage or have set up fees and annual fees. How do you guys work?

[00:24:42.970] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So we are very intentional in keeping this a familiar model. So, very standardized in the sense of it’s just like any other fundraising platform. We have a handful of different packages you can choose from. They start at $2,500 a year, and they go up from there basically, depending on how much hands on support you want from us and how much customization you want in building a crypto fundraising program.

[00:25:08.050] – Alex Wilson
So 2,500 will get you set up. You’ll still get support. You’ll still get help from our client success team fundraising crypto. But some, like American Cancer Society, some of the larger groups, they want to create a crypto research fund and really go all out on this and market it a ton. So some of it also depends on how much the nonprofit wants to do more passively or proactively when it comes to talking about and fundraising crypto. And then there’s also a transaction fee component to it as well, which is very similar to what you’d be paying on other fundraising platforms.

[00:25:40.870] – Boris
So like a Stripe or PayPal kind of fee.

[00:25:42.910] – Alex Wilson

[00:25:44.950] – Boris
Interesting. All right. Very cool. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you think organizations should know if they’re considering starting up with crypto donations.

[00:25:54.130] – Alex Wilson
I mean, the main thing is the sooner you get started, the more you’re going to benefit. Don’t put this off for too long because I can guarantee you crypto is not going away. The rate of growth is unbelievable and this isn’t going to become maybe 20% of your budget every year right away. But over time, it’s going to be a bigger and bigger part of donations in general. And there certainly is a big advantage of being one of the early movers, because these donors are going to remember who these early adopters were. Right now is the time to start building the relationships with these donors for their entire life. And right now you’re only competing with about 700 other nonprofits instead of 1.5 million nonprofits that take credit card donations. So huge opportunity to kind of get some market share in a sense.

[00:26:41.830] – Boris
I love that you said it’s about building relationships early on and it is absolutely critical. And I’m glad that earlier you also said that most donors do choose to give their information even if it’s not required by nonprofit because they want that recognition. But you also want to develop a relationship with them once you have the information. You want to obviously engage with them over time, whether it’s just thanking them or showing what the impact of their work is, which hopefully you’re doing as well, their donations. I should say.

[00:27:10.090] – Boris
Building that relationship is critical and getting a reputation for an organization that accepts cryptocurrency that is going to then engage with the donors around that maybe is forward thinking in general, because like you said, very small percentage of the entire nonprofit landscape is accepting cryptocurrency. Obviously the ones that are appear to be more tech savvy, more forward thinking. And so they’ll attract that kind of avatar as well. I think that’s absolutely critical. I love that you said that. So if nonprofits want to get started, are there any tools to look into?

[00:27:47.770] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. The easiest way is just to start learning a bit about cryptocurrency. You can even sign up for our newsletter on our website. We do a weekly newsletter that talks about all things you should know kind of at the intersection of nonprofits and crypto. Relevant news, blogs, events, all sorts of stuff. Otherwise, if you look up like CoinDesk, for example, is a more general crypto media outlet, you could read about crypto. They’ve got a daily newsletter, too.

[00:28:16.450] – Alex Wilson
I would just start thinking about crypto. Start thinking about how you can involve it for your organization. And ultimately, you know, longer term, this just becomes another tool for you to fundraise. Right? And this is something you want to weave in to your existing fundraising strategies and plans. This is by no means meant to be like a takeover and change everything. Right? This is in parallel to what you’re already doing. It’s just another tool of part of your greater plan.

[00:28:41.590] – Boris
And who knows, maybe one day it’ll take over everything and then you definitely want to be on board when that happens.

[00:28:46.750] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, exactly.

[00:28:48.430] – Boris
So if people are interested in The Giving Block specifically, what should they do? What’s your call to action for our heroes at home?

[00:28:56.530] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, you can go to our website at thegivingblock.com. Sign up for our newsletter. Follow us across the different social media accounts. And if you really want to learn more and get started pretty quickly, you can also book a demo on our website. And someone from our team will reach out, spend 30 minutes with you, run you through all the details of how it works and how you can get started. And if you move pretty quickly, you can probably still make Crypto GivingTuesday or at least a couple of weeks of December campaign.

[00:29:24.670] – Boris
Awesome. So as always, we’re going to include all of these links and all of these resources that Alex just mentioned in our show notes. We are going to link back to The Giving Block, of course, as well directly to the “book a demo.” And we are happy to answer any questions here at our strategy. But Alex is the man when it comes to cryptocurrency donations and accepting those for your organization.

[00:29:52.930] – Boris
Actually, I meant to ask because you and I talked about it earlier before we jump off. I am, of course, big on websites and interactive websites in general and things working as smoothly and frictionless as possible. Is there a way to incorporate The Giving Block essentially on a website?

[00:30:11.770] – Alex Wilson
Yes, there is. And when you sign up with us, there’s kind of two different points of entry. You’ll have a profile and a donation widget on our website, but then we also give you a donation widget, which can be really easily embedded onto your own fundraising pages.

[00:30:26.590] – Boris
Cool. All right, everybody. Well, I hope you enjoyed learning about cryptocurrency and about accepting it what the ramifications and advantages are for nonprofits. Alex, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. And everybody at home thank you for tuning in. If you enjoyed this episode, please give us a like and a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform so that we can reach more nonprofit professionals like you, help them create more heroes for their cause. See you next week.

[00:30:55.690] – Alex Wilson

[00:30:56.770] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform. And let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • The story of how and why Alex and his co-founder, Pat Duffy created The Giving Block, starting with the Pineapple Fund’s $56M in donations. (2:13)
  • A primer on what is Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. (4:56)
  • This year alone, The Giving Block will process over $100M in donations, expecting to do $1 billion next year. (8:43)
  • The crypto-donor avatar – what makes them different and why they want to donate in cryptocurrency specifically. (9:20)
    • They’re younger, wealthier early adopters of the technology, who have made a lot of money with it
    • Their average donation size is over $10,000 (more than 10x the average credit card donation)
    • They have a vested interest in donating in crypto because they want to see greater crypto adoption
  • Why cryptocurrency investors prefer to donate directly in crypto, rather than converting to U.S. dollars or other fiat currencies: The tax implications are enormous for them. (11:13)
  • What it takes to get started with accepting cryptocurrency donations. (14:19)
  • Bitcoin anonymity versus knowing your donors: With the transparency of crypto, you can apply whatever your nonprofit’s standard donation policies are. (16:18)
  • Tax implications of accepting crypto donations for nonprofits. These currencies are considered assets, so the nonprofit receives and processes them as non-cash contributions, similar to stocks. (18:55)
  • When you receive the donation, you can either hold the cryptocurrency like an asset, or instantly convert it to your local currency. (19:50)
  • The Giving Block is organizing several marketing pushes for year-end giving. They even create marketing toolkits for nonprofits taking part. (20:56)
    • Crypto GivingTuesday
    • NFTuesday – encouraging artists and others making money from NFTs to donate a percentage of their windfalls
    • Crypto Giving Pledge – replicating what the Giving Pledge is doing, but for cryptocurrency philanthropists
  • It’s not too late to get involved with accepting crypto for this end-of-year season. It takes around a week to get set up and running. (21:43)
  • How The Giving Block works with organizations and fees to get started with their platform. (24:05)
  • Cryptocurrency adoption and donations are growing rapidly. The sooner you can get started working with and accepting the donations, the sooner you can start building relationships with donors who prefer cryptocurrency donations. (25:54)
  • With The Giving Block’s tools, you can either use their website or embed your crypto donation widget on your site/donation page for a more seamless experience. (29:52)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Alex Wilson

Alex Wilson

Co-Founder, The Giving Block

Founded in 2018, The Giving Block is the leading crypto philanthropy platform, making cryptocurrency fundraising easy for nonprofits while empowering donors to give Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to their favorite causes. The company currently enables more than 700 mission-driven organizations, charities, universities, and faith-based organizations of all sizes to accept cryptocurrency donations and supports them to maximize their fundraising outcomes. Learn more and discover why cryptocurrency is the fastest growing donation method for Millennial and Gen-Z donors, at TheGivingBlock.com.

Connect with Alex Wilson

EP36 - Dana Litwin - Featured

Episode 36: Tapping the Power of Online Volunteers to Deliver ROI for Your Nonprofit, with Dana Litwin

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 36

Tapping the Power of Online Volunteers to Deliver ROI for Your Nonprofit, with Dana Litwin

In this Episode:

Nonprofit volunteer time across the U.S. in 2021 is now $28.54/hr on average. They are often your greatest investors and champions… and that’s not even counting the donations that they make on top of their time. But with COVID and other challenges, too many organizations just don’t know how to capitalize on this opportunity.

Even for nonprofits who understand the tremendous value of their volunteer force, COVID-19 presented seemingly insurmountable challenges. Many halted or completely abandoned their volunteer programs, breaking the connection with their biggest supporters or worse, breaking their trust at the worst time possible.

Dana Litwin is a Certified Volunteer Administrator (CVA) who specializes in helping nonprofits create more volunteer opportunities online. She joins us on the show this week to share her insights on the ROI of volunteers and how we can help them help us regardless of pandemics, geographical and time constraints.

[00:00:05.270] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:22.110] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you for joining us today. Taking some time out of your schedules, on your walk, on your drive, or maybe you’re at work and watching something for a little bit of inspiration. That’s exactly my hope here, is to inspire you and all the nonprofit professionals that enjoy the show, ways to activate more heroes for your cause.

[00:00:44.970] – Boris
Today, I am joined by Dana Litwin, who is a principal consultant at Dana Litwin Consulting. Dana is a CVA—which I’m going to ask her what that is—and a globally recognized strategic advisor, keynote speaker, and thought leader in volunteerism tech trends and civic service.

[00:01:02.190] – Boris
Since 2002, she has guided organizations in California, Silicon Valley, and nationwide to produce breakthrough volunteer and community engagement programs. Dana is the creator of the YouTube series “Priceless Advice for Leaders of Volunteers” and serves as President of the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement, known as AL!VE. When I asked Dana what her superpower is, she said it was building volunteer and community engagement, and that’s exactly what I want to talk to her about today. With that, let’s bring her on to the show.

[00:01:33.330] – Dana Litwin
Hi, Boris. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:35.310] – Boris
Hi, Dana. It’s really a pleasure to have you on the show. I am excited to talk to you about all of these things. But first, as I like to ask everyone, tell us what’s your story.

[00:01:46.170] – Dana Litwin
My story is, like most people who become leaders of volunteers or get into this profession in this sector, you kind of come in sideways. You know, no little kid who’s five or six years old sits and dreams about their future profession of, “I’m going to design volunteer programs and run community engagement.” But I started entry-level with Project Open Hand, which is kind of a food/critically ill charity here in San Francisco around 2002 and did that for about five years. And really found that the combination of creativity, and people skills, and systems, and structures, and as we’re going to talk about, use of technology.

[00:02:29.730] – Dana Litwin
All of that combined really just is so appealing to me in that it’s kind of a constant challenge, and it’s a constant science and art and craft to develop volunteer engagement. And not enough people are really doing it as a career, seeing it as a career path. So in the 20 something years that I’ve been doing this, at least the last ten years, I’ve been really involved in kind of advocating for the profession and helping other people achieve things like the CVA.

[00:03:03.510] – Boris
Which is…

[00:03:04.890] – Dana Litwin
Which is Certification in Volunteer Administration, and it’s the only global certification for our profession. There’s a little bit over 1,000 people with the CVA around the world, and it’s existed for some decades, and it’s not a class that you take and then get a certificate or a degree that you study for.

[00:03:28.710] – Dana Litwin
It really tests your professional experience and judgment, and it takes about a year. Are you accepted as a candidate to even take the test? Then you take the test. And again, it’s kind of real world scenarios that aren’t specific to any region around the world, or it’s not like California laws or something. It’s kind of general best practices. So it’s not an easy test to take or pass, and you need to professionally renew it and kind of do constant professional development units and renew your certification every five years. So if someone has CVA, you know that they’re going to be really good at volunteer engagement and program design and everything that’s related to it.

[00:04:12.030] – Boris
So this is definitely, you’ve decided, your calling and you’re pursuing it to the most professional standards you possibly can.

[00:04:19.350] – Dana Litwin
Absolutely, yeah. For myself and just for the profession as well.

[00:04:24.750] – Boris
Very cool. So let’s talk then, about your profession and about the things that you are most expert at, because I’m here to learn from you and I’m excited to do so. What is going on today in the nonprofit sector in terms of volunteering? I’m sure that the pandemic has, like every other area, upended so many programs when it comes to volunteering. What’s going on and how are nonprofits responding?

[00:04:53.910] – Dana Litwin
Nonprofits, overall, did not respond well. There was kind of a panic at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has been actually a lot of great research by volunteermatch.org has done studies about once a year, every six months and surveys. And volunteerpro.net has done some as well, in the independent sector. So what we found early in 2020 was about 90… a little more than 90% of nonprofits or government agencies did the worst possible thing they could in response to the pandemic, which is to completely shut down all of their volunteer programs and in many cases, did not check with their volunteer administrator, program director, and in many cases didn’t communicate properly to the volunteers themselves.

[00:05:46.410] – Dana Litwin
So that was a really serious mistake. That was also a good data point to study of like, why was the volunteer program either undervalued by the leaders in that organization—certainly not the directors of the programs who are running it day-to-day—and why aren’t the leaders, the directors of volunteers, at the decision table with the rest of the c-suite leadership team? So I happened to be doing some other research on, kind of, that subject of how can we communicate to different organizations—both funders and leaders like executive directors, CEOs—the value of their volunteer program so that things like this don’t happen when there’s a panic moment? And particularly hard hit was health care, and human services, and food banks and things.

[00:06:36.630] – Dana Litwin
So some of the, you know, safety nets that we rely on—particularly in the United States, but this happened around the world —immediately were, didn’t have the personnel, to do all those things. And so that caused a really bad impact and ripple effect throughout communities that suddenly lost access to food or health care, certain health care services, or in-home services and things like that.

[00:07:00.450] – Dana Litwin
Now, what we’ve learned in the last year and a half is that—the agencies who kept their volunteers engaged, either shifting to virtual things, or figuring out how to safely have volunteers still do client contact, or work together in the same work site, or something like that—they’ve been the most resilient, and they’ve still been fine even throughout the other economic impacts of the pandemic in the last year and half, almost two years.

[00:07:28.890] – Dana Litwin
And those… I’ve had a lot of calls as a consultant from agencies like, “Well, we immediately shut down our volunteer things, and we didn’t really tell our volunteers until it was too late, and how do we get them all back?” It’s like, well, you’ve broken trust… so you probably can’t. Is the answer that you don’t want to hear, but is the truth.

[00:07:48.930] – Dana Litwin
And so how can we learn these lessons and help convince leadership of these many organizations—tiny nonprofits, medium sized, giant, global or national entities—that pretending that the volunteers that you have, which are probably the biggest department or the most headcount of your whole agency, and they’re probably having the most client or community-facing contact representing your agency, you can’t treat that as a nice to have, or an add on, or someone, something, that’s on a shelf or in a refrigerator where you can just take it out and put it back, and take it out and put it back.

[00:08:25.230] – Dana Litwin
It has to be built on relationships, and trust, and a connection to the people who are doing the work. And when we saw that not happening, that’s been the organizations that didn’t keep their volunteers engaged and didn’t communicate honestly with when they needed people, and what they could do and all that, are really really struggling.

[00:08:48.750] – Boris
So, the breaking of the trust is so critical and so upsetting in so many ways, because that’s one of the big currencies that we have, that we really establish with our supporters. Whether they’re donors or they’re volunteers, whatever… or they’re just sharing their voice, whatever it might be. I classify things into three different types of resources: time, money and voice. So I can vote on your behalf, I could do something on your behalf, speak up, or I could volunteer my time or my money, volunteer my money towards your cause.

[00:09:27.270] – Boris
And anytime a nonprofit can’t sustain that trust, can’t deliver on what is promised, or can’t keep treating you as a valuable member of the community… it really just breaks everything. And it’s very hard to build back, as you were just saying.

[00:09:46.770] – Dana Litwin
Yeah, and I think about it—I like your framing of it—and I think about it as the three C’s of a happy team or happy volunteers. Which is comfort, convenience, and connection. And what we found was that organizations broke that connection, and under connection you can think about it as trust, which you’ve talked about, and the sense that we’re all in this together. That good or bad, whatever we have to do, if we’re transparent and honest about, like, “Well, we have to shut down some of our services, but here’s other ways that you can still stay connected or volunteer.” Or at least, “Here’s how we can still be social with each other. Virtually, as a team of people working for this agency, even if there isn’t a volunteer task to do.”

[00:10:27.390] – Dana Litwin
That agency suggested social things, actually, have been better at bringing those original team members, those volunteers, advocates, donors, everyone back. And when you break, someone has to feel comfortable and safe and supported in their role. It has to be convenient for them to do, either with or without technology. But really, that connection is what was… that was where people kind of dropped off the cliff and the pandemic, was breaking that connection.

[00:10:57.990] – Boris
And I wonder, too, if the donation rates also dropped. And I wanted to ask you about this. Last week, I put out an article and a podcast about the IKEA Effect, which I think you’re familiar with. What that basically says, for those that aren’t in the know, is that when people assembled their own piece of furniture from IKEA, or a Lego set, or origami… they weren’t experts at it, they just assembled it as best they could, and it wasn’t perfect. They still valued it a lot higher than if someone came in, a professional came in, and did that same, assembled that same object, that same piece of furniture or something else, sometimes by as much as 63% more.

[00:11:39.270] – Boris
And so what it’s got me thinking about is that, the more you can engage your supporters—your potential supporters, whomever they might be, volunteers or donors—in the creation of your work, then the more they’re going to value it, the more they’re going to support it. And so I was wondering, do you know what the overlap is between volunteers and donors? What percentage of volunteers maybe become donors as well?

[00:12:06.810] – Dana Litwin
Extremely high overlapping, Venn Diagram. Consistently, there’s a ton of research about this over the last several years, and it very consistently shows that someone who’s volunteering, who’s giving their time and their talent to an organization, is at least ten times as likely to be a donor in addition to volunteering. As, you know, trying to chase fundraising or donor leads in warm or cold calls who aren’t already connected to the mission of the agency. So every director of development knows that information. I think very few executive directors, or CEOs, or general managers of organizations understand that overlap. And I think we may not have had that break of that connection and trust if leadership-level decision makers got that, “Oh, your donors are probably also your volunteers”.

[00:13:02.490] – Dana Litwin
And there was a very specific example, unfortunately recently, with the Chicago Art Institute. Which fired all of their docents all at the same time. Not for cause, but because not exclusively, they considered the population of docents to be too old, too white and too wealthy to represent Chicago. And they said it was as part of a diversity, equity, inclusion, access, justice measure, and all of us in the consulting space from all of those topics screamed that was the exact wrong way to do that, because it hurts DEIAJ efforts that are more legitimate that get woven strategically, you know, and change… the change is managed gently over time for people to get buy-in and build the IKEA piece of furniture of trust and diversity in the community themselves.

[00:13:56.010] – Dana Litwin
But it also just showed that there’s been like, a just off the charts toxic relationship, apparently, between staff and the docents and volunteers, and that’s just sad to see. And too late, the institution realized that, “Oh, most of those docents were our highest donors, and we’ve just lost them, too”. And there was, I think, a Guardian article and some articles about it a few weeks ago—recording this November 5th, so it was in October—but that’s a prime example of what not to do. The worst possible way to try to handle updating or diversifying your volunteer teams.

[00:14:38.850] – Boris
Yeah. So, you know, they had all the best intentions, but completely the wrong execution and didn’t realize just how valuable volunteers are. So, I’m assuming at this point that if whoever is watching or listening didn’t realize the value of volunteers and how important they are, they do now. Let’s get into, it is still the pandemic, some organizations are able to bring volunteers back in-person, but many still cannot, for one reason or another. How do we engage them online? Which, I think actually even opens up the number of people that can be volunteering from different places around the world, right. So what do we need to be thinking about? And what do we need to be doing to start engaging volunteers online and creating those opportunities?

[00:15:23.910] – Dana Litwin
Well, the thing to remember about virtual volunteering, or online, or remote opportunities is overall, it does actually improve access and equity for people who couldn’t… You know, usually a big barrier to volunteering is time, transportation, which is economic, or technology can be its own barrier. So if people have access to technology—but it’s harder for them to afford to drive, or park, or get physically to where previously they would volunteer—that opens up a lot more opportunities. And it opens up a lot of opportunities potentially for anyone around the world, as you mentioned, or from any other location, to do something to support the agency.

[00:16:04.410] – Dana Litwin
So in remote, the things that succeeded with virtual volunteering or moving online was, again, kind of keeping up honest communication and being consistent with the people you already have. And then being open minded about —we may not be able to have somebody in the hospital cuddling preemie newborn babies because of COVID, but we can still have people on iPads, doing home checks with patients, or playing music for them, or doing some other kind of virtual thing that’s supportive—so starting to think outside the box of what other ways can we use remote volunteer opportunities to support the overall mission of an agency that aren’t the usual volunteer roles, to keep people engaged and to engage new people, and then to keep those online opportunities going, to not stop them when you come back in person to volunteer.And so, to kind of keep building your engagement on both those platforms.

[00:17:01.950] – Dana Litwin
And the second point for virtual volunteering is, you still need to do safety and risk management measures. You know, the internet is a big, vast place with a whole lot of bad actors on it, and I’m not talking about, like, showbiz actors. So some of the same safety measures or even more that you would have for people doing things in-person with clients, or working with minors, or families with young kids, or vulnerable populations, elders, things like that. You still want to keep a lot of the same safety measures in place for the online world as well.

[00:17:38.970] – Boris
Those are really important to keep in mind, and I actually hadn’t thought about that. So I appreciate you bringing that up. Is there a way—maybe it’s part of the process that you guide clients through—but how do we ideate? How do we come up with the ideas for volunteer opportunities? Because, as you said, not everything translates directly to, “Oh, well, we could just do this virtually now.” You can’t deliver food virtually, for example. But there are additional things, I’m sure, that most organizations can come up with that can be done on a virtual level and still in-line with their mission and their overall goals. So how do you help clients figure out what that is, that they could be doing?

[00:18:23.190] – Dana Litwin
Well, it’s a great brainstorming session. And, you know, any kind of evaluation or assessment of a volunteer program, or potentially building one or adding things to it starts with just a very basic needs assessment. And that’s kind of some check boxes, and what can be done, what priority should it be done, and who can do it, and what skills do they have? So that’s a good start. And then my favorite category that I always recommend to clients, if they don’t already have it, is have a special project volunteer category that’s a catch-all. And it can be suggested by volunteers or potential volunteers themselves.

[00:18:57.330] – Dana Litwin
Say, kind of like, you have a wish list online of things you’d like donated. It’s like, “Hey, these are some special projects that we don’t quite have the bandwidth to cover with the people we have now, but is this a fit for you and your skills and your experience?” And then like, “Yeah, I can grab that project for six weeks or six months.” And that also empowers volunteers to, again, that two-way communication, building that connection, that trust that we’re in this together, even if it’s a brand new person saying, “Oh, actually, I do have great database organizational skills, and you can’t afford an additional IT person but here’s my certification and you can do a background check, whatever you want to do. But I can work with your IT as a part-time project to clean up your database and have it talk to your CRM or whatever is necessary”.

[00:19:42.630] – Dana Litwin
And that’s been, kind of, the best solution that I’ve seen. Is, you know, in your absolute pie in the sky wish list, what would you wish that you could get done? And there’s… you can find someone to do anything, quite frankly, in the world of volunteering. If you describe it correctly and you get the recruitment message in front of the right kind of audience, whether that’s targeted or a general big wide net cast out, then you’ll find somebody to do it.

[00:20:11.070] – Boris
That’s awesome, and I love the idea of the virtual suggestion box and having it actually suggestions from your volunteers of, “Hey, how about this, or do you need help with that, or I could take this on.” Talking about the IKEA Effect, they’re literally helping you build the volunteer program. Helping you build the organization as a whole and strengthen it. That’s got to be really powerful and impactful.

[00:20:31.710] – Dana Litwin
Yeah, and you’re not going to need an Allen wrench, and there won’t be a leftover screw when you’re done with it.

[00:20:39.330] – Boris
I have so many Allen wrenches.

[00:20:40.650] – Dana Litwin
I know, I have so many. I have a drawer full of Allen wrenches.

[00:20:42.630] – Boris
I feel guilty throwing them out, and I don’t know what to do with them. Somebody should start a project of just IKEA leftover volunteer wrenches.

[00:20:50.550] – Dana Litwin
That’s our next volunteer special project.

[00:20:53.010] – Boris
Perfect. So, what’s the biggest challenge that organizations are facing when it comes to creating programs like this? Is there some particular bottleneck? Is it technology itself? What is holding them back? And if you have any possible solutions to that.

[00:21:10.410] – Dana Litwin
Yeah. I mean the biggest bottleneck, we’ve kind of touched on before, is usually just a lack of valuing or understanding the volunteer services or the community engagement, and really, a tendency in organizations to really underpay or under-resource that capacity-building mechanism that they have. So, very often, there’s an entry-level or close to entry-level, an underpaid volunteer coordinator who’s a department of one. And again, that one person might be in charge of the most personnel or the most headcount of any other department. It’s just that they’re volunteers and they’re not paid.

[00:21:48.810] – Dana Litwin
So there’s a disconnect at an executive level and sometimes at a funder level, that volunteers are free, and they absolutely aren’t. It has to be resourced just like anything else, it has to be a line item. It should be someone with, you know, a CVA who’s an expert or has the proper experience to design these programs and do these levels of engagement with the community and build that connection, and comfort, trust. But that’s really, it’s usually the bottleneck is the culture within the organization, not understanding and undervaluing the contribution—literal—with money, and with time, and skills that volunteers offer.

[00:22:28.890] – Boris
You know, I was doing a little bit of homework before we started talking—that’s one of the things I love about doing the show, is I get to learn about all kinds of subjects—and I saw that nationally the average value, hourly value, of volunteering is something around $26 an hour.

[00:22:45.570] – Dana Litwin
Yeah, that’s run by independentsector.org, and they actually do a lot of great data collection on volunteering and, kind of, the big product or output that they do every year is the average hourly value of volunteers. And the sector itself actually has to move even further beyond that. That’s kind of your baseline metric for—and in California, I think it’s up to almost $30 an hour—I think they’re 2020 numbers were like $29.36. I’ll have to look it up, but you’re right about the national average.

[00:23:16.950] – Dana Litwin
But that’s actually, that can be a barrier in itself—of only thinking someone’s worth their hourly wage—when what they’re really worth is like you said, a voter, an advocate, an ambassador, advertising, a donor. I always approach it as, you never know who someone is or who else they’re connected to. So, if a teenager has to do their 10 hours to graduate this year and they just need a quick drop-in weekend opportunity at a food bank, if they have a great experience, maybe that becomes their career.

[00:23:47.310] – Dana Litwin
Maybe they circle back and they’re the executive director of that food bank in 10, or 15, or 20 years. So really treating, I think of it as—each interaction with a volunteer or potential volunteer is an invitation to stay engaged or an invitation to go and not talk well about that organization or that experience—so there’s a lot more value, and there’s a great actual, our return on investment for volunteering that is done by Sterling Volunteers. If you go to sterlingvolunteers.com, they run software products, but they have a free ROI volunteer calculator.

[00:24:23.190] – Dana Litwin
So, any organization can punch in some pretty basic numbers of who they’re working with and what. And a calculation I did recently for a client who is a major Zoo, was that for every dollar that they invest in volunteer services/ resources, they get $8.39 back in a variety of ways. So for people who need to do numbers, that’s a great way to start, but think about it in a more holistic way—as an advocate, a voter, a supporter—in the community.

[00:24:53.910] – Boris
It’s a great resource, we’re going to be sure to link to that in our show notes. And that’s exactly the reason why I was trying to bring it up is, as you said, you need to pay someone to manage the volunteers to be… I’m sorry, what is the title called, the position?

[00:25:11.130] – Dana Litwin
Usually we like to do leader of volunteers, because sometimes people are volunteers themselves, and sometimes it’s a paid staff position. But it can be director of volunteers, volunteer coordinator, but usually it’s whoever’s leading the volunteer programs.

[00:25:23.310] – Boris
So oftentimes that leader of volunteers will be a paid person. Or you need to invest, as you said, in your volunteer programs. So I was trying to get to, that there is an ROI—if you’re going to pay someone X amount of dollars an hour, but they’re helping you in terms of volunteer hours bring in, even if we go with the national average of $26, without thinking about all the donations that they’re responsible for, all the extra connections that they have—because they are, even at $26 an hour, are probably your biggest investors.

[00:25:53.790] – Dana Litwin
Yeah, for sure.

[00:25:55.170] – Boris
And if you think about it that way, they’re your strongest supporters. They want what’s best for your organization. They are going to be your biggest champions. And also, if you do break that trust, they’re going to be some of your bigger detractors as well. They’re going to take it personally.

[00:26:08.190] – Dana Litwin
And the hit of losing volunteers, and just kind of the sudden cut off that happened in the pandemic—again, as Chicago Art Institute is learning the hard way—it’s like, you lose donors, you lose voters, you lose advocates, you lose trust with the wider community when that happens. And no one wants to do that, no one should set out to do that as a goal. That should not be your goal.

[00:26:32.610] – Boris
So I want to be respectful of your time and our listeners time, we’ve already learned a lot. What should nonprofits do, in terms of creating virtual programs or in terms of taking their online volunteerism to the next level? What advice do you have for them, that they could at the end of this interview, go and start doing either on their own or talking about with their team?

[00:26:56.310] – Dana Litwin
Yeah, I have one of my most popular webinars, or speaking topics, is called High Tech High Touch and it’s really about finding that balance. So that’s an evaluation of if you decide that you can, and want to, and it will serve the needs of the agency to do online or remote or virtual volunteering, you can actually get that resource. Not just from the people that are already working in your department who might have expertise, but if there isn’t expertise, you don’t have to be an expert in technology to find other volunteers or other agencies like TechSoup, Tech for Good, Code for America, National Nonprofit Technology Center.

[00:27:38.850] – Dana Litwin
So there’s actually already entities that can help you make that connection and do it correctly with virtual volunteers. And then my favorite kind of one-stop shopping API and website for any kind of volunteer recruitment is volunteermatch.org, which I’ve mentioned before. And their, again, their API gets used in a lot of other different apps, but their original site is really great at honing in on those specific skills that you’re looking for.

[00:28:07.830] – Boris
Perfect, and again, we’ll link to all those. Are there any other tools or resources that you recommend nonprofits check out, whether they be digital, or something that they should read, or whatever it might be?

[00:28:21.570] – Dana Litwin
I mean I think a good, another overall resource website, is the Engage Journal. So there’s, you know, professional associations like AL!VE. I was the President of AL!VE through, I was on the board for six years, but President through 2019, and Engaged Journal—which again, you can just look up in the search engine of your choice, ask Jeeves whichever one you’re using—and they have a lot of articles, they have a lot of research, they have a lot of resources. It’s very well organized, and I think if you’re not sure where to start, that’s a really good place to start, wherever you are in the world. It’s primarily in English but, you know, it really serves kind of that worldwide audience for resources for leaders of volunteers or program design.

[00:29:07.830] – Boris
What about in terms of actually managing your volunteers?

[00:29:12.690] – Dana Litwin
Well, the biggest tool that you should have in your toolbox is a VMS, a Volunteer Management Software System. And as I talk about in High Tech High Touch, that it’s not that VMS companies are competing with each other, they’re actually competing with the idea that people don’t know that they need that software to manage their volunteer programs. That they might be using paper files, or an Excel spreadsheet, or you know, you can get a certain amount done using the Google Suite or some free things. But there is very specific database CRM software that usually, depending on the company, plays well with whatever other CRM module software that you might be using. And a lot of them have both volunteer and donor management modes and modules that again, either work with what you’ve already got going on or, you know, play very well together.

[00:30:07.230] – Dana Litwin
My favorites are really—I think the most robust and best kind of customization, and you can do almost anything you want it to do—is Bespoke Software’s VSys One Suite. That’s built on a, kind of a salesforce platform, but the company VSys has done all of the kind of customization that you need to, and they’re very responsive to customer feedback. My second favorite that’s a little more in an affordable category, is Better Impact. And again, just because it’s got a great customer feedback response to it, but I’m going to steer people.

[00:30:44.550] – Dana Litwin
We’re giving people a lot of links in this interview towards… there should be, within that Engage Journal, there should be an article or tool listed that should be pretty easy to find that’s comparing VMS. And it’s a little checklist of, what do you need it to do for your programs? And these are the ones that do it best, and here’s the price range for that. So, I’ll send some other links of some other kind of neutral, compare your VMS sites together, that aren’t a sales pitch from any one of the companies. It’s genuinely, you know, we want to find the best fit for the company. But using software at all is going to be extremely helpful and save a lot of time.

[00:31:26.910] – Boris
That’s awesome, and speaking of saving a lot of time, we’re going to do all that research for people in terms of finding all those links. So they don’t have to ask Jeeves, or hit up Yahoo, or wherever they’re searching these days. They can just come see our show notes and all these links will be laid out, courtesy of Dana and our team here. So Dana, I really appreciate your time. If viewers are interested in getting to know more about you and your work, what’s the call to action that you have for them today?

[00:31:56.490] – Dana Litwin
They can pop by my website danalitwinconsulting.com, and I also have a YouTube channel called “Priceless Advice for Leaders and Volunteers”, which you mentioned at the top of the show, and that’s a great way to get in touch with me. I am happy to respond to email questions that are following up on this podcast, and you can also probably find a lot of answers to your questions within the videos—both short Tuesday tips and longer interviews with other experts in the field—on the Priceless Advice channel.

[00:32:26.490] – Boris
Fantastic. Dana, thank you again so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you on the show.

[00:32:31.710] – Dana Litwin
Thank you so much, Boris, my pleasure.

[00:32:34.290] – Boris
And thank you everybody for joining us for the Nonprofit Hero Factory. If you enjoyed this show and want to help more people discover our interviews, our experts that are helping people create more heroes for their cause. Please subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review, subscribe on YouTube and give us a thumbs up. Wherever you are consuming this content—and we try to be everywhere that you are—please let us know that you’re enjoying it, and let others know so that they can also learn from experts like Dana. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you next week.

