When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.
In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.
Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.
As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time.
Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.
But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.
I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.
I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!
You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.
Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.
I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.
Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.
When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.
I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.
In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.
There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.
Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).
Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.
Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!
For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).
I have wanted to discuss this topic for a long time, but I have struggled with how best to go about it. I have not known a nonprofit support organization to tackle this topic in a realistic way, yet it is especially important for new staff, especially those in development. I do think some acknowledgement by leaders in our sector would be helpful, as would developing some “mindset” training into our industry’s regular regimen of educational conferences.
When I obtained my first nonprofit position, I bonded with the organization, its image and mission totally. To my mind, we were inseparably linked. The two did not exist apart from one another! I was young, learning at a fast pace, and I absolutely loved the organization. It felt like a perfect fit.
Four years later, two supervisory changes and a decline in our local economic climate meant I had become frustrated. I started looking for a new position. Eventually I moved on (and up) with my career. But mentally, this was a tough change. My entire self worth was bonded to the nonprofit; once I departed, I felt adrift. I had also gotten to know many of the leading donors and volunteers as well. They felt like family. But I had to learn how to separate myself from that environment and those closely associated with it, and to “let go.”
Now, it is true that some of those same philanthropists are friends and professional colleagues today, more than twenty five years later. But the pain of leaving my first nonprofit family and friends was hard. But something important happened. I underwent a crucial mental change.
I acknowledged I had to move on for my own reasons;
I realized those donors still loved the nonprofit I was leaving (even though I no longer did);
I acknowledged that I should respect that loyalty (how could they get along without me?); and
I looked ahead, recognizing that it was entirely possible I would interact with my former nonprofit donors in future jobs.
Those realizations marked a significant change in attitude and helped me succeed in my future positions. The moment this shift occurred, it became possible for me to be friends with many of the philanthropists with whom I worked over the years in the sense we became comfortable talking about philanthropy more broadly, we shared general advice and personal life experiences. Mutual respect had been established. “Letting go” was a mature step forward that I needed to take.
Which is to say, nonprofit development professionals are not the sole spokespersons for the organizations with which they work. Directors, program officers, curators and even groundskeepers have their own relationships. Regrettably, I have experienced intense jealousy by other staff members when they see how comfortable I am with donors. Some have attempted to get rid of me entirely, feeling there is too much competition! But in truth, I have mentally separated myself in such a way that I fully understand the nonprofit with which I am currently working will go on long after I am gone. If I can make appropriate connections to benefit the project at hand, I definitely will. But I do not “own” any donor. The decision to become involved and to donate is entirely theirs.
Some staff can see you as a threat to their own (self) appointed position as, “the best friend of the donor.” I have discovered this with executive directors and department heads, for example. But I urge you, regardless and for your own well being, separate yourself from the organization mentally. You have your own life and are a person of value without or without the nonprofit.
Represent your organization in an absolutely first class fashion 24-7, even when you are not working. But also, step out of the picture if you become uncomfortable. I have discovered donors and volunteers (and the nonprofit organization) will appreciate you more if you follow this advice, and you will earn their trust for a lifetime.
Notes and Thoughts
Nonprofit work can inspire a stronger emotional attachment psychologically than corporate work, at least in my experience. This is especially true with those new to the nonprofit sector and in my case, with younger, inexperienced staff members. The organization’s leadership should be mindful of this dimension of their work and be sensitive to it. Today, employees change jobs fairly frequently and if you can part ways in a civil fashion, giving the less experienced staff a positive boost as they march out the door, everyone will be better off. That can be a tough assignment, but I believe it is a worthy one.
The Donor Relations Guru has posted a thoughtful article I enjoyed, “Team Player or Individual Contributor?” (April, 2017). I admit, I like the point of view conveyed. “They say in fundraising there’s an 80/20 rule, that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors. I have my own 80/20 rule for working and implementation and its one that may strike home for you too. 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the employees.” I have been hired a few times to do work the staff either tried to do and failed, or refused to do at all. I have also been hired to achieve “the impossible,” only to have other staff take my laurels when I am done with my work. I sometimes say in my mind, “if you could have done the job without me, why didn’t you?” I often wonder why these kinds of employees retain their jobs, but they always seem to.
