The art of ‘keep giv­ing’

The Smart Manager - - Contents -

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.

Well, no.

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. ■

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