[00:33:06.150] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform, and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • An individual obtaining a CVA is well-educated in subjects related to volunteer engagement and program design. (3:04)
  • Unfortunately, the actions of many nonprofits and government agencies in response to the pandemic served as an example of what not to do. (5:16)
  • An organization’s resiliency during the pandemic has been largely dependent on continued volunteer engagement and participation. (7:00)
  • The three Cs of creating a happy and engaged volunteer team (9:51)
    1. Comfort
    2. Convenience
    3. Connection
  • A volunteer giving their time and talent to an organization is 10x as likely to become a donor. (12:17)
  • Creating opportunities for volunteers to service your organization virtually, allows a broader population who could not have volunteered due to time, physical or geographic constraints to support your org and your work. (15:23)
  • Whether volunteers are donating their time in-person or virtually, safety and risk management measures should be maintained to ensure security for all involved. (17:01)
  • If you’re unsure how to best utilize volunteers virtually, start with a brainstorming session, but also ask them! (17:39)
  • Consider creating special projects to empower volunteers by encouraging them to feel included in the building of the volunteer program and strengthening of the organization (The IKEA Effect). (19:00)
  • The biggest misunderstanding nonprofits have is that volunteers are free. It does take resources to organize and manage volunteers, but it’s an investment with tremendous ROI. (21:10)
    • Nationally, the average value of volunteer time is around $26/hour, and much more in some parts of the country.
    • There are ROI calculators you can use to determine your return on investment in volunteers. One of Dana’s clients calculated their ROI to be $8.39 for every $1 invested.
  • Consider each interaction with a volunteer an invitation to remain an active participant in, or to remove themselves from your organization. (23:52)
  • An organization’s volunteers can be your biggest investors and strongest supporters, but because they are so invested, they could become your biggest detractors, should you break their trust. (25:49)
  • In terms of managing your volunteers, a VMS (Volunteer Management Software System) is considered an essential tool by Dana. (29:12)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Dana Litwin

Dana Litwin

Principal Consultant, Dana Litwin Consulting

Dana Litwin, CVA, is a globally recognized strategic advisor, keynote speaker, and thought leader in volunteerism-tech-trends and civic service. Since 2002 she has guided organizations in California’s Silicon Valley and nationwide to produce breakthrough volunteer and community engagement programs. Dana is the creator of the YouTube series “Priceless Advice for Leaders of Volunteers”, and served as President of the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE).

Connect with Dana Litwin

EP35 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 35: What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 35

What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

Can asking your supporters for their help and input actually raise the amount they’re willing to support your nonprofit’s work?

There’s a phenomenon in psychology, studied and demonstrated by behavioral economists, in which people consider something they’ve taken part in creating to be worth more than the same thing made by a professional. This cognitive bias is called the IKEA Effect

In this episode, Boris discusses strategies for nonprofits to capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to form a stronger connection with supporters, increasing your perceived value and raising more money for your work.

[00:00:07.250] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:24.210] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. On today’s show, I’m going to dig into a cognitive bias — a known, seemingly illogical bit of human psychology — that nonprofits have to understand and take advantage of if they want to grow their community and their support base. Many are already doing it, are taking advantage of it without realizing it (including probably your organization one way or another) but they’re not using it nearly to its potential. And today, I really want to dive into all the ways that you can do that to maximize your support base and create more heroes for your cause.

[00:01:02.730] – Boris
Before I do, though, I’d like to tell a little story — and bear with me for a couple of minutes — because I promise, it is actually relevant to what we want to talk about. This weekend, as most people in the U.S. were celebrating Halloween, I attempted to assemble and hang an IKEA set of cabinets for the fourth time. It’s the KALLAX, if you guys are familiar with all the different IKEA ones, where you could configure it into different, kind of, arrangements of drawers and shelves with doors and knock doors.

[00:01:33.570] – Boris
And I’ve assembled dozens probably, by now, of pieces of IKEA furniture over the years. This one didn’t seemingly present a challenge either, to put together at least. I put the two KALLAX boxes together, and then it was time to attach the mounting rails on the wall. If you’re familiar with the system and relates, okay. If you’re not, I’m not trying to advertise IKEA here, but they have these special metal rails that you attach to the wall, and then you can just hang the cabinets onto the rails.

[00:02:04.710] – Boris
Easy enough in theory. Of course, good practice says you should find studs to drill into and to screw the mounting rails into. And I did try to find those… but this wall, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have studs, at least not in the area that I wanted to hang. The wall is actually adjacent to the garage, so the other side of the wall is inside our garage, the outside is leading towards our den. And it’s a long wall where we wanted to have two, kind of, cabinets on the bottom with large doors and drawers; and then up top, we wanted to have hanging, these additional cabinets to put stuff away out of view. Because, you know, when you have three kids in the house, there’s always things everywhere, and you want to find ways to stow them nicely and hopefully in an organized fashion.

[00:02:51.510] – Boris
Anyway, maybe because it’s the other side of the garage door — the garage wall – but this wall was clearly built differently somehow, and there were no studs for me to screw into. So, I went back out to the hardware store and bought toggle bolts. Which when you push into a wall, there’s a little butterfly thing, or a plastic thing that you could pull back, and it really presses against the back of the wall, keeping anything from pulling through or ripping down. I bought the bolts, drilled the hole, and pushed the toggle bolt in… and hit the garage wall instead.

[00:03:27.990] – Boris
So, apparently there’s a gap between our den wall and the garage wall, and it’s not long enough for the toggle bolt to actually go in and be able to spring open. I tried a couple of different types of bolts, none of them worked. Go back to the hardware store again. This time I buy plastic anchors and metal anchors to screw into the drywall that will hopefully hold a lot of weight. They’re rated 75 pounds each, there’s four per cabinet, two cabinets, but each one would then, theoretically, be able to support 300 pounds —which we have no intention of actually testing — but, should do.

[00:04:08.010] – Boris
So I got those in, and using them, was able to attach the rails to the wall about an inch lower than the ceiling, or actually, where the cabinets would hang about an inch lower than the ceiling. I got the cabinets up with a little bit of heft and some assistance. I was able to actually get them onto the rails and then noticed something a little odd again. Whereas the back of the cabinet was about an inch down from the ceiling, the front of the cabinet was actually literally touching — pressed up against — the ceiling.

[00:04:46.230] – Boris
Now, this would not have necessarily been a problem. I could have let it go, if not for the fact that we want doors on these cabinets and the doors swing out. Which I tried, just to confirm, but makes them actually bump into the ceiling and can’t even open. So unless I’m willing to cut open a section of ceiling, which I’m not prepared to do, I had to think of something else. Either lower the cabinets— which might make them look even stranger, hanging off the wall lower down — or find a way to, kind of, make them vertically level.

[00:05:19.170] – Boris
So I wound up coming up with a solution, which was to use washers. I put washers in as spacers between the wall and the railing, in order to try to get it flush, level with the… Well, 90 degrees to the floor and ceiling, and so the top of the cabinets will be more parallel with the ceiling. That meant, of course, going back out to the hardware store, buying longer screws, buying all kinds of washers because oh yeah, of course, the wall is not consistent to itself. I need a different number of washers in different parts of the wall… quality construction I live in. And after multiple experiments, was actually able to get the rail up relatively straight, relatively vertically straight, and mount the cabinets onto it, in such a way that they were parallel to the ceiling, and parallel and lined up with each other.

[00:06:15.510] – Boris
And the final test… was I able to put the doors on? And voila, hallelujah, they finally opened. Now, you might listen to this story and either think, “why in the world, A) is he telling this story? But B) why didn’t he just call a professional, either to put them up in the first place or when it didn’t work the first time, call someone who knows how to do these things… a handyman, a carpenter, a drywall person, I don’t know. Somebody who actually understands the principles of these types of construction and can do it quicker and probably better in the long run?”

[00:06:52.950] – Boris
Or you might be thinking of a similar experience that you had. Whether it was like me, putting together some piece of IKEA and maybe having extra parts at the end. Or having a Lego set that was incredibly challenging to put together, like the one that one of my kids loves to do. And the interesting thing is that whatever you undertook, as long as you were able to complete it, you’re probably looking back on it with pride. As I do, now every time I walk through that room, basically to the den, I look at those cabinets and I think “there’s something that I was able to do, there’s something that I achieved”.

[00:07:34.230] – Boris
And it actually makes me value them more than if I’d had someone else assemble them and put them up. Which is a little bit odd, but luckily, this is not evidence that I’m crazy (nor is it evidence to the contrary, of course). But luckily for me, this is a phenomenon that has been studied and actually aptly named The IKEA Effect, and this is the cognitive bias that I want to focus on today.

[00:08:03.750] – Boris
A litte over ten years ago, behavioral economists Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely set out to examine this phenomenon that had actually been observed and used by marketers and companies, like IKEA, for decades. In their experiments, they had individuals who were not particularly skilled at assembling furniture or other tasks, to assemble IKEA furniture or build a Lego set that was complicated or fold origami for the first time. They were then asked how much they would pay for the resulting creation, the product of their efforts, and how much they would pay for the same item created by a professional.

[00:08:40.770] – Boris
So if you’ve got some work of origami that you created versus someone else created that is a professional that clearly looks better and more structured, more well-built, whatever it might be, in case of furniture. Overwhelmingly, the participants agreed to pay more — as much as 63% more — for the one that they created, even though their final product was not as well done as the professionally created one, and they were able to see that and admit it. Then they took people who were not part of the creation process and brought them in and asked them the same question about the value of the object. They were asked the value they would assign to someone, to an object, that was professionally assembled versus one that an amateur was assembling.

[00:09:30.750] – Boris
And guess what? They didn’t have the same bias, they preferred the professional one. It seemed to them worth more and more valuable. Well, this is perhaps a strange phenomenon, but if we think about it in a few different ways, we can actually understand it. And nonprofits can harness that same cognitive bias, as it’s called in behavioral science, to create stronger connections and raise more money. The fact is that once someone has participated, as the study shows, in the creation of something — and in your case, the furthering of your mission or the creation of a program — their personal narrative, their identity, expands to include that they are now someone who supports your cause.

[00:10:13.830] – Boris
And with that new identity, they’re more likely to keep supporting through volunteering, amplifying and donating, and raise their support level as they feel more invested and a stronger connection to the results. Positive changes that they want to see in the world. So the more you can make them a part of the process, the more you could involve them in helping you understand what people want and deliver on those things, the more they’re going to take ownership of it, the more — there’s another effect called The Endowment Effect — the more they’re going to endow your work with value and therefore feel it’s more valuable to support.

[00:10:54.450] – Boris
So here are a few ideas that I put together that will hopefully get you thinking about how you can capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to create more heroes for your cause. If you will, ways to engage your current and possible new supporters in the work that you’re doing and get them more and more invested in it. The first way is to simply offer more volunteer opportunities. Even in a time like a pandemic that we’re going through now, where not everybody is able to, or interested in, getting together to do something in person, to volunteer.

[00:11:27.630] – Boris
There are ways to get them to volunteer online, to do certain things on your behalf. It will somehow forward your mission. This is a good time to point out that next week, when we get back to our regular type of interview show, we’re going to have on the show Dana Litwin, who is a volunteer engagement expert and will be talking to us about some of the ways that we can activate more volunteers online to get them more connected with our work.

[00:11:56.010] – Boris
The second way is to create behind-the-curtain experiences. If you’ve ever gone to see a Broadway show or any kind of theater, really, and then gone backstage to see how it all works, there’s a certain level of mystery to it. But when you get back there, it doesn’t just go away. It’s not “oh, it’s a trick.” There are no illusions, per se. There are ways that we make things happen in theater and are actually fascinating to see. “Oh, wow. That’s how that puzzle came together. That’s how Mary Poppins was able to fly.” Right? Those are the behind-the-curtain experiences or meet the cast.

[00:12:31.230] – Boris
Well, in your world, you can invite them — physically or virtually — to see how their support is helping further the cause. Helping to create certain results in the world and let them participate in that feel-good moment of service delivery. There was an organization, it still exists — the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization — that I was a part of when I was in high school. And every year, they probably still do this, they have a Passover food drive where they will assemble care packages for folks who cannot go out and buy their own Passover goods, whether they are not able to leave their house or they can’t afford all of the different things that it takes to have a proper Seder, which is the celebratory meal on Passover.

[00:13:20.370] – Boris
So they would invite high school students, like myself and my friends, to come and put the packages together. And then for those of us that had cars, which in my last year of doing it I did, actually go out and drive these packages, deliver these packages to the folks who needed them. Let me tell you, that was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I still recall knocking on doors and elderly people opening the door and seeing this package and the gratitude in their eyes and in their voices was just so incredible for me to experience that, it probably laid a strong foundation for all the other volunteer work that I’ve done since then.

[00:14:04.230] – Boris
It is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to firsthand witness the accomplishment of a mission in some small way. Which, by the way, you could also do virtually. I didn’t have to necessarily go there to drive. If you are delivering goods like that, for example, maybe you can have a camera and have that moment captured on camera. When someone receives the benefit of a donation or some kind of support. Right? Then you could share that out with the people who helped make it happen.

[00:14:38.130] – Boris
The next thing that you could do is a variation on the behind-the-curtain experience, which is invite them to Town Halls. There, supporters can get an inside view and possibly the opportunity to play a part in anything, from the planning of a new program, to the direction of the entire organization. So if you think about your board, for example, they take part in a lot of the decision making and setting the direction for your organization.

[00:15:05.070] – Boris
They are also the most invested supporters for your cause and for your nonprofit. Well, what if you could offer, basically another level of that, to other supporters. To people who do care about the success of your mission. Maybe they’re part of the community, and you can poll them on what services they want, or how they want something delivered, or how something’s working for them, and let them then have that voice that gets incorporated. Now, the danger is, of course, ignoring them if you do ask for suggestions, because then they’ll feel disenfranchised. But this is essentially enfranchisement. Where you’re drawing them in, making them feel like part of the process and the solution. Again, more invested. They will be more likely to want to support it going forward.

[00:15:52.590] – Boris
The next idea is to help connect your supporters to beneficiaries. Now again, in the case of the deliveries that I was doing, it was a very direct experience where I could interact with one of the beneficiaries, and it doesn’t have to be that person-to-person. Although by the way, that could also be done online, where you could set up calls between beneficiaries and benefactors, where there could be some sort of interaction and some sort of personal connection.

[00:16:20.430] – Boris
There’s another organization that I volunteer with, where I get to work hands on with a beneficiary and see their transformation over time — which I can’t take full credit for, but I do feel a sense of pride in — and want to keep supporting. So whether it’s through in-person or indirect through digital means, connectivity, or just through great storytelling, where you could tell the story of the impact that my work or my support has been responsible for, in a way. Then you’re going to once again make me feel more invested in the work that you’re doing.

[00:16:59.070] – Boris
Similar to how every time I walk by the IKEA shelves or there’s a project in the basement where… required some creative plumbing after certain contractors left things, let’s just say, not done. It took me several trips to Home Depot, but I was able to get it done. And every time I go down to the basement, even though most people can’t see it, and to be honest, it’s crude and not pretty, I still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment every time I go down there. So connecting someone to the results of your work and in this case specifically to beneficiaries, forges a really strong bond and makes them want to keep supporting you and donating more.

[00:17:37.290] – Boris
The next one is to give people more agency. What do I mean by that? I like to say that good storytelling, especially on websites and in digital media in general, is a choose your own adventure. Not a linear novel or movie that you can’t touch. Similarly, when we’re talking about trying to engage our supporters, if we give them options of how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey with us and how they want to support the work that we’re doing, which might be, of course, asking them if they would prefer to volunteer or to donate or both.

[00:18:15.810] – Boris
And oftentimes we ask them to donate after they’ve volunteered and to volunteer after they’ve donated. Right? Both of those are, one can easily lead to, or trigger the other. So that’s one way to give them more agency. Another way is even when just asking for donations, which program do they want to support or which result do they want to see? One of the ways that you can really boost your donations is to just simply tie specific numbers, so $50, for example, to specific results. Like supply school supplies for an entire classroom of kids for a year, or a month, or whatever it might be. $50 might not be realistic for a whole year.

[00:18:59.890] – Boris
So if you can tie that, and then show me that my donation has had that impact. Hopefully even connect me in one way or another, and again, it doesn’t have to be direct one-to-one or in-person. It could just be through video or other types of content, storytelling. Connect me to the beneficiaries and the results that, the impact that it’s had on their lives. Well, now I feel like I decided what to do. I.E. Support this particular program or make this particular donation and it had this result, something that I could feel good about and creates reinforcement for me going forward.

[00:19:41.710] – Boris
The last one that I want to share today is, well, if you know me and this show, then I’m all about storytelling. And as I mentioned, the choose your own adventure stories. You have to tell the right kinds of stories, better. As much as possible, use stories to connect your supporters actions to visible, tangible (as much as possible), results in the world.

[00:20:04.210] – Boris
Tell them the stories of impact that their time, their money, their support, whatever way it came in helped make possible. And whatever you do, don’t say, “hey, we did this”. Don’t even just say, “we couldn’t have done it without you”. Be direct. Say, “you did this. You achieved this. You donated this and it created this result” as much as you possibly can. There is a caveat that I want to touch on real quick, which is, don’t ask for too much. Whether you’re creating a volunteer opportunity or you’re asking for a donation.

[00:20:37.870] – Boris
If you ask for too much and/or promise a result that won’t necessarily be achieved, then you’re going to have the opposite effect — the Disenfranchisement Effect — where I’m going to, let’s say I wasn’t able to put together those shelves and hang them, those cabinets. Then every time I walk by there, I’m going to feel like, “oh, this was a failure”. It’s a negative association with the entire process, with IKEA, with mounting things, with my house, whatever it might be. Right? All the opposite effects from what you want to have with your organization’s supporters.

[00:21:11.470] – Boris
So make sure that it’s a donor size problem or a volunteer size problem, that can be achieved. And then, of course, tell them how much their work was able to do, how much change it was able to create in the world. You don’t have to remember all of this and you don’t have to take extensive notes. Of course, we have show notes for everything that I’m talking about in this episode. I also have a blog post called The IKEA Effect on the dotOrg Strategy website that you could check out. Again, it’ll be linked in the show notes for this.

[00:21:46.270] – Boris
If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate behavioral science in your organization, in your work, I highly recommend that you check out Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin, where we talked about several different cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, behavioral economics that you can use and should be, at least, aware of in your communications and your work as an organization.

[00:22:13.870] – Boris
Be sure, of course, to check back next week where we’re going to have our interview with Dana Littwin, talking about the ways that you could do the first thing that I talked about today in terms of increasing supporter investment, which is more volunteer opportunities online during times of pandemic or all year round.

[00:22:32.590] – Boris
In the meantime, if you enjoyed this episode and I really hope you did, please be sure to subscribe to the show on YouTube or your favorite podcast app so you can know when new episodes come out and please leave a review on iTunes, so that more people can discover this program and we can help them activate more heroes for their cause as well. As always, thank you so much for all the work that you do to make the world a better place for all of us, and I look forward to seeing you again next week. Bye bye.

[00:23:02.410] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform, and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Boris shares a recent personal example of the IKEA Effect. (1:12)
  • Placing a higher value and attachment on items that someone has built themselves is known as the IKEA Effect. (7:45)
  • Once someone has participated in the furthering of your mission, their narrative expands to include that they now support your cause. (9:56)
  • Invite your supporters to participate in the feel-good moment of seeing how their support is helping further the cause. (12:30)
  • It’s powerful to experience the accomplishment that comes from a mission being completed in some way. (14:04)
    • An example of this being seeing someone receive a donation, whether it’s in-person or digitally through a camera.
  • Allow your supporters to have a voice. Taking part in processes and solutions for your organization leads to greater investment. (14:45)
  • Connecting someone to the results of their work creates a bond and leads to continued support and donations. (16:20)
  • Provide supporters with options regarding how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey and how they want to support the work being done. (17:55)
  • Connect your supporters’ actions to visible and tangible results in the world using stories about the impact that their time, money and support made possible. (19:55)
  • Asking for too much or promising a result that is not likely to be achieved results in a negative effect. (20:37)
  • Cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, and behavioral economics you should be aware of as an organization are discussed in Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin. (21:56)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy

Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP33 - Rhea Wong - Featured

Episode 33: The Role of Curiosity in Major-Gift Nonprofit Fundraising, with Rhea Wong

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 33

The Role of Curiosity in Major-Gift Nonprofit Fundraising, with Rhea Wong

In this Episode:

Studies have shown that as much as 88% of a nonprofit’s donated funds come from just 12% of their donors. That trend is only increasing, as a larger portion of all donations is coming from a smaller number of people. Each nonprofit might define a major gift differently, but the need to cultivate and maintain relationships with major gift donors is undeniable.

Unlike clearly defined grant applications or other sources of funding, donors are individuals without instruction manuals, and they want to be treated as such (and not as checkbooks). How can a nonprofit fundraiser identify prospective major gift donors and what does it take to build a relationship?

Major gift fundraising consultant Rhea Wong teaches people how to (and how to love) major gift fundraising. She believes it comes down to having a system and developing a curiosity mindset, and she joins us this episode to lay out an effective approach to both.

[00:00:18.110] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:22.050] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today, I’m very excited to have Rhea Wong, who is the founder of the eponymous Rhea Wong Consulting. Rhea helps nonprofits raise more money, which is something I think we all agree is a good thing. She has raised millions of dollars in private philanthropy and is passionate about building the next generation of fundraising leaders. She has become a leader in the New York nonprofit community and is a frequent educational commentator in the media. She has been recognized with the SmartCEO Brava Award in 2015 and the New York Nonprofit Media’s 40 under 40 in 2017.

[00:00:59.130] – Boris
Rhea lives in Brooklyn, my hometown, with her husband and the world’s most spoiled dog, Stevie Wonder Dog. When she is not raising money for causes she loves, she can be found hosting her podcast, Nonprofit Lowdown, or on stage as a newbie stand up comedian in downtown Brooklyn. For more information, you can check out rheawong.com. We’ll have that link later on. Her superpower is teaching people how to and how to love major gift fundraising. So that’s her impressive bio. Let’s bring Rhea on to the show to tell us more. Hey, Rhea. How are you doing?

[00:01:34.830] – Rhea Wong
Hi. I’m good. Thank you, Boris. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting.

[00:01:38.190] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you honestly. And I didn’t realize that first of all, hilarious name for the dog, but I didn’t realize that you were doing your stand up comedy in downtown Brooklyn. I’m in Jersey now, but I’ve got to make my way over. Maybe after the show, we could talk about how to see you do the thing.

[00:01:57.330] – Rhea Wong
Well, the pandemic has definitely put a damper on the open mics, but I like to say I bombed all over downtown Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan. So bombing in a dive bar near you.

[00:02:09.450] – Boris
Well, I’m sure it’s made you a better storyteller. I know all my bombing experiences have made me one. So let’s talk today about you and the work that you’re doing. You heard me read your bio, of course. And it’s got some very impressive awards there. Why don’t you tell us your story, though? How did you become the expert in nonprofit fundraising that you are?

[00:02:32.910] – Rhea Wong
Yeah, well, actually, it’s funny. Stand up comedy kind of comes into this, which is that I think a lot of people are really scared of donors and major gift donors. And to that, I say, okay, just do a five minute stand up comedy set and after that you’re bulletproof. If you can do that, everything else is easy. Especially if you bomb, you’re bulletproof after that.

[00:02:58.590] – Boris
I think we just got a million dollar idea, which is acting training or stand-up comedy training for fundraisers.

[00:03:05.790] – Rhea Wong
Oh, yeah. No, I’ve been on that train. I wanna get my students to do five minute stand up routines, but I feel like it would be a mass exercise and they would all quit. So how did I start? So I was actually a 25 year old or 26 year old executive director, which you know, in hindsight, I’m like, that seems like a bad idea to hire a 26 year old. But at the time, I was like, “Yeah, I can figure it out. I’m smart. There’s nothing I can’t do.” I talk about this all the time, which is my first day on the job I did two Google searches. Search one was, what does an executive director do? And the second was how to fundraise. So to say I was an amateur is generous. It would be a generous term. So over the course of twelve years, when I started the budget was something around $250,000 a year. By the time I left, twelve and a half years later, our budget was up to $3 million a year in private philanthropic funds. So I figured it out. But it took me twelve years to do it.

[00:04:07.230] – Rhea Wong
And so when I started my consulting practice, actually, initially, I wasn’t doing major gift fundraising training. I was doing a lot of a little of this, a little of that. And then I thought, like, what’s the thing that I really am good at and actually enjoy? And it turned out to be major gift fundraising. So what I do is I run what I call the fundraising accelerator a couple of times a year where mostly executive directors and some development directors enroll for an eight-week boot camp around how to be a major gift fundraiser. So I’ll pause there. That’s my story. But I don’t know if you want me to elaborate.

[00:04:43.050] – Boris
Well, I think we’re gonna elaborate as we talk. I think first of all, an accelerator sounds pretty great. I’m sure we’ll be able to find information about that on your site, which we’ll link to in the show notes. I also really… I mean, I love the approach, and I love that you were able to learn on your feet. But now I think it’s great that you’re helping other people not have to make all those mistakes for twelve years to get to where you are.

[00:05:11.323] – Rhea Wong

[00:05:11.710] – Boris
So let’s dive in and let’s pull out some of that knowledge that you’ve accumulated, not just in those twelve years, but ever since as a consultant and everything you’ve been doing. From a donor perspective, from a fundraiser, I should say perspective and specifically, I guess in the scope of major gifts, which is what you’re specializing in, what’s going on in the nonprofit world today?

[00:05:34.510] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. So actually, you cited a statistic, which I thought was interesting, which is that overall philanthropic giver, like the smaller donors, are going down at the same time that major gifts are going up. And so I just pulled a couple of data points from 2021. And when we look at it, 69% of all philanthropic gifts given nationally are given from individuals, which accounts for 75 billion with a B dollars. Right? So, obviously, there’s a lot there. I think the challenge that we have is that we…Especially for the smaller nonprofits, there seems to just be like this desperation of like, we just need to get any money in the door. Right? So we do a little bit of everything, but don’t really make a lot of progress on any one thing. So it’s like we have our year end appeal. And maybe we do… Like we’re doing an online giving campaign and maybe we’re doing a social media campaign, and maybe we’re also doing grants. And I think all of those things are important things to do.

[00:06:43.270] – Rhea Wong
I tend to be pretty pragmatic. What is the biggest bang for my buck from an ROI perspective? And so what’s historically true is that 80% of your budget will be provided by 20% of your donors. So I think… And again, some people may disagree with me on this, but it seems to me from an efficiency standpoint that if you could just focus on that 20% that’s giving 80% of the dollars, that’s a really good foundation around which to build a fundraising program for sustainability into the future. A couple of other statistics I just wanna cite to you: the largest growing wealth demographic in the world is actually what they call high-net-worth individuals. So that’s 30 million in assets and above. And I think that grew like 30% just last year alone. And it’s also cited that there are 53.1 million millionaires in the world.

[00:07:36.970] – Rhea Wong
So like statistically speaking, especially since we live in the US, which is the second wealthiest country after Switzerland, PS, just in case you don’t know. Statistically, you probably know millionaires and you just don’t know it yet. So I think there’s so much opportunity out there. There’s such incredible wealth out there. And I think really, major gift fundraising starts with first recognizing that there’s a lot out there. Like there’s a world of abundance. We just have to ready to go look for it.

[00:08:11.030] – Boris
So I’m gonna just push back slightly or actually give the flip side of that argument, which is, yes, I know the Pareto principle 80-20. And the majority of funding often for nonprofits comes from 20% of their donors. Maybe it is 80%. Maybe it’s higher for some organizations. Isn’t that a little bit of a precarious situation to be in though? Because if let’s say that comes from a certain, I don’t know, 15 people and three of them drop out in a given year, that’s a huge portion of your budget that might go away. What do you say to people who don’t wanna be overly dependent on these major gift owners?

[00:08:52.430] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. So I… So a couple of things I would say, I’m not saying to focus on just those major gift owners, but I am saying, have a strategy for those major gift owners. Right? So, as an organization, your goal should always be towards diversification and bringing more people up into that major gift category. So to your point that you’re not depending on those three people or those ten people. Right? And so… But I think the base of building that momentum really has to come from a small group that are like passionate about your cause and then you grow out from there. So I’m not saying you stay small, but you start with something that you can wrap your arms around. Does that make sense?

[00:09:34.610] – Boris
It does. It does. And now I’ll play devil’s advocate to myself and support your argument, too, because, yes, you definitely wanna diversify. And we talk a lot on this show about how to attract more people to your cause. But there’s also the idea that if you could get some major donors, for example, to sponsor some of your overhead so that you could say that all donations go to your programs. That’s a big selling point. And hopefully the types of strategies that you teach, we’re gonna be able to pick up more of the major gift high wealth individuals so that we’re not dependent on as few as we might be currently.

[00:10:15.170] – Rhea Wong
That’s exactly right. Which, like the name of the game, is always about how do we continue to bring people into our community, bring people into our list of supporters and continue? And I think this is where, as a nonprofit sector, where notoriously bad is steward them so that they continue giving year after year. Now, that’s not to say that someone is gonna give to you forever and ever. Right? Like circumstances change, people change their minds, right? So even if you have the best stewardship in the world, you’re not gonna necessarily get to 100%. But I can’t remember exactly. I think across the sector, our donor retention rates are 45%. Like that’s a terrible statistic. And so if we could actually spend more of our time focused on stewardship, we could actually spend less of our time having to constantly attract new donors because we could count on the ones that we have, you know, as we say. And you know, in business, it’s cheaper to make money off of a client you already have than to get a new client.

[00:11:17.450] – Boris
Absolutely. Retention is cheaper than acquisition. Absolutely.

[00:11:20.810] – Rhea Wong
That’s exactly right.

[00:11:21.590] – Boris
So let’s back up for just a second. We’re talking about major gifts, and I realize this might mean something different for different organizations. But can we define what a major gift is?

[00:11:33.470] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. So again, it depends. And maybe there’s some, like metric out there that I’m not aware of. But I think it depends on whatever you consider to be a major gift. So, generally speaking, rule of thumb, I will advise organizations to look at the span of gifts and then look at the top end of individuals. So I’m speaking exclusively here about individuals. I think foundations are a different thing. Corporate is a different thing. Events are a different thing. So there are different strategies for different types of revenue streams.

[00:12:07.190] – Rhea Wong
So let’s talk about individuals, but let’s look at your spread and say, oh, it looks like we have, you know two people who’ve given $10,000 last year and then, you know, probably a few more have given five, a few have given more, et cetera. So you might decide that, okay, ten might be our major gift number. How are we going to steward the people that we have on our pipeline to get some number of them up to this $10,000 mark? So it’s both an art and a science. I’m not going to say unless someone else there has like a hard and fast strategy. Then please let me know. But I think it’s more kind of like rule of thumb and what makes sense for your organization. Obviously, a major gift for a small nonprofit is gonna be different than a major gift for the Met Opera, that’s apples and oranges. We’re not even talking the same thing. The key really is just to have a goal of some sort.

[00:13:00.710] – Boris
I think that’s a great analogy with the Met Opera versus a small organization. Which makes me wonder if maybe there is a number out there and maybe if someone’s listening can let me know where a major gift might be considered anything over a percentage of your budget, like say over 3% of our budget. Well, that’s a major gift or over 1% depending on what the budget is and what your donors are.

[00:13:23.810] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. If there is, let me know. I’d be curious about that.

[00:13:27.710] – Boris
Yeah. So, okay, now that we know pretty much what a major gift is and we can all figure it out for ourselves based on our budget and how many donors we have and what ranges are giving in, what is a major gift strategy then?

[00:13:45.230] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. Well, let me back up, too, Boris. I actually think what’s really interesting to me about major gift strategy and giving is I like to call it kind of the jazz of fundraising. I think things like foundation… And again, grain of salt. I know this doesn’t apply to all foundations everywhere, but to me, foundation fundraising, or even like year end fundraising or corporate sponsorship fundraising or event fundraising. There’s a formula, right? Like we get it. It’s like, okay, you submit the RFP, then the program officer comes for a visit, then whatever. Then they get reviewed by a board and then you get it and then you do reports. So it’s all very laid out.

[00:14:28.250] – Rhea Wong
I think the reason why people feel nervous about major gift fundraising is they are people. And people are unpredictable and you don’t know what they’re gonna say. And everyone wants something different. Right? And so I think that’s why it’s hard to find training around major gift fundraising, because a lot of it can be, you know, I know your acting training might come into play here. It’s improvisational. You’re like, I’m just gonna like figure out what I think the next best thing is, right. And a lot of it is learned on the job. A lot of it is like wisdom that you learn from having made mistakes, honestly.

[00:15:04.610] – Rhea Wong
So, that being said, let’s talk about a major gift strategy. So once you determine whatever you decide is a major gift, and once you’ve evaluated your pipeline, right? So these are people who’ve given to you in the past. These are potential prospects. These are maybe friends of your board members, volunteers. There’s just like a universe of people out there. Right? So you have… There’s a big pool. And generally speaking, your best prospects for a major gift are people who have given in the past. Right. So what’s a likely indicator of the future is past behavior. So if they’re giving you a small gift, they may actually be able to give you a big gift.

[00:15:43.910] – Rhea Wong
And this is…I’m just gonna give a little pet peeve issue here. My pet peeve is when people sit around and they say things like, “Why don’t we just call Jeff Bezos or MacKenzie Scott or Oprah or Mark Zuckerberg?” It’s like, okay. First of all, unless you actually legitimately know them, that is not a useful suggestion. And also, why would some random celebrity or wealthy person give you a gift out of nowhere? Like this doesn’t… Look, obviously, in the case of MacKenzie Scott, yes, she did kind of give gifts out of nowhere. I think we’d all agree that that is a very outlier case.

[00:16:24.350] – Rhea Wong
So what I think you do is once you have this pool of potential people who might be more generous to your organization, then I think you do an evaluation and you do it against four different metrics. You do it against affinity. So is there some evidence that your cause is the cause of your potential prospect? If it turns out that they’re big into the environment and you’re an education program, like I don’t know. This may not be their thing, right? Number two, capacity. And again, there are lots of wealth screening tools out there which are kind of creepy. But you can do a sort of a cursory, especially where a small nonprofit and can’t afford it. You can find out a lot of stuff on Google. So some indications of wealth that I would look at are, you know, are they… What is their job? You can find out on LinkedIn. Have they made any political contributions? That’s public information. Where do they live? That’s usually an indication. So if they live in a particularly ritzy zip code, that’s an indication. Are they pictured at any other fancy galas? Are they listed in other annual reports, right? So there’s data that you can get that you don’t have to pay for. So that’s capacity. So, you know, if you’re trying to identify a major gift donor and they fit all three criteria, but they don’t actually have money to give, then they’re not a major gift prospect.