Founder’s Syndrome is something I have encountered occasionally in my work over the years. Here is an article by Jeff Jowdy for NonProfitPRO (2013), “9 Ways for Nonprofits to Overcome ‘Founder’s Syndrome’.” Founder’s Syndrome is a bit more dangerous phenomenon than youthful attachment to an organization. “Founder’s Syndrome can be particularly devastating to fundraising. If a founder is not open to increased accountability as an organization grows, donors will become increasingly suspicious and may eventually flee.” This is where my personal “rub” has occurred in the past, when an Executive Director becomes threatened and unnecessarily jealous of my contacts and fundraising success. I have learned to step back, and if a resolution cannot be reached – despite my being the primary tie to the donors – I have removed myself from the situation. And a few times, the donors have gotten upset with me. But truly, I had no choice.
You might enjoy reading Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian, “Beware the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity” (2015). Sometimes when people strive for excellence, organizational strife can result. Innovators can be viewed as dangerous! And sometimes, the one achieving excellence can be seen as a threat, and they may ultimately be pushed out. I have also seen mediocre employees remain on staff at nonprofit organizations, and for decades. They are neither terrible at their jobs, nor excellent. Go figure. Personally, I think mediocrity is an underappreciated survival skill.
Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today, “Is It Only Natural for Us to Be Jealous?” (2014). “We humans not only have the tendency to become jealous over imagined threats, we also don’t often seem to take into account the ‘cost’ of certain behaviors.” I think educational programming for development professionals on dealing with jealousy would be an excellent idea.
This post was written at Thanksgiving 2016. I have continued to update it as new information becomes available. I find the message to be timeless and increasingly important to America and the world.
My hope is that all citizens of the United States will see diversity as a blessing. Recent years have been tumultuous for ethnic groups across America and the world. Tolerance seems to have taken a backseat to misunderstanding, irrational fear, emotional outbursts and occasional violence.
Among the many nonprofit organizations for which I have worked, those focusing on the environment have taught me that human beings are no different from other animals in the sense that they have developed physically in unique and interesting ways over tens of thousands of years.
Yet oddly enough, while we are endlessly fascinated by the physical diversity found in birds, mammals, fish and the like, when it comes to our own human species some of us are intolerant of those who look and behave differently from our own group. We sometimes fear those who hold religious beliefs dissimilar from our own, and those who maintain cultural traditions we do not understand.
“If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Ronald Reagan, American president (1911-2004)
During SXSW a few years ago, I attended a series of sessions on Tech Inclusion. Hosted by Galvanize and the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings Initiative, panel discussions began early on a Sunday morning in downtown Austin at the then-new offices of Atlassian, and continued all day long. I learned about the challenges LGBTQIA citizens have securing and holding “regular” corporate jobs, about common issues military veterans re-entering the workforce face, how underrepresented minorities struggle in the workplace with the simplest accommodations and general perceptions, as do older generations and women in the workplace.
After listening for several hours of well-considered discussion and dialogue, I felt these Tech Inclusion presentations should be televised and made available to a much broader audience. Not only the tech industry but every industry – and the general populace – would benefit.
I was raised to be tolerant. Figuratively speaking, we were urged as children to, “step into the shoes” of others and try to see the world from their point of view before speaking and acting on often misleading initial impressions. That was a powerful learning experience and one more people need to experience at an early age. From Psychology Today, “It is often easier to have empathy for someone who is like us but it is possible to learn empathy for those who are different from us. This kind of understanding, according to Reiss, can cross bridges and promote positive social behavior. Maybe we could use a little more empathy in our world.”
“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.”
This post was written a few years ago, not long after I returned to Austin. I had become a ONE Campaign volunteer while waiting out the economic downtown in San Antonio. In summer 2013, I returned to Austin to work with a new nonprofit to help ramp-up its major gift fundraising activities.
The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 – “Helping sub-Saharan Africa increase modern electricity access will save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty and accelerate growth.“
After many years of intense major gift fundraising work with a number of worthy nonprofit projects across the state of Texas, the economic downturn allowed me “quiet time” to return to some of my other life interests. From my grade school days, I was fascinated by Africa and the Middle East. I watched television programs and voraciously read Time Life books my parents had acquired for my sister and I. When I was in high school, my parents took our family on a month-long trip to the Middle East and North Africa, where my interests were deepened even further.
“ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than seven million people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
We believe the fight against poverty isn’t about charity, but about justice and equality.
Whether lobbying political leaders in world capitals or running cutting-edge grassroots campaigns, ONE pressures governments to do more to fight AIDS and other preventable, treatable diseases in the poorest places on the planet, to empower small-holder farmers, to expand access to energy, and to combat corruption so governments are accountable to their citizens. Cofounded by Bono and other activists, ONE is strictly nonpartisan.”
