The art of ‘keep giving’
Larry C Johnson, founder of The Eight PrinciplesTM, busts myths regarding sustainable fundraising.
Larry C Johnson, author of The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, lays bare the misconceptions of philanthropy and explores the relationship between donors and organizations.
So, what is ‘evergreen philanthropy?’ It is investors that keep on giving, and giving, and giving more. “Does that really happen?”, you ask. Yes, it does. And yet, when asked how you make this a reality, leaders of nonprofits usually offer a series of predictable myths. Creating the situation where a philanthropic investor will become ‘evergreen’ is not all that hard—or unusual. However, it is often counterintuitive.
What are those myths? Here are my favorite top five:
01 it is all about the cause
Nonprofit leaders are well-motivated people. They want to do good in the world. Their goals and visions are laudable even as they are far-reaching and expansive. There is nothing wrong with this.
When they reach out to potential investors—some call them ‘donors’—they are eager to share their cause.
It is what they spend their time thinking about—what they work for every day, this is where the myth begins. Nonprofit leaders too often operate from the assumption that philanthropists—those with resources who want to invest for the well-being of other people—will be as passionate about their cause as they are.
You see, philanthropists are people just like us. They have their own set of dreams and aspirations. They, too, have core values they seek to realize in their lives. And it is on these that philanthropists have their focus.
Attracting evergreen support from investors is not about making the most convincing passionate case for your cause, it is offering your potential investors the opportunity to fulfill theirs. Magic happens when you show your potential supporters how investing in you will fulfill them.
Principle 1 of The Eight Principles™ is Donors are the Drivers®. Donors drive philanthropy with their visions and values, not their money. And make no mistake, they are in the driver’s seat.
02 it is about quid pro quo
Nonprofit leaders almost always see philanthropy as a transaction—an exchange of resources. They are convinced that philanthropists give to get recognition, community favor, preferred tax treatment, charity auction bauble, etc. They believe this because they see philanthropy as an extraction. This belief is the primary driver for the anxiety that most people feel when they are asked to ‘fundraise.’
It is something far different. Years and years of research confirm that philanthropists are indeed looking for something. But it is not a quid pro quo.
Philanthropists, especially those who become evergreen, see giving as a relationship, an ongoing relationship. They give for reasons which are intensely personal. Those reasons are almost never material. They give to realize their personal values, for self-actualization. Nonprofits who understand this appreciate that when they ask for an investment, they are offering something of far greater value than the financial resource a donor offers.
When nonprofit leaders take the time to develop meaningful, bi-lateral relationships with those who invest in their cause, they discover the power and freedom of evergreen philanthropy. They also make some strong friends and allies.
03 it is about the ‘big gifts’
The entire nonprofit community—in the United States at any rate—is obsessed with ‘major gifts.’ Gifts which are of such size that they create big waves as they wash up on the beach of the nonprofit.
‘Big’ and ‘major’ are relative terms. For a small organization, $ 1,000 is a lot of money while for many universities, the ‘major’ gift does not become real until we are talking $1,000,000 or more, sometimes much more.
It is a well-known fact that about 80% of what a nonprofit organization will receive in philanthropic support
will come from about 20% of the total number of investors. So, in that way, the ‘big’ gifts do matter a lot.
What is missing here is that ‘big gifts’ or ‘major gifts,’ conceal the fact that these gifts never come out of the blue and the donors who give them almost always start out by making modest gifts—sometimes very modest.
Today’s token donor can very well be a major investor in a couple of years. It pays for an organization to build relationships with all those who support them. While the ‘big gifts’ provide scale, the modest ones provide legitimacy. They demonstrate real community support.
Without a broad-base of support, no organization, no matter how well funded, will endure. We have all seen this with a single donor coming in, providing a lot of money but for some reason, the organization never succeeds. That is because they forgot to reach out to the little guys.
04 it is about reaching out to everyone
You are probably thinking, “You just told us that it is about both big gifts and small ones. And now you are saying that we should not be reaching out to everyone?”
Nonprofit leaders are looking for donors in all giving abilities. But they are not looking for just any donor. They are looking for that subset of investors who share their values and vision, and by their life situation, are ready and willing to invest.
Nonprofits often make the mistake of reaching out and soliciting indiscriminately. Not only is this expensive, it is also very inefficient.
Principle 4 of The Eight Principles is Learn & Plan™. First, learn who would support your cause because of who they are, then make your plan on how to reach out.
The leaders of nonprofit organizations that scale are not looking for any and every donor. They are seeking those who can—and will—become evergreen investors.
05 it is about treating everyone the same
Just as many nonprofit organizations have one-size-fits-all fundraising appeals, they also tend to treat all their donors the same.
“What’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Are they supposed to give the big guys special treatment?” Well, yes and no.
An individual’s giving capacity—their financial ability— is but one quality that varies from person to person. Two others—what I call ‘affinity’ and ‘life situation’—are equally important as the ability to give.
Affinity is the measure of alignment between the donor’s values, and goals and those of the organization’s they invest in. Some donors are closer than others, closer because of their involvement, as to their service or relationship, and because of their ‘fit’—their personal goals.
Life situation is where they are in their own lives and how that intersects with their involvement in the organization to which they are giving. Whether the donor is a college student, young professional, married with young children, or coming into retirement, it will affect both their interests and ability to give. Factor in lifechanging events and personal tragedy and you see that what a donor is experiencing in his or her life has a meaningful and material impact on which organizations they support, at what level, and for how long.
Principle 6 of The Eight Principles is Divide & Grow™. It is the principle of treating different people differently. Understanding and applying this principle is essential to growing the size of your fundraising program. Along with Principle 7, Renew & Refresh™, these truths form the foundation for creating sustainability to your fundraising efforts.
The organizations which understand and use this understanding as they work with their supporters are also the ones who build the strongest and longest lasting relationships with their supporters. They are the ones who have discovered the true magic of evergreen philanthropy.
With these myths, a common theme emerges. Fundraising is not about systems or techniques. Philanthropy is not about money; it is about people, first and last. ■