[00:17:49.190] – Rhea Wong
Number three is relationship. So this goes to the Jeff Bezos thing. Do they have some kind of relationship with your organization or with your board or with your staff? Because if they don’t, then it’s basically like, well, let’s just call Oprah because we’re an education organization, and we know Oprah loves education like people give to people. And then the fourth is recency. And so ideally, you’re engaging and potentially looking at people who have been in contact with you within some reasonable period of time. Six months is probably a good rule of thumb, even a year. But if like someone once gave you a gift and they didn’t hear from you for five years, they’re probably not your hottest prospect.

[00:18:33.270] – Rhea Wong
So you look at all these metrics. And again, you can refine these. Right? It’s not like you have to have everything buttoned up straight away. But you have this list of 20. I like to call it 20 because that feels like a manageable list. And then you do the hard work of actually just like picking up the phone or emailing them and engaging them in the conversation. So if they’re not answering your emails or responding to your phone calls or responding to a letter, I like to try, you know, three different times. If after that, they’re not responsive, then they get dropped down to the B list. Right? Because either they’re trying to tell me they’re not interested or somehow they’re like too busy to actually respond, which means that they’re probably too busy to even meet me in the first place. Right? So it’s just constant refreshing of the list.

[00:19:20.370] – Rhea Wong
And then at every stage, and I like to say, you know, call it weekly, you do a review. Okay, where are we on this top 20? And what do we need to do to move these people forward? And so we think about what kind of opportunities, what kind of cultivation things can we do in order to bring them in closer? Because every move you make should be designed to bring them in closer and to engage them further and to get them more in love with you. It’s like… I use the dating analogy all the time, right?

[00:19:48.150] – Boris

[00:19:48.870] – Rhea Wong
Every date should be moving towards something, inevitably, maybe a proposal, right. In this case, a solicitation. But it’s always about building a relationship and creating more of a bond and being really specific about that. Now, the other thing is and I think this is why it’s tricky, is everyone wants something different. Right? Some people really wanna go on all of the dates and get wine and dine and go to the symphony. Right? Other people are like, just send me an email, tell me what you want. So you’re gonna have to know that. And you’re gonna have to ask the question.

[00:20:25.770] – Rhea Wong
And so I think the theme of this whole conversation was about curiosity. So the curiosity is, find out who your people are. Ask them the question. Ask them how they wanna be communicated with. Ask them if they wanna be invited to events, ask them if they wanna come to volunteer, ask them if they wanna come see the program. You won’t know unless you ask the question. And I think so often we’re so afraid of screwing it up that we don’t even ask the question so we assume. And for us, you know what happens when you assume.

[00:20:57.070] – Boris

[00:20:57.070] – Rhea Wong
And then, you know, once you’ve developed the cultivation touchpoints, I usually like to say about two or three really good touchpoints before the solicitation. Because if you wait too long to ask, then you get into that weird friend zone. No one wants that or a very, very long engagement. No one wants that. And then after you ask, then you have a stewardship strategy. And so again, this goes back to the point of making sure that we plug that leaky bucket. I like to say seven touchpoints of thank you and gratitude before you even think about asking for the next gift. Because if they only hear from you when you want money, they’re gonna stop answering your phone calls. Let me pause there. I just dumped a whole lot of information on you. Does that answer your question?

[00:21:44.230] – Boris
It answered my question in spades. And I didn’t wanna stop you because you were sharing so much great information there. But now let’s kind of go back and look at it and maybe break it down a little bit for folks. So first, you were talking about the affinity and the reasons why they might give based on relationship capacity and affinity and recency. It sounds like a lot of that goes into what we commonly talk about on this show, and I know you talk about a lot as well is, the donor avatar.

[00:22:20.530] – Rhea Wong
Yeah, definitely.

[00:22:22.330] – Boris
So what are you gonna put into that avatar? I know when I do one, I’ve got the demographics and psychographics. What are you looking for in those, Rhea, when you’re looking for a major gift donor?

[00:22:36.970] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. That’s such a good question, actually. And thank you for saying that because I think as you’re looking at your pool of prospective donors, that would be a good time to work on your donor avatar. So generally, your donor avatar is a person who is either currently donating to you or that you want to donate to you. And you’re thinking that if I had just like 10 or 20 more of these people, that would be great. Right. So exactly your point Boris, you break it down into two different dimensions. The first is demographic. So the things that you can see they’re, you know, married, not married, living in this like college graduate…

[00:23:16.450] – Boris
Financial status.

[00:23:17.470] – Rhea Wong
Have kids, financial status. Like all of the things that you can see externally. Then the psychographics is about the stuff that happens internally. What do they hope for? What do they fear? What do they dream of? What is their vision of the world? What do they value? What do they wanna leave behind? Right.

[00:23:34.570] – Boris
And that’s where the affinity really comes in.

[00:23:37.150] – Rhea Wong
That’s where the affinity comes in. The way that I recommend people do is that they have a hypothesis, right? Just fill in the sheet. Literally put a picture of a person. This is Liz. Here is what she…This is how she spends her free time. This is where she went to school, et cetera. Then pick up the phone, ask to have a conversation. And it’s not a conversation about money, but interview your donor because I think the other thing that we don’t do in the nonprofit world is that we don’t make time for market research, you know. I can’t visit a freaking website without it asking if I wanna take a survey at the end. The answer is no, I don’t. But they’re asking the question. And so I think we have to be fearless about asking people. We have to ask them their opinions. We have to ask them what they value. First of all, people like talking about themselves. And secondly, it gives you really important insight into how to sharpen your approach and how to sharpen your marketing to attract your ideal donor.

[00:24:38.530] – Boris
So oftentimes, when I’m teaching people how to basically grow their base, I’ve got a course “Growing Beyond your Base.” I have them fill out these avatars, and I have this survey basically that I want them to conduct, and that could be online. But of course, it is better, especially with high touchpoint kind of concierge approaches to the major gift owners. It’s much better to do it in person. And we do. We ask… ideally, you already have one or two people whom you can go to and talk to them and ask them these types of questions. They’re already fans of yours. They’re fans of your work because they’re supporting you. They’re gonna wanna give you some of their time to help you find more people like them…

[00:25:19.867] – Rhea Wong

[00:25:20.470] – Boris
Which is exactly what you wanna do. And they’re gonna feel more valued because you’re not just asking them for their money. You’re asking them for what makes them a person that cares about these things and helping build the organization. There’s just so many wonderful things that come out of interviewing somebody, and you could structure it as a formal interview, or you could just, you know, ask for a conversation.

[00:25:44.530] – Rhea Wong

[00:25:44.530] – Boris
You could just ask questions and really get to know them as a human being. Everybody loves to feel like a human being rather than a checkbook.

[00:25:51.850] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. No one wants to feel like a checkbook, right? And especially now, I think the strength of our relationships and the ability to connect is more important than it’s ever been. I think we all felt really disconnected during the pandemic. And so the more you can show that not just that you understand and care about them as humans, but that you are also a human, just makes it better. I say this a lot, when I started fundraising, I didn’t know anything about fundraising, but I had a good idea and a good personality. I could talk to anybody. Right? Look, obviously, there’s some percentage of people in this world who find me obnoxious and like wanna roll me down the hill in the barrel. But generally speaking, I get along well with most people. And I think that willingness to connect, that willingness to reach out, that willingness to ask questions and engage in conversation goes… Basically, that is major gift fundraising. Here’s the big secret guys. I’m teaching you guys how to have a conversation. That’s it. That’s the secret.

[00:26:53.410] – Boris
And it’s an important one. And it’s actually… I know it’s difficult for a lot of people, and I think that even for professionals who have been at this for a long time, a lot of them, they feel like they don’t wanna bother their donors. They don’t wanna, you know, nag them. They don’t want to basically give them any reason to feel like they’re being annoyed by you. And so they’d rather like be hands off until it’s time to interact with them for a very specific reason. And I think that backfires because, like you’re saying, people want to be treated like humans. They want touchpoints of gratitude. They want to feel like they’re in a relationship with you of some sort that is beyond just, “Oh, it’s time for money. Here you go.”

[00:27:36.430] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. It’s about closing… It’s not about closing a gift. It’s about opening a relationship. So again, let’s have a little dating analogy here, but… by not calling the donor and engaging with them as a donor, they’re telling themselves a story and you’re telling yourself a story. But these two stories are really different. Right? So their story is like, “Oh, they don’t really care about me. They only care about me when it’s time to raise money and they want a check.” The nonprofit’s mind is, “I don’t really wanna bother them. I don’t wanna be annoying, right?” But again, unless you ask the question, herein lies the role of curiosity. You won’t ever know. It could be that someone is like look, I find it annoying when you reach out to me every month. Fine. Great. Thank you for telling me. What would you prefer? Or I think it’s great when you reach out to me. I love getting your emails. Good to know, right? But be curious. You don’t know. You’re just assuming.

[00:28:44.110] – Boris
Absolutely. And every time you say ask good questions… a couple of years ago, when my kids were a little younger, every time we would drop them off at school, I would tell them ask good questions, because that is really how you learn. You don’t just learn by listening to whatever someone says. You learn by asking good questions, and it shows that you’re actually interested and gets that kind of rapport going. So I love this whole theme about curiosity, being curious about other people. That’s one of the things that is true about me, as well. I love talking to people because I love learning what makes them tick. What makes them passionate? What makes their eyes light up? That’s my goal at every networking event, is to talk to someone and find out what… And ask that one question that’s gonna make their eyes light up, because now I know, you know, something about them that’s gonna actually help me connect with them in some way and help me remember them down the line.

[00:29:38.990] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. You know, I’ll share this with your audience. There’s a white paper that some group in the UK put out where they analyze the top 3% of major gift fundraisers, because I think the field is just, like, it’s not formalized, right? You can’t go to school necessarily be a fundraiser. I mean, you can now. But, like, it’s not really been seen as a legitimate profession for very long. Anyway, they analyze the top 3% of performers and the ones who really are the top of their field, they call them curious chameleons. So they’re curious but they’re also able to adapt the approach and the conversation to the donor. So I think we should all strive to be curious chameleons.

[00:30:26.930] – Boris
I’m gonna write that on my desktop somewhere and say, “be a curious chameleon” because it’s a great analogy. It’s similar to what makes someone a successful salesperson, someone who actually makes you feel like, you know, they care about you and they’re not just trying to get something out of you. It’s the same exact thing.

[00:30:43.070] – Rhea Wong
It’s even better because it’s like legit. I genuinely like people. I find people to be interesting and I can find most… For most people, I can find something interesting about them.

[00:30:58.370] – Boris
I think it’s also important to note that these are skills that anyone can learn just through practice. I know a lot of people think, I am not a people person or I am an introvert or you know, I’m too shy. I hear you. I used to be similarly shy, and I still think… I think I’m actually a shy extrovert now, but these are all things that you can learn. And with practice it becomes much more fluid and easy. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t think that you are a curious chameleon right now, just get out there and talk, right?

[00:31:32.750] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. Well, here’s the thing. Actually introverts, I think actually do better because in conversations it should really be 75% of them talking, 25% you talking. So if you can ask good questions… All right, now I’m giving up all my secrets. But literally at a party, all I do when I walk in, I don’t know anyone, I just ask good questions and people think I’m like the best conversationalist in the room because I just stop talking and I listen to people. And I think it’s so rare, especially now. We’re just like inundated with everyone tweeting out at us. How often do we actually have someone who is a good listener?

[00:32:11.870] – Boris
Yeah. So when I was on the dating scene years ago now, I actually once or twice got accused of being an interviewer on dates. And honestly, that was because I was trying to find that thing. I was trying to find what makes someone more loquacious? What makes them more excited? And the people whom I couldn’t find that with, that’s where it really started to feel like an interview because I would just keep asking questions and they rarely had anything to ask back.

[00:32:38.870] – Rhea Wong

[00:32:40.730] – Boris
I think that’s a great analogy. Rhea, I wanna be sensitive of your time and our listeners time. So let’s kind of wind this up a little bit. I think you’ve given us a lot of great value. We’re gonna summarize it all and make it as clear and actionable as you presented it in bullet points for everyone in our show notes, along with links to everything that you’ve talked about. Are there any tools or resources, books, perhaps that you recommend to people who are interested in delving into this further?

[00:33:08.390] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. So I’m a big nerd. So I love reading books, and actually, that’s the other thing I would say for major gift fundraisers. So interestingly, my husband is a bartender. He owns a bar, and he and I find a lot of interesting parallels in our work. He reads widely. I read widely because you have to be ready to have a conversation about anything. Current events, sports, fashion, art. You don’t know what people are gonna wanna talk about. So it’s important to have a wide breath of knowledge. But a couple of books that I really love, Travel Leadership, Brave New Work, The Soul of Money and The Generosity Network. And The Soul of Money, I will flag particularly because I think a lot of the reason people are nervous about major gift fundraising is that they have a lot of stuff about money that they bring to the table. Either they’re like somehow people with money are different, better or worse, like evil. I don’t know. We make up a lot of stories about people with money. People with money just have more money than you. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like you do. Right? And so I think we just have to be really aware of the narrative that we bring to the table that stands in the way of us connecting as humans and as individuals.

[00:34:24.710] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. So if people have been listening so far and I hope they have and they’ve been engaged because you’ve really helped to see what the problems out there are, what the possible solutions are. And so like every good story, now it’s time for that call to action. What do you want our heroes to do to take the next step, whether it’s with you or in their own journeys?

[00:34:48.650] – Rhea Wong
Yeah. So definitely check out my website, rheawong.com. I think you put it in the show notes, and I have a weekly newsletter where I offer weekly tips and tools and resources and it’s a good time. Plus, you know, there’s cute pictures of my dog. So who doesn’t want that in their inbox every week.

[00:35:07.190] – Boris
I love pictures of dogs. Unfortunately, that’s all I’ve been sharing lately in my own social media because everything else, you know, you mentioned several topics that people should be prepared to discuss. The one thing that everybody’s discussing is the one that I don’t wanna discuss right now is politics, but dogs are awesome and …

[00:35:27.650] – Rhea Wong
Dogs are awesome. There’s always people who will argue that cats are better, so you know, can’t believe all the people all the time.

[00:35:35.090] – Boris
I don’t wanna say they’re wrong because I don’t wanna offend them. Between you and me…

[00:35:41.910] – Rhea Wong
Don’t be afraid to have a point of view. That’s the other thing I’ll say too. Don’t be afraid to have a point of view. I think sometimes and I think you’ll probably see this in your work that we’re so afraid to offend that our stuff is just boring. I think it’s worse to bore people.

[00:35:59.190] – Boris
Absolutely no. I teach… You need to have heroes and villains, now that villain doesn’t have to be a person, but it could be a certain mentality. It could be something that’s happening out in the world. You should be able to identify that. And you should have a point of view. And a point of view means you prefer one thing over another. You see a future that other people don’t necessarily. So no, I do think it’s good to have opinions as long as you’re not turning off the people that you want to actually engage.

[00:36:27.810] – Rhea Wong
Right. Right. Have a personality, I think is more of the point. Don’t be afraid to have a personality.

[00:36:34.410] – Boris
Rhea, thank you so much for joining us on the show today and sharing all your wisdom around being curious in nonprofit fundraising and especially when it comes to major gifts. I’m excited to share all the show notes and everything, all the resources that you’ve mentioned with the audience and I hope they will take you up on it. Subscribe to your newsletter. Follow up with you. Maybe connect with you on LinkedIn if you’re into that.

[00:36:56.490] – Rhea Wong
Absolutely. Yeah, connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s basically where I live. That’s my main social media platform.

[00:37:03.070] – Boris
Perfect. And so thank you, everybody who has listened to us today, who has watched us today. If you liked this episode, if you feel like you learned something I know I did from Rhea today, then please, please, please subscribe. Leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform. And frankly, just share it with others like you. Because if you like this show, chances are your fellow fundraisers, your fellow nonprofit communications and marketing folks will like the show too, and they can tell two friends and they can tell two friends. And pretty soon we’ll change the world and help more people activate more heroes for their cause.

[00:37:37.930] – Rhea Wong
I love it.

[00:37:39.490] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you soon.

[00:37:41.830] – Rhea Wong
Thanks Boris.

[00:38:01.750] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • 69% of all philanthropic gifts came from individuals, accounting for $75 billion. And 80% of funding tends to come from 20% of donors. (5:52)
  • High-net-worth individuals ($30 million in assets and above) are the largest growing wealth demographic in the world, growing 30% last year alone. (6:49)
  • You can build a base for momentum from a small group that is passionate about your cause. (9:17)
  • Defining a “major gift” can be different for each nonprofit depending on budget and sources. Look at your own range of gifts and see at what levels you can segment. (11:45)
  • Major gift fundraising is not as clearly laid as some other types of fundraising. It’s more about people, who are less predictable, and therefore more improvisational. (13:46)
  • Major gift fundraising strategy, step 1 is to identify your prospect pool. Your best prospects for a major gift are people who have given in the past, not wealthy individuals with whom you don’t have an existing relationship. (15:04)
  • Step 2: Evaluate your list on four metrics (16:24)
    • Affinity – Do they care about your cause?
    • Capacity – Can they afford to give a major gift?
    • Relationship – Do they have a relationship with your organization, board or staff?
    • Recency – Have you been in contact with them in a reasonably recent time frame (six months or less).
  • Try to get a list of around 20 prospects, and then start picking up the phone or emailing and engaging them in conversation. At every stage, you should be looking for opportunities to cultivate the relationship, not just ask for money. If they don’t respond after three attempts, take that as a signal and move them to the “B” list of prospects. (18:39)
  • Major-gift donors are people. You need to be curious about them as people, interested in their thoughts, their preferences and their interests. Ask them questions. Develop two or three cultivation touchpoints before asking for a gift, but don’t wait too long. (20:04)
  • After you get a donation, you need a stewardship strategy to retain your donors. Rhea recommends seven touchpoints of gratitude before you ask for the next gift. (20:57)
  • When it comes to affinity and capacity, those items should be key in creating your major-gift donor avatar. Avatars consist of demographics—things that you can see and measure, and psychographics—such as values, goals, and other things that go towards affinity. (22:22)
  • Be fearless about asking people about themselves and what they value. Pick up the phone or send a survey, but find a way to interview your donors. (23:37)
  • Interviewing your donors is also a great way to find more people like those current donors. Everyone wants to feel like a human being, not a checkbook. (24:38)
  • The big secret to major-gift fundraising is this: learning how to have a conversation with people. It can be difficult, but people want to feel like they’re a valued person in a relationship. Curiosity means asking questions, and then listening to the answers to strengthen the relationship. (26:34)
  • An analysis of major-gift fundraisers determined that the top 3% are what they called “curious chameleons.” They’re curious, but also able to adapt their conversational approach to each individual. (29:42)
  • Anyone can get better at conversations and become a curious chameleon with practice. And introverts might actually have an advantage because they should only be doing 25% of the talking (i.e., asking questions) and then listening the other 75% of the time. (30:58)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Rhea Wong

Rhea Wong

Founder, Rhea Wong Consulting

Rhea helps nonprofits raise more money. She has raised millions of dollars in private philanthropy and is passionate about building the next generation of fundraising leaders.

She has become a leader in the New York nonprofit community and is a frequent educational commentator in the media. She has been recognized with the SmartCEO Brava Award in 2015 and NY Nonprofit Media’s 40 under 40 in 2017. FRhea lives in Brooklyn with her husband and the World’s Most Spoiled Dog Stevie Wonderdog. When she is not raising money for causes she loves, she can be found hosting her podcast Nonprofit Lowdown or onstage as a newbie stand-up comedian in downtown Brooklyn. For more information, check out rheawong.com

Connect with Rhea Wong

EP32 - Heather Nelson - Featured

Episode 32: Forming Win-Win Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships, with Heather Nelson

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 32

Forming Win-Win Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships, with Heather Nelson

In this Episode:

It may be surprising to learn that nonprofit corporate sponsorships actually increased throughout the pandemic. Even as many for-profit businesses and nonprofit orgs tightened their budgets, businesses have responded to the needs in their communities and leaned into partnerships with like-minded nonprofits in greater numbers than ever before.

For many nonprofits, however, creating successful corporate sponsorships is full of uncertainty. How does one identify good potential partners? Whom should they approach? What should they offer to make it a worthwhile endeavor? This overwhelm leads many to doubt or abandon the idea altogether, choosing instead to channel resources to more tried-and-true donor-based and grant-based sources.

Heather Nelson’s mission is to help more nonprofits and businesses form successful, win-win partnerships. That’s why she started BridgeRaise, a consultancy that focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. We invited her to The Nonprofit Hero Factory to demystify the process and break down her methodology into simple, actionable steps that anyone can use to start or scale their organization’s corporate fundraising.

[00:00:19.610] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:21.140] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory. I love having experts on every single week to not only share information with you guys about how to do better marketing and communications and fundraising and make better use of technology. I also love it because a lot of times I get to learn from them what their ideas and their strategies are, and we have some great conversations around the subject. Today, it’s a particularly interesting episode for me because while I’ve been aware of this concept for many, many years now, of course, I have never actually personally delved into corporate sponsorships and how to set those up with corporations, perhaps in the area or national corporations for nonprofit.

[00:01:08.210] – Boris
I know how to market them. I’ve done that many times, but I’ve never actually been on the back end of things as the initial negotiations even happen. So today I’m excited to have Heather Nelson on the show. Heather is the President and lead consultant at BridgeRaise. She is an MBA and a CFRE. Heather is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise, as I just said, which focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. And Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships, which I think is key, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about a lot in the episode today.

[00:01:50.820] – Boris
Heather describes her superpower of building aligned relationshipbased partnerships between nonprofits and companies and really seeing and believing in the value that nonprofits can bring to those partnerships. With that, let me bring Heather onto the show.

[00:02:05.565] – Heather Nelson
Hello everyone. Hi.

[00:02:05.565] – Boris
How are you today?

[00:02:09.480] – Heather Nelson
I’m great. Thanks for having me today.

[00:02:11.760] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you on. I’m really excited to learn from you today. Before we do, though, you just heard me read off your bio and it is really impressive already. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you? What’s your story? Other.

[00:02:25.930] – Heather Nelson
Well, I’ll start with saying I’m Canadian. I’m based in Canada, and I have been in the nonprofit sector my whole career, which I feel puts me in a bit of a unicorn position. I did start in programming and working on the programming side in international development organizations and a few other organizations. And then I went and got my business degree and came out of that really wanting to work on the revenue side, business development and fundraising. And so, I’ve been doing that ever since. And most recently, prior to starting my own consultancy, I worked at Food Banks Canada, which is the National Food Bank Association here, and we focused entirely on corporate partnerships.

[00:03:12.920] – Heather Nelson
So that was where I really got to flex that muscle and practice things I learned at business school and throughout my career. Which I’ve now applied to BridgeRaise, which has been around for five years. And we’ve been working with nonprofits of all sizes on their corporate programs.

[00:03:29.640] – Boris
That’s very cool. I, too, started out in programming, but mine was in C, C++, Lisp.

[00:03:38.710] – Heather Nelson
The other kind of programming.

[00:03:39.560] – Boris
The other kind of programming. It always catches me off guard for just a second. My brain has to turn… no, no, we’re talking about nonprofit programs.

[00:03:46.990] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Yeah.

[00:03:48.900] – Boris
Awesome. Heather, tell me, what are you seeing out there? What’s going on in the world of corporate sponsorships and nonprofit development? I know that things in finance in general have been changing a lot over the last couple of years, shifting alignments, shifting resources. What’s happening specifically from your point of view?

[00:04:10.580] – Heather Nelson
You know, I’m so happy you ask because… well, first, I’m going to start with I really like using the word partnership instead of sponsorship. And one of the reasons is to highlight one of the changes that we’re seeing that I believe, which is very good for nonprofits. We’re seeing the evolution away from either a very philanthropic and donation-based or a very transactional, purely marketing based scenario to this place in the middle. Right? So I like calling it—using the word partnership because it does have some elements of both of these things in it. And that is an emerging priority amongst this sector. We’re seeing that happen.

[00:04:51.590] – Heather Nelson
It’s becoming more and more pronounced that companies are looking for certain things from the nonprofit that extend beyond just doing good in the world, but include doing good in the world. We also have seen, obviously, with the move to remote working that we’ve seen happen over the last year, the influence of virtual marketing, virtual events, virtual connections between employees and their companies that has heavily influenced how corporate partnership looks. So that’s been a big shift that we’ve really had to adjust to in the space of corporate partnership.

[00:05:28.040] – Heather Nelson
And I think… the last one I would like to highlight is I think a lot of people felt that when the pandemic started, that maybe there wouldn’t be the funding that there had been. And we didn’t see that. We’ve seen actually companies be more and more generous recently than maybe ever before. They’ve leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. They’ve accessed employees in different ways. And so we’ve actually seen companies do at least as much as they had before, and many do more.

[00:06:02.760] – Heather Nelson
Of course, there is exceptions. There is companies that have not been able to do that, but where they have been able to we’ve seen them do it. And I think that has led to at least a certain amount of optimism around what is possible, which I really appreciate.

[00:06:18.100] – Boris
That’s wonderful to hear. I was actually going to ask you, has it been increasing or decreasing and it sounds like organizations…

[00:06:23.978] – Heather Nelson
Yeah… Some of each.

[00:06:24.691] – Boris

[00:06:24.762] – Heather Nelson
It’s not all bad.

[00:06:26.820] – Boris
So I wouldn’t be surprised if it mirrors the overall donor and donation landscape where some things have declined, but overall things have gone up. And I definitely want to get into all of the reasons why the organizations, the businesses are doing it. And especially at this time, there might be some additional reasons. But before we get there, I’m wondering, what does it look like? How how are nonprofits creating these corporate partnerships as it were? What does it look like when it’s successful, when it’s done right?

[00:07:03.440] – Heather Nelson
Well, I mean, I think from my point of view, I mean, there’s a bit of a personal question and a bit of a factual part, I think to that.

[00:07:11.468] – Boris
Tell me both.

[00:07:12.620] – Heather Nelson
From my point of view, when it’s done right, there’s a strong alignment on the reason for the partnership. Could be alignment on a value between the company and the nonprofit. It could be an impact that they both want to have. But there’s some really core reason why they’re partnered together. And then when it’s done well, that extends into there being benefits that the nonprofit provides and in return, an investment that is proportional to that relationship that is given by the company. Right?

[00:07:45.640] – Heather Nelson
And that’s when it really works. And sometimes they’re more consistent across a few. And sometimes they’re fully unique, depending on obviously, the amount of that investment. But I really like it to look proportional. So it needs to be… both sides need to be valued in a really good partnership. And that’s what it looks like inside. And then outside, we see stories being told. We see announcements being made. We see a connection between the two that is visible to their employees, maybe to their customers, maybe to the public at large.

[00:08:24.330] – Heather Nelson
The audience might depend on the situation, but it shouldn’t be a secret if it’s a good partnership, that’s really working.

[00:08:31.580] – Boris
Of course, yeah. So you’re kind of getting into this anyway, but I really want to dive further. Why do companies want to form partnerships with nonprofits? I mean, we kind of know, especially those of us in nonprofit, that—why a nonprofit might want to form a partnership. And I’m sure that maybe you could even talk to, not every company is going to be a good fit for a nonprofit in the first place. But what is it that a nonprofit can offer, is offering per se, from their side of the partnership that will entice the business to work with them?

[00:09:08.400] – Heather Nelson
Sure. Well, I think following up on that alignment piece, what we are seeing out in the world is companies really wanting to solve social problems. Some of them want to have an impact on certain social problems. Some of them want to stand for something in particular. And nonprofits provide them with knowledge in that space, provide them with expertise, authenticity around making that happen. So that’s the first thing. But there’s also other benefits we’ve talked about. We’ve seen in the world this disconnect between employees and their employers because of more people working remotely and employee engagement opportunities. To opportunities for employees to volunteer with the nonprofit is a really outstanding benefit that nonprofits can offer to companies.

[00:10:00.100] – Boris
They can also help provide some content for marketing. That could be stories that could be the impact that the company is helping them make in the world and sharing that with the public or with their employees. So there’s different benefits. And part of an overly good partnership is finding out the ones that the company values and that the employee and that the nonprofit can execute effectively against, and matching those together.

[00:10:27.050] – Heather Nelson
But we do see them fall into these buckets, most typically around employee engagement, some and authenticity and impact. Those are three buckets I would look at.

[00:10:38.640] – Boris
Yeah, I really love the part about the employee engagement. It’s hard to see the news and not hear about “the great resignation” that’s happening right now. Where, ever since the pandemic began, people are not excited to go, first of all into the office, never mind back. But people are being more selective. There’s actually a labor shortage in a lot of areas because people are much more selective about what they want to be doing. And I know that it’s popularized with the millennial generation, but I think I’m a lot older the millennial, and it still applies to me, obviously, because I’m doing this work.

[00:11:13.910] – Boris
We want to have alignment with the work that we’re doing. We don’t just want to work for a paycheck anymore. Most of us that are privileged enough, I should say, to have these choices and opportunities. So when a corporation can not only say, hey, we also care about these things, but actually devote dollars and time towards that, that helps with the employee retention and appeal. I’m sure too, right?

[00:11:38.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. I agree. It absolutely does help with those things. And I think I really believe that a company just saying it’s making a difference is insufficient, right? They need to prove it. And one of the ways they can do so is by giving their employees time. But providing incentives by giving the space and opportunities for employees to engage in this cause that this company cares about. So if it’s done well, it can be a real win-win because it can strengthen the tie between the company and the employee.

[00:12:18.240] – Heather Nelson
And it can also make the purpose or the community investment priority of the company more real for everybody. So that’s great. And I think, you know, to your point around, people aren’t looking forward to going into work. We also find that we’re connecting so much virtually around work. It’s really nice to have something else to be connecting about. And so we do find nonprofits offering lunch and learns and training sessions and, virtual tours and all these sorts of things just give, like, a different cooler conversation for people to have. And, you know, they need that. That helps with the connection for companies. So nonprofits have that to offer.

[00:13:05.230] – Boris
Absolutely. And there’s also on the other side of the millennial stereotype, which is a positive one. They want to be spending their money on organizations that they don’t consider evil or that they consider aligned with their own morals and values. So I think in that sense, it’s a marketing tool. Hopefully it’s a genuine endeavor by the organization, but it is a way to signal— virtue signal, in the true sense what their priorities are, right?

[00:13:35.020] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, for sure. For those companies that have a consumer facing brand, I mean, there’s so many other things that a nonprofit can do with them to demonstrate through sales and through how they interact with customers, that they are connected to a nonprofit. That does tend to sort of lie in the purview of more sophisticated nonprofits. And it’s a great vehicle, and it can be very lucrative for both sides if it’s working well.

[00:14:08.160] – Boris
So I know that in grants, for example, when an organization, a nonprofit gets a grant, there is a certain amount of reporting to do and a certain amount of perhaps even mile posts that they need to reach and metrics that they need to keep and report on. Is there anything like that with a corporate grant? What does a company want to see when they’re forming a partnership?

[00:14:32.120] – Heather Nelson
You know what there’s probably as many examples of what the company wants to see is there are arrangements. I would suggest that they do fall into a few categories. Within the context, there is corporate grants that are more heavily weighted on metrics related to the impact on the stakeholders, the beneficiaries of the organization. So some are designed that way, and they are, well, not exactly the same as other granting. There is more similarities with a fairly clear guidance around what kind of reporting you need to do.

[00:15:09.010] – Heather Nelson
Outside of those kinds of relationships, it does tend to be on a negotiated basis. There should always be some form of reporting. And I do actually recommend that fairly early on, you find out what it is they are measuring. Because sometimes they’ll be measuring a number of employees participating. Sometimes they’re measuring the number of Facebook likes they got. Sometimes it’s, you know, that you met the certain impact. So it’s an important part of working out a successful partnership to know that piece of information and to plan to report on it.

[00:15:43.950] – Heather Nelson
I do generally like to recommend, however, which is different than most foundation grants, that the report back is as succinct as possible. So you’re reporting on what you have promised to report on without a whole lot of extra, because generally it is being shared. So making sure that you can share a fairly tight story of success is perfect.

[00:16:12.440] – Boris
And making sure that the organization can share—the company, I should say, can share—a fairly succinct impact statement as well. Because it’s one thing to say, yeah, we care about something, and it’s another to say look at the change that we helped create with our consumers, with our employees, right?

[00:16:31.280] – Heather Nelson
I love that you bring that up, because one of my keys to success, actually, in corporate partnerships, is that you can boil the complexity of what you’re doing with the funds down to a sentence. And that can be very difficult, especially if they’re funding a very complex issue. And when you’re in the weeds of it to boil it down to “and we’re helping 100 kids exit poverty” or something very simple like that or serving 100 breakfast can feel like you’re oversimplifying very complicated social issues. However, companies need to be able to communicate fairly succinctly in annual reports and other places what their money went to do.

[00:17:15.130] – Heather Nelson
And so we do need to be able to do that. Somebody at the company is looking further into the detail to make sure it’s authentic and real and all those things, so there’s somebody that you can provide more detail to. But you need to be prepared that there are a lot of people at the company that are only going to know that headline and that headline is going to help you renew your money and get more.

[00:17:39.670] – Boris
You made me think about this concept where I’ve actually, with clients at times, aske them for a testimonial before we actually start the work. And I promise not to use it unless they still believe in it afterwards. But for me, it’s trying to get an understanding of their expectation. What do they value? What do they want to see at the end that’s going to make them super happy? So as you were talking, I thought, well… I wonder if you almost want to create a press release ahead of time. What will the press release in six months look like if this is successful, right?

[00:18:12.680] – Heather Nelson
I love that idea. That’s a great idea. Yeah, because it is like that sometimes. That’s when you see, “oh, that’s what they wanted to say. Why did they just tell us?” I mean, that’s another argument, honestly, for long term relationships. Because there’s only so much that a nonprofit and the company, there’s only so much information they can exchange the first go round. Right? Nobody has the time for everything to be shared. And therefore, if you commit to a relationship over time, then there’s always incremental gains each time.

[00:18:48.240] – Heather Nelson
Whether you do the same thing each year or you change aspects of it, you have time as two organizations to get to know each other, right? And improve on it. And that would be the kind of thing you’d be like, okay, we got the press release at the end of this year. Okay. Now what we want to say next year would be a really cool conversation?