Why should someone like me support critical needs like electricity for Africa?
First, let me share an insight:
“This notion that we can be an island unto ourselves, I don’t think is realistic in the world we live in … But this notion that we should cut off all foreign aid, when it’s less than 1 percent of the budget and when it’ll isolate us from the world and hurt our national security – I don’t think that makes sense.” –Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 23, 2012
I believe Africa represents the future of our world. It has so much promise on every level! But also, allowing horrible living conditions, dire poverty, disease and ignorance to persist means many issues here at home like national security are negatively impacted. Problems overseas can quickly become our own problems, as we have seen time and time again. With relatively little expense, these international challenges can be alleviated for the benefit of the entire human race.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 620 million people do not have access to electricity. Thirty seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a national electrification rate of below 50 percent. These endemic power shortages affect all aspects of life. The President and Congress are working with African leaders, civil society organizations, and the private sector to dramatically change this dire situation. We know energy access is one of the most urgent priorities for people in sub-Saharan Africa with one in five Africans citing infrastructure – including electricity – as their most pressing concern.
The lack of electricity impacts people’s lives in at least five major ways, with a disproportionately negative impact on girls and women.”
“Africa’s 900 million people use less energy than Spain’s 47 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, 621 million people have no electricity whatsoever. Each year, 600,000 Africans – half of them children – die from household air pollution, caused by fuelwood and charcoal used for cooking.”
Clearly, the world must support African leaders as they work to improve this dire situation.
When reading African literature, I was inspired by its grace and wisdom. As Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said,
“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away.”
That is exactly what African literature did for me. You might consider African authors the next time you are seeking a good book to read.
Please support ONE Campaign and help release millions of Africans from the grip of extreme poverty. It costs you nothing but your voice.
In 2018, I undertook a DNA test with Ancestry.com. Our family has long suspected we have African roots on my mother’s side. That turned out to be true with 1% of my DNA being from Mali in West Africa. I was thrilled, and we were glad to have the mystery of our darker skin resolved. Now, I am an even greater advocate for ONE Campaign, and I am exploring that 1% online as often as I can.
You might also enjoy reading this Brookings analysis, Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2019.“Africa is brimming with promise and, in some places, peril. With its array of contributions, this year’s edition reflects both the diversity of the continent and the common threads that bind it together. With that aim, we hope to promote and inform a dialogue that will generate sound practical strategies for achieving shared prosperity across the continent.”
“The mission of Great Promise for American Indians is to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians, and to support the health and education needs of their youth and families. We do this to honor the past, and to ensure the future.“
I urge you to review the website and consider supporting Great Promise! Follow this link to see Carolyn’s Tumblr and my photo essay about the Powwow (which also includes a few Instagram video links).
The mission statement above brings to mind a concept I hold true in my own profession: nonprofit fundraising professionals should both honor the past – traditional, proven methods of educating, cultivating, soliciting and stewarding relationships with donors – while also adopting new methods. In this way, we will ensure a sustainable future for the nonprofit organizations we support.
The iPhone photograph above features a striking Indian in colorful formal dress using a mobile phone to photograph the traditional dances taking place on the floor below. He summarizes well the theme of this post!
npENGAGE noted in, “5 Ways Technology Will Shape the Nonprofit Sector” back in 2014 (and still true today), “Think back even five years ago, ten years ago – how different is the nonprofit landscape now compared to then? It’s pretty dramatic.” Follow the link to read about the five trends: mobile, analytics, software, cloud and social media.
In, “Enhacing Your Major Gift Fundraising Strategy with Analytics” by Carol Belair (August, 2015), she wisely notes,
“Growing a relationship over time with newly identified prospects is key to developing or enhancing major gifts programs or initiatives. Keep in mind that even though an analytics project may identify a new crop of prospects able and willing to give more significant gifts to your organization, the scores themselves don’t guarantee that you will raise a particular amount of money or that individuals will give you a more significant donation.”
One of my earliest posts focuses on using “high tech” research methods to identify major gift prospects. I consider those methods to be invaluable. I have seen firsthand how major gift campaigns that at first appeared to lack an adequate number of prospective donors, suddenly have a dearth of them once proper research was conducted.
The best of both worlds when it comes to major gift fundraising includes detailed research and analysis using the latest technologies, combined with traditional methods of education, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, all with genuine caring and thoughtfulness on the part of the development professionals involved.