[00:19:06.620] – Boris
You’re welcome to steal that idea.

[00:19:09.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, that’s right… it’s in my notes!

[00:19:10.790] – Heather Nelson
That’s all yours. You and everybody listening to this episode. Okay. I feel like so far, we’ve really established why a business might want to be in a partnership with a nonprofit. What they’re going to get out of it. And similarly, what nonprofit should be thinking about when they’re looking into partnerships. But let’s break it down to if we haven’t started any corporate sponsorships yet, or we’re looking to grow our partnership program, what do we need to do? How do we even identify the businesses out there that might be a good fit for partnership with a nonprofit?

[00:19:51.830] – Heather Nelson
Okay. Well, so the first thing I want to say is that if you haven’t started before, be looking to only find a few companies to start with. So I find that often what happens is we think, okay, let’s first get an exhaustive list of every possible company. And then once we’ve done that and got research on all of them, then we’ll go to the next step of having a conversation with some, and we’ll kind of go on. And I am really all about getting into the part where we’re having the conversations, we’re testing our ideas and we’re getting to partnership with somebody so that we have something to build on.

[00:20:25.740] – Heather Nelson
I ask to start with to try to find ten companies that you think you should start with. And usually we start by looking at people who’ve given in the past who are lapsed. Companies that are in our geography, so that can be a good place to look, companies that are in geography because then already you have one little piece of alignment.

[00:20:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then, I call it dream storming. Usually when people work at an organization, they already have thought to themselves, this is a company for XYZ reason I think should be giving to us. Right? You know, your organization, you know, the organized companies that are likely to align. So we start with a list like that, and we do… I recommend then doing a very specific kind of research. And it’s not about all the research… it’s about going to their social media. It’s going to their website. Going to a few places and really looking for the things that you need to know to show alignment between your organization and the company.

[00:21:22.660] – Heather Nelson
What are they talking about around employees? What are they giving to already? What’s important to them right now? Are they really focusing on a certain social issue? How do you speak to that social issue? So we’re looking for those kinds of bread crumbs in what they’re talking about. And social media is amazing for this. So this is like 100% where you spend your time to figure that out.

[00:21:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then based on that, you move to outreach. And I build a little bit of internal knowledge around benefits and what we’re going to give to them before. But it’s not fancy. It’s not polished. It’s not all glossy. It really is more of a working document. So that then we can start having conversations and learning what they value before going further.

[00:22:09.290] – Boris
So as soon as you said, social media and all things digital, I don’t know if you saw my eyes light up and my grin come across my face, because obviously, that’s where I live and brief most of the time. What are some of the social media tools? I would think LinkedIn would be a big one for work like this.

[00:22:27.860] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:22:28.980] – Boris
Where do you tend to go?

[00:22:29.670] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. LinkedIn and Twitter are the two places that we tend to go to look. And we start with that list and then go to those two channels for more company information. And, of course, their website, too. They have media releases they’re putting sometimes that’s a good place to look. But yeah, LinkedIn for the people that are responsible for their community investment, for marketing and sometimes, sometimes even human resources. So you will usually see that those are the places that there tends to be relevant information. And Twitter, too.

[00:23:07.190] – Heather Nelson
That’s where companies tend to broadcast things they’re proud of. Right? So another place to look.

[00:23:13.270] – Boris
Now, do you approach them on LinkedIn or on Twitter? Where do you initiate? And then I want to get into how, but where do you initiate the conversation?

[00:23:22.040] – Heather Nelson
To the degree it’s possible we initiate the conversation in email. So that is the preference. If that’s not possible, then LinkedIn can sometimes be a choice. If the person is very active in LinkedIn and you can tell that they’re engaging there regularly, then that can be an option. But if they’re using it mostly as a broadcast channel, then it’s more appropriate to try to reach them at their work and through email. That’s my recommendation.

[00:23:54.580] – Boris
Ok. Great. Do you ever just do cold calls as well?

[00:23:59.920] – Heather Nelson
You know, that’s not my recommendation. Generally, I believe that… look, the email maybe may be cold, but we’re going to try to create warmth around it by following them on these social channels and communicating with them and showing appreciation before we reach out and then making sure the email is an aligned email that just very simply gets to the point about why they should call you back. If it doesn’t, then sometimes putting in it that you’re going to call to follow up is great. But I like to break the ice, especially now with people working remotely and different things, with an email to notify them and explain who I am before the first phone call.

[00:24:40.960] – Boris
That’s great. That’s great. Okay. So we know where we’re going to stalk them, pardon the term. We know what types of things that we’re looking for on these social media channels and where we’re going to first initiate contact. What do we actually say when we’re trying to initiate contact? Because, boy, those cover letters can be awkward. And I’ve seen people… I’ve personally fumbled for what the perfect intro to make in certain situations. How do you do it, Heather? What secret?

[00:25:09.400] – Heather Nelson
Right. Well, I think the most important key I always tell my clients this email is so short that it is painful. That’s how short it is. Because it really is the least amount of information you can give them to get them to call you back. And for many of the people we’re reaching out to, this is not an important email, so they’re likely reading it while they’re walking on their phone while they’re in the elevator. So, long with attachments is not going to work.

[00:25:39.420] – Heather Nelson
It should be short. It has one sentence explaining who you are and where you’re from. The next one is the alignment. That cool thing that you found. Hey, I saw your employee engagement is really important to you, and I have a cool opportunity I’d like to talk to you about. Hey, I see that this is important and I want to talk to you about that. And then what your next step is, can I have 15 minutes? I’m going to follow up with a phone call. Three sentences. That is it.

[00:26:05.480] – Heather Nelson
And if they don’t answer that, they don’t respond, then we can start thinking about what’s the next version? What’s the next next little bit of information that we try? Because they may not answer the first time. But holding back a bit of information, like, you know, we were in the news or this is a little bit more about what we’re offering, that will give you a chance for a follow up email. And we know that sometimes it can take a few tries to get a call back. So, you know, no point in, like, avalanche of information on the first go.

[00:26:35.970] – Boris
So I really appreciate that you don’t want to overwhelm them. So often when people are doing marketing, regardless of whether it’s nonprofit or for profit, they try to cram everything in there possible. Look at all the reasons why you should this and this. And there’s a lot of overwhelm versus telling a clean and concise story, something hopefully that teases that there’s more and that we’d love to talk and tell you more and that there’s an opportunity there. Right?

[00:27:04.220] – Heather Nelson
That’s it. And then again, the the more is a little bit more right. They don’t need to know everything about your organization to buy into this one thing. I think that this feeling that in order to give the money in order to create a partnership, they have to know everything right away is like a myth that trips people up. Just think about enough to have another conversation, enough to get to yes. If they want more information, honestly, they will ask you. If they want financials or HR structure or all the programs that you have available or all the events they will ask you. Generally, they’re not shy people.

[00:27:45.240] – Boris
And frankly, they could Google you, right? And you’d show up.

[00:27:47.340] – Heather Nelson
Right, they can go to your website. Well, that’s another thing I always say is that there is no such thing as a first impression. The second you’ve written an email, they have gone to your website. They may have already gone to your LinkedIn. So make sure that those things look corporate friendly… I call “open for business,” before you make the call. Because after it’s too late, you’ve already got “okay, now they don’t like companies,” or “I don’t see a company anywhere in any of their stuff. Why are they calling?”

[00:28:17.540] – Boris
Absolutely. And your website is a powerful tool in that regard. So are your social media profiles. Do you advise organizations to have specific corporate sponsorship and partnership pages on their site?

[00:28:32.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, there’s different ways to show that you are open for corporate partnership, and so it depends on the organization all day. But I do very, very heavily recommend that there’s some visibility of companies on your website and on your social. So how that looks? There’s lots of different ways that can work, but there definitely should be evidence that this is something you do, that you welcome companies to support you.

[00:28:58.490] – Boris
And if you already have had sponsorships, they should be on your home page. They should be on your sponsors page. They should be in several places as reinforcement for not only potential new partnerships, but also just individuals will say, oh, this company supports them. It gives you some sort of credibility social proof, which is great.

[00:29:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Right. So that’s for sure. That’s super important that that shows up somewhere.

[00:29:25.280] – Boris
So I don’t want to pull all your secret sauce out. But let me see if I could get just a little bit more from you, Heather. Once they have agreed to a call, what is it that you need to be prepared to deliver in that call? Because I’m assuming it’s not going to be a four hour call with the entire executive board of the business. What is it that you need to have prepared and what’s your goal for that first call?

[00:29:50.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, so what I say to have prepared is a brief description of what… expanding on the hook that you put in the email, expanding on the alignment. So, the key benefit. You need to have a little bit more about that, and then you have to have a series of questions. So I have a series of questions that I always look at and pick from, because by the end of that call, you should know what the proposal should look like or what more information you need to know in order to know what the proposal should look like.

[00:30:19.350] – Heather Nelson
You should not come to that call with the proposal. You should have the primary idea and maybe even a secondary idea that you’d like to tease them. If the first thing, like, drops like a rock. Like, they’re like, no, I’m not doing that. Then you’re like, sell, maybe there’s this be prepared to pivot, but in both cases, it’s like a paragraph description, a few bullets. It’s not the detail because you’re going to want to follow up with thoughtful details based on the answers they give you to the questions, after you talk for a little bit.

[00:30:50.830] – Heather Nelson
They’ll make you say something because they generally won’t just tell you the goods without knowing what you want to know. But if you tell them a little bit, then follow up with a few questions. That’s really an ideal first call. Then the next step is more, right? More of a proposal, a one page summary, whatever the next step might be. But again, you’re building right. You’re building the relationship. You’re building the partnership. You’re building a benefit that makes sense to them.

[00:31:21.690] – Boris
Absolutely. I appreciate that you think of it and advocate it as building a relationship. It’s not an exchange. It is a partnership. And those really grow over time. You don’t… I’m almost tired of saying this metaphor all the time, but you don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, or text them, “will you marry me?” after you just both swiped right. Whatever the new dating analogy might be. It takes time to build that trust, build that credibility with each other, that you’re both going to deliver on what you want, and that it’s a worthwhile investment for both of you in terms of time and funds, Right?

[00:31:59.080] – Heather Nelson

[00:32:00.420] – Boris
So if organizations that are listening to this haven’t started yet, haven’t gone down the path of corporate sponsorships, corporate partnerships, and now they’re looking to or maybe they’re looking to grow their program. What’s the first next first thing that they should be doing right now?

[00:32:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Well, let me start with answering it for newer organizations. They really need to answer the question, why is a company going to give to me? And for what? And that has to be from the company’s point of view, not from the nonprofit point of view. It’s not, “I want money to do this thing.” It’s this makes sense for a company because it helps them accomplish Y. So the why and the what. We have to answer that. After that, all other things can follow.

[00:32:46.970] – Heather Nelson
And if you’re a more sophisticated organization, I would be pushing the limits on that. So they can tackle more complicated whys and whats in terms of connecting audiences to their brand, that kind of thing. So it’s the next level of that same question. You need to understand that… what you have to offer in a corporate context before you can make a call.

[00:33:11.470] – Boris
Absolutely. Whenever I’m working with a client and we’re trying to whether it’s develop a website or some kind of campaign, we always start with the target avatar. And in that target avatar, the most important section is actually not even the demographics. It’s the psychographics, which focuses, in part on what are their morals and values, what are their concerns and what are their pain points? And how do we solve it? So I feel like for a corporate partner, maybe you fill out the head of HR or the head of whatever department it might be. But they are thinking on behalf of the company, what are their pain points? And how can we solve those pain points for them, right.

[00:33:51.980] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Exactly. Yeah.

[00:33:53.450] – Boris
I love it. If they haven’t… Starting with a blank page for most things is pretty difficult. I know you have some resources and some templates. If nonprofits want to get started and want to kind of leap frog those first awkward moments of sitting in front of their keyboard, what can they do?

[00:34:12.740] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. So I have two things that I can offer to help. First, if you go to bridgraise.com slash gettingstarted, there’s a free download there that goes through the why and the what, and some of the key questions to ask yourself in that. And a few more things that you might want to do internally just to get ready before you start reaching out. So that’s free. You can download that. And then I also have a bundle at bridgebaise.com slash timesaving templates, and it’s a low price offer.

[00:34:43.520] – Heather Nelson
And I basically have, the research brief is in there, an outline for an introductory proposal, some email samples for that three-line email. So I have a bunch of things in there that are designed to just get away from starting from scratch. Of course, every organization will modify them slightly to meet their own personal needs.

[00:35:04.981] – Boris
You would hope so.

[00:35:05.230] – Heather Nelson
It really gets you past that, “Okay, how do I even structure this?” Because I tried it. And these ones work.

[00:35:11.880] – Boris
That’s brilliant. And I’m sure it’s a great resource for organizations. I know in marketing we have what’s called swipe files, where you literally take example copy and images and videos, whatever it might be from successful campaigns, and you modify them because if that works and there’s enough alignment, then chances are it’ll work for you, too. Or at least it’s worth a test. In this case, Heather, you’re clearly super knowledgeable on this subject. If someone wants to get started and wants to leap frog that whole initial stage of research, trial and failure, I’m sure they’re going to love the resources that you offer.

[00:35:50.110] – Boris
Is there another tool that maybe isn’t yours or resource that you recommend organizations that are looking to start or expand their corporate sponsorship program? Check out.

[00:36:03.700] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Honestly, I learned from other organizations all the time. One of my favorites is called Accelerist. They do some great research. They have a technology-based corporate partnership database that helps find alignment between your nonprofit and companies. It’s a great tool. I highly recommend going to their website and taking a look at some of their resources. So that’s what I love and turn too often.

[00:36:30.160] – Boris
I’m glad to hear that there is such a resource because I know for the foundations out there, there is the Foundation Database Online by Candid, and there’s other search tools out there, but I didn’t know that there was actually one for corporate sponsorship. That sounds great.

[00:36:47.700] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, absolutely. It is super great.

[00:36:50.170] – Boris
So, Heather, we’re going to have all these links in our show notes, obviously. So that it’s super easy for anyone to grab your tools or check out accelerist if people want to get in touch with you directly, what’s the best way that they can do that?

[00:37:02.620] – Heather Nelson
Of course you can reach me through my contact information on my website, but I love connecting with people on LinkedIn, so I know you’re sharing my link there. Follow me on LinkedIn. I drop videos in there. Tools, other… have conversations on articles that I think are relevant in this space, and I love being connected to more people there. I welcome new friends over there.

[00:37:24.150] – Boris
Awesome. As someone who has recently connected with you on LinkedIn, you share great content. So anybody who’s interested in this stuff really should connect with you as well.

[00:37:31.886] – Heather Nelson
Brilliant. Thank you so much.

[00:37:33.050] – Boris
Heather, thank you so much for being on the show today. I learned a lot. I love learning it’s one of my favorite things to do. That and teaching. So I really appreciate your time today and I’m sure everyone listening has enjoyed it as well. And if you have, folks at home, could you please please please subscribe? Leave us a review.

[00:37:50.300] – Boris
Share this with others so that more people can discover. Great experts like Heather learn more about the things that they can be doing both online and in storytelling to activate more heroes for their cause. Thank you and we’ll see you on the next episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:38:25.880] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • We’re seeing a move from marketing-based and philanthropy-based, to partnerships. (4:10)
  • Another big trend is the shift to virtual marketing, events and connections between employees and their companies. (4:51)
  • With the pandemic, more companies have leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. (5:28)
  • There are three factors to a corporate partnership done right: (7:12)
    1. Alignment on values between the company and nonprofit.
    2. Benefits that a nonprofit provides the corporation.
    3. An investment by the company that is proportional to that relationship.
  • Some of the benefits that a nonprofit partner provides a company are: authenticity and impact around their dedication to making a change, and marketing opportunities. (9:08)
  • Employee engagement and cause alignment are increasingly important as more people are looking for fulfillment beyond the paycheck, in what’s becoming known as “the Great Resignation.” (10:38)
  • It’s also beneficial for the company in terms of showing their values to consumers, who are also increasingly conscientious of the brands they give their money to. (13:05)
  • There are many different metrics or results reporting that companies might want to see from a sponsorship. You want to know that information in advance. Some are more concerned with outcomes and impact on beneficiaries. Others are concerned with employee engagement numbers. (14:32)
  • Unlike most foundation grants, or corporate grants, you want to keep the report as succinct as possible so that it’s as easy to share as possible across their media channels and annual reports. (15:43)
  • Most people at the company are only going to see the headline results and base future giving on that headline. (17:15)
  • When starting to look for companies to partner with, resist the temptation to cast a really wide net. Heather advises to start with finding 10 companies that would be a great fit. (19:10)
  • Start by looking for companies with a known alignment: those who may have given in the past, or those in your geographical area. Then try what Heather calls dream storming: brainstorm companies you think would align with your organization. (20:25)
  • Once you have your list, start researching those companies, which can be largely done on social media and websites. Your goal is to look for indicators that they’re going to align with your company. (20:25)
  • Once you have your researched list, you can move on to outreach. Have an idea of what benefits you’re going to give them, but the goal is to start a conversation in which you’re going to learn what they really value. (21:45)
  • LinkedIn, Twitter and company websites (press releases in particular) are the platforms that will be most helpful in identifying potential partners. (22:29)
  • You want to start the conversation on email, if possible. LinkedIn is a secondary option if the people you’re interested in are very active there. (23:22)
  • When initiating contact, it can be difficult to know what to say. Heather advises: Keep it short. Include the least amount of information to warrant a call back. (24:40)
  • Sometimes it can take a few tries to get the response you’d like. So hold back some additional interesting/relevant information for your subsequent attempts to get a reply. (26:05)
  • Potential corporate partners will likely check out your nonprofit before responding. So you want to be sure that your website and your LinkedIn showcase you as a great potential partner. There should be evidence that you welcome companies to support you. (27:45)
  • On your first call, be prepared to expand on your alignment and the key benefit, and have a series of questions ready to go. (29:50)
  • With each conversation, the goal is to deliver a little bit more and to build a relationship and the benefit(s) that make sense to them. (30:50)
  • For organizations new to corporate partnerships, start by answering the questions, why is a company going to give to us, and for what? (32:19)
  • More experienced organizations can be looking at more complicated versions of whys and whats, including specific items that will help connect audiences with the business brand. (32:46)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson

President/Lead Consultant, BridgeRaise

Heather Nelson MBA CFRE
Heather Nelson is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise. BridgeRaise focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for non-profits and Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships. To tap into Heather’s practical resources, check out www.bridgeraise.com or connect on LinkedIn

Connect with Heather Nelson

EP31 - Clay Buck - Featured

Episode 31: How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 31

How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck

In this Episode:

Are nonprofit fundraisers forgetting that donors are people and alienating them in the process? When it comes to campaigns, donors are commonly segmented into convenient, pre-defined buckets, based on the amount of and time period since their last donation.

While that’s a good starting point, its assumptions and lack of nuance may be doing more harm than good. The truth is that nonprofit donors don’t see themselves in terms of your fiscal year, your budget or your segments. Segmenting and communicating with them based on their last gift or trackable trend reduces your relationship to “what have you done for me lately?”

T. Clay Buck, an individual giving consultant, has performed countless database audits and has witnessed this alienating segmentation trend too many times. Clay joins us this episode to share his approach to finding the story that donors are telling organizations, and challenging the standard segmentation processes, to make a more personal connection and increase donor engagement.

[00:00:18.050] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.540] – Boris
Hi Everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. That da-ding just makes me smile every time. I love it. We’ve got a great show lined up for you today. My guest is Clay Buck, and we’re going to be talking about storytelling and data and donors. And really, where the three intersect, so that you could better listen to the stories that your donors tell you so that you can respond and engage them accordingly. So let me tell you a little bit about Clay Buck. He is the founder and consultant at TCB Fundraising.

[00:00:51.550] – Boris
He is a 30 year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a frontline fundraiser as he has a consultant. Boy, that really makes him sound like he’s been down in the trenches of this fundraising war, which I kind of understand. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high-level results. He is the founder and lead consultant for TCB Fundraising an individual giving fundraising consulting firm. He has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.

[00:01:26.300] – Boris
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia and MFA from Michigan State University and a certificate in professional writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a certificate in philanthropic psychology with distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP master trainer. That’s pretty impressive. Clay describes his superpower as “building the processes and systems that create strong individual giving programs.” And with that, let’s bring Clay on to talk to us about all of those things.

[00:01:57.760] – Clay Buck

[00:01:59.200] – Boris
Welcome to the show, my friend.

[00:02:01.650] – Clay Buck
Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:03.440] – Boris
It’s exciting to have you on. I’m looking forward to hearing all of the wisdom that you’re ready to impart on us.

[00:02:09.524] – Clay Buck
Oh, gosh.

[00:02:10.550] – Boris
But first, I did read that you have your MFA.

[00:02:14.117] – Clay Buck
I do.

And I happen to know you’re a bit of a theater nerd like myself. No pressure Clay, but why don’t you tell us your story?

[00:02:24.450] – Clay Buck
Yeah. I started out to be an actor. I did… really, when I was an undergraduate, I did an internship at a smaller summer stock theater in North Carolina. And my internship was running the box office. And so, “You bought your ticket. You want to give $25? $50? $100 to support the theater?” with every ticket sale. And fast forward, finished my master’s degree, moved to Chicago and realized that A) I hated auditioning and B) the $300 that I had in my pocket was not going to be enough to sustain this lifestyle.

[00:03:00.020] – Clay Buck
So I wound up getting a job as a grant writer and sort of made the connection, “oh, this business of fundraising is the same thing that I was doing at this theater.” Okay. Made the connection. And as they always say, if you find something you love more and can do better, go do it. So I did. So that was 30 years ago. Then I started doing that. And then just through that process, developed… I’ve done somewhat everything from being a grant writer to special events to corporate foundation and really developed a love and an affinity for individual giving, particularly at the low and the mid range.

[00:03:37.210] – Clay Buck
So I have really zeroed in and focused on that as kind of of where the area of fundraising and I love the most and work in the most.

[00:03:44.920] – Boris
All right. Not bad. That’s a good story.

[00:03:47.370] – Clay Buck
Not bad.

[00:03:50.810] – Boris
I’m a theater snob, Clay, so not bad for me is one of the highest compliments you could possibly get.

[00:03:55.830] – Clay Buck
Okay. Well, there we go. There we go.

[00:03:58.070] – Boris
Yeah. No, but it had a good opening. Nice hook, middle, and I liked it. I like it. You’re a good storyteller, Clay.

[00:04:04.770] – Clay Buck
I try. I do try.

[00:04:07.230] – Boris
So that’s your story. Now you’re working in individual giving programs, helping organizations develop, optimize, do all of that kind of stuff. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing out there in the trenches.

[00:04:19.300] – Clay Buck
Yeah. So when I started my own firm a couple of years ago and again, a chief development officer, I’ve been on the front lines. I also worked for a couple of different consulting firms, as well. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the equation. Where I really focus is building strategy and the infrastructure and process for individual giving. And I’m— volatility is the wrong word because volatility implies some negativity. It implies… or at least it does to me. But I’m seeing a lot of volatility in individual giving.

[00:04:56.170] – Clay Buck
And there is a ton of great technology. There’s a ton of great strategy. There’s a ton of information and learning. And I am seeing a lot of “let’s try this. Let’s do this. Let’s adjust this. We can add this. We can do social media, we can do this streaming…” Right? So there’s a whole lot of noise. Where I’m seeing the real success is defining strategy and using data to tell us which way to go. Looking back at that historical data and historical donor behavior to tell us what’s the best strategy for us, which direction should we go? And where should we be implementing the most?

[00:05:38.510] – Clay Buck
And the way I frame it is—because we’re both actors we’re both theater people, we talk a lot about storytelling and the stories we tell our communities, the stories we tell our donors, how we’re telling the story of our case for support. I kind of frame this as “what’s the story the donors are telling us?” And they’re telling us those stories by what data they provide, how they behave, what their giving patterns look like.

They’re telling us their stories in a whole lot of different ways. It’s on us to really be listening to it and to be looking for what those stories, and how they’re informing how we work with and talk to our donors. Right?

[00:06:15.340] – Boris
Yeah. So first of all, I think it’s great that nonprofits are out there experimenting with all these different things, and I encourage them to do so. I do feel like—and maybe this is what you were implying—there’s a lot of “let’s just throw things at the wall and see what sticks” rather than a concerted strategy for their online engagement, for their efforts. So, a bit of a Catch 22. Good on them, but also now let’s take it to the next level and really sharpen our focus and actually use data to see what’s working and what’s not working. That’s a whole other level. That’s step three, let’s say, but we’ll all get there, I hope.

[00:07:00.860] – Boris
So with these stories that donors are telling us… first of all, what are you seeing? Are there any trends right now in data that you’re seeing? What kind of organization are you even working with at the moment to pick this up on?

[00:07:14.480] – Clay Buck
And I personally, I work with a wide range. So I have everything from large scale programs with hundreds of thousands of records to the small nonprofit with literally 250 records. The trend seems to be the same across the board. Here’s the fundamental thing. And especially if we look at giving over the last year: donors care. There’s a lot to care about. And in many ways, donors are trying—they are trying to exercise their philanthropy. They’re trying to exercise their caring by giving to us. They might, well, it’s not might… They aren’t following our rules.

[00:07:53.710] – Clay Buck
They’re not necessarily behaving and saying, I give year over year, so I fall into a clean retention rate analysis. They’re not following standard paths of upgrading, and they are definitely not following standard path of channel behavior. So they’re giving online. They give via check. They come to an event. They’re all kind of over the map. What donors are saying to us is, “I care about you doing it on my terms and in my ways. And in the way that makes the most sense for me and my family to do it.”

[00:08:26.040] – Clay Buck
One of the biggest trends that I see… so, one of the services that I offer and do, and I do a lot of them, is database audits, where we really dig into the data and look at the giving trends over as long a history as we can get. One of the biggest trends that I see in every single file that I look at is what I call “consistent, but not consecutive.” So a donor will make a couple of gifts in one year, and then they take a year off, and then they give another gift that’s higher than the last gift or lower than the last gift.

[00:08:55.160] – Clay Buck
And then they take 18 months off, and then they give three gifts right in row. So when we look at it over the history, they don’t necessarily behave in what our standard segmentation would would define. Right? We tend to think, right: current donor, lapsed donor, long lapse, LYBUNT, SYBUNT. And those have very strict definition, whether it’s a year or 18 months or so forth. When we look at it, historically, we see donors coming in and dropping off. And what happens if we standardize our approach, we’re treating them like you’re a current donor or you’re not.

[00:09:32.500] – Clay Buck
So they’re giving, and they’re actively engaged with us how they want to be engaged. But we keep shifting how we think about them because we’re not looking at them from a longitudinal perspective. And the biggest point there is in the testing and in the analysis that I’ve done and I’m seeing: those folks are out there walking around going, “of course I’m a supporter. Of course I’m a donor. I believe in taking care of…” whatever the mission is. In their minds, their loyal supporters in our minds, their lapsed donors.

[00:10:09.450] – Clay Buck
So how do we shift our approach to approach them the way they think of themselves?

[00:10:13.660] – Boris
So it sounds like even though you’re analyzing the data, you’re saying that they’re not points of data, they’re actual humans?

[00:10:19.870] – Clay Buck
That’s shocking, isn’t it, right?

[00:10:23.680] – Boris
Yeah. And so, as humans, I’m sure they’ve got their lives beyond our organizations. And they’ve got their concerns and their priorities beyond our organizations. Many priorities shifted over the last couple of years. A little pandemic swept through the world. Is still kind of here. And so I’m sure that shifted a lot of patterns as well. Is there any sort of consistency in terms of people went away and they’re coming back or is it really down to the individual?

[00:10:54.940] – Clay Buck
It’s really down to the individual. I mean, a lot of organizations, many organizations were very fortunate to see kind of an uptick during the pandemic. Right? Some crisis giving some “I need to feel agency. I need to feel control. I’m going to give to a thing.” So I think we’re still kind of evaluating what those kind of one-time donors look like and how they behave. But there’s always something. And I don’t mean to minimize the years of the pandemic, but there’s always something that might drive, right, this increase in one time gift or caring gifts or crisis giving, quote, unquote.

[00:11:31.630] – Clay Buck
The question that we really have to look at is, who are the donors that keep coming back to us in different ways? Who are the donors that are sticking around with us and through their behavior and through what they provide to us in terms of data, are telling us that they have a loyalty and an affinity that we might not necessarily see.

[00:11:53.640] – Clay Buck
And I will also add, it’s not just giving behavior. It’s actually what data they provide us, because it’s a whole lot easier now to just in drop my name in, right? I can drop my name in. I can fill out my credit card information. I can do this. I can do giving really quickly. There are a whole bunch of different ways that I can send a gift to super fast without giving you. But if a donor is taking the time to give us their name, their email address, their address, their contact information… they’re filling out forms. They’re responding to the surveys. Whatever it may be. If a donor is taking the time to share that information with us, what they’re essentially saying is, hey, Boris, I want to hear more, right?

[00:12:31.360] – Clay Buck
I’m trusting you with my information. I’m trusting you with my name, with my contact information and saying, Tell me more, and they’re waiting on us to respond to them.

[00:12:41.550] – Boris
Yeah. So, oftentimes the donor doesn’t receive a lot of consistent communication and engagement and might therefore drop off, become a lapsed donor. And it just looks like a data point that flipped off—a switch off—rather than trying to look at what the causality underneath that might be. I want to come back for a second to what you were saying in terms of COVID giving and how some organizations definitely saw upticks because of the need that was presented during the pandemic and the challenges that communities were facing.

[00:13:19.980] – Boris
I think. And maybe you could confirm or deny this in terms of the data you’re seeing. But to me, it feels like people who already care about specific organizations, those are the organizations they turned to—back to—to support and give more to, when they were worried either that the organization wasn’t going to have the funding that it needs. And I saw this a lot. Or when they thought, oh, this community needs help instantly. They associate giving that help with the organization that they already believe in and trust.

[00:13:53.220] – Boris
Does that sound about right?

[00:13:55.330] – Clay Buck
It sounds about right. I have no data to support this. So this is purely anecdotal kind of what I’ve seen from organizations that I work with, kind of what I’ve seen from the community that I live in. I think the overarching statement is that giving the act of giving gift donor agency, it gives us the ability to say I feel out of control. I acknowledge that this huge situation is happening. I want to do something about it, but I’m in lockdown. I’m five thousand miles away. I’m trying to deal with my own family in my own job, but I care and I’m concerned. I want to do something.

[00:14:36.370] – Clay Buck
So the act of giving gives us and gives donors some level of control to be able to say “I did something.” Right? And, “I feel good about myself.” More than likely donors that increased giving during the pandemic—and this is true of any crisis giving when you see a hurricane, a natural disaster, times of national tragedy and anything like that—people are giving to something that gets to their core identity and their core values. Who I am as a person. The things that I care about on a daily basis that I see myself as kind and thoughtful and caring and generous in these areas.

[00:15:13.160] – Clay Buck
For me and my family, that’s animal rescue. That is our go to when we feel we need to do something we go to. And then the organizations who told really good stories to donors who didn’t know about them or the work that they do in the midst of crisis in the midst of anything, give introductions to new ways to capitalize on that feeling. I do think donors tended most to go either to organizations they already cared about or to organizations and missions that have very, very, very clear, identifiable impact on the situation itself.

[00:15:51.320] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love that you brought up that donating makes them feel like they have some sort of agency. It’s something that they can actively do. Because that’s, talk about storytelling, that’s something I talk about all the time. You are—your organization is empowering somebody to become a hero who may or may not feel powerless without the work that you do. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t know that I could affect the food shortages in certain communities. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t have the ability while I’m in lockdown, as you just said, to make a positive change in the world. So you’re allowing me to be a hero under these circumstances.

[00:16:37.900] – Clay Buck
Do you know the starfish story? That old sort of anecdote. If I could let me just really quickly, right? A guy goes down to the beach at sunset. The tide has gone out, and there’s another man, an older man on the beach. And he’s walking down the beach. And all of these starfish have washed up. And as the tide washed out, it left him stranded on the beach. And this older man is walking along and he bends over and picks up a starfish, throws it back in the ocean so that it’s in the water. Otherwise it’s going to dry up.

[00:17:07.930] – Clay Buck
The guy watches him do this. And he’s doing the starfish one at a time, and he finally goes up to him and he says, look, why are you doing this? There are literally thousands of starfish on this beach. You cannot possibly make a difference for all of them. The guy bends over, picks up a starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, “made a difference for that one.” And I think that’s what donors are telling us. And again, this is why I love the low in the mid range donors.

[00:17:34.830] – Clay Buck
I think these donors are saying to us, I’m out of control here. I can’t control this global situation. But you know what I can do? I can feed one person. I can rescue one dog, I can educate one child. And this is a place that I already care about, and I can exercise a little agency, a little control and make a difference for that one. I really believe that’s what donors are telling us. Our response, then, is how do we reinforce that feeling for them?

[00:18:12.110] – Boris
Go on, go on.

[00:18:13.350] – Clay Buck
Which, which again, I go to the patterns that donors give tell us a lot about how—see, I don’t think donors—I don’t think I know. Donors don’t care about our fiscal year. Our annual year donors give when they’re going to give. Our responsibility is to make sure they have the pathway to give they have the opportunity to give. I do not talk about asking donors. I talk about creating an offer. I talk about creating an invitation. That’s what we’re doing. Whatever platform, whatever channel, however we’re doing it, we are creating an offer for them to make a difference in the world, or we are inviting them to be a part of our mission, inviting them to be a part of our visions and creating pathways to make that easier for them.

[00:18:59.360] – Clay Buck
We’re very good at sending out multiple emails, multiple whatever platform we’re using. We’re very good about putting out multiple times and giving donors a lot of ways to say “no,” “not now,” “not yet.” They’re giving on their timeline. And again, when we look at their behavior—and I have done hundreds of these by now, if not thousands, which is terrifying—in every data file I look at, there is always a core group of donors, a smallish but significant percentage of donors who give multiple times per year, give every other year…

[00:19:38.220] – Clay Buck
They’re giving on their schedules because they’re not—in their minds, they just gave. In our data, it was 14 months ago, so now they’re a LYBUNT, right? I think if we start to construct some of our segmentations and some of our approaches in acknowledging that… “Boris, you’ve been one of our most loyal and generous supporters. We were just going through our records and seeing that you have been giving to Acme charities for seven years. Wow. That’s amazing. The difference that you have made over those seven years is almost immeasurable. Thank you for being a part of that.”

[00:20:14.560] – Clay Buck
Right? If we can take that in some very simple segmentation and some very simple messaging, and what I have found is that using that again, I call it consistently, not consecutive using that and treating them as a separate segment. They’re responding wildly to it, and they are actually also converting, quote, unquote to more regular giving, quarterly monthly making commitments. Right? Because I’ve been doing that anyway, so this is an easy step for me to do. Because we’re conveying the message that “you have done this, do you want to do a little more?” Because usually the answer is, “yeah. I fed one person. If I can feed five by just giving you my credit card number? Excellent. Let’s do it!” Right.

[00:20:59.780] – Boris
Yeah. So rather than treating them as someone who gave X months ago, you’re treating them as someone who has been an active supporter in one way or another for a certain number of years. So it’s not… I think the analogy here is it’s not just what have you done for me lately or you’re only as good as your last donation. It’s you’ve been supporting us. That this low period of time and helping the community that we’re serving.

[00:21:31.150] – Clay Buck
That’s it. The analogy that I will often use is, you know that friend that you look at their name in your contacts list, and you think, “I should call them. That’s been way too long.” And it feels like you just had lunch with them. But actually, it was two and a half years ago? And you pick up the call, you pick up the phone, you call them or you text them. And it’s like no time has passed at all. And then you do meet for lunch and you’re like, “I love this. You’re wonderful. Why don’t we do this more often?”

[00:21:58.200] – Clay Buck
That’s who these friends are.

[00:21:59.821] – Boris

[00:21:59.830] – Clay Buck
Because the reality is, they’re most likely fine with us. Because they’re thinking, “yeah, of course I support Acme. Of course. I feed hungry people. Of course I rescue pets.” They’re not thinking, “oh, I haven’t written a check in 14 months or 16 months or whatever it is.” They’re thinking, yes. They’re walking around with their capes on, going, “I feed hungry people.” And then when we do reopen it in their minds, we’ve always been present. We’ve always been there.

[00:22:27.100] – Clay Buck
Yes, there are some. Yes, there are some that go, they didn’t hear from us. They haven’t heard from us. They don’t know what’s happening. And they are a little ticked off, and they are a little harder to renew. Yes, absolutely true. But I’m also convinced that there is a group that is walking around going, “I love them. I love that organization. I love what they do. I’m a part of it.” And we go, “yeah, but you haven’t written a check in two years.” Right?

[00:22:48.080] – Clay Buck
So let’s shift our story to them based upon the story they’re telling us.

[00:22:54.380] – Boris
So what should the nonprofits be doing? How can we modify our current segmentation practices, data analysis practices, whatever they are, ultimately the way that we perceive people, how do we reevaluate it and do it better?

[00:23:12.360] – Clay Buck
I think the first step truly is acknowledge. Well, actually, the first step is committing to data literacy. Right? I’m an actor. There’s nothing except having done all those light plots in undergraduate, and we used to call it “torture and design” “torture and decor.” But there’s nothing in my background that makes me an excel person. There’s nothing in my background that makes me a data person. I took algebra twice—three times, for crying out loud. But I learned early on that we needed data, and so I forced myself to get good at it. So I don’t hold anybody accountable to something I haven’t done myself.

[00:23:52.470] – Clay Buck
I do think that data literacy and technological literacy are two of the greatest skills that fundraisers can invest in right now. So understanding and working to understand the different types of segmentation that’s number one—valuing it for yourself, valuing it for your staff.

[00:24:10.780] – Clay Buck
Then secondly, acknowledging that there are different types of segmentation than what our normal sort of binary lapsed, not lapsed, current lapsed, we’ll look at, and taking the time to invest in it. I know this sounds kind of highfalutin and a little high values.

[00:24:32.860] – Clay Buck
We are in a position as a profession where we are going to have to be the ears and the advocates for using data and technology and fundraising, because it is a governance issue. But our boards and our leadership are looking at bottom line. And they’re looking at how fast can we raise how much money, how quickly. It really does become incumbent upon us to take a kind of front line in the trenches leadership role, and stop and go, “look, here is the ROI and the value of investing in data here.”

[00:25:01.400] – Clay Buck
And bring to the table, “look, I took the time and here’s what I found. I found these thousand donors that over ten years have contributed over a million dollars, whatever the number may be. And we’re going to invest in this strategy. We’re going to test it and we’re going to find out exactly how they do respond.” So the short answer is taking the time to dig a little deeper and year end is a really good time to do it. I know, year end, processes are flying and we’re approaching fourth quarter at a mad pace, and so a lot of things. But taking the time to invest in how can I look a little deeper to find the things I haven’t traditionally seen?

[00:25:43.980] – Boris
So, are there any universal starting points for actually looking at the data? Like, I really like the example that you brought up of someone who hasn’t given in 14 months. That doesn’t mean that they’re not still a recurring or repeating donor, that they’re completely lapsed and you’ve lost them, and that you need a campaign to get them back, right? Because otherwise they’re gone for good. So are there, without those specific mile posts of one year, six months, two years, whatever it might be, how do we know where to start segmenting? Where to make that switch between one bucket or another? Or is it that everybody should be in multiple buckets, but then they might get different communication.

[00:26:37.500] – Clay Buck
I think segmentation is absolutely critical. I think we can get into over segmentation and make ourselves crazy. If you have a full time data person and you have the sophistication to do multiple layers of segmentation and then deliver messaging on that, bravo, you. You are the exception, not the norm.

[00:26:55.790] – Clay Buck
Quite honestly, one of the most simple things to do. And I’m kind of giving away the farm here a little bit because this is how I do it when I audit it. Most. If not all of our CRM platforms have roll up summary fields, first gift, first gift date, last gift, last gift date, second gift, right? Second gift date.

[00:27:15.180] – Clay Buck
If you can get those six fields, you can find these people. Because what you do is you look at their first gift and go show me everybody whose first gift was five or more years ago. And then you look at their last gift and go, show me everybody from this group who is five or more years ago was their first gift. Show me everybody whose last gift was in the last two to three years. And now you start to see this group of people. “Oh, wow. Boris first gave to us in 2010. His second gift was in 2014. His last gift was in 2021?”

[00:27:47.480] – Clay Buck
And we start to say, oh, okay, Boris looks like a lapsed person. And that’s a bad example, because I did say 2021. But even so, it looks like a lapsed person. But when we see… Or using a summary field like total number of gifts… look at a lapsed donor and you see a total number of gifts of ten. That’s a huge clue that. Oh, wait. He’s been far more active than just this last gift renewal.

[00:28:14.850] – Clay Buck
Because the other thing we do—if we are doing, and a little lot still aren’t, I know that—but if we are doing a lapsed renewal, so we’re sending a specific thank you letter to a lapsed renewal and treating them as somebody who lapsed but then came back. But we look at that behavior, they have lapsed and come back multiple times. We’re just re-treating… It’s going out to that friend that you’ve missed and saying, “okay, catch me up again. What’s been going on in your life?” And your friend’s like, “come on, we did this last year, right?”

[00:28:45.910] – Boris
Yeah. And that friend analogy that you made before. I never thought about it that way, but I absolutely love it because it’s instantly something that I think all of us can relate to, where we haven’t been able to catch up with friends, but we still view them as close friends that we may have been friends with since childhood, but we just don’t get to speak on a regular basis because life.

[00:29:08.100] – Clay Buck
They’re also that friend that we describe as, I haven’t talked to them in five years, but after I call them tomorrow and said I have an emergency, they’d be the one that would be there. That’s who these donors are. They want to sit and metaphorically have lunch with us. They want to know what’s going on, but because they care, and because they’ve shown that they care, they’ll still give us a gift if we ask directly and ask, right. But let’s take the time to take them out for a beer. Not literally. Maybe literally. Some of them might be literally, you know.

[00:29:39.300] – Boris
Yeah. Or send them some beer because they might be in a different part of the country. And you’re not traveling with COVID.

[00:29:45.480] – Clay Buck
Let’s not get into shipping alcohol and all of the ramifications of that, but yes!

[00:29:48.910] – Boris
There’s delivery service. There’re delivery services. I’m not advocating anything illegal here. Clay, this is great stuff. I’m sure we could talk about a whole lot more things, but I’d like that we’ve really zeroed in on one particular thing that I think nonprofits should be thinking about right now, especially as year-end giving season is upon us. If they haven’t started yet, what’s the first thing they should do? I feel like we kind of covered this actual data.

[00:30:20.070] – Clay Buck
Yeah, audit the data. Take a look. Take the time to invest in it. Either hire a firm to do it. Sorry, shameless plug for me and the many firms that do database audits. Or take the time to pull all the data out of the CRM and just run some quick analysis on it. Use those summary fields to take the time to look and see. And while you’re at it, take the time to look at your data quality. How many addresses do you have? How many emails, where are you missing phone numbers, etc., etc., etc. Because we can’t reach our donors then, right? It’s pointless.

[00:30:49.960] – Boris
Perfect. I think that’s a great place where everybody should be starting. Even if you think you’ve been looking at your data all this time, look again. Look for those people that neatly fit into the buckets that you’ve previously made and talk to them as a human being with their own life rather than someone who lapsed off your list for X months.

[00:31:10.840] – Clay Buck

[00:31:13.220] – Boris
What’s a tool or resource, Clay, that you recommend nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals, I guess, specifically, should check out.

[00:31:21.200] – Clay Buck
I know you want to talk tech. I know “technology.” I know there’s tons of stuff out there and there’s all kinds of great resources… if it’s not on your bookshelf, if you haven’t read it, I think every fundraiser, everywhere, needs to once a year read Harold J. “Sy” Seymour’s “Designs for Fundraising.” Published in 1967, before we had technology and digital and whatever… all the things that we have. The principles in that book are the same principles today. We’re still using the same techniques. We’re still using the same strategies. And he’s absolutely right in the importance of relationship and the importance of donor behavior and how they tell us.

Sy Seymour isn’t it telling… Doesn’t say anything in the book that I haven’t said today to be perfectly honest. So that is always my go to resource, and I actually do reread it once a year just to refresh and keep myself focused.

[00:32:15.160] – Boris
And I’m sure if it’s that popular, they have a digital version, so you don’t have to—

[00:32:22.460] – Clay Buck
It was written in 1967. You’re going to get a beat up old copy from—

[00:32:24.490] – Boris
they don’t print anymore? There’s no new addition.

[00:32:26.921] – Clay Buck

[00:32:27.740] – Boris
Sounds like an opportunity to buy them all up and—

[00:32:30.240] – Clay Buck
No, don’t do that!

[00:32:31.970] – Boris
No, that would be bad. And donate them to nonprofits!

[00:32:35.480] – Clay Buck
There you go. Good. Good. That was a good recovery. It’s readily available. You can find it absolutely from your favorite book store, your favorite online source for books. But it really is just a phenomenal book. And just for perspective, Sy Seymour is who Jerry Panis learned from and developed his theories from. Right? So this is generational knowledge being passed down to it and to us all as fundraisers. I learned from people who learned from Jerry. So there’s a whole lot of generational approach there.

[00:33:10.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes, as well as anything else that we touched on in this episode and some definitions of some of the terms that we talked around that might be helpful as well. If anyone wants to follow up with you directly, Clay, what’s the best way to do that? What should they do?

[00:33:28.200] – Clay Buck
LinkedIn is the easiest. You can pretty much find me anywhere online under T. Clay Buck. It’s usually @tclaybuck or some variation thereof. LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I am on Twitter, with an alarming frequency and my Twitter handle is @tclaybuck. But you can also visit my website at TCD fundraising.com.

[00:33:50.280] – Boris
We’ll have all those links as well as the show notes and takeaways for nonprofits to get started with all the awesome things that you were just recommending to do. Clay, thank you so much for joining us today and talking about this stuff.

[00:34:03.160] – Clay Buck
My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

[00:34:04.780] – Boris
Awesome and thank you everybody for joining us today for the nonprofit Hero Factory. If you like this type of content, talking about what nonprofit leaders can and should be doing to increase the number of supporters, to activate more heroes for their cause, with experts like Clay… please, please subscribe and leave us a review. Leave us a rating on your favorite platforms, on iTunes, wherever you might listen to us so that more people can discover this show and benefit from people like Clay and all of our other amazing guests.

[00:34:34.960] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. See you next week.

[00:34:56.500] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • There’s a lot of experimentation in nonprofit fundraising today. But success only comes when there is a strategy, informed by data. (4:53)
  • Donors are telling us their stories just by providing data, like giving patterns and other interactions that they have with a nonprofit. And the data show us that many seemingly lapsed donors care about what we’re doing, they just might not be showing it in ways that neatly fit into our preconceived notions of donor behavior. (5:51)
  • One of the biggest trends that Clay sees is the preponderance of “consistent-but-not-consecutive” donors. These are supporters who may not give in consecutive periods, or may give less one time and more another. Too often, they get mislabeled into lapsed or similar categories, and the communication with them becomes inconsistent with their views. (8:40)
  • Donors are human beings with changing priorities and life circumstances. In times of crisis, their patterns change, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the causes they care about. (10:13)
  • For donors, the act of giving is an act of agency. They are attempting to make a change in the world, to right some wrong and not feel powerless. Even in times of crisis, though, they are likely to increase support for the organizations that they care about, as well as those that have a clear connection to the current crisis. (14:07)
  • The Starfish parable: donors want to feel like they’re making a difference, even in the face of unfathomable odds. (16:37)
  • Donors don’t care about a nonprofit’s fiscal year. They give when they want to give, and our job is to make that as easy as possible. Don’t assume that, just because you haven’t heard (or received a donation) from a supporter in X months, that they no longer identify themselves with your organization and cause. (18:22)
  • Creating segments of donors who are consistent but not consecutive, and approaching them as long-time friends and collaborators rather than labels like lapsed/LYBUNT/SYBUNT, and giving them a reason and a way to increase their support has proven very effective in increasing giving. (19:50)
  • The first step to changing how you view and engage your donors is to commit to data literacy. You don’t have to be naturally great with math or an Excel pro, you just have to be willing to learn. (23:18)
  • The second step is to acknowledge that there are different possibilities for segmentation than the binary tests that are dominant. Consider what your donors’ data is actually telling you about them, and then treat them accordingly. (24:10)
  • There are six donor record fields that can be pulled from most any CRM platform that, when looked at the right way, can identify your consistent-but-not-consecutive donors. Don’t send them yet another reacquisition campaign that shows you don’t understand them. (26:55)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

T. Clay Buck

T. Clay Buck

Founder/Consultant at TCB Fundraising

Clay is a thirty-year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a front-line fundraiser as he has as a consultant. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising, with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high level results. He is the Founder and Lead Consultant for TCB Fundraising, an Individual Giving fundraising consulting firm; he has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.

Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MFA from Michigan State University, and a Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology With Distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP Master Trainer.

Connect with T. Clay Buck

EP30 - Andrew Frank - Featured

Episode 30: A Systematic Approach to Asking for Money for Nonprofits, with Andrew Frank

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 30

A Systematic Approach to Asking for Money for Nonprofits, with Andrew Frank

In this Episode:

Whether you’re a nonprofit development professional, a staff member, or an individual with a passion for making the world a better place, asking for money is often a dreaded necessity. The only thing worse is the possibility of not being able to provide the service that your community needs.

How can we overcome our fears and roadblocks to ask for funding with confidence and increase the number of yeses we get?

Andrew Frank has been fundraising for projects and organizations his entire professional life. Now the Executive Director of NYC Children’s Theater and consultant to numerous organizations, Andrew teaches his step-by-step approach to nonprofit execs, development professionals, board members and even individual artists. He joins us to share his process for overcoming fears, approaching prospective donors, crafting a four-part pitch, and making the ask in a way that is most likely to get a “yes.”

[00:00:17.040] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.860] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today, I’ve got to give you a little bit of a full disclosure, if you will. Our guest today is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We’ve actually known each other for over 20 years now, because we are getting that old. Luckily, though, he also happens to be a nonprofit leader and a teacher. He teaches people how to actually ask people for money. A topic that I think is particularly critical at this time of year for organizations of all sizes, whether you have a large development staff or none at all, and you do everything yourself.

[00:00:55.870] – Boris
Really knowing how to talk to people, how to do that ask. How to properly seal the deal, if you will, or even start the conversation, I think it can be really intimidating to people. So I’m having my friend, Andrew Frank, on today to talk to us about all of that. Andrew is currently the Executive Director of the New York City Children’s Theater. I met him, like I said over 20 years ago in another theater company in another life. So previously, though, Andrew was the director of the Cultural Institutions Unit at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, where he oversaw relationships between the city and arts institutions.

[00:01:31.030] – Boris
He was also the Interim Executive Director of the Queen Symphony Orchestra and the President of TYA/USA, a national service organization that serves the field of theater for young audiences. And he now sits on the board of the Dramatic Question Theater Company, as well. As a commercial producer, in addition to a number of Off-Broadway projects, Andrew was an Associate Producer on Broadway with “Lombardi, a New American Play.” Andrew is also a personal coach with a certificate in coaching from NYU, and he describes his superpower as helping nonprofit fundraisers and artists remove obstacles, increase confidence, and increase success rates when asking for money.

[00:02:08.920] – Boris
With that, let’s bring Andrew on to tell us more of his story. Hey, Andrew.

[00:02:14.230] – Andrew Frank
Hey, Boris, good to see you.

[00:02:17.020] – Boris
Good to see you. We talk all the time, but we actually rarely get to talk on video like this.

[00:02:21.560] – Andrew Frank
No, very rarely. That’s right. We’re phone-people.

[00:02:25.690] – Boris
We are phone-people. We’re from that age. Oh, my goodness.

[00:02:29.060] – Andrew Frank

[00:02:30.250] – Boris
We don’t even FaceTime.

[00:02:31.520] – Andrew Frank
That’s true. No Zoom or FaceTime. Just good, old fashioned phone.

[00:02:36.930] – Boris
Amazing that that technology still works. It’s over a hundred and thirty years old now or something like that. I hate to misquote technology. All right, Andrew, so I’ve obviously talked you up a good bit over here, but why don’t you tell us what’s your story? How do you come to doing this?

[00:02:52.990] – Andrew Frank
Thanks, Boris. Well, I started in New York City. I came all the way from Long Island to be a theater director. And one of the things that happens when you’re 20-something and you want to direct a play in New York is you have to raise money to do it because no one’s going to hire you. So, before I even knew what I was doing, I was raising money to produce plays so I could direct them. After a while, when my circle got bigger, we started Manhattan Theater Source, which is where you and I met.

[00:03:23.450] – Andrew Frank
And I was raising money and building a board and putting that together. And then from there, I went to the Department of Cultural Affairs, where I really started to see how big institutions—my job really was covering a lot of board meetings. And so I was sitting around at boards, listening to how they were fundraising and asking for money. And then from there, I wanted to run my own organization again. So I took over New York City Children’s Theater about eleven years ago and have run a number of different organizations, as you’ve mentioned.

[00:03:58.170] – Andrew Frank
All during that time, my love of theater and individual artists stayed strong, and I kept working with them. And I got so tired of having to watch them struggle, so that I created a course on how to help people ask for money. And I started that with individual artists and then realized that the boards that I joined didn’t understand how to ask people for money, and staff didn’t know how to ask for money. So I wound up presenting that course, and it evolved over really the last 15 years.

[00:04:30.460] – Andrew Frank
Basically a primer, an outline, on helping you ask people for money. Yeah. So that’s my story. Here I am with you. That’s the latest greatest achievement is being on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:04:46.320] – Boris
I notice your eyes go up to read that to make sure you . . .

[00:04:49.380] – Andrew Frank
I want to make sure I get the branding right. Yeah.

[00:04:52.510] – Boris
Excellent. I do appreciate that. So, in that story that you just told you mentioned that you codified this into a course, which, by the way, I should say, you and I recorded a version of this course a few years ago now, and it is on the dotOrgStrategy courses, courses.dotOrgStrategy website. But, this is not just about directing people to that or trying to make money off of them.

[00:05:17.770] – Boris
We’re really just trying to share as much information as possible and as much value as possible. And we’ll talk about a few other ways that people can learn more. But let’s start with why even make a course? What makes it so challenging that people need to learn how to ask people for money?

[00:05:33.800] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. What’s amazing, I think over the years is the anxiety and the emotional barriers that people have about asking for money. Most people have a problem just asking someone. Frequently, it’s because they’re starting with friends or family. But even when it’s not somebody that they know, they feel like by asking it means something bad about them or that they’re weak or that, you know, that they’re going to get a “no” and they’re afraid of rejection. I mean, none of us like rejection. No one likes to ask somebody out and be rejected and ask somebody for money and being rejected.

[00:06:11.480] – Andrew Frank
We just don’t like that. And so I think at the end, what’s happened is that people dream about asking people for money, but they don’t actually do it because they’re afraid of taking that step. Over the years, I’ve collected all kinds of reasons on why it sucks. You know, and it’s funny, you see where people say, “Well, I’m going to get a no”, or some people say “I’m going to get a yes and then I’ll have to deliver.” But at the end of the day, really, what it comes down to, I think, is that the sort of anxiety that we have around money and this misconception that it means something is wrong.

[00:06:49.800] – Andrew Frank
It means that we are not successful, or it means that I haven’t achieved the right thing, and I’m asking you for money because I haven’t made it on my own already, or I haven’t gotten there some other way. And I think that’s the headline that goes in our heads that it means that we’re weak, we’re unsuccessful, and we have to get over that. We have to.

[00:07:14.570] – Boris
So are some people just innately better at this than others? Are all of us born with this issue, or are there just some natural born winners, if you will, that can go out there and raise money anytime?

[00:07:27.220] – Andrew Frank
You know, I have to say, throughout my years in the nonprofit sector, maybe I bumped into a few people who say, “Oh, yeah, asking people for money is fun.” It’s the “fun” in fundraising. But I would say 99% of people do not like to ask other people for money. But that being said, I think it’s a skillset. I think it’s something that you can learn. I think it’s something you can get very good at. And I think it’s something that at least you can polish and create… I think it’s a skill set. That’s the best way to describe it.

[00:08:02.140] – Andrew Frank
It’s a skill you can learn and get better at. And really what you can do is you can raise money for your nonprofit or your project that you’re working on. And I have seen many people get much better at it and become successful fundraisers. I don’t think it’s something that you either have to be naturally good at it or not good at it. I think it’s something that’s absolutely learnable.

[00:08:28.980] – Boris
So then what do you tell those folks, like myself to be honest, who are afraid for one reason or ten reasons to ask other people for money? How do we overcome that mindset?

[00:08:42.510] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. So let me just start by saying, I think the first thing to do is to challenge this idea that asking people for money means something is wrong or that you’re not successful. And I would actually ask people to go look out in the world and see who successful people are. And when you look at very successful people, whether they’re political candidates, or CEOs, or philanthropists, even the ones that give away money, they raise money. They raise money, and they’re very successful at it.

[00:09:19.250] – Andrew Frank
And actually, people who raise money become successful. And it’s like, “Oh, my God, look at that amazing person. They’ve raised so much money for this charity.” Or “they’ve raised so much money for this political movement or for this project.” I mean, when have you ever heard somebody say, “Oh, my God, that horrible person who raised $10 million to support backpacks for people in homeless shelters.” You wouldn’t. You’d be like, “Oh, my God, that person is amazing.” So the first thing I think we have to sort of say, is asking people for money is a sign of success.

[00:10:02.900] – Boris
Just the act of it on its own communicates commitment, communicates belief in yourself, communicates the value that you bring to the world about the project that you’re talking about. So I think the very, very first thing to do is to challenge the idea of why we think it’s wrong and to get over that. The second piece that I think is a big deal is practice. We don’t do it a lot. And if there’s anything in your life that you just don’t do a lot, I mean, it’s hard to do. If you don’t cook, and then like three times a year you want to sit down and cook a really nice meal, it’s hard to do. If you cook every night, you get really good at it.

[00:10:48.790] – Andrew Frank
And I don’t care what skillset that you have—you read, you watch, you get better at it. So the other part of asking people for money is practicing and doing it, and doing it regularly. I would even say for myself, as an Executive Director, I have to make a lot of phone calls to foundations. And when I procrastinate, and I put it off, and I don’t do it on a regular basis, my own anxiety, even after all these years, goes up.

[00:11:12.750] – Andrew Frank
But when I do it every week and I make it part of my routine, it’s easier to do. And so I think those are the top two. I mean, we can go deeper at other times, but those are the top two, mental and a practice.

[00:11:29.090] – Boris
Awesome, I would also add to that mental part of it. One shift that I’ve seen really helpful both to myself and to others is rather than thinking about it as asking for money, it’s offering someone an opportunity to become a part of something. To become a part of, whether it’s an organization or a project or whatever it is that’s going to do good for the world. And hopefully they already believe in the outcomes that you’re shooting for your vision, right?

[00:11:56.000] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, for sure. And I think we can talk about this more later. But when you’re asking for money, you’re asking for a specific amount of money to have a certain thing happen. A certain outcome. Would you give $5,000 so we can run an arts and education program in a homeless shelter and you’re not asking for $5,000. You’re asking to run an arts and education program at a homeless shelter. The money is the conduit, but that is definitely a good point, Boris, in terms of the mental shift.

[00:12:28.620] – Andrew Frank
But it also speaks to your belief that the program is valuable. That’s part of why we’re asking in the first place, because we believe in what we’re doing.

[00:12:38.800] – Boris
So since we’re jumping into that already anyway. Let’s talk about this. What’s the greatest challenge that people asking for money are facing today? Obviously, things are always changing in the world, but certain things also stay the same. So has asking for money changed?

[00:12:57.940] – Andrew Frank
I think, you know, it really has. I wish it hasn’t changed as much, but it has changed for a lot of reasons. One reason is that in our COVID world, there’s so much noise. So to get your message through, to get people to respond to an email, or pick up the phone, or to meet you in person, is obviously so much harder. And that particular piece, meeting in person is by far the most effective way to ask somebody for money. In-person direct ask is the best way to do it.

[00:13:35.150] – Andrew Frank
And so that being taken off the table is certainly a challenge. And then also, there’s so much need right now in the world. There’s so much competing interest in terms of need, and they’re all relevant, and they’re all, you know… from homes being destroyed by floods and wildfires, and people being homeless, and all kinds of real specific things that are going on. It’s harder to make your case. But, that being said, it’s even that more important that we’re good at it and that we practice it and that we take it on, right?

[00:14:11.700] – Andrew Frank
Because we can’t get overwhelmed and say, “Oh, well, too bad, there’s lots of people in need. My project is just going to disappear.” That would be horrible. We have to dig in deeper, I think, and overcome the challenges.

[00:14:28.820] – Boris
So ultimately, as you were saying before, we have to believe that our mission and the work that we’re trying to do is still vital to the community. And if we don’t do this, and if we don’t find ways to rise above the noise or breakthrough and make these connections, then we won’t be able to do what we do. And people are relying on us. Just because it’s not the most pressing in some ways, the sexiest thing at the moment or the most in-the-headlines thing at the moment, doesn’t mean that our mission’s not important, and that communities don’t rely on us, right?

[00:15:03.360] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. I always say to people in a workshop that the world, the world literally is counting on those people, counting on you to go out there and make these really important projects in the nonprofit sector, and the art section, the cultural sector, happen. They have to happen. Our society is not going to just automatically support these causes without the energies of the people that are making them happen. And it’s crucial for us to keep doing it.

[00:15:41.400] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. So I feel like it’s an imperative that we work at it. We get better at it and we make our nonprofit survive.

[00:15:48.520] – Boris
So then how do we do it today? Especially in this COVID, hybrid, whatever world that we’re living in, where meeting in person is so much tougher. What do we do to overcome that challenge?

[00:16:01.760] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. So the first thing I would say to people is don’t be afraid of the phone. You and I were talking about this at the beginning. I make a lot of phone calls. I talk to people on the phone. In fact, many foundations are run by people of an older generation, and they don’t like Zoom, and so they pick up the phone. Obviously for people who are comfortable on video, Zoom is great, or FaceTime, or whatever video it is. But video meetings are wonderful, and I think they’re great.

[00:16:36.240] – Andrew Frank
And then also obviously email and texting. Actually, I was thinking about this before coming on. How many people I’ve actually started to text rather than email, because I feel like email is actually getting just so clogged. But if I have somebody’s personal phone number and I can text them and get them on the phone with me and talk to them about what we’re doing, it feels more personal and it pushes through the noise. Obviously, I have to have their phone number, but I think the key is personalizing what the outreach is.

[00:17:14.460] – Andrew Frank
I think if you send a general email to 50 people that that’s not going to cut it. I think you have to take the time to individually reach out to people and then meet them where they are. If they can meet you on the street for a cup of coffee and they’re comfortable in our Covid times, do it. Always meet in person. If not, and they’re willing to Zoom, or meet with you on video, do that. If not, call them. But I think you have to find them where they are and go to them and not expect them to come to you. I think that’s a big piece of it.

[00:17:50.920] – Boris
I think that’s right on and absolutely critical. Whether it’s because the person is an older generation and there’s almost a double-edged sword to it, or double whammy maybe is a better expression. Because with COVID, people are less likely to be out in the first place, and older generation folks are more in danger of adverse effects of COVID, so they might not want to be out as much. And at the same time, a lot of them are also the ones who are less comfortable with technology, and so can’t necessarily hop on a Zoom link real quick.

[00:18:29.240] – Boris
I mean, I’ve experienced this. I’m sure we all have so many times over the last a couple of years now, that it just doesn’t happen. And many of us today don’t think, wait, I can just pick up the phone and still use this computer as a telephone that’s been in my pocket all these years.

[00:18:48.120] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. I have to tell you, we’re in the beginning of our year at New York City Children’s theater, and we do cold calls to foundations. I will call a foundation, I will leave a message, and we talk to people. And, you’d actually be surprised by how many responses we get from an actual phone call and a message. I think we get more of a response than we do when we send an email because the email is being filtered through somebody. I think reaching out and… I feel like me saying, “Hi, I’m Andrew Frank. Can I talk to you about blah, blah, blah” gets a better response than the email.

[00:19:28.420] – Boris
Everybody talks about the oversaturation, the noise, the crowdedness of spaces. But there are continually spaces that are less crowded, that if you can utilize, why not? And sometimes it is going retro, if you will, to a technology that’s older than all of us combined, that still works.

[00:19:48.120] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, absolutely. I’m a huge believer in making a phone call. If you can’t show up in person, make a phone call.

[00:19:55.460] – Boris
Right. And sometimes people are on the other side of the country or even on the other side of the world, and you can’t necessarily meet in person. It’d be great if we all have the budgets to just fly anywhere that we want. But obviously, that’s not the most effective use of our funds. So let’s assume that we’ve overcome our fears and our obstacles to fundraising, and we have figured out the best way that we can meet with someone, whether it be in person or through video or the phone or email. Or, as you correctly pointed out, text is actually growing rapidly as a personal communications method, and you want your asks to be personal.

[00:20:35.890] – Boris
So let’s assume that we’ve set aside or overcome those challenges for now. How do you teach someone? How do you actually personally teach someone to ask for money? If every ask is supposed to be personal, right? It should be crafted to the individual. Is there something that you could actually teach?

[00:20:54.460] – Andrew Frank
Yes. Well, I’ve been doing it, so I think so. I think the answer is yes. You can teach it. At least I’ve been trying. And hopefully it’s not been in vain. But yes, everything is specific. And yes, every individual, you ideally want to know what the individual cares about. But that being said, when you ask somebody for money, I think there is a basic structure that you can hold on to, especially when you’re learning and you’re doing it for the first time. And it’s simple, but if you follow it, it’s helpful.

[00:21:29.670] – Andrew Frank
First, there’s an opening, there’s an intro. “Hi, I’m Andrew. I’m Executive Director of New York City Children’s Theater. I want to talk to you about supporting some programs that we’re doing in homeless shelters,” or free tickets or something. Then that’s the first section. And then the second section is a story where you’re telling some version of why you’re here. How you’ve come here. Why is it relevant? Why is it important? “We were asked by the city to start a program in homeless shelters. We’ve been doing it for five years, blah, blah, blah.” But there’s a story that is communicated so that’s the second section.

[00:22:08.440] – Andrew Frank
The third section is an ask. And you’re asking. And some good ideas are to be very specific. “Will you give us money?” is not a great ask. “Will you give us $5,000 so that we can support X program or pay for X expense?” is a better ask. And if there’s anything that you can give in exchange for that, that’s always good. So there’s an ask, potentially an exchange. And then there’s a closing where you say “thank you very much,” and thank them for their time, whether they’ve said yes or they said no.

[00:22:46.530] – Andrew Frank
So I think if you look at that sort of anatomy of an ask, where there’s an opening, there’s a story, there’s an ask, and there’s a closing. It gives you a format to hold on to. Especially when you’re doing it for the first time. But I still think about it, and I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I still think to myself, “make sure you’re introducing yourself. Make sure you’re telling why you’re here. And make sure that you’re asking for something specific.” It’s always so hard.

[00:23:16.370] – Andrew Frank
People always ask me, how do you pick a number? How do you know how much money to ask somebody? I mean, there are tricks to that. Another time when we have more time we could figure that out, but being specific is helpful. And I also just want to say, when people give you money, whether they give you money or not, the thank you is such a big deal. I’ve heard from philanthropists and from donors how often people don’t write really warm thank you emails or call and say thank you and don’t follow up.

[00:23:50.930] – Andrew Frank
Even major institutions struggle with this. I don’t understand why that is, but it’s a big deal because getting money and keeping someone as a donor is just as important.

[00:24:02.400] – Boris
So the pitch, and I’ve had several guests talk about this particular thing that you were just mentioning. The pitch is one thing. Getting a donation though, that’s the start of a relationship. Keeping that relationship, making it feel like a bidirectional, mutually beneficial relationship is absolutely critical. Otherwise, it takes so much effort to get that donor in the first place, that why would you want to repeat that process more than you have to. Rather than the genuine connective upkeep that you could do?

[00:24:35.930] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, absolutely. When we start getting past the once you’ve asked for money and they’ve said, yes, the ongoing relationship management is really important. You really want to avoid the situation where you’re asking somebody for money once a year, and that’s the only time you connect with them. That’s generally not good.