But the nonprofit sector still has work to do when it comes to marrying traditional and modern approaches to fundraising and communication. Nonprofits generally fail to engage current and potential donors using social media, for instance.
The New Hampshire Business Review notes in, “Charities Don’t Make the Grade on Social Media Scorecard” (October, 2015):
“’While the overwhelming majority of organizations are on social media and do a good job of posting regularly, very few use these channels to genuinely engage with their constituents,’ said Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. ‘Charities generally use social media channels to advertise events or as a ‘billboard,’ but rarely do they use them as a way to engage donors in conversation. This will be important to remember as we approach the holiday giving season.'”
One of the prevailing themes of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is that high net worth households own more digital devices than the general population, and they are highly active on social media. They conduct business and spend their leisure time using a variety of convenient mobile devices. It makes sense for nonprofits to use these tools to communicate with and engage those capable of making significant charitable donations.
Pew Research Center notes in, “U.S. Technology Device Ownership: 2015” (October, 2015):
“… Device usage has notable social and cultural implications, and there are sometimes important political and macroeconomic consequences to the way people use their gadgets. For instance, every major media industry – those built around video, audio and text – has been disrupted by these devices.”
Some fundraising professionals remain focused entirely on less modern methods in major gift fundraising. And, I have taken the “heat” for my blended approach on more than one occasion.
But the fundraising profession is changing. My discovery is simply this: one person can accomplish a great deal when armed with the proper technology, software, and positive mental attitude. Sometimes one person can accomplish as much or more than several major gift professionals and/or consultants. This is a trend worth watching, and a situation of not only adapting to change, but embracing it for a more sustainable, efficient and effective future.
I have been a respectful adherent of the Donor Bill of Rights since entering the field of nonprofit fundraising back in the 1980s. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) notes:
“Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To ensure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the nonprofit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights.”
But after many years working in the trenches of nonprofit fundraising, I believe a Nonprofit Fundraisers’ Bill of Rights is also in order.
Below, I have listed the Donor Bill of Rights along with commentary about the nonprofit fundraiser’s point of view and “rights.”
I. To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.
Nonprofit development staff are sometimes asked to solicit donations but over time, they may discover the funds they solicited are not being used as originally discussed. The nonprofit may be unable to effectively carry out the project as intended.
Development staff can be tremendous allies in this situation. They should be informed and given the opportunity to translate changes to the donors they solicited, thereby ensuring an honest relationship and retaining personal, professional and organizational integrity.
Sometimes nonprofit organizations fear a negative reaction from donors if a change of direction with an important project is necessary. But I have found if changes and challenges are aired in a forthright manner, donors appreciate the candor and often continue to give more.
II. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.
This is good protection for fundraising professionals as well. Development professionals need to be able to learn about, meet and interact with those serving on the Board in order to function properly in their jobs. But sometimes senior executives prevent interaction between development professionals and staff and Board members. This is a mistake.
Most Board members welcome the advice and support of development staff. If they do not interact, problems may ensue. Development professionals are donor advocates and allies. When allowed to do their job properly, the better the reputation of the nonprofit, its Board, and each and every donor with whom they work.
I once listened to a foundation staff member arrogantly proclaim they would only be “friends” with donors, not “development officers,” as if being a development officer is a lowly office. Beware: oftentimes the development officer is one of the most knowledgeable staff member at the nonprofit organization, one who cares about the organization’s donors the most. They will fight for you if you allow them to do so.
III. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.
Not only should nonprofit development staff have access to Form 990s – which today one can find readily on GuideStar – they should be encouraged to review those financial documents and to become knowledgeable about them. As donors and professional advisors become more savvy (and discerning), being armed with this knowledge is essential to functioning properly on the job.
IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.
Similar to the first tenet discussed, development staff should be informed if a donation is not being used for its intended purpose. Sometimes, program staff and others in positions of leadership fail to share changes with the development department. Nonprofit fundraisers should be given the opportunity to learn about and to discuss any changes in terms of the project(s) funded with the donor(s) they solicited originally.
V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.
Once a grant or gift has been awarded, and if the donor does not require anonymity, then appropriate recognition should be given in project materials, signage and organizational publications (online and hard copy). Verbal recognition and acknowledgement on social media can also be meaningful.
Those of us in the nonprofit sector know it is often the case that volunteers help open doors and solicit gifts from individuals, families, foundations, corporations and government agencies. They deserve recognition and thanks for their efforts. But sometimes it a fundraising professional on staff who has conducted the research necessary to identify donors, and they are the one who has made the all-important introduction, and secured the gift.