[00:24:52.690] – Boris
And I want to tell you, yeah. There’s one organization that I’ve donated to. I don’t even mind calling them out. I use Wikipedia a lot. And so I actually am one of the few people, apparently on this planet who donates to Wikipedia. And I’ve donated different amounts over the years, and I got basically no communication with them year-round. And then just now I had an email saying, “Hey, Boris, you donated to us.” I don’t even remember if it was last year or two years ago that I donated last. “And we really appreciate it. And can you please donate again?”

[00:25:25.530] – Boris
Seriously, no sort of upkeep and no staying in touch with me over this entire time period of, “Hey, here’s how your money is working. Here’s what we’ve been able to do. Here’s how we’ve grown.” Nothing! It just comes back to me. And this is Wikipedia. Surely they know digital.

[00:25:44.100] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. Who raised these people? Don’t they know how to say thank you and then invite you to the party in the middle? I’ve heard horror stories. People give money to pay for events and then not be invited to the event. I mean, it’s not great. But the… coming back to our structure in terms of what it is when you’re asking people for money. Being gracious as part of that ask, whether they say no or they say yes, I think is really important. And I just want to add something here, which is that, when I ask somebody for money or even write up a grant or whatever, and we get a no, I always say every no is one step closer to a yes.

[00:26:32.160] – Andrew Frank
If you ask ten people, you’re not going to get ten yeses. You’re going to have to get nos. It’s just the way it goes. So whenever I get a no, I’m like, great, I’m that much closer to a yes. I mean, I think celebrating that is part of the mental and the practice in terms of getting good at it.

[00:26:51.080] – Boris
Celebrating the fact that you asked is an achievement in and of itself. That you had the chance to practice, that you’ve actually gotten some time in front of somebody. They may eventually develop into a better relationship anyway. Over time, we develop relationships that are stronger and truer and people are more likely to support you later on.

[00:27:11.140] – Andrew Frank
Absolutely. I’ve had many people say no in the moment, and then a year later or two years later, give money. Because they weren’t ready at that moment or their priorities changed, or it was a new project, and then they wanted the project to be more established. So sometimes the “no” that you get early on—in fact, one of the things that I always say is that when someone says no, one thing that you can ask them is, “I totally understand. Thank you for your time. Can I follow up with you in the future and just update you on the project? Would that be okay?” And often they say yes.

[00:27:47.430] – Andrew Frank
And then you just send updates on the project. And then you’d be surprised how often, six months later or a year later, they’re like: “Oh, wow. You’re actually doing this. I’ll give you some money.”

[00:27:56.300] – Boris
Andrew, could you also ask them if there are other types of projects that they might be interested in? So if you pitch them on one thing right now, maybe in six months, you could come back to them with something else?

[00:28:05.850] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. I think that goes to, like, trying to understand better what somebody is interested in. And, you know, there’s a classic version of people are interested in the mission, they’re interested in access, they’re interested in status, they’re interested in different things. And so sometimes when you ask somebody about a certain project, hopefully, before you’ve asked them, you have some inkling that they like, what you’re talking about. But it does happen, especially with foundations, but with individuals, too, where you say, you know… homeless shelters, and they say, no, I’m actually more interested in diversifying audiences or something. And then there’s another program that you can bring back to them. Yeah.

[00:28:52.630] – Boris
So we’ve got the intro. We got the story. We’ve got the ask. We’ve got the closing. Are there any pitfalls that we want to try to be aware of when we’re making the four sections, the four parts of a pitch.

[00:29:05.420] – Andrew Frank
I would say one thing, don’t skip the intro and the closing. It’s really annoying to get a letter from somebody or to have somebody call you on the phone and talk to you about something and then ask you for money. It feels like you’ve been hoodwinked. It’s not great. So, if you ever read a letter you get and then at the end, it’s like, oh, will you support us? It’s like, “oh, this is a fundraising letter.” It’s not nice. So it’s really important at the beginning to say, “Hi. I’m calling and I want to talk to you about supporting this organization.” So I think that’s really important.

[00:29:37.400] – Andrew Frank
The other thing that I would say is the biggest pitfall is to assume that the person understands the relevancy of the work that you’re doing or the project that you’re creating. I think we get so wrapped up in our own sense of how important it is [what] we do, that we forget that the rest of the world out there isn’t living in our office, in our head, in our programs. And we just think, of course, people would give this money, right? Because it’s so important.

[00:30:08.820] – Andrew Frank
And I think you need to make sure you don’t fall into that trap. And that you explain every time why the work is important, at least in the first ask. But reiterating it, reiterating it over and over and over again, why what you’re doing is important, why your story is unique, why the service you’re delivering is crucial, especially in this time where so many are in need. That would be the biggest thing to make sure. That’s the biggest mistake that I see is people just assuming, “Of course, people will support this, because it’s important, right? Doesn’t the world need this?” There’s a lot going on.

[00:30:46.890] – Boris
Absolutely. So if someone is just getting started, are there any tools or resources that you recommend? Or maybe someone has been doing this for a long time like yourself. Are there any resources that you recommend that they go check out?

[00:31:02.050] – Andrew Frank
Well, to start off, I’m doing the workshop with Candid on October 25th. It’s a free workshop, “How to Ask People for Money for Artists.” Feel free to join me for that. It will be an interactive webinar for a couple of hours, and it’s free. There are a few books that I like, and I’ve got them next to me because I knew this was coming. So I think I got “Fascinate”, which is all about making things attractive to people. “Positivity”, there we go. Being positive about it.

[00:31:44.520] – Andrew Frank
And I think this is one of the best books for leadership that anybody could ever look at. Leadership and Self-Deception”, and it’s all about mindset and getting yourself able to do it. It kind of addresses the issues about relevancy, and being positive, and getting out of your own head, which I think are some of the main topics that we’ve covered today.

[00:32:07.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link all of those in the show notes for this episode. And of course, we’re going to link to your free course that you’re doing your free webinar at Candid. That’s coming up on October 25th. As you said. It’s specifically for artists, or is it for anyone?

[00:32:24.740] – Andrew Frank
It’s mostly for artists. But the topic is general enough. If you’re not an artist, I think you would get a lot out of it. I think Candid wanted to be specific about it, but I’ve done this workshop for board members and for development people, really for anyone that’s thinking about raising money for something that they care about. Yeah. And we shouldn’t forget that we have a great version of the course on dotOrgStrategy. So if you want to check that out, too.

[00:32:54.220] – Boris
Yeah, we’ll have that linked up as well. It’s called “How to Ask People for Money” and it really covers all of these things in detail with worksheets and step-by-step processes. So if people want to follow up with you, Andrew, what should they do if they want to get in touch and learn more about what you’re doing?

[00:33:12.640] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. The easiest thing is to email me at New York City Children’s Theater. My email is afrank@nycchildrenstheater.org. And because I am a coach and I work with individuals and leaders and nonprofits, I really do enjoy helping people pursue their dreams and make these projects happen. I sincerely believe like you, Boris, and why this work that you’re doing is so important, is that if we don’t help nonprofit entrepreneurs and nonprofit people succeed, then the world becomes not as nice a place and we need to help.

[00:33:57.760] – Andrew Frank
So feel free to email me and I’ll get back to you because it’s important.

[00:34:03.400] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, Andrew, for being so generous with your time with us and with anybody listening, who wants to follow up.

[00:34:09.640] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, thanks, Boris, this is really great work that you’re doing.

[00:34:13.140] – Boris
I appreciate that. All right. And thank you everybody for joining us today. I hope you found this conversation with Andrew Frank around fundraising and crafting a great pitch helpful to you and the work that you’re doing. Feel free to follow up with him. Feel free to follow up with me on any questions that you might have. Including if you want something specific featured on a future episode, a specific part of the work that nonprofits do. You know, I love everything at the intersection of storytelling and technology and how that can be applied to everything. And certainly a lot of storytelling is applied to fundraising and the work that Andrew does.

[00:34:46.650] – Andrew Frank
So thank you all for joining us. We’ll see you again next week. And if you like the show, please, please, please like, comment, leave a review so that more people can discover people like Andrew and the work that we’re doing here to help you create more heroes for your cause. Bye bye.

[00:35:21.200] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Andrew shares his story: how he learned about fundraising, why he decided to teach others, and whom his techniques designed to help. Andrew believes that anyone looking to make a contribution to the world, whether through nonprofit work or through the arts, owes it to the world to make their project or their mission a reality. (2:52)
  • Most people have a tough time asking people for money. They feel that asking means something bad about them or that they’re weak, or they’re just afraid that they’re going to get a “no,” and feel rejected. (5:44)
  • Asking people for money is a skillset. It’s something that most people can learn and get very good at. (7:46)
  • Asking for money is actually a sign of success. All successful people raise money. We need to challenge the idea of why we think it’s wrong and get over that. (8:42)
  • Asking for money is like most skills; the more you do it, the better you become. (10:21)
  • One mind shift that is really helpful is rather than thinking about it as asking for money, thinking of it as offering someone an opportunity to become a part of something. Everyone wants to be a part of something that makes a difference. Asking for money is also indicative of your own belief that what you and/or your organization is doing is valuable and deserves support. (11:29)
  • Meeting in person is the most effective way to ask for— and receive— donations. But it has become harder over time. Especially with Covid. (12:55)
  • When the work you’re doing is vital to the community, you need to find a way to continue to educate and break through the noise to make real connections. (14:42)
  • What’s working today? Phone calls, email, and texting. Find potential donors where they are, and personalize your outreach as best you can. (15:48)
  • Andrew breaks down the “pitch” into a four-part structure: Intro, Story, Ask, and Closing. In each, there are specific elements that should be communicated to whomever you’re meeting with. (21:19)
  • Keeping someone as a donor is just as important as getting the donation, if not more so. This is the start of a relationship. Make sure to keep connected with them throughout the year. And always say “thank you.” (23:57)
  • In some ways, asking for money is a numbers game. Whenever you get a no, it means you are that much closer to a yes. And you never know when that connection you made might turn into something great further down the road. (26:39)
  • Before you ask somebody about supporting certain project, make sure you have some inkling as to what they like to support. (28:05)
  • The biggest mistake to avoid is skipping the intro or the closing. This is where you establish what the donor would be giving to, which is absolutely critical. (29:05)
  • We often get so wrapped up in our own sense of how important our work is, that we forget that the rest of the world out there isn’t living in our office, in our head, or in our programs day in and day out. (29:37)
    • Make sure to state and reiterate why your work is important, why your story is unique and why your service is crucial—especially at this time when so many are in need.

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Andrew Frank

Andrew Frank

Executive Director, New York City Children's Theater

Andrew Frank is the Executive Director of New York City Children’s Theater.

Previously, Andrew was the Director of the Cultural Institutions Unit at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs where he oversaw relationships between the city and arts institutions, the Interim Executive Director of Queens Symphony Orchestra and the President of TYA/USA – a national service organization that serves the field of Theater for Young Audiences. And sits on the Board of Dramatic Question Theater company.

As a commercial producer, in addition to a number of Off-Broadway projects Andrew was an Associate Producer on Broadway with “Lombardi, A New American Play.”

Andrew is also a personal coach, with a certificate from NYU.

Connect with Andrew Frank

EP29 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 29: Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 2 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 29

Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 2 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

Welcome to part 2 of our exploration of nonprofit storytelling lessons from Hollywood and beyond. This installment covers 15 elements of style and structure, and another 6 tips for laying out your action. Each concept can be directly applied to better telling your nonprofit’s stories.

When most people think of storytelling, they tend to think of it as a freeform art. While that’s true to some extent, most every great story relies on specific structural elements and clear stylistic decisions. Of course, within that structure and those guidelines, there is endless room for creativity.

Whether you’re new to nonprofit, new to storytelling or have been working with both for years, these concepts can help you refine your strategy and spark ideas for new ways to share your important work with the people who need to hear it.

[00:00:04.720] – Intro Video
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-ding.

[00:00:21.930] – Boris
Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This is another episode in our series on Hollywood Storytelling Tips for nonprofits. I began the series about a month ago now helping organizations figure out some of the key storytelling elements that every great story should have. I’m basing everything, of course, on the Hollywood formula because it is one of the most successful formulas of all time, arguably the most successful and certainly in terms of revenue. You know, if you’ve ever enjoyed a movie, been inspired or moved by a movie by what you saw or even just greatly entertained and appreciated that entertainment, then you’ve experienced the power of a great story, specifically in the way that Hollywood has put it together.

[00:01:05.390] – Boris
It doesn’t mean that those stories have to be on video, that they have to be big budget. In fact, so many of the great Hollywood stories are not on a big budget. They’re told with low budget cameras and actors who may not even be at the top of their game yet. And yet they can come together and create a story that’s really exciting and fun to watch. I don’t want the term Hollywood to make people think that this has got to be big budget blockbuster, superheroes fighting with special effects.

[00:01:35.820] – Boris
Sure, that’s one type of story, but there are so many different ones. And in the first part of the series, I covered how to set up your stories by first framing your goals and then really understanding your audience and the characters involved. Once you know what you want to achieve and whom you’re speaking to, who you want to step up and become the hero of the story. Now it’s time to take a good look at how you’re going to tell it. This is where that “do we need a blockbuster?” part comes in.

[00:02:03.940] – Boris
In the end, you see, all stories work on similar principles, and any story can theoretically be told in countless different ways. Today, let’s look at what story structure looks like and the elements that we want to include to capture and keep attention as well as to inspire our audience to hopefully become heroes for our cause by taking the actions we need them to take. And that starts by thinking about what style you’re going to be telling your story in.

[00:02:31.730] – Boris
Now again, it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. There are rom-coms, there are documentaries, there are thrillers, there are action movies. All of them have their place, and all of them can tell a story in a different way. In fact, you could theoretically take the same story and frame it differently, tell it a little bit differently, using different dialogue, different staging, whatever it might be, and suddenly turn it into a different genre. Some of my favorite clips on YouTube are actually taking known movies and remixing them into something that looks and sounds completely different, oftentimes adding a different sound track, which is also an important part of the Hollywood storytelling system, which you can use sometimes in your own productions. Obviously, music plays a role.

[00:03:16.010] – Boris
But what’s key is to first start by picking your style and shifting styles midway through is often disorienting. If you’ve ever watched a movie that started out as a comedy but then shifted into a horror film, I don’t think that he has happened and have been made that way, but if you’ve ever seen a movie that starts with one thing and then turns into another and you feel kind of lost in the story or it’s trying to mix too many styles, right?

[00:03:43.100] – Boris
Oftentimes that happens at the risk of actually keeping an audience focused and following along because it’s very disorienting. First start by choosing your style and then choose your genre. Right? Your genre is specifically whether it’s a Rom. Com or a sitcom, if it’s a TV series. Think about, is this a feel good story? Is it a tragedy? Is it a romantic comedy, a documentary or a cautionary tale? Right? Those are all valid genres, and you want to be really careful because you never want to seem like you’re telling a tragedy in the sense that this is bleak and this is how things are.

[00:04:27.090] – Boris
You always want to be, including some element of hope, some element of progress. That people are not just going to always be in this situation, but that with my help or with the audience’s, the heroes’ help. People are going to be in an improved state of life. They’re going to either be more educated or they’re going to have more food and not worry about where their next meal is coming from or have shelter or have arts, whatever it might be. You want to have that kind of hope in every single story that you tell, especially if it’s the story of one of your beneficiaries so that you don’t feel like you’re just trying to tug at heart strings, but also to inspire people that change is real.

[00:05:17.160] – Boris
And then you want to be true to your medium. So as I said before, not every story has to be on video. It doesn’t have to be a big movie. It could be a podcast, it could be a video series, a webinar, it could be in a sequence of emails or a single email. It could be a blog post. Any of those things and all of the different other media types that are available and increasingly becoming available to all of us as consumers and as creators, they all have their own elements of structure and their own constraints.

[00:05:50.890] – Boris
Remember? One of my favorite expressions is, creativity loves constraints. So embrace the limitations of whatever medium you are telling your story in and then feel free to play with them and see how you can use them to your advantage. Every weakness is actually a strength, if looked at the right way. So be true to your medium, but then also know when to break the rules. So you don’t always have to follow proper etiquette when it comes to storytelling, because sometimes breaking with that etiquette will get the attention you want.

[00:06:27.560] – Boris
You always, of course, want to be careful that you don’t break etiquette for the sake of breaking etiquette, and you don’t offend people whom you definitely don’t want to offend. Often, certain politicians and organizations might—I don’t see this very often with nonprofits, but they might actually vilify somebody and put other organizations for other people down in order to make their point. That’s not the kind of etiquette that I’m talking about, you should break. I don’t personally believe in that. I believe in uplifting people instead of putting them down.

[00:07:00.900] – Boris
But you do want to break out of norms sometimes. Whether it’s your voice… So if an organization has a particular voice that they usually tell their stories, and sometimes a change of voice might be just the thing you need to start attracting new attention or to sort of dislodge people from the groove that they’ve already been in with your organization, get them to pay attention to anew. And then you want to know your POV. Now POV is a common term. It comes from—I believe it comes from Hollywood, where there’s a POV shot. Maybe I’m wrong there maybe actually came to Hollywood from somewhere else.

[00:07:37.800] – Boris
But the point of view is often decided before a movie is ever shot. Every movie has what’s called a shot list where they’re going to talk about… Okay, first, we’re going to have a third-person point of view where we’re going to have a medium shot. Let’s say then we’re going to have an over the shoulder POV shot, and that’s going to be approximately through the character’s eyes through one of the characters eyes looking at the action or looking at another character.

[00:08:01.700] – Boris
Similarly, in your own stories, it’s never an objective third party person that is just watching and relating a story. That person has a point of view. They have their perspective on things, and it’s totally valid. Whomever your narrator is, should have an opinion. Maybe they’re happy about something that’s going on, or maybe they’re disappointed with the state of the world today. Or maybe they’re excited by the possibilities. Right? But either way, they have a perspective. And oftentimes if it’s someone who is on your staff, that perspective is one of authority because you are an expert in your field. You are someone who knows—or the staff-person speaking knows—something that the majority of people don’t know. So that’s a valid and important point of view that they could be taking. And that instructs how that story might be told.

[00:08:53.440] – Boris
So once you have those elements now, we could really look at how a story is structured. So what do I mean by that? Every Hollywood movie follows a formula. Now they don’t all do it perfectly. In fact, they often times will break with the norm on purpose.

[00:09:10.830] – Boris
And we’ll talk about that a little bit more. But there’s a reason why they do it. Because within that structure, they can do a whole lot of different things, including even improvisation. Movies aren’t always completely scripted, and that’s okay. But knowing it well helps you organize your thoughts in order to then change them around in any way that you want to make the story more interesting and more compelling. So let’s talk a little bit about that. Of course, the classic story structure is simply a beginning, a middle and an end.

[00:09:43.680] – Boris
Every story must have those three things in order to really feel like a story to us. If it’s something that doesn’t have an end, then we feel kind of left wanting and a little disenchanted with the storyteller. If it doesn’t have a beginning, we might start off confused, which sometimes is intentional. And if it doesn’t have a middle, if it just jumps from the beginning to the end, then we’re often left unmoved because we’re not sure how the transformation took place. And that’s another thing that every story must have.

[00:10:13.650] – Boris
So people often don’t have the patience, for example, for a slow start. So don’t feel like you have to go all the way back. You can begin anywhere you want to begin. In fact, some of my favorite movies and plays don’t begin at the story’s beginning. But the plot, the action starts somewhere later on, maybe even at the end. In the case of one of my favorite places, Betrayal by Harold Pinter or the movie Memento, where it’s actually being told in reverse chronological order in a really interesting way.

[00:10:42.890] – Boris
Those are all great devices, but within those stories, if you were to take them apart, you could actually reshuffle them back into an order of beginning, middle and end, because all those parts don’t need to be covered. That said, you want to tell a complete story or a complete part of a story. So whatever point you start at and order you choose to go in, make sure to paint a complete picture by the time you’re finished, or give the audience a quick way to learn the rest, for example.

[00:11:12.810] – Boris
So if you’re doing short form storytelling on social media, you’ll often have that link to deeper content that they could find on your website or on YouTube or wherever else you create your content. You’re essentially telling a short version of the story, a teaser for the story and saying, hey, you want the full thing? Great. Go find it over here. We’re happy to share it with you. Right?

[00:11:32.960] – Boris
And then one thing that I advise people to do when telling stories because there’s a lot of different stories you could tell, and sometimes it’s hard to think of all of them is to celebrate victories. So, whenever you’re watching a movie that does have any sort of action, and that could include romantic action, there are ups and downs. There are highs and lows. Those ups are victories. The characters have experienced something that has made them feel better, made their world better, has somehow been a success. You want to be sure to celebrate those because they might not happen every day. But that’s even the more reason why they’re so important to show people that victory is possible, that there is hope for the future. And together we can get there, right? Every step forward is a step toward achieving your mission.

[00:12:22.200] – Boris
But you do want to acknowledge setbacks, and this is the next tip. Movies and their heroes don’t have a straight path to victory. In fact, if you could see my hand, it kind of goes up and down, up and down. New highs, new lows, new highs, new lows. Because stakes are constantly being increased. If a character knew everything that they had to do at the end in order to succeed, they would probably be too scared to do it in the first place so they wouldn’t get started.

[00:12:52.370] – Boris
They would never become a hero. The world would never change. There are setbacks along the way, and that’s okay because you’re going to then show people how you help them overcome those setbacks. One of the quotes I like is that the measure of a hero or a person, a man—I think it was originally said, I don’t like to use those gender specific terms—is not how many times he or she falls down, but how many times they get back up, right? So that’s acknowledging your setbacks.

[00:13:21.860] – Boris
One other thing I want to say about that is that failures are normal. We all fail. We all have setbacks in our lives. And when you’re telling specific stories of a specific person’s journey, hopefully it is a journey that leads them through transformation and gets them to a better place in life. But if you don’t show along the way the challenges that they have or the challenges where they started or along the journey. If you’re not able to show those, then the people are not going to feel three dimensional and they’re not going to feel relatable.

[00:13:56.070] – Boris
There are scientific studies that show that when someone opens up and shows their vulnerability, they actually elicit a response in—a neurochemical response in our brains. That is the release of oxytocin. That oxytocin is the chemical that helps us feel trust and compassion both at the same time. And aren’t those the very things that you want people to feel when they’re thinking about your organization? So when you’re opening up feeling vulnerable, talking about the vulnerability, people will relate. They’ll feel like you’re a human being, right? No one wants to give money to Nike, but people do want to feel something based on the shoes and the experience around the clothing.

[00:14:42.140] – Boris
No one wants to give money to an organization that is just some umbrella name. They want to give money to people working in an organization for a cause that we all believe in and want to succeed. So acknowledging those setbacks helps us feel like you’re a human being and this is human to human, which is ultimately everything that we want to achieve.

[00:15:06.740] – Boris
The next thing you want to do in storytelling, and this is a fun device is foreshadowing. So if you are telling a story that may take a little bit longer, let’s say to get to the end, you want to maybe hint at what’s coming down the road that opens up a loop in our brains. We naturally want to close that loop, and we will be much more likely to stay tuned to the end to get that loop closed, to feel that piece of information filled in.

[00:15:36.860] – Boris
We don’t like having these question marks hanging in our minds. So it might be like something along the lines of now, before we tell you how this person did this, let’s start at the beginning. Oh, wow. This person was able to do this, and you’re going to tell me how that opens up that loop. You’re foreshadowing what’s going to happen later. That’s just one example or you could say, “but more on that later,” in some way, at some point in your story. And I do that oftentimes, even in my interviews, they say, hey, you know what? We’re going to come back to that later. But first, let’s expand on the issue that we’re talking about, right? So it gives people an incentive to stay tuned and stay focused on your story.

[00:16:18.350] – Boris
The next tip that I find very difficult to do, to be honest, is to take the time to make it short. So Mark Twain once signed a long letter of his in which the PS, I believe, was, I apologize, and I’m paraphrasing this, But Mark Twain said, “Please forgive me for the length of this letter that this letter is so lengthy, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” And that’s kind of funny. It sort of in Mark Twain’s way, makes you think and put some question marks up in your brain. Why does it take longer to write something that’s shorter? The truth is, it’s easy to ramble.

[00:17:04.760] – Boris
It’s easy to go on and on. It’s easy to include much more than someone needs in a story. But everything that’s not critical, that’s not serving a very specific purpose in your story—that is an opportunity for someone to become distracted, to tune out. To… as one of my theater director teachers used to say, that gives them the chance to start counting the lights in the theater, and as soon as they’re counting the lights, you’ve lost them. Movies are often made in the editing process. They are edited and reedited and condensed and re-condensed in order to make them as efficient as possible.

[00:17:44.380] – Boris
Every little scene. Basically, every word has to contribute to the objective, the super objective and the plot of the movie otherwise is cut on the editing room floor. So take the time to edit it down to the essentials. But of course, not so much that you’re removing the human factor.

[00:18:05.650] – Boris
The next tip that I have is to feed them elephants. Now, of course, I don’t advise anyone ever actually elephants. I love them. They’re beautiful creatures, and they should be protected as they often are. So what do I mean by feeding elephants?

[00:18:21.080] – Boris
There’s a quote that says, “how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time?” It’s by Creighton W. Abrams, Jr. And I confess I don’t know anything else that Creighton Abrams said or wrote, but that one has really stuck with me. The story of our organization, of our work, of our lives… it’s long. It’s very long, and that if you’re trying to boil it down and just get it to one small thing in the way of making it short, you might miss out on a lot of different things.

[00:18:55.620] – Boris
So instead of trying to boil down someone’s life into a sentence or into a two minute video, you may just want to focus on one specific element and then have people come back for the next installment… the next element of the next tale from their lives. So feel free to focus in on one particular part of a journey or one particular transformation that your programming has had on a particular person or your own experience with your organization. Zoom in on one thing and tell that story in a short, compelling way. Then people are much more likely to come back for the next bite of that elephant. The proverbial elephant.

[00:19:38.440] – Boris
One more device to add to that in the realm of keeping people coming back, is throwing in some cliff-hangers. Now, cliff-hangers—some of us that are old enough to remember these types of movies now—are actually the end of a movie. The end of a double feature… the first part of a double feature, oftentimes where the hero is literally left hanging on a cliff. That’s why it’s called a cliff-hanger.

[00:20:03.630] – Boris
And you want to know what’s going to happen to that hero. You’re excited, you’re scared, you’re angry, perhaps even that the hero is there in that position. And so you’re much more likely to stay for the second half of the double feature, past the other reels that might come in between the commercials, whatever it might be, go out and buy some more popcorn. Really, that’s what the theater wants you to do, right? You want to know what’s going to happen to this person. So a cliff-hanger is the term for stopping a story at a very exciting point and saying, I’m not ready to tell you the rest of it just yet. You’re going to have to come back later.

Very effective advice. Don’t overuse it, because when you do people will stop tuning in. I’ll give you an example. When The Lord of the Rings movies came out, I hadn’t read the books. My mistake. And I saw the first movie and I loved it. I watched it. And when it got to the end, it didn’t end. It just stopped. And that was upsetting to me because I wanted some sort of conclusion, some sort of wrapping, some sort of bow on that present that they had given me. And I didn’t get that experience.

[00:21:13.720] – Boris
I was upset. I didn’t go see movie number two in theaters. I waited ’til three came out, and then I watched one and two back to back and then went to go see number three. Don’t overuse Cliffhangers and make sure that they are exciting and that you’re not going to leave me waiting for much too long because chances are I’ll forget. And then I’m not sure if I’m going to tune back in for the second part. So that’s on cliff-hangers.

[00:21:37.200] – Boris
Then, cross promote. So this is something that TV shows will do often times if you watch any of the Chicago series, Chicago PD, Chicago Med, right? And Chicago Fire. They’ll often cross promote each other. They’re all part of one television universe. Similarly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will do the same thing where they’ll cross promote each other’s movies. It different movies in the universe. That’s a great thing to do. And in your stories, you could do something similar where, when your audience is enjoying a story, be sure to tell them another way to get similar content. Now that could just be telling them: if you sign up for my newsletter, then you’re gonna get more of this type of content really soon.

[00:22:24.970] – Boris
Or if you like this story, you’ll really love this other one that we shared just recently or one that we’re going to have soon. Right? Cross promoting. And sometimes it could go even beyond just from story to story. You could cross promote programs. You could cross promote all kinds of things as long as they are relevant to the audience that you’re working with. And remember, we talked a lot about keeping things relevant to the specific audience in the first installment of the series. I encourage you to go back and listen to that again, if you need to or haven’t heard it yet.

[00:22:57.700] – Boris
So, if you’ve told your story well, and we’re going to talk more about the action of a story in every movie, we’ve got the end of the movie, the credits, right? Don’t forget that your movie, your story has credits as well. So the show your audience that this is a team effort. The credit belongs to your heroes. Now that might be the narrator of the story, or it might be whom the story was about, or it might be that the donors who made this possible, or the volunteers who slaved day after day to make this actually happen.

[00:23:37.120] – Boris
They deserve the credit. And you want to share that credit because it’s going to help us all feel like we can be heroes as well. Because if people like us are in the credits, then we could also be heroes in this world. Speaking of supporting credits and giving credit where credit is due, see this series and everything that I talk about wouldn’t be possible without some of the great storytellers throughout the ages, including people like JJ Abrams and Shakespeare and Robert McKee and Crayton Abrams and my favorite theater, film and writing teachers. All of them were heroes in one way or another in my life, and I’d like to give them credit.

I give credit actually oftentimes to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Krupitsky, who taught me so much about writing and about storytelling in fourth and fifth grade. She actually was my teacher for both of those. Right… give that credit. It makes you look humble. It actually encourages you to be humble and grateful to the people who make things possible. So now that we’ve established the style and some of the structure of storytelling, let’s look at the action.

[00:24:51.350] – Boris
So the action of a movie is all about the conflict to save the world of the protagonist. Again, that doesn’t have to actually be planet Earth. It could just be a marriage. It could be a relationship. It could be a child coming into their own and having their transformation in one way or another. But for their mission to be successful, a hero has to rise up in the face of all obstacles and win the day. Sometimes begrudgingly. But they do have to. Right? And we talk about calls to action a lot.

[00:25:21.340] – Boris
Before we have those calls to action, we have to establish the back story. And that is what is this world like? How have things been up to this point? What is the history of the problem problem? Chances are, if you are running a nonprofit, you are focusing on one or two specific problems in the world. Now that might include a bunch of different programs that you’re running. But there should be an overarching mission that unifies all of the things that you focus on. That is the big picture problem.

[00:25:53.480] – Boris
If you are familiar with old movie trailers, they all used to start with in a world where there’s certain kind of injustice, there is a man or a woman or a child who has to take on the seed of power, overcoming… Right? That dramatic voice talking about the world that we live in. Similarly, in the first few minutes of a movie or any story in the beginning of it, you establish that this is the world, but there’s something wrong. If there’s not something wrong then, frankly, no one needs to do anything, everything is fine, and we can all move on.

[00:26:28.470] – Boris
That’s not the case for your organization or your mission. So what is the back story for this particular story for this particular segment of your storytelling, novel or whatever we want to call it series?

[00:26:42.120] – Boris
Then you want to go ahead and map out the journey. If your heroes take action, if your potential heroes take action and stuff up to become heroes, what will that journey look like? What are they going to have to do? How long will it take? How many paths can they take? Right?

[00:27:00.780] – Boris
So you might have multiple programs. They all should help with your overall mission and goals. Well, they are different paths to success, and I might want to take one path versus another, depending on how you’ve described it and what resonates best with me. This is the part of storytelling that really differs from Hollywood in the case of your organization. In this case, you want to make the potential hero their own agent of change and turn this into a choose your own adventure rather than a prewritten story.

[00:27:33.970] – Boris
So map out the journey, perhaps telling me how long this might take, what I’ll have to bring, what I should be prepared for so that I don’t feel like I’m turning a blind corner and unsure what’s going to happen to me. If I go ahead and volunteer or go ahead and donate, you want to make it super clear for me. The next thing to do is to set the stakes. So what will happen if in this world that you’ve established, the hero doesn’t take action? The potential hero doesn’t become a hero.

[00:28:07.720] – Boris
What’s at risk are more people going to fall to prey to a certain pandemic or phenomena? Are fewer kids going to grow up having a certain opportunity or be able to do something with their own lives? Are future heroes not going to be able to realize their own potential, essentially, right? So make it clear why this is a battle that really must be won. What’s at stake? And then create a clear call to action.

[00:28:38.810] – Boris
So I talk about this a lot. A lot of organizations that I’ve worked with, they assume that people will know what to do or that the best call to action is to donate money. That’s not always the best thing. Depending on where you are in your journey, where I am as a potential supporter or an existing supporter, there are different actions that I might want to take. But if you don’t tell me clearly that this is the next best step. Or here are one, two or three. I really wouldn’t go over three possible steps that you could take next to become a hero. That would be fantastic.

[00:29:16.660] – Boris
Ideally, I recommend making those steps a scale, a ladder, if you will, where someone can do one thing that takes almost no personal commitment. Like, for example, signing up for a newsletter, or they can donate their time or teir voice or their money. And different calls to action will have a different level of commitment. So if I’m already well-invested in the stories that you’re telling and in the organization, the work that your organization is doing, then a greater call to action might suit me just fine. Whereas if this is the first time I’m meeting you, don’t ask me to marry you before first date. Go ahead and ask for my number or ask for my email address.

[00:30:01.700] – Boris
Actually, either one these days people will ask for, if you want to run an SMS campaign or an email. Usually email is easier. Or maybe even it’s just join you on face group for something or sign up for an event. Any of those are perfectly valid and it gives me the sense of control that I can decide what to do next. But don’t assume that I’m going to automatically start looking on your website or on your social media wherever I find your story for what can I do now? Don’t count on me to be that moved and inspired, making as easy and frictionless for me as possible.

[00:30:36.640] – Boris
Then you want to slowly build to a finale as I was motioning before, for those of you watching this on video… the stakes get higher and higher. The successes and failures will feel higher and deeper. Ultimately, there is supposed to be in every story a final battle. Now, again, this doesn’t have to be a superhero movie. It could be a rom-com. It could be a buddy comedy, it could be a documentary, but it comes to a head to a climax and the battle for the fate of that world—whatever, however you define the world—will be at stake. So you want to slowly build to it.

[00:31:21.640] – Boris
As I was saying a minute ago, your calls to a should rev up over time, depending on my engagement and affinity for your work. But you do want to keep raising them on me over time. Give me the opportunity to do more and more. Hopefully, if I’ve already taken action in the past with you, I have seen that action pay off. You have kept me informed. You have told me what my actions have yielded in the world that we both see has an issue in it, so that next time you could say, you know what doing that achieved this, right?

[00:31:56.500] – Boris
X achieved Y. If you do X + 2, we’re gonna achieve Y x 3. Great. Your return on investment is going to be even greater. So slowly keep building to that final battle.

[00:32:08.720] – Boris
But do, and this is the next step, make it a winnable fight. There’s a concept of a donor-size problem where you don’t want to ask for somebody from somebody who can’t afford to give you a million dollars. You don’t want to ask them for a million dollars because they’ll feel like, oh, well, I can’t actually solve this problem.

[00:32:25.700] – Boris
You want to make this a winnable fight by giving your audience something that they could do that’s going to have an impact that’s going to pay off. And that the culmination of the support that I’m going to give, plus this community that you’re building around your cause is going to give, the culmination of those is going to make this a winnable fight and we can achieve our mission and the vision of the world that we want to see, together. So make it a winnable fight before you ask me to actually jump in.

[00:32:59.610] – Boris
Those are the elements that I want to talk to you guys about today that will really help you set up your narrative, your structure and the style in which you’re going to tell the story. Combined with the audience and understanding how they work and what types of characters you should have in your story, you should now have a great foundation and even a structure with the beginnin- middle-end, whatever order you want to put it in, that’s going to engage your audience. That’s going to attract new audiences, hopefully, because you’re going to resonate with them specifically and you’re going to tell it in a way that’s going to keep them interested and wanting to hear more from you and keep coming back for your content.

[00:33:41.240] – Boris
Whether that’s on social media, on email, on your website, however, you want to serve it to them, including, of course, on a podcast. I hope you enjoy this show. I hope if, you haven’t yet go back and view or listen to part one, see all the takeaways which we’re going to have for this one as well on our Show Notes page at NPHF.show. And you’re going to then want to come back for more. That’s my hope, because if you don’t, then I’m not going to be able to give you more value and I’m going to lose the ability to help you do even more.

[00:34:13.790] – Boris
So hopefully I’ve done a good job of teasing that this is part of a series and that in the next part of the series we’re going to talk about specific elements that you could introduce to really make your audience pay attention and take action, make sure not to lose along the way. And all combined, you’re going to have a great idea of how to tell a great story, the Hollywood Way, but specifically for nonprofits. Thank you for joining me.

[00:34:39.210] – Boris
Next week. We’re going to have another guest on the show as we do most of the time. This is part of a special series of Hollywood storytelling tips for nonprofits, and I look forward to seeing you with a guest next week. Bye bye.

[00:34:51.510] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Start by picking your style and genre and be careful not to change part-way through. (2:10)
  • The dangers of making the story a tragedy. (4:14)
  • Staying true to your medium and knowing when and how to break the rules. (5:17)
  • Understanding and acknowledging your own point(s) of view. (7:25)
  • How stories are structured. (8:53)
  • Telling complete stories, whatever the length. (10:57)
  • The vital importance of celebrating victories and acknowledging setbacks publicly. (11:32)
  • Use devices like foreshadowing to keep attention through longer stories. (15:06)
  • There should be nothing extra in a story. Work hard to remove everything that doesn’t serve the story arc. (16:18)
  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t try to tell people everything you think they should know in one story. Break long stories into shorter installments whenever possible. (18:05)
  • Use cliffhangers to get people to come back for the conclusion. (19:38)
  • Take the opportunity within or at the end of a story to pique interest in other stories (21:37)
  • Give credit where credit is due. This is your chance to demonstrate community and gratitude to the people who make your work possible. (22:57)
  • In some way, every movie is about saving the world. And so is your organization. What’s wrong with the world today that you need others to step up and become heroes? (24:51)
  • Tell your audience how you’re going to help them succeed and make the world a better place. What can they do? What options do they have? (26:42)
  • Make it clear why this is an important battle by letting people know what’s at stake. (27:54)
  • Call your heroes to action explicitly. Make it clear what you want people to do, and make it easy to do it. Offer options if appropriate. (28:38)
  • Don’t make the challenge too great or ask for too much at once. Give people the chance to take a small risk and get an easy win first. Increase the stakes and investment slowly. (30:36)
  • Make it clear that this is a fight that you can win, together. (32:08)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy

Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP26 - Steve Daigneault - Featured

Episode 28: Digital Fundraising Strategies, with Steve Daigneault

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 28

Digital Fundraising Strategies, with Steve Daigneault

In this Episode:

The world of fundraising and giving is evolving rapidly. Online fundraising has been growing at 20-43% annually over the last three years. As of 2020, it accounted for 13% of all donations, far outpacing the growth of giving overall. As the landscape and tools develop, so do the strategies for best engaging and converting donors.

Steve Daigneault has spent nearly two decades leading digital marketing, fundraising, and advocacy programs for nonprofits. He joins Boris this week on the Nonprofit Hero Factory to discuss some of the emerging trends and best practices in online fundraising; breaking down how nonprofits can incorporate them into their campaigns and overall development strategy.

[00:00:17.930] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.460] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited to share this episode with you today. We’ve been talking a lot about fundraising strategies, storytelling strategies, digital storytelling strategies and where the three intersect. And today’s guest is going to fit right into that. If you are wondering about how you can improve your end-of-year giving campaigns or pretty much any donation campaigns that you might have out there, including the more passive ones on your website. Today’s guest is an expert in those things, and I’m excited to have him as I said.

[00:00:53.450] – Boris
His name is Steve Daigneault. He is the founder of Daigneault Digital. Steve has spent nearly two decades leading digital marketing fundraising advocacy programs for some of the world’s greatest causes, including Amnesty International, Audubon, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Cancer Society, Red Cross, UNICEF and many others. Steve describes his superpower as building and growing digital fundraising programs that generate record-breaking results. Sounds pretty good to me. Let’s bring him on the show to tell us more.

[00:01:26.110] – Steve Daigneault

[00:01:27.550] – Boris
Hey, Steve. Welcome.

[00:01:30.040] – Steve Daigneault
Thank you.

[00:01:31.560] – Boris
It’s really exciting to have you on. I just read your bio. I know there’s even more impressive stuff about you. Why don’t you tell us your story? What’s your background? How do you come to this world of digital fundraising?

[00:01:42.460] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. I started working with nonprofits in the ’90s, doing communications work, which kind of more into digital communications work. Worked at a company that was bought out by Blackbaud in the early 2000s and led the digital fundraising and advocacy team at Amnesty International. And then for the last twelve years or so, I was an SVP at M+R doing digital fundraising, advertising and advocacy there.

[00:02:15.810] – Boris
Very cool. And so now you’re out on your own?

[00:02:19.340] – Steve Daigneault
Yes, I am. And I did that just to really do more client work, was wanting to switch things up and really love the one-to-one work I get to do with clients and so just wanted to do more of that.

[00:02:34.980] – Boris
Very cool. And I’m sure your clients are happy to have you doing more one-on-one work with them. So we were talking a little bit earlier, you and I, and with your focus on digital fundraising and all of the year-end campaigns that are now coming up, and I don’t think anybody, any longer, they did this as long as they could, but nobody can deny now that digital is the primary fundraising source for most organizations these days, or the primary mode, I should say, modality. So it’s clearly going to have the biggest impact for most organizations this year and moving forward.

[00:03:12.230] – Boris
What’s working and not in 2021 when it comes to digital fundraising? What are you seeing out there?

[00:03:19.960] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. One of the interesting things that we have seen at M+R and then with some of my clients, the just sort of longer content, more content to make a case for giving. We… just one specific example of a client that we set up a paid search program, and we just were not getting very good return on ad spend. You know, paid search should be immediately positive on your return on ad spend. And it wasn’t. And we tried pretty much everything to optimize and fix that paid search program, changing audiences, bid strategies, keywords, keyword matching strategies, and nothing really moved the needle.

[00:04:14.480] – Steve Daigneault
And then we looked at the landing page that we were driving people to. And it was a very optimized, single-step donation form, something that really most organizations that are testing their donation forms are testing into this kind of form. And we just really didn’t even think twice about it. And we decided to try something a little risky, which we thought was risky at the time.

[00:04:35.930] – Steve Daigneault
And it was driving search traffic not to a donation form, but driving them to a page that—what we call an interstitial page that—talks about who is this organization? How do they make an impact? What are some examples of the impact they’re making? What is the problem they’re trying to solve? And it really has a lot of additional content on this page and make that one switch improve the return-on-ad spend ten times.

[00:05:03.650] – Steve Daigneault
So we went from like a 25 cent ROAS to $2.50 regularly. And so it really opened our eyes to like, wow, this long-form content, which is counterintuitive to our thinking about, you know, streamlining the funnel, really making that conversion as easy as possible.

[00:05:25.360] – Steve Daigneault
It’s just so counter to that idea that we really started to kind of rethink what we were showing to different audience and testing longer form content and find a lot of success with it. So, yeah, that’s a big new kind of interesting finding.

[00:05:43.160] – Boris
Let’s talk about that for a minute, because there’s a few parts that I think are really fascinating and worth exploring. The first, I just want to be clear to anyone who’s listening doesn’t know the term ROAS. It’s a return-on-ad spend, right?

[00:05:55.700] – Steve Daigneault

[00:05:55.700] – Boris
So on Google Ads, you’re paying, or maybe you’ve got your grant, but you’re still bidding on ads for a certain amount. And you’re saying that the return should be greater than the investment, which seems pretty logical. Although I know that there are some campaigns where you’re not really looking for the straight donation, they’re are longer cultivation campaigns.

[00:06:11.420] – Boris
Clearly, what you are trying to do here is drive donations. So, I mean, personally, I don’t find it too surprising, but there’s a lot of things that are happening here. There’s my favorite quote by Daniel Kahneman is, “no one ever made a decision based on the number. They need a story.” And so when you’re driving ads directly to a donate page, if there’s no story there that people could really hook into. I could see why maybe they’re turning away. Is that basically what you’re saying when you’re saying you need a page first in between and between step?

[00:06:45.000] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. I think, like, obviously there was something missing. Like, people were not getting the information, the story that they need in order to make the gift. They just weren’t convinced. And they had unanswered questions. And obviously this page and this content filled in the gaps for them and made the case that needed to be made.

[00:07:12.080] – Boris
Right. So when I use story, I mean it in a kind of broad sense where we need enough information and enough things to connect to, to resonate with us, if you will, in order to really feel like, yes, this is something I care about. And in this case, something I want to support fiscally, financially.

[00:07:29.070] – Steve Daigneault

[00:07:30.270] – Boris
Did you mess around too much with how much information you put on this page, or is it really just once you were able to frame the work into what I call a story structure, whether everybody thinks of it that way or not, was it enough just to do that? Or did you wind up having to play around some more with how much content was on there?

[00:07:50.340] – Steve Daigneault
Our first draft of this page killed it. It worked really well. I mean, we did… part of where we got the idea, I mean it’s not a new idea, honestly, like you said, but I just think, in direct response, we can go focused on streamlining the conversion process that we kind of forget other pieces of content that actually are needed. But we got the idea from for profit commerce, digital commerce, e-commerce, stores and products. People selling products. You often see this sometimes when, you know, long, long landing pages with lots of, I mean, it almost feels like… it’s almost like you’re watching it’s like QVC trans—a landing page that’s kind of translated from what you see on QVC. And we’re like, we should do this for nonprofits. So we studied a couple of these pages to try to understand what are these pages actually doing? And we also thought about how, you look at the value of web traffic, we often find visitors to the About Us page have high value. And what is on the About Us page? It’s the mission, it’s some of these other things. And so we combined some of these ideas that we were seeing and came up with a landing page and it worked right away.

[00:09:24.450] – Steve Daigneault
Now, we did… we have, since then, adjusted it based on certain incentives. We had, like, a T-shirt offer, and COVID obviously happened. And then once COVID happened, we wanted to make sure we were shifting the message to kind of be relevant. But we haven’t really tested it because the landing pages just worked really well.

[00:09:44.100] – Boris
So that landing page, the QVC-style that you’re talking about. We usually call them sales letter copy, basically. It comes from the old days when there would actually be multi-page letters that people would send out—that marketers would send out. And it would tell these stories and bring people in and make it personal. And they worked, frankly. Not always very, let’s just say, above board. They were often not used for good. But in the case of a nonprofit, I’m sure your clients are using it for good.

[00:10:14.090] – Boris
And that’s really the power of that kind of long form story. When I used to build websites years ago, and I still do, but when I first started building websites for nonprofits, it was actually fairly common. It was one of the schools of thought that was prominent at the time was to have a multi-stage donation, multipage donation process, actually. So first, it was, you click on the donate button and there’s a page with a lot of information about the impact and the work that’s being done and how money is being spent.

[00:10:43.950] – Boris
And then the second page would be a more streamlined form. Since then, I feel like most organizations, at least, and the ones that I’ve been dealing with, and it sounds like the ones that you’ve been dealing with have kind of gone away from that.

[00:10:56.440] – Boris
And that is because of this philosophy, which I think is also valid, that once someone has decided to make a donation, basically get out of their way, remove all points of friction, make it as super easy as possible.

[00:11:11.470] – Steve Daigneault

[00:11:12.640] – Boris
So what’s the difference between the two? When is one better versus the other?

[00:11:19.540] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. You’re right. That the streamline conversion funnel, I mean, the landing page does still work. And what we found, because since we tested into this interstitial page, probably two years ago for the Dave Thomas Foundation, that was the first client I was working on. But there are a couple of other organizations that tested into it at the time. And since then, a bunch of other clients at M+R had tested it across different channels, different advertising channels.

[00:11:52.860] – Steve Daigneault
And what I found is that certain audiences, like existing donors that are active, where you’re trying to ask them to make a second gift. Maybe they’re a sustaining donor. You’re asking them to make a special gift on top of their money gift. Those audiences often do better when you just give them that streamlined donation form. I also have seen that certain organizations have really well known brands where it’s very clear what they do—Natural Resources Defense Council was one of them—they, you know, they see bad guys, they sue the government to make sure they protect species. It’s a very clear theory of change. People really get it really easily, and their brand is pretty well known within, you know, the population of people who support environmental organizations.

[00:12:51.820] – Steve Daigneault
Well, those interstitial landing pages have not always worked as well as a streamlined donation form. I do think that they still work well for prospective audiences. So people who are not yet donors, not yet supporters or activists that are still kind of in the consideration phase. They’re curious about which organization could potentially solve this problem that we’re seeing out in the world, and that letter-form content for that audience, I think, is, we are still seeing it work better, even for the big brands.

[00:13:26.280] – Boris
I think you touched on something absolutely critical there, which is, what stage is this potential donor or a potential repeat donor already in? I have this slide that I use when I’m working with organizations where it’s this ladder, right? This staircase, almost. And it starts from somebody who’s completely unaware to somebody who’s already a supporter or champion of the work that you do. And there are several steps in between. And when I talk about avatars, which is what we call—as you well know, but in case audiences don’t know—we call these potential heroes these target marketing personas.

[00:14:02.760] – Boris
When I talk about potential avatars, I really encourage organizations, if you can, to break them down into multiple levels of even the same person of how aware they are, of what you’re already doing. So that you could streamline the experience for them and not feel like you’re over explaining to them, but also now feel like you’re just dropping them into something and saying, donate. Right?

[00:14:25.240] – Steve Daigneault

[00:14:26.350] – Boris
And this strength of brand thing that you’re talking about is absolutely pivotal. So it could be strength of brand in your particular community. So people who already know you and have a great association with your brand, which is the story they tell themselves about your organization when they think of it. They’re one type of person versus someone who has never heard of you. And most organizations don’t have the fortuitous platform that some of the more established names, like you just said, or Red Cross after an emergency response. So those are some impulse, urgent situations where people know. “Okay. I’m going to turn to this organization.” But for most organizations, that’s not the case.

[00:15:08.580] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah, that’s right. I think the third factor to consider is oftentimes there’ll be—an organization’s issue will be in the news for some reason, whether it’s a natural disaster or some other political event. And in those moments, if it’s clear that the organization is directly tied to what is in the news or in that moment, that also is another time when a really streamlined funnel may work better—probably will work better than a longer form interstitial page.

[00:15:43.180] – Boris
The other time that I’m thinking of a couple of weeks ago, we had Kathleen Murphy Toms, the director of digital strategy at GivingTuesday.

[00:15:52.270] – Steve Daigneault

[00:15:53.280] – Boris
Yeah. She’s awesome. And she is very keen on that optimized mobile, specifically—

[00:16:03.930] – Steve Daigneault

[00:16:03.930] – Boris
Not landing page, donation page specifically. And I think in her case, in the case of GivingTuesday and campaigns like that, there’s a common misconception that she’s on a crusade, if you will, to overcome; which is “GivingTuesday is when the people are going to just discover us and magically donate” versus GivingTuesday’s a time to activate our current supporters and get them to start their donations for the end of the year.”

[00:16:33.600] – Boris
So in those cases, and if you’re trying to do both, you might have two landing pages. Do you ever advise to organizations, to have more than one sort of donation funnel on their websites?

[00:16:45.980] – Steve Daigneault
You know, I think this gets at the heart of decision making for digital fundraising and organizations, which is how complex do you go? And it really depends on how large the program is, how large the audience is, how much of a payoff you’re going to get from adding that complexity.

[00:17:07.160] – Steve Daigneault
I do think that at a very basic level, having, treating existing supporters differently than prospective supporters who don’t really know you is a very basic first step that almost any organization of any size can make. And so, yes, I do think that it makes sense to think about those two audiences differently, and, in fact, try or test these different donation funnels based on the audience type.

[00:17:42.620] – Boris
So. There’s another thing that you had mentioned to me previously, which kind of falls in line with the same kind of question of how much do they already know about us before we ask them to donate? And you were talking to me about cultivation and campaigns that do that some more. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what you were running?

[00:18:05.240] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. I mean, this sort of related to the interstitial page, which is, you know, how much information do you need to give people? And I think a question that a lot of nonprofits have is what is the value to fundraising of cultivation content? It’s not only, you know, and sometimes people think it’s the thank you messages. Like, aside from the thank you messages, thinking about content like that doesn’t have a call to action. It’s primarily meant to inform, inform the reader of what the organization is doing or even what’s happening in the outside world that the organization is working to solve.

[00:18:47.920] – Steve Daigneault
And so an interesting example, this is again from Natural Resources Defense Council, but we’ve had a couple of other clients at M+R test these, which is testing content through paid advertising and through email, that really just shows the impact that the organization has had. Or speaks in more sort of lengthy formats about something that’s happening right now that the organization is working on, for example, the NRDC, is working on clean water in Flint, Michigan. What’s the latest on lead in water in Flint? And there’s all kinds of stories about people being impacted by lead in water there. There the history of that work there. And it’s not really making it into giving.

[00:19:42.730] – Steve Daigneault
So we tested every week for twelve weeks. We tested sending an additional message that was just cultivation we did, and a complementary ad that kind of spoke to it, used that same content. We were mostly pointing people to a blog post, but really putting a lot of the content in the message. They didn’t need to click to read the full content or to get a lot of it. And what happened, over twelve weeks of giving everybody weekly additional cultivation content to the behavior of the people who saw that content, and we found for—it varied, now it really varied by audience. But one of NRDC’s largest segments are people who take online action, but then don’t give. You know, lots of people point and click, send a letter to Congress. You know, “please protect the Endangered Species Act,” and then that’s all I do. They never give again. And those people who received additional cultivation content we saw over a 100% increase in revenue from that audience. And it didn’t come from the cultivation messages, it came in other events when they were then asked in an appeal at a later time, or they just found NRDC on their own or converted through a paid ad in another area.

[00:21:10.980] – Steve Daigneault
But yeah, it was really, really impressive just to see how additional content that’s really cultivation-focused supports fundraising.

[00:21:22.040] – Boris
I love everything about that. About what you just said and the fact that you guys were able to study it and quantify it in at least some cases. The first part of that is a donation doesn’t need to be your primary call to action in so many circumstances. Most organizations that I come across the just ask donate, donate, donate at every chance they get. And sure, if you don’t ask, nobody will give that’s fully true.

[00:21:53.380] – Steve Daigneault

[00:21:53.660] – Boris
But if you keep asking, then people just think all you want is my money. Whereas what you’re saying is: first give them value, give them value, give them value, give them value. Twelve weeks of that in your case. And then in some way or other, when it’s time, ask them for something back. And that goes back to the philosophy that I espouse all the time, which is, nobody donates as a thank you so much as an IOU. It’s not a tip for the work that you’re doing.

[00:22:24.960] – Boris
It’s gratitude for the work that you’re doing. It’s a feeling of indebtedness. And so the more you can make them feel indebted by showing them all the value, by making them aware of things and giving them tools or whatever it might be, including knowledge, the more likely they’re going to want to pay you back for that. Right? And then I’m sorry you wanted to say something. Go ahead.

[00:22:46.620] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. I think that’s a good way of seeing this. Where they’re getting something value. I think another part of it is that in a way, an organization’s mission is to get people to care. And how do you get people to care? You don’t get people to care by a fundraising message, you get them to care in other ways. There are stories. There are statistics. There are things that happen that they may not be or know about, and it’s your job as an organization to kind of lift up that content that really inspires people and moves people.

[00:23:28.180] – Steve Daigneault
And I think you can move people without asking them to give. You can move people in a lot of other ways with other content.

[00:23:35.580] – Boris
Yeah. Those are the stories, right? That’s what I go on and down about ad nauseum, some might say. But those are the stories. You share your stories, your constituents’ stories. And you show how good is being achieved in the world. You show what the issues are. You establish the villains and the heroes of the situation. And over time, you then create a stronger bond with the person that you’re talking to, and they’re more likely to contribute. The other part of that that I wanted to really emphasize because you said it, but it didn’t sound as important as I think it is just in your sentence, which is that you don’t have to ask for donations all the time, but someone who gave their support in another way, by example, signing a petition, they are still a really valuable contributor. They have already identified themselves by doing that, as someone who cares about your cause. So now it’s absolutely your job to go and cultivate them. You go and you thank them, and then you share these stories. You drip out that cultivation campaign, however it works. Because since they identified that they’re interested but they’re not quite ready to donate to you, it’s your job to show them why a donation would amplify their impact in the world.

[00:24:55.710] – Steve Daigneault
I almost like to think of these online actions are very easy to take, and a lot of organizations do them. I like to think of them as like, hand raisers. These are people that say, hey, do you care about the world? “Yeah, sure.” Now, do you want to make a gift? I mean, “whoah!” You went from like, do I care, to that? There’s a gap. There’s something missing. And that it’s fillable. You have an opportunity with these people to kind of move them along. So, yeah.

[00:25:29.420] – Boris
You know, a lot of people use the dating analogy in the modern day I equate it to I just swiped right, and you’re asking me to marry you.

[00:25:38.840] – Steve Daigneault

[00:25:40.100] – Boris
I’m interested. There’s something about you I like. So, I love to raise your hand analogy. I use it all the time. I’m raising my hand and saying, I’m interested in this. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give you my life.

[00:25:50.920] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. Exactly.

[00:25:52.770] – Boris
So figuring out the intermediate steps and maybe there are no calls to action. I always say—it’s hard for me when someone says “no call to action.” I always say there should be some call to action, but it doesn’t need to be “give.” It doesn’t need to be anything like that. It could be just, hey, dig deeper into this issue or check this out for more information. Or watch this video. That’s a call to action. You’ve got to layer those in.

[00:26:19.060] – Steve Daigneault
That twelve week content… the call to action was just learn more, read more, watch this video. That was it.

[00:26:25.550] – Boris
Perfect and I’m glad we teased that information out for people. There’s one more question that I wanted to ask, and I want to be considerate of time here, which was: in both of these cases you talked about, you were running ads to these types of campaigns. What do you say in a Google ad, for example, when you’re trying to get someone directly to a donation page or to a donation funnel of any sort? What kind of headlines are you using there to get that traffic in the first place?

[00:27:01.410] – Steve Daigneault
Well, the ads that we used for the cultivation tests were only on Facebook, and we use Facebook because that’s where we were able to match the emails—you know, we matched our email file in order to run ads targeting people that we’re already on our file, receiving the messages and email and all.

[00:27:21.650] – Steve Daigneault
But to your question on what do you say on paid search ads? These are, I think it depends, but we… I always think you want to try to get your brand search campaigns to work well. And those are terms that are directly related to your organization’s name, and they should be very basic.

[00:27:49.570] – Steve Daigneault
Let’s just stick with NRDC… you know, “donate to Natural Resources Defense Council.” And then we associated terms that are related to just their mission, which is protect the environment, solve climate change, save endangered species from extinction. They’re very basic, you know, terms and phrases. They’re not really complicated. But brand search, I think is the first kind of campaign I would try to make work in paid search before expanding into some of the other types. I’m a fundraiser, so that’s where I approach this. Does that answer?

[00:28:37.580] – Boris
Yeah, it does. And I think it answers it really well because I have seen a lot of organizations want to run paid search campaigns to donate. And it is often a folly, I think, because they don’t have the brand recognition, they don’t have the context. The audience, I should say, doesn’t have the context by which to recognize, “yes, I am interested in this. I will go donate.” So spending a lot of money, whether it’s Google grant or actual money out of your own budgets on these types of ads is often not fruitful.

[00:29:21.980] – Boris
I like that you also mentioned that there are mission-related terms that people might be interested in, like preservation of some sort or other, or things that your organization is working on. You could be getting people in on that. But again, and please tell me if you disagree with me.

[00:29:41.670] – Boris
I think if your brand recognition is not that strong, then maybe you’re better off driving people to content about that cause, and they might trust your organization to deliver that as a nonprofit, not as someone trying to sell them something and then nurture them again.

[00:29:56.820] – Steve Daigneault
Brand search is based on—it only works if there’s demand for people searching for your organization. So if no one really knows who you are is not searching for you, then paid search based on your brand is not going to work. And in that case, the best thing to do is to try to use your Google grant or whatever to improve your awareness. And you can do that by bidding on terms that are related to your organization and driving them like you said to your website, to content that helps drive awareness and traffic to your organization. You need to build an audience and people who know who you are and what you do.

[00:30:44.700] – Boris
Yeah. Content that provides value and probably answers a question. Right.

[00:30:48.630] – Steve Daigneault
Exactly. Yeah.

[00:30:49.620] – Boris
Because every Google search is actually a question whether it has a question mark on it or not, you’re wondering something.

[00:30:53.938] – Steve Daigneault
Yes, that’s right.

[00:30:54.940] – Boris
You answer the question well, I’ll like you, I’ll trust you, I’ll thank you.

[00:30:57.600] – Steve Daigneault

[00:30:58.680] – Boris
Awesome. Steve, what are some tools and resources that organizations might want to look into on any of these topics? What do you recommend they go check out?

[00:31:10.000] – Steve Daigneault
Well, I think about, when I think about a digital program, it’s really good to have a baseline understanding of your metrics and how it stacks up against peers. And M+R’s Benchmark Report is great, because if you participate, M+R will create a custom benchmark analysis just for you based on your data that no one else will see that you’ll have delivered to you. It’s sort of a thank you that they do in exchange for you submitting your data to be part of the benchmarks. And the report is really helpful.

[00:31:50.450] – Steve Daigneault
And so I really encourage organizations to participate in that because it’s free. It takes time. But it is free. And the other resources that I found really helpful as an email marketer, fundraising is obviously a big part of the email programs… digital email programs, and Nerdy Email as a listserv that I think is a very vibrant and interesting discussion of a lot of some of the best email marketers in the industry for nonprofits. And so I always learn things, and I always appreciate the conversation there, but those are two that just came to mind.

[00:32:32.260] – Boris
Awesome. I’m going to check out Nerdy Email because I actually hadn’t. Most organizations at this point are on MailChimp, that I come across anyway, and it works really well. But I’m always interested in other alternatives. Mailchimp has gotten a little bloated. Sorry MailChimp if you’re listening and is trying to do too many things and is in the e-commerce space now. And I think nonprofits need something a little more tailored and streamlined.

[00:32:58.100] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. And just to be clear, Nerdy Email is a discussion group, basically. It’s how to use email. It’s not a technology or a piece of software.

[00:33:05.980] – Boris
Okay, great.

[00:33:06.920] – Steve Daigneault
It’s just a discussion group forum of strategists talking about email strategy.

[00:33:12.610] – Boris
Yeah. Well, the MailChimp. I apologize. I take it all back.

[00:33:17.470] – Steve Daigneault
I’m sticking with you.

[00:33:20.050] – Boris
I actually am. My stuff is still on MailChimp, although I’m always considering, are there better options? Steve, this has been awesome. If organizations want to learn more about what you do or connect with you, what’s the best way that they could do that?

[00:33:31.860] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah, sure they can connect with me on my LinkedIn, which is… I’m there as SDaigneault. And then my website also has a contact information, which is daigneaultdigital.com.

[00:33:48.300] – Boris
Perfect, and we will link to both of those as well as some of the other things that we talked about in our show notes for this episode. Steve, it’s been totally fun chatting with you about all these things and brainstorming on why things work and how to make them work better. Thank you so much for coming on today.

[00:34:04.700] – Steve Daigneault
It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for asking me.

[00:34:06.930] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you everybody for listening in today. I hope you learned a lot from Steve and from this conversation. If you enjoyed it, please, please, please subscribe and leave us a review so that more people can discover what we’re doing here on the Nonprofit Hero Factory, helping you create and activate more heroes for your cause. Thanks everybody.

[00:34:46.650] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Longer form content converts better in ad-driven campaigns. A streamlined donation page is often not enough to convert visitors into donors. (3:20)
  • Including more of the story before asking for a donation increased return on ad spend by 10x. (4:47)
  • Borrowing a page out of QVC’s playbook, longer-form content about the organization and mission helps increase conversions.(8:36)
  • Once someone has decided to make a donation, your goal is to make it as easy and distraction-free as possible. (10:56)
  • Your donation funnel should be optimized for the people that you’re targeting and based on how well-known your brand is to that audience. The more they already know about you, the less you need to convey in your funnel, and vice-versa. (11:52)
  • If you can, segment your campaign avatars by their stage of awareness and readiness to support your work. Different stages require different approaches. (14:02)
  • How and when to use cultivation campaigns which don’t just ask for donations. (17:43)
  • Sharing stories and insightful content without directly asking for donations can actually increase donations, particularly from people who have raised their hand to say that they care about your work, but have not yet donated. (19:42)
  • The more value you provide, the more people will feel indebted to you and want to repay you for that value. An organization’s mission is, in part, to get people to care. That doesn’t come from asking them for money, it comes from sharing stories and demonstrating value. (22:42)
  • People who support your cause in other ways besides donations are raising their hand to say they care. They are just as valuable as donors and, with proper nurture, can become donors. (24:02)
  • Cultivation ads and brand-search campaigns. Brand search campaigns on Google Ads are the first type of ad you should consider, but they only work if people are searching for your brand. Cultivation campaigns on Facebook work best as remarketing ads to people already on your email list in one way or another. Those should largely drive to content about your work. (27:01)
  • If you have content that answers that people might have, that’s another opportunity to use Google Ads to drive traffic. (29:21)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • M+R’s Benchmark Report – A great resource to see trends and compare your digital efforts to others in the industry. Plus, if you participate in the benchmark survey, M+R will create a custom benchmark report for you, based on your data.
    • Nerdy Email – A discussion group of great nonprofit email marketers.
  • Start implementing!

    1. Check your campaign conversion rates
    2. See if you can include more of your story in your donation funnels, especially for new donors.
    3. Consider creating or revising your cultivation campaigns to include more stories and provide more value before asking for anything in return.

    Connect with Steve: Visit Daigneault Digital’s Website or directly connect with Steve on LinkedIn.

About this week’s guest

Steve Daigneault

Steve Daigneault

Founder, Daigneault Digital

Steve has spent nearly two decades leading digital marketing, fundraising, and advocacy programs for some of the world’s greatest causes, including Amnesty International, Audubon, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Cancer Society, Red Cross, UNICEF and many others.

Connect with Steve Daigneault

EP27 - Elizabeth Ngonzi - Featured

Episode 27: Navigating the Nonprofit Digital Divide, with Elizabeth Ngonzi

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 27

Navigating the Nonprofit Digital Divide, with Elizabeth Ngonzi

In this Episode:

The nonprofit funding landscape continues to shift in response to the changing landscape in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. At the same time, there is a growing digital divide between those that are quickly adapting and adopting new strategies and those that are in danger of losing the ability to achieve their mission.

Elizabeth Ngonzi, founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute joins Boris this week to talk about how some nonprofits are staying ahead of the changes and new opportunities to connect with communities and funders alike. We also discuss how LinkedIn is fast becoming a critical platform for nonprofits, and how professionals can improve their skill sets to help their organizations and themselves.

[00:00:18.780] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.720] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This should be Episode 27 that we’re broadcasting today. And it is with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. We first met doing a Candid—it was a live stream, and back then an in-person—panel. Since then, we’ve formed a pretty good friendship. We do a lot of very similar things, so we have a lot in common and a lot that we want to talk to you about today. So let me introduce to you guys.

[00:00:50.870] – Boris
Elizabeth Ngonzi. She usually just goes by Liz. She is the founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute. She’s also an Adjunct Assistant Professor and the Faculty Program Developer of a new exciting program at NYU that we’re both going to be talking to you about today as part of what we’re going to talk about. But primarily we’re going to talk about Liz’s area of expertise, which is social media, storytelling, online fundraising, all of the things that we love so much. Liz’s bio reads that she is an international social entrepreneur and educator who helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations to clarify, develop their stories for increased impact.

[00:01:30.940] – Boris
She is the founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute, which through initiatives with the King Baudouin—I hope I pronounce that correctly—Foundation US, CIVICUS Global Alliance, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, the Resource Alliance in the UK and others — create opportunities for and amplified the voices of social impact leaders from historically marginalized communities around the world.

[00:01:54.460] – Boris
As an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Fundraising at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, she teaches digital storytelling, innovation and fundraising and planning and executing virtual events and fundraisers that inspire and activate support. Both of which are part of the Professional Certificate Program in Digital Fundraising she recently developed. Liz’s superpower is leveling the playing field for change makers and social impact driven leaders from historically marginalized communities. With that, let’s bring Liz on to tell her story.

[00:02:25.900] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Hello, Boris. Thank you so very much for including me today. Hello, everybody. I’m so excited to be here with you.