Hard work and successful staff achievements should be acknowledged and recognized by nonprofit administrators and members of the Board. Yes, volunteers need and deserve recognition, but don’t forget the development staff. Retention of quality development staff is one of our sector’s greatest challenges. Although reserved when it comes to religious opinions, I like this quote by Joel Osteen:
“Praise is powerful. Praise will break chains, turn problems around and defeat enemies. Praise will give you the victory.”
VI. To be assured that information about donations are handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.
Sometimes development staff are not kept in the “loop” when donations are announced by organizational representatives verbally, online or in print. Fundraising staff must guide the announcement process and help the nonprofit they represent maintain the wishes of each donor regarding confidentiality, proper name spelling, announcement timing and the like.
Sometimes, marketing and public information specialists chafe when partnering with development staff. I have noted one concern is they perceive their work to be “pure” – they seek to represent the institution factually to the public and to the media, and they do not wish to be “tainted” by discussing donors. But nonprofits survive by securing charitable donations, and these two staff functions must work together harmoniously.
VII. To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.
This tenet is also true for nonprofit fundraisers. Development staff should not feel that in order to cultivate a donor relationship they must run personal errands for donors, become a personal driver or shopper, or conduct other business unrelated to the nonprofit organization and its mission.
Should a donor or prospect become verbally abusive or make improper advances, development staff should be encouraged to report such activity to their superiors, and they should expect to be protected. They should not fear being fired.
Nonprofits are hungry for charitable donations, but we as a sector must retain integrity. Nonprofit organizations should not allow improper behavior by donors or potential donors because they are desperate for funding. Of course, handling delicate situations diplomatically is essential.
VIII. To be fully informed regarding who is responsible for securing donations, whether they be volunteers, fellow employees of the organization or hired solicitors.
Nonprofit development staff may be assigned other tasks while volunteers and/or consultants assume the task of soliciting donations for special projects. A clear delineation of duties and assignments is essential. All must work together and avoid competing needlessly. Transparency across roles and teams is essential for the organization to succeed in its fundraising activities.
Yes, I have witnessed nonprofit staff attempting to sabotage the work of well meaning fundraising consultants. The reasons for this are many, from personal jealousy to sincerely believing the reason for hiring a consultant was wrong. The potential for harmful interference must be anticipated and monitored. Reduce anxiety by making sure everyone on the team understands what is going on, and why.
IX. To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.
Separate divisions of nonprofit organizations sometimes maintain their own mailing lists. To ensure compliance with donor wishes and confidentiality, development staff should also be encouraged to review the mailing lists of divisions other than their own and to request changes as necessary. This is what we call today, “breaking down silos.”
It is also true that the use of emailing platforms like Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, Emma and the like provide the opportunity for anyone on a mailing list to remove themselves immediately. This helps nonprofits comply with the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Knowledge of the Act should be standard for any nonprofit fundraiser.
X. To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.
It goes without saying, to represent a nonprofit to the public and to respond to donor and potential donor inquiries, development staff must ask questions of fellow staff in order to fully understand the current status of activities that have been underwritten by donors. Nonprofit leaders should encourage those inquiries.
My experience is the public is not aware that development staff are often as knowledgeable about the inner workings of their nonprofits as the director, senior program officers, and members of the Board. Anyone who researches and writes grants knows a comprehensive knowledge of the nonprofit is required to achieve success. Development staff are not just hired to be “nice” to donors and to organize parties. Their work is essential to the survival of the nonprofit, and to do it well requires in-depth knowledge and commitment.
I was visiting with a friend when I moved back to Austin in the summer of 2013 after being away for some 20 years. We discussed how I came to be involved in nonprofit fundraising, in particular major gift work. Our conversation turned to how someone who wants to work in the field of major gifts learns how to become accustomed to, “lots of zeros.” My friend could not imagine it.
My personal story might be helpful to new fundraising professionals who have an interest in pursuing careers in major gift fundraising. Those of us who are more experienced sometimes forget that not everyone is comfortable with major gifts, which involves handling significant monetary transactions and working closely with affluent donors. We must be mindful to share our knowledge for the benefit of up-and-coming fundraising professionals, and to help them achieve success.
After securing my Bachelor’s Degree With Honors at The University of Texas at Austin in Middle Eastern Studies, I moved to New York City for six months. My fiance was a young, well-connected economics professor who had secured a semester-long appointment at Columbia University. Rather than be without him for six months, I tagged along. Some of my greatest work and life experiences occurred during that brief time, and I admit, it was hard to leave New York to return home to Texas after those intense but rewarding six months.
Luckily for our personal finances, while in New York I managed to secure a full-time secretarial position with a bank on Wall Street in its Middle Eastern division. Part-time office jobs on the UT Austin campus had helped pay for my college education, and they gave me additional skills than those acquired via, “book learning.” Those very office skills helped open doors to my first jobs, like this one!
At the bank, the staff helped investors manage and occasionally “move” their money on a moment’s notice to other banks and/or investment houses across the world, for more favorable interest rates and the like. I was humbled by the daily telephone conversations occurring in our office, along these lines:
“Yes, I understand. You want me to transfer $1,486,633.57 from your account in [one country to another]. I will do that right now. No problem. We will send you a confirmation shortly. Thank you!”
I knew if I tried to handle that kind of transaction myself and I was “off” by one penny, I would be fired. The thought of handling those transactions terrified me. It took me a few months, but then I got used to, “lots of zeros.” I could stand-in for the primary point person on our floor and handle those calls.
The responsibility of handling seven-figure transfers made me literally shake at the start. But by the conclusion of six months, I had crossed the psychological hurdle and it became easier and more routine.
What does this suggest about serving as an intern (or a low level employee) in a bank or investment house early in your nonprofit fundraising career? Looking back on it today, working on Wall Street was one of the best experiences I could have had in my early 20s.
When I returned to Austin, I decided to pursue a new focus of study in art history (rather than banking). The bank executive I had worked for in New York ushered me off kindly, suggesting I secure an MBA. But I was hesitant and decided to change focus. After all, while living and working in New York, I had visited each and every one of the many art museums the city had to offer. I loved them.
It was while securing my Master’s Degree in art history in the mid-1980s that I also began volunteering for a local art museum. What I learned was the study of art history is also the study of patronage. Great works of art and architecture have come to life through the financial and political backing of wealthy benefactors for centuries and would not have been possible without them.
For a personal tale about my experience with the noted late Western Art collector and founder of American Airlines, C. R. Smith while I was a “work study student” in graduate school, follow this link.
A tale of patronage I enjoyed reading about is, “Larry Ellison’s Art at Asian Art Museum” by Robert Taylor for The Mercury News (2013 and updated 2016). “It’s a fact of life that well-heeled collectors make museums possible, from the Rockefellers to a Wal-Mart heiress. Among the welcome exhibits in San Francisco recently have been William Paley’s vast collection of paintings at the de Young Museum and a sampling of Jerry Yang’s Chinese calligraphy at the Asian Art Museum.” If you have studied art and art history seriously, this will be obvious. Coincidentally, the chief curator at the Asian Art Museum was one of my former graduate school supervisors and mentors (another reason I wanted to mention this specific article).
I encountered “lots of zeros” again in the context of my work with the local art museum. One day, I happened to be the only staff member in the development department one lunch hour, and I received and opened an overnight package, only to come face-to-face with a $1,000,000 check. Although my experience on Wall Street had made me more accustomed to large figures, holding the actual check in my hands quite literally took my breath away. Luckily the executive director happened to stop by to calm me down and retrieve the check, smiles.
After many years of developing and implementing major gift campaigns since those early days, large numbers no longer phase me (although I respect them greatly). I have since been invited to speak about how to write grants and how to work with donors, including asking for major gifts. A few of my experiences may be seen in a PowerPoint created a few years ago for the Texas Historical Commission, “Writing Winning Grants” (you won’t want to miss the “Memorable Conversations” section).
You might also enjoy an article posted in Forbes by Vivek Ranadive, “A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Valuable Than Learning Any Trade” (2012). “If you teach students one trade, that skill might be obsolete in a few years. But if you teach people how to think and look at lots of information and connect dots – all skills that a classic liberal education gives you – you will thrive.”
While securing my two university degrees in the colleges of liberal and fine arts at UT Austin, I knew those areas of study were my passion. But I also suspected they would land me in jobs valued less by society, perhaps in academia teaching the same “101” freshman course over-and-over again. But happily, my experience working with the museum led me to something very fulfilling: the nonprofit sector and a career in professional major gift fundraising. And, I have been at it for more than 30 years.
Best wishes for success in all your endeavors.
This article is dedicated to my best friend on Wall Street, Tina. #Sassy
“… if you want someone to know and trust your organization your best bet is having someone they know post something about your org online.”