[00:02:33.340] – Boris
Thanks, Liz. I’m excited to have you. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been talking about getting you on the show,

[00:02:37.940] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:02:37.940] – Boris
And we finally had a chance to make it happen.

[00:02:40.620] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. No, it’s great. I’m excited to be here with you. And you did such a great … First of all, thank you for pronouncing my last name correctly. Most people botch it, right? Even if they know me forever, they do. So thank you for doing so. And I’m so glad you’re now part of the NYU program with us, which we’ll get into later. But should I go ahead and tell folks a little bit more about that?

[00:03:02.500] – Boris
Yeah. Your bio speaks volumes of the caliber of work that you do. But let’s find out a little bit more about you and your story.

[00:03:10.740] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I think what most people don’t know is that, kind of like, storytelling is in my DNA, right? My late dad, Dr. John Ruganda, Uganda’s preeminent storyteller. He was a playwright? You can find his Wikipedia page, you can find his books on Amazon, is someone who really was looking to tell the story of Africans at a time when we were going through independence and so much was going on. So I’ve got him on one hand. And then my mom was with the United Nations Development Program for 30 years, retiring as the Deputy Director of Communications.

[00:03:46.000] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And she used to travel around the world reporting and sharing about the different projects that they were supporting in developing countries. So this is how I grew up learning about all of this, learning about stories, meeting really incredible people, having these incredible experiences. So when I graduated from college, I went to work for corporate America, my parents were like, “What? That makes no sense.” I did that for ten years. And then after working as a management consultant, I actually worked in technology sector as well, in marketing and in sales.

[00:04:21.390] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And I decided that I wanted to really work with nonprofits and teach them, kind of leverage what I’d learned in the private sector to help them. It wasn’t storytelling at the time. It wasn’t what I called it, but it was really helping them to build their brands, to be able to reach their supporters and raise funds. And we were actually even helping organizations create websites, back in 2004 for their events. We had a company that we outsource to in Uganda. They used to create little websites when you didn’t have all the sites you have now that you can use to host virtual events and to market them—market events—we literally were doing that. And so I’ve always been thinking about digital on how to integrate it into the things that I was doing to help, specifically nonprofits at this point.

[00:05:10.600] – Boris
I love the fact that your father was a preeminent playwright? And it’s something that as long as I’ve known you, I just learned a few minutes ago, part of me wants to just geek out about theater and theater history.

[00:05:25.680] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
You’re a theater nerd right?

[00:05:27.360] – Boris
I am a theater nerd all the way through. I mean, that’s what my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are.

[00:05:33.750] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I don’t know. I never sort of thought, you know, there’s so many times when you talk about it.

[00:05:39.720] – Boris
One of these days, we’re going to get into all of it.

[00:05:41.040] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:05:41.880] – Boris
Today, let’s talk about your work and, from your perspective, what’s going on in the nonprofit sector these days. Particularly, of course, the elephant in the room, that’s pretty much taken over the house is, of course, COVID-19, which has shifted so many things to virtual, to digital, to online, something that you and I have been preaching for a long time that now has been sort of this mad rush for everybody to try to get in there and figure out what they can and can’t do. Talk to me. What are you seeing out there at the moment?

[00:06:13.630] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. It’s been a rough 18 months. Right? And for a lot of organizations that really weren’t prepared for this in terms of being able to easily move their programs, their general engagement, whether it’s with funders or other stakeholders online. And they’ve really suffered. Right? And quite frankly, those of them hasn’t been able to adapt, and we’re already sort of like, you know, stretched thin financially, had to dissolve or they had to merge with other organizations

[00:06:46.650] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The organizations that were able to quickly come up to speed, and it’s interesting, my digital storytelling course just went gangbusters in terms of registrations at Covid because we were just trying to figure this out. And so, I’ve seen that those organizations that not only figured out how to bring their fundraisers online, figured out how to really engage their supporters through live stream, and these sort of like, Facebook lives, LinkedIn live, and so on and so forth, those are the ones that are really starting to come out of this. But the other audiences or I’m sorry, the other organizations that really have done a great job here, the ones who’ve identified new offerings online.

[00:07:27.920] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so an example of that is I had a woman in one of my courses who worked for Film at Lincoln Center. Film at Lincoln Center literally had a month to basically move its film festival online, you know they had the catalog move online, and they did some in-person events through drive-throughs and things like that. But what they did was effectively create a Netflix offering. So they have the streaming service, which creates a whole new revenue stream down the line for them. And so I just thought it was just genius.

[00:08:00.010] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Now I understand that there are smaller organizations that are going to be watching this. But I always say, let’s learn from the organizations that have some of the budgets or the kind of the resources that we don’t have to figure out… they’ve already created a blueprint. How do we then emulate what they’ve done in our specific space?

[00:08:15.920] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So that’s one example, another example that an organization need, that’s really embrace digital is JCC Association in North America. Another one of my students is a head of marketing for them. And in the past, they’ve held their JCC ProCon event, which is an annual event in Florida for a couple of hundred people and adults to senior leaders, a few hundred people. This year, they were able to bring it online and attract about 3000 people. And so what happened by doing that was that they were able to get junior professionals, senior professionals, and leaders to be able to participate in this professional development conference and bring folks together who’ve been separated during COVID, because JCCs are actually physical locations. Some people hadn’t really seen each other. So in this virtual training, they brought folks together, and it really helped to boost morale. And it got people to feel like they’re part of something bigger because now they’re able to actually participate in this great training conference.

[00:09:19.220] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So those are a couple of examples that I’ve seen of organizations really embracing digital in an effective way. It’s not… it’s one of those things where you’re like, the technology is actually relatively inexpensive. The problem is, it’s the culture. So there’re organizations—like whenever I’m working, with my students, the course I teach at NYU—we essentially create a digital fundraising and marketing plan for their organization, and we always start with a SWOT analysis.

[00:09:51.880] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And inevitably, one of the biggest challenges or weaknesses they have is organizational. Meaning that they have a culture that does not embrace change. And we’re living in a world that you have to be able to adapt to change because things are happening so quickly. They were happening quickly before the pandemic. But you better believe they’ve been accelerated, right? So we have to really think about how do we change our cultures and how do we attract people or how do we change our mindset to be able to embrace this digital—because digital is not going away. Digital has been here for a while. And Boris, you and I talked about this, back in 2009 when I pitched my original course to NYU. It was just an online fundraiser course… I pitched it because I recognize just from my own clients back then, the huge budgets they had for Galas we’re going. They’re gone because of the economic downturn. So it was like, you have to now go online and really rely on online a lot more to be able to engage with the supporters that they need. Right?

[00:10:52.400] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
We didn’t have all the different social media platforms we have right now, but I did recognize that as a space that they really need to embrace. And I’m sure that’s where you are as well. And so, looking at where we’re at today, it’s not that different from were 11, 12 years ago. It’s just that it was didn’t seem as important because then we went back to normal. But I gotta tell you, normal is going to be hybrid from now, probably from now on.

[00:11:17.240] – Boris
I want to talk about a few of those things because I think you touched on several really great key points. The first in terms of the new opportunities, that the digital rush, if you will—it’s kind of a new gold rush feeling in the nonprofit space and finding new ways to leverage platforms that aren’t expensive anymore because technology, as you correctly said, the average cost has gone down and down. I recently actually came across and now own access to a tool where you can launch your own Roku channel.

[00:11:53.980] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:11:55.260] – Boris
Yeah. So I am actually now looking for a client that wants to launch their own Roku channel, talking to one of my clients about it right now. You talk about the film festival going online. Yeah. Here you go…

[00:12:10.790] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:12:10.790] – Boris
Put your channel on Roku, tell your subscribers where to get it. They could watch either in live set up…

[00:12:17.620] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:12:17.620] – Boris
Or in a format where it’s just on loop or something I programmed, and people can pick their own— “oh, now I want to watch this” kind of like Netflix or HBO Max or any of those.

[00:12:28.430] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. Whatever it may on.

[00:12:30.850] – Boris
The technology is so there. And wow, what a great way to find more people, provide more value, oftentimes with the content that you already have, because a lot of organizations have so much video content already.

[00:12:40.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
There you go. Exactly. That’s the thing. It’s like. Okay, so my hope is, and it’s not necessarily the case. But my hope is this 18 months that we’ve had to basically be at home and had time to reflect.

[00:12:55.100] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
It’s really helped organizations to think about new ways to leverage their existing assets, because why look outside when you actually have so much internally that you haven’t been leveraging? Right? So you record this thing, you have these assets and you just put them away, but actually they have value. You just have to know how to use them. Right?

[00:13:15.220] – Boris

[00:13:16.010] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Absolutely. And I didn’t know about this new tool, that platform, but that’s incredible to be able to launch your own Roku channel just like that. Think about it. Think about who owned media, who is able to rate that 20, 30 years ago. That was impossible.

[00:13:35.090] – Boris
Yup. Today we could compete with the Rupert Murdochs and Jeff Bezos of the world really,

[00:13:41.370] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:13:41.370] – Boris
Owns so much of the media and the Disneys and Netflixes. And if our message is more relatable and more relevant to our audience, then why not? Why wouldn’t they tune into us instead?

[00:13:59.580] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I agree with you. Completely. I definitely agree with you on that.

[00:14:04.980] – Boris
It’s funny. Also, you mentioned the JCC conference. It’s awesome that you spoke to them. They have all internally gone through their own kind of revolution as well. And a year ago, almost a year ago, at this time, I was presenting to the leaders of JCC Global and all the different JCC leaders. And I got to talk to them in Russian, too, because now it doesn’t matter that I’m not physically there. The fact that I speak Russian, and there’s JCC all over Russia, and the former Soviet Union allows someone like me to go speak to them. It also allows them to reach Russian speaking Jews here in the US for extra support.

[00:14:43.880] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:14:44.430] – Boris
It works both ways. The definition of community has completely changed, and you hit the nail on the head. If you don’t change, you will die. It’s Darwinian at that. There’s been such a proliferation also of nonprofits that have started over the last year and a half and even before that, but it’s accelerated. And I feel like and Liz, maybe you have a different opinion on this, but you kind of touched on it that in a little while, it’s going to be too much, and we’re going to have to start merging organizations or folding them.

[00:15:20.220] – Boris
So it’s whomever can actually use the best tools today to reach the most people today. Those are the ones that are going to thrive. If your mission is important, you’ve got to be there.

[00:15:30.290] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yup. It’s actually where you started. It already started. I had hosted a live stream, LinkedIn Live, with Candid, a couple of people from Candid last May, I think it was. And estimates, or the research indicated that about 50% of organizations we’re going to either, they’re going to go away or they’re going to have to merge based on what happened with the pandemic. Right? And we didn’t even realize how long the pandemic was going to last. Right? And effectively, we’re still in the pandemic. We’re not post pandemic. We’re still in it.

[00:16:03.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So we’re in that process right now. We haven’t seen what’s come out. And you mentioned that there’re new nonprofits starting. But it’s not no longer just about nonprofits. There’s social enterprises. The individual is telling about that young man from Italy who has 110,000,000 TikTok followers. Right? He started his to account, like in March of last year. So in less than 18 months, he’s even able to develop this following. Now, imagine if he decided he wanted to support a cause or he wanted to support specific communities. He has 110 million people. He can say, “Hey, I want you to support this particular thing.” How does a nonprofit compete with that that has a thousand followers?

[00:16:51.090] – Boris
Yeah. Partnerships with influencers, I think, is a big thing. It’s a little risky at the moment, because the influencer… you never know. Let’s say that young man from middle, he does endorse an organization. And then, you know, a few months from now, he does something.

[00:17:05.810] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Right? No, of course, that’s the challenge. But the same thing that you have with ambassadors, right? Organizations have ambassadors. But I’m saying that he can either be a partner or he can be a competitor. That’s what I’m saying. So when you’re thinking about a competitor in the real world, right? You’re thinking who’s around me physically. When you go online, that’s anywhere. Right?

[00:17:29.310] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I as a donor… I mean, I gave money. I made a donation to an organization in Cambodia last week. I don’t know anything about them, but it was because someone had… it was a thank you to somebody who would helped me.

[00:17:42.510] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And I said, please let me know the cause that you like. She said, this is what I’m interested in, so I made a donation to them. And I also made a donation to an organization here in New York. Right? So as a donor, I have a lot of options because I can do that online very easily.

[00:17:57.360] – Boris
Absolutely. We talk a lot about that the competitive landscape has completely opened up. And you were never really just competing with other organizations in your neighborhood. You are also competing with the Amazons of the world, the Facebooks who want your attention. The Amazons who want your money. Right? The discretionary spending hasn’t exceeded the growth of opportunity for me to spend my money at any given moment.

[00:18:24.750] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:18:24.750] – Boris
It’s making that connection to your specific target audience and making a really relevant and resonant connection that’s going to make the difference wherever they are around the world.

[00:18:35.840] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Absolutely. At the of the day, you brought up a good point. It is about story, right? You have to tell a great story, and you have to be able to differentiate yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re on every platform. Doesn’t matter if you have follows. You don’t have a story that’s compelling, you don’t have a way of engaging with folks in a way that makes sense to them. Right? Because when we’re telling our story, we need to tell it within the context of what is going to be of interest to your audience, to our audience.

[00:19:03.860] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And we tend to forget that we tend to communicate in terms of what’s important to us. And a lot of nonprofits can actually communicate that way. But it’s really important for us to think about what do the audience want? What does the want the audience want to know about us? What’s going to engage with them? What is going to activate them? Because ultimately you’re communicating, you’re trying to activate them. You’re trying to get them to do something. And so it’s important that we take that into consideration before we think about the channel we use. So we need to be really clear about the “what” we’re communicating, the “why” we’re communicating “with whom” we’re communicating.

[00:19:38.040] – Boris
Yeah. I mean, there are, well, six storytelling questions that we all learned in fourth grade and, well, most of us learned in fourth grade. And they are absolutely key to telling any story. What do you advise? Like, where should nonprofits be thinking at the moment to set themselves up for success going forward? Maybe they’ve been doing some of this? Maybe not. But since the landscape has completely changed in so many ways, what should they be thinking about right now to be effective going forward?

[00:20:13.440] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I think, that first and foremost, it’s time to really take stock of where we are and who we are. And what are story’s all about. Is our story relevant for today? I wrote a piece for Candid last summer about—it was about digital storytelling. I spoke about the fact that foundations we’re starting to shift their focus. They’re starting to think about issues around social justice all around COVID-19 relief. And so organizations really need to recast themselves to be relevant within that context, that they wanted to be able to engage those foundations.

[00:20:47.430] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so, along those same lines, I think that we have to think about who are we in this post-COVID or COVID era and ongoing COVID era, as opposed to what we were pre-COVID because it’s going to be different. The realities are different. The way that we even engage with people. The way that we’re online versus in person programming. And so and so forth. We have to really think about what’s going to really resonate with the people we’re trying to serve, the community we’re trying to serve.

[00:21:18.120] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
But also it’s going to resonate with those that we’re trying to engage, bring to come and support us. So that’s one of the things is really rethinking. Who are we? Right? We need to really rethink our purpose, our unique value proposition, which requires some soul searching, right? Some nonprofit soul searching, even for us, is people working in this sector.

[00:21:40.640] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The next thing I’d say is that it’s really important that we understand that we need to diversify our fundraising. I think that a lot of organizations found—and this happened in 2008, 2009 as well—they were so reliant on just a few funders and even one instance, just one. And when that goes away, you’re done. And in a situation like this, it’s really about having diversified funding sources so that if one goes away or if you lose corporate and whatever, then at least you’re still able to stand. And so that’s also something that I think organizations need to think about. So you’ve got the corporates, you’ve got the foundations, and the foundation is actually the most stable. And then, of course, individuals, you’ve got high net worth, but then you’ve got the individuals for online.

[00:22:26.550] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And those folks who can really support you on a monthly basis, you don’t want to just get a one time donation. You want to really look at recurring donations. So it’s important we look at that. And I also say you’ve got to start internally. I didn’t even talk about this. I believe that you have no right to ask anyone for money to support your organization if you yourself don’t get to that organization. So I always say what I work in the clients, the board—you know everyone expects the board, the board—senior leadership, and quite frankly, even throughout the organization, it’s important that everyone has skin in the game. It’s not necessarily that they have to make these big donations, but there’s something they’ve got to bring in so that everyone’s clear that they’re actually, everyone’s a fundraiser in your organization, everyone’s part of the mission. So they should feel that they’re an investor in it, as well. So it’s also looking at how you can take advantage of or leverage the internal to your resources to be able to support the organization.

[00:23:22.260] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And then finally, I would say that—I’m not paid by them, but—LinkedIn. I wrote an article about it. I believe it’s on your site. Linkedin is such an important platform right now. You know, Boris, I’ve been at this a long time. So I’ve got accounts on every platform. I’ve used all of them. I’m on ClubHouse, I’m not even going to talk about ClubHouse right now. But LinkedIn, if you are serious about engaging with professionals, if you’re trying to engage with foundations… there are only 10% of them that have websites.

[00:23:56.660] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so you’re going to really try to figure out how to connect with their employees, and that’s where you’re going to find them, because 900 million people have accounts on LinkedIn. So it’s important for you to really take advantage of that platform. Not only as a site like, a lot of people use LinkedIn in the past as a resume site, but it’s literally like your secondary and some of instances, your primary organization’s web presence. So, like, a landing page.

[00:24:26.510] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And it gives you an opportunity to showcase any of your thought leadership. It gives you an opportunity to present any of your projects and your impact. And then it also gives you an opportunity to bring all of your stakeholders together connected to that page. So that when you’re applying for a grant, whatever foundation and their doing research on you. They’re conducting to due diligence, they get to your digital profile, they’ll say, “Oh, so-and-so is part of the board. So-and-so as part of this. We know that person. We trust that person.” Otherwise, you’re just sort of like this little organization that they don’t know much about.

[00:24:59.840] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The other thing is that when you’re then conducting research and you do find whichever company or whoever you’re trying to connect with, if you don’t necessarily yourself as the fundraiser or know that person or have a connection to that company or organization, there might be someone within your ecosystem, within your network, connected to your page who can make that connection for you. So it’s really important to have those connections set up. And then finally, I would say that you can take advantage of the training. They have so much going on on LinkedIn, and all nonprofits, qualified nonprofits get 50% off of their products. And so, great research tool, great place to build a brand.

[00:25:42.950] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And of course, you and I love LinkedIn Live. I did my first LinkedIn Live with you. So, LinkedIn Live, and also using the LinkedIn event sites. Those are amazing the invitation sites, because those themselves create a whole new landing page for your event that lasts a very long time. And so I’m super excited about it. I wrote a piece about it for Nonprofit Times, and in it there are tons of resources so that you don’t have to be like, well, how do I do this? I present a best practice. I give you the resource to be able to implement it. They give you other resources that you can use to leverage LinkedIn.

[00:26:24.020] – Boris
Those are all great points and tools that people should be absolutely thinking about. Speaking of LinkedIn events, the first LinkedIn event that I was a part of was the one that we just did for the NYU.

[00:26:39.740] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh, I didn’t realize that.

[00:26:39.740] – Boris
Yeah. I had never been a part of a LinkedIn event, and I was really impressed with the reach that it got. Especially, you were able to, we were all able to tag each other in the post, and the reach was phenomenal.

[00:26:53.130] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:26:53.130] – Boris
So many sign ups for that. I was genuinely impressed. And I’m looking forward to using the platform for that kind of thing again.

[00:27:00.780] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Right? It’s awesome. And the thing is, a couple of things that this really takes advantage of is, you see, when someone sends you an invitation, you get to see who’s actually already invited. And that helps you, because we’re all about peer pressure. There’s peer pressure, right? We want to be where the cool kids are. Right? So you’re like, “oh,” I’ll say. “Oh, Boris is going to that. Okay. That must be cool. I’m going to participate in that.” Versus receiving an invitation in my inbox. And I don’t know anything about who’s attending. I don’t know anything. I’m like, “oh, I don’t know. I may not be that into it.” So it gives the opportunity to use that social proof in terms of wealth is going.

[00:27:38.130] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And then within this site, once you just get into the event, you’re able to then also access any resources that the event organized or share. So we shared, like, articles. We shared that you’d written or I’ve written. We shared videos, anything we want. Polls…

[00:27:57.070] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And by the way, just because the event is over, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to communicate. I think you saw I posted a post-event post yesterday, and that site is live. Next month, if we want to add something else, we still can. So it’s really great because we already know what they’re interested in because they signed up for this event so we can continue to communicate with them through this particular channel.

[00:28:22.340] – Boris
Yeah. And it still gets plenty of reach and can be constantly updated. It’s pretty great. I think we should actually link to that event as an example for people in the show notes, along with all the other things that we’ve been talking about and LinkedIn for nonprofits and all of those things, we are also going to link to that event so that people could check it out, see what that was about and how it worked. You could deconstruct it, if you will, and see for yourselves.

[00:28:47.320] – Boris
The power of LinkedIn networking in general… I think for a while LinkedIn was this kind of sleeping giant, if you will. Where, you’re right. It was just resumes essentially, a virtual resume platform and people trying to network to each other to just be able to get a job or something like that. Now it really is a connection tool. And organizations that have a message can find people whom it’ll resonate with on there. And your idea that you mentioned about maybe partnering with organizations with companies, for-profit businesses, right? They’re all on there. Any for profit business.

[00:29:25.140] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And here’s something that I should mention, you know, when you’re updating your LinkedIn profile. One of the questions that ask you, “Are are there any causes you’re interested in? Are you interested in volunteering? Would you be interested in board service? Would you like to mentor?” So, when you have a certain level of account in LinkedIn as a nonprofit organization, you can find those leaders, those folks who are looking to volunteer for cause like yours, who’re looking to be on a board like yours. And so it’s really helping with that kind of outreach, because we fill it out and we don’t even think about it. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” But they’re actually their making it easy for nonprofits or whoever is looking for that information to be able to look for it, to find it.

[00:30:09.240] – Boris
So. We’ve teased this event that we did, and the program. We’ve mentioned the program a couple of times. I want to be respectful of your time and our listeners time, but I definitely want to talk about this because it’s so exciting. Tell us about this new program at NYU.

[00:30:27.030] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Okay. So as I mentioned to you, I started teaching NYU well, at the time, the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. And we merged—we were absorbed into the Center Global Affairs four or five years ago. But given how much like interest that was in my course during COVID, the directors kind of realized that there was probably something here. And I’ve been talking about. I’m like, we need to expand this program. And so they asked me to create a program that would basically take what I developed as an overall course that helps an organization to develop its digital fundraising and marketing strategy, looking at the different channels and then break that into the different, break each one into a course. Right?

[00:31:18.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So we have you talking about high impact websites. I’m team-teaching with another woman, with Cheryl Gentry. We’re going to be teaching a course on virtual events and fundraisers. And then we have Kat, well, she already came. Right? So…

[00:31:34.960] – Boris
Yeah she will have been on…

[00:31:37.520] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So she’s talking about social media. And of course, with GivingTuesday as part of that. And then we have Dane Wiseman, who’s going to be covering—it’s actually a course he already teaches on—basically social media metrics, and analytics. And so these are the different pieces that we need. So it’s a certificate program. You can complete it within a two-year period, or you can just say, I’m just interested in one particular course, and you can take it. And they’re six to seven weeks each. It’s really easy to manage. And they write to me once a week.

[00:32:12.480] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And not only is it great content, but literally you walk away… you’re have something, a tool that you can then use for your ongoing campaign for your organization. I’ve had some students who used it as a tool to get a job. It’s like an auditioning tool. And quite a number of folks also, they implement a lot of what’s covered throughout the period of the course in real time. So it’s very practical. I’m so excited to see what we’re going to be doing with your course, and I’m going sit in on it myself. I want to learn what you’re doing.

[00:32:50.250] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so I’m just really excited about it, because what we found, if you look at the Giving USA report, overall, giving is a slight bump up. But online giving is going up significantly, right? Even over the last three years, it’s gone up by 32%. And so we’re really helping organizations to fully embrace how to do it effectively, because during COVID, folks just scramble to do it, right? But now we’re saying here’s how you can really develop a strategy around it. Here are some tools. Here are some of the wisdom we’ve garnered. Here are some examples and case studies. I’m going to have to see JCC Association coming into my course to do a digital engagement case study. I think it’s really exciting, and I’m really glad to see that we’re able to support the sector this way, because this is really necessary. I’m not saying the other topics and fundraisers are not necessary, but this is definitely very timely.

[00:33:50.040] – Boris
Now, with everything being virtual at this point, do people need to be in the New York Metro area to participate?

[00:33:56.060] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
No. The whole program is virtual. The whole program is virtual. In fact, I’ve had students as far from as far as Singapore, in Canada, from Hawaii, so they don’t have to be in New York. The course is pretty much in the evening, so they have to be able to either wake up really early for the different time zone or whatever the adjustment is. So people do it. It’s definitely worthwhile.

[00:34:24.260] – Boris
I’m really excited to be a part of it. First and foremost excited that I get to be an adjunct instructor, professor, whatever it is. Instructor, I think.

[00:34:38.140] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah exactly.

[00:34:38.140] – Boris
It’s kind of a lifelong dream for me to be teaching at a university, and especially one like NYU. Having grown up in New York, it’s iconic to me, of course. And I’m excited to teach all of these things that I’ve been trying to teach organizations. I’m going to teach other people how to really use them and hopefully partner with nonprofits to help redesign their websites and improve things for their own conversions, to activate more heroes for their cause, as I like to say all the time.

[00:35:06.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:35:07.470] – Boris
And anyone who completes it, they can get that certificate and put it up on LinkedIn to showcase themselves and to showcase what they’re working on.

[00:35:16.120] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And that’s a really good point you bring up, because, Boris, here’s the thing. If you think about our sector, there are not many people with those digital skills. And when I say with those digital skills… with the digital skills, with the formal training. And so, it is a true differentiator. Once you put it in there, you go from being a fundraiser to being a fundraiser with this digital aspect or marker with this and and so on and so forth. So people, again, like I said, they use it to get new jobs, but they can get promotions or whatever it is that they want to be able to do.

[00:35:52.760] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And we’re building this in such a way that yes, it will, it benefits nonprofit organizations. But if there’re social enterprises that are interested in this, they’re welcome. So are foundations because we’re really looking to support social-impact driven organization.

[00:36:08.090] – Boris
I often answer, when I’m asked, why is it that nonprofits are usually significantly behind the rest of the field when it comes to digital adoption and usage? That it’s partly inherent to the way that nonprofits are formed. It’s not usually by people who graduated with digital marketing skills and now want to start a nonprofit. Although there are plenty that have done that, and that’s fantastic. It’s usually people who graduated with different kinds of degrees and now want to put them in the service of good or are joining an organization that they believe in, but they don’t have that digital marketing or that website development or digital fundraising kind of background to them.

[00:36:52.290] – Boris
And so they’re kind of left to fend for themselves or hire consultants or hire expensive people in house. This program can really help level that playing field for organizations and super excited about that.

[00:37:04.350] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, I know. I agree a hundred percent with you, and it’s exciting to see that, because I feel like, this will really move the needle significantly. I’ve already seen it, right? So it’s not theoretical. It definitely will, and it has. And you know, really, to my knowledge, this is the first offering of this type at a university.

[00:37:29.720] – Boris
So, I’m hoping that a lot of people at least check it out. We’ll definitely link to it in the show notes, so that people go see the program and all the information.

[00:37:36.960] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And also to see the webinar. The webinar, as you guys be a terrific job and let them see the webinar, too.

[00:37:42.050] – Boris
We’ll definitely be linking to that. As I said before in the LinkedIn event, so that you can deconstruct how we did it and how we got so many people there in the first place. And we’ll also link to several of your articles, your Nonprofit Tech for Good pieces. And you mentioned that the blog itself is a good resource for people, I believe.

[00:38:02.800] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, it’s a great resource. Heather, who runs it is awesome. It’s a great resource.

[00:38:07.600] – Boris
So we’ll definitely link to that. What is your call to action to any organization, any nonprofit professional, because organizations don’t listen, but professionals do. At this point, they’ve listened to our interview. What should they go do now?

[00:38:22.580] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Upskill their digital skills. And not just because it’s self serving, but really it’s no longer good enough for you to be like a terrific fundraiser, a terrific market. You need to have digital. It’s not a nice to have. It’s an essential. So absolutely make those investments, whether it’s a store program or elsewhere. Absolutely make that investment because this isn’t going away. Digital is not going away. And if you see, I don’t know if you can see the book, there’s a book behind me, which is The World Is Flat. Thomas L. Friedman.

[00:38:56.480] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I read that in 2005. I think it was, and I was really looking at kind of differentiating myself too, what I was working on. And I realized that as professionals, as organizations, as companies, we have to constantly think about how we reinvent ourselves to be much more relevant. And if you’re known for real basic things, basic skills, you as a professional can be replaced or you as a nonprofit or you as a company, can be replaced. The more that you can really move up the food chain, the more that you can go to more value-added kind of offering, and this is one of them. The more in demand you will be.

[00:39:36.550] – Boris
Inevitably, you’re paid for the value that you can bring to an organization. Basically.

[00:39:40.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. So that’s what I would say.

[00:39:43.730] – Boris
Awesome. Liz, if people want to connect with you, by the way, I should probably say Liz is not a flat-earther. If anybody took that out of context.

[00:39:54.280] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh. Okay. Yeah.

[00:39:57.710] – Boris
But if anybody wants to connect with you, what’s the best way to do that?

[00:40:00.940] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I’m @LizNgonzi on every platform, and they can also email me en33@nyu.edu.

[00:40:09.560] – Boris
Fantastic. I’m sure a lot of people will have questions. I want to follow up with you. I’m really grateful to you for coming on the show today, Liz, and sharing all this valuable knowledge and having this immensely important discussion with me.

[00:40:21.190] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Thank you for inviting me. It was so fun. This is really, really a pleasure for me to do this with you.

[00:40:28.580] – Boris
Awesome, Liz. I’m sure we’ll have more things to talk about, and maybe we’ll have you on again.

[00:40:32.670] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, bring me back.

[00:40:34.010] – Boris
Maybe the other myriad things that you and I could dive into.

[00:40:39.030] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
We could talk about plays, we could talk about theater.

[00:40:41.770] – Boris
Oh my goodness. I’m sure there are nonprofits focused on theater that would love that conversation, but maybe we’ll do that as a side note.

[00:40:49.780] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I’m doing a presentation for arts organizations in the UK in two weeks, in Digital Storytelling.

[00:40:59.750] – Boris
Send me a copy?

[00:41:00.300] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Not that unlikely.

[00:41:03.750] – Boris
Actually, maybe an episode specifically for arts organizations would be great, because I do have several arts organizations clients, and they have some particular challenges.

[00:41:12.600] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh they really would have gone through it. Really.

[00:41:20.740] – Boris
Yeah, absolutely. All right, we’re gonna do that.

[00:41:22.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Okay. Awesome.

[00:41:23.870] – Boris
All right. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today on the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Please, please follow us on all the social media platforms. Subscribe to this podcast. And if you love interviews like the one we just had with Liz Ngonzi, then please go ahead and subscribe and leave us a review so that more people could discover it. Thank you, as always, for all the work that you do to make the world a better place. I’m Boris Kievsky, and I’ll see you next time.

[00:42:06.180] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Over the last 18 months, some organizations did a great job quickly responding to the Covid shift to digital in their fundraising and programming, while others could not. (6:13)
  • Small organizations can learn from larger ones, following their blueprint and applying it to their own organizations, even if at a different scale. (8:00)
  • With the cost of technology dropping, the biggest differentiator between nonprofits adopting digital today is not financial, it’s cultural. Those that cannot adapt and embrace change may be forced to close or merge. (9:19)
  • Nonprofits have to think about new ways to leverage their existing assets and generate new content. Most any organization can now compete with the large media companies in the world in terms of distributing your content. If your content is just as relevant to your audience, they will be happy to access it in the same ways they get their current entertainment. For example, it’s now simple and affordable to launch your own streaming channel on platforms like Roku. (11:17)
  • Your community is now potentially anywhere in the world. Geography is not as important as relevancy and accessibility. (14:04)
  • There are many new influencers with tremendous reach. These can either be competitors for attention or great allies for nonprofits whose causes they care about. As with all partnerships, though, you have to be careful with whom you partner. (16:09)
  • With the increased competition for resources, building genuine connections with your audience makes all the difference. It all starts with a great story that resonates with your audience, is in sync with their interests, and differentiates your nonprofit from the competition. (18:25)
  • Covid has changed, and continues to change the world. What worked before the pandemic may not be what’s most effective now. (20:47)
  • The funding landscape has also changed. Relying on a few high-level funding sources is perilous in times like these. It is far better to diversify, including seeking out smaller recurring donations. (21:40)
  • In connecting with foundations’ employees, organizations should take advantage of LinkedIn. With 900 million accounts, it is a great platform to reach people and organizations that may be interested in your work. (23:22)
    • Only 10% of foundations have websites, but many have employees who are active on LinkedIn.
    • It allows nonprofits to showcase their thought leadership, their work and their impact.
    • Development professionals can research prospects on LinkedIn and connect with them directly or through someone in their network that can make an introduction.
    • LinkedIn events are another great tool on the platform, creating a landing page around an event with social proof based on who else is attending. You can continue to add things to the event page, and the page will keep reaching your audience long after the event is over.
    • Take advantage of the training. LinkedIn offers 50% off of their products for qualified nonprofits.
  • There is a new certificate program in Digital Fundraising at NYU that offers courses in digital storytelling, virtual events and fundraisers, social media, analytics, high-impact web design, and more, taught by industry experts. (30:09)
    • The entire program can be accessed virtually.
    • Each class will have practical applications
    • The certificate is a great way for nonprofit professionals to distinguish themselves in the field

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Elizabeth Ngonzi

Elizabeth Ngonzi

Founder / CEO, International Social Impact Institute

Liz Ngonzi is an international social entrepreneur and educator who helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations to clarify, develop their stories for increased impact.

She is the founder and CEO of The International Social Impact Institute, which — through initiatives with the King Baudouin Foundation US, CIVICUS Global Alliance, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, The Resource Alliance in the UK, and others – creates opportunities for and amplifies the voices of social impact leaders from historically marginalized communities around the world.

As an adjunct assistant professor of fundraising at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, she teaches Digital Storytelling, Innovation and Fundraising, and Planning and Executing Virtual Events and Fundraisers that Inspire and Activate Support, both of which are part of the professional certificate program in Digital Fundraising she recently developed.

Connect with Elizabeth Ngonzi