Jenna Hanington notes for a corporate audience in Pardot, “The Importance of Customer Testimonials” (May 2013). “Word of mouth” is so important today, whether it be for business or nonprofit organizations.
“Think back to the last time you bought a pair of shoes, or researched the next book you wanted to read. Where did your search start? If you’re like any other consumer, it probably began with customer reviews. Why? Because reviews are candid. They’re not published by the company promoting the product; they’re not fluffed up with marketing lingo and meaningless buzzwords; and most importantly, they’re the words of people just like you.”
I always suggest nonprofits sign-up for GreatNonprofits, a nonprofit review platform that is allied with GuideStar. “These stories are submitted by people who know you best – your clients, donors, volunteers, and others – all those who have experienced the impact of nonprofit work up close!” To read testimonials about the effectiveness of GreatNonprofits, follow this link.
Do you have an online ambassador program?
My suggestion to nonprofit organizations is to include the role of “online ambassador” in the job descriptions for board and advisory board members who are active online. Can they set aside time once weekly, every few weeks, or monthly to share a positive experience, and to encourage their colleagues to support your nonprofit organization? This is a simple, but ultimately very helpful request to make – whether that be on Twitter, Facebook, GreatNonprofits, LinkedIn or other platform.
Certainly, you would expect leading volunteers and donors to be community advocates and to say positive things about your nonprofit’s work and accomplishments whenever and wherever appropriate. If your advocates are also active online, ask them to set aside time to share their opinions and experiences online.
Justin Ware suggests nonprofit organizations engage in:
Ongoing identification of potential ambassadors for both awareness building and fundraising initiatives.
Stewardship of those potential and approved ambassadors through good content and smart online conversation management.
A plan for contacting potential ambassadors and officially bringing them into the program.
A strategy for leveraging the support of your ambassadors.
I couldn’t agree more.
“Simply put, a robust ambassador program could be the most important thing your nonprofit can do from a communications standpoint.”
“If someone is important to you online–as a passionate advocate or as an online influencer–then they are likely important to others. Give them shout outs and highlight their wares. This is authentic because you already think they are important. This is a demonstration of that value.”
You might enjoy reading an article I wrote a few years after posting the one you are now reading, “Social Media Stewardship is Essential for Your Development Program.” Somewhat surprisingly, nonprofits have not fully engaged with the concept, but it is a powerful way to recognize donors (who do not prefer to remain anonymous), and to show the world how valued your nonprofit and its mission are to them.
“To be effective … your social media efforts can’t just be a side venture or a task randomly assigned to an intern. Your social media strategy should be integrated with your overall marketing strategy and aligned with your nonprofit’s goals and target audiences. Specific staff members, interns or volunteers should be dedicated to keeping up with social media. Frequent posts and interactions can promote visibility and community engagement.”
As social media becomes increasingly influential and essential in our world today, don’t let the cart come before the horse. Put social media to work for your organization in a thoughtful, concerted fashion.
I was living in San Antonio when I first wrote this post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I had been sitting in my home office reading Twitter on my laptop, when I noticed a few posts sounding the alarm about an emergency occurring in Boston. I was riveted to my computer screen, and I began searching for information online. This was the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, where sadly more than 260 people were injured.
I have continued to update this blog post since then. Social media plays an ever-growing, essential role in emergency communications today. But back in 2013, I am not sure many thought of social media as an emergency communication and safety tool. Today, this is fairly common knowledge, although some are still learning about the potential uses of social media during emergency situations.
“So why might government agencies or other organizations not be ready yet to use social media as a platform for emergency management? Well, even though social media may be common among most people, updating social media accounts, let alone during emergencies and disasters, requires a huge amount of time, effort and understanding of social media. And with 74% of social media users expecting response agencies to answer calls for help within an hour, that’s a lot of responding in a very little amount of time. And time is always precious during an emergency.”
Sonia Paul for Mashable
Social Media 4 Emergency Management posted helpful advice in a 2013 article called, “A Role for Onlookers.” “If you are in a jurisdiction that is dealing with an incident of national significance, you are busy learning the following lessons:
The world is watching and wants to help,
Rumors will run rampant because people try to live-tweet scanners and news broadcasts in crisis events,
Images and videos, no matter how graphic, will surface, and
The amount of information available will become a sifting and sorting nightmare, but
There is now little dispute that the use of social media can rapidly allow agencies to share information and employ the public as additional eyes and ears during significant events.”
Valuable time does not have to be spent “wordsmithing” updates to social networks; it is more important to get the message out the door as quickly as possible and to make sure your point is clearly understood.
In a fast moving situation, it isn’t that difficult to understand how incomplete or incorrect content can get posted. However, if that does happen, it may be necessary to repeat the correction.
Situational awareness information can often be found from the social accounts of other city agencies or organizations.
Twitter was certainly the platform to watch during the Boston Marathon. It was while viewing Twitter that I became aware of the bombing incident in the first place. Kudos to the Boston Police for their quick and amazingly efficient response.
“The Boston Police … seemed as prepared for the communications breakdown as they were for the actual emergency response. Using social media — mainly Twitter — Boston Police was able to spread its emergency notification messages literally across the globe in a matter of minutes; and, thanks to the help of the media and concerned citizens from all points on the compass, that message was multiplied at an exponential rate.”
On a personal note, I would suggest one way people can help alleviate disaster situations – if you are yourself safe from harm – is to “share” reputable information from disaster management agencies on your own social platforms. Amplify their impact! Follow the local police and fire departments, FEMA and Homeland Security on social media, for instance. They are on top of emergency situations, and the information they are sharing online can be re-shared to the benefit of your friends, family, neighbors and the entire community.
Carolyn’s Activities and Other Resources
From 2015 to 2021, I served as the lead volunteer organizer of Nonprofit Tech Club Austin, a partnership involving Capital Factory, TechSoup and NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. Just prior to COVID-19 lockdown rules in early 2020, we held a program at Capital Factory on using social media during emergencies. Below is the recording from Austin Tech Live. Our guest speaker was Ashley Morris, who is now an emergency planner in Baltimore. She is very smart and approachable. Follow the link to her LinkedIn profile, and link up!
Center for Disaster Philanthropy provides helpful information for those wanting to contribute to disaster recovery. In brief, disaster giving has a life cycle. The initial emotional response people have to a disaster leads to many helpful, up-front donations. But recovery requires a longer time frame. CDP will help you make smarter long-term giving decisions. Follow them on social media.
Facebook Crisis Response. On a personal note, years ago a friend from graduate school who is teaching at a university in Oklahoma, found his campus under a tornado watch. He posted on Facebook while the emergency order was announced and while he and his colleagues were hunkered down in the basement of his building. One nice thing about Facebook is that when I saw what was happening, I was able to rally other fellow graduate students who have profiles on Facebook to cheer him up and urge him to be safe. It was a group counseling session of sorts! Visit the Facebook Crisis Response for information about current emergencies and more.
Global Disaster Preparedness Center notes in Social Media in Disasters, “The term ‘social media’ refers to Internet-based applications that enable people to communicate and share resources and information. The emergence of this new communication channels represents an opportunity to broaden warnings to diverse segments of the population in times of emergency. These technologies have the potential to prevent communication breakdown through reliance on just one platform and thereby to reinforce the diffusion of warning messages but also present policy makers with new challenges.”
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. “National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.”
If you live in Texas and you would like to get professional training on how to deal with emergencies as a concerned citizen and to help when disaster strikes, you might like to join TEXSAR: Texas Search and Rescue.
Concerning social platform companies and activity online during emergency events, I want to share an opinion. I was on Twitter when the Boston Marathon attack occurred in 2013. I kept noticing Twitter posts about something being wrong, which led me to news reports and then to television. Social media companies have probably learned by now they need to monitor their platforms carefully for images that would be disturbing to viewers. During the marathon events, I got on Tumblr, for instance, and someone at the marathon was literally posting photos of victims with their limbs blown off. I can also understand how emergency responders would benefit from knowing exactly what is happening and where. I do not know if this is available, but emergency response agency personnel might consider posting a handle or a link to a secure online channel that is easy for emergency viewers to access via smartphones, so these kinds of upsetting but helpful photos and videos can be uploaded securely for the benefit of the overall emergency response effort (rather than posting them online so the public can view them).
Auto-posting services on social media: I would say to anyone auto-posting on social media via a professional sharing platform, turn it off during an emergency. There is nothing more jarring than seeing cheerful ads popping up about your business or nonprofit when people are suffering during an emergency. Humorous advertisements fall flat, and viewers can get a negative, “I don’t care about your emergency” opinion of your company or your nonprofit. “Look, we’re having a gala!” as someone is horribly injured makes for a truly jarring combination of messages. Ten years after having jumped onboard with social media, I still refrain from using automatic posting services. Too dangerous to my mind.
Thanks to Adobe’s free image library for the photographs illustrating this article.