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Surprising Reasons Why Your Nonprofit Isn’t Raising More Money

December 2nd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, How Not For Profits

A lot of non-profits that I work with feel like they’re doing “the right things” when it comes to fundraising.  They are learning new strategies and tactics, trying to build relationships, and working hard to supercharge their events and other activities.  Yet, they’re still not raising the money they need to thrive.

Over time, I have come to the conclusion that there are three main reasons why many non-profits who are trying to do the right things with fundraising aren’t able to break through.  Most organizations find these reasons rather surprising.  Are you doing any of these atyour non-profit?

#1 – You’re Trying to Do Too Much

Lots of non-profits aren’t raising enough money because they are doing too many fundraising activities.  I know what you’re thinking – shouldn’t doing more fundraising result in more funds?  Not necessarily.

The 80/20 rule definitely applies in fundraising.  80% of your revenue is going to come from 20% of your activities.  When you add new activities that don’t result in major revenue increases but that do result in a major workload, you are hurting your organization.

I’ve seen far too many charities that were bogged down in endless small fundraising events, walk-a-thons, change-collection schemes and product sales that took up 70% of their time, which meant they were only spending a third of their time on the activities that raise most of their money: major gifts and individual giving.

Focus your energies on doing your most important fundraising work the right way, and cut out the fluff.

#2 – You’re Relying Too Heavily on Your Board

Many non-profits rely far too heavily on their boards in order to build new donor relationships.  I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute, Joe.  Aren’t you the guy that says that board members should provide fundraising leadership, and that we have to work to earn more referrals from our board?”

Yes, I am.

But… you can’t abdicate responsibility for a strong prospecting program to your board.  It is up to your fundraising team to put a system in place for generating referrals not just from your board, but from all of your donors, as well as for building strong fundraising networks.

Start with your board, but don’t rely just on them.  Filling your prospecting pipeline is far too important to leave it solely to your board.

#3 – You Don’t Have and Use a Critical Path

Your non-profit may have a strong fundraising plan.  You might even include deadlines and responsibilities in that plan.  Good for you.  Both are important for a robust development program.

But do you have, and use, a “critical path” at your organization?

A critical path is a guide that shows you what action steps you need to take by which dates in order to hit your goals.  Large businesses use complex critical paths created by high-priced consultants to help them hit their revenue goals.  Your non-profit doesn’t need anything that complicated.

What you do need, though, is to think through your main fundraising goals and create detailed action steps for getting each accomplished.  Action steps should be fairly detailed (e.g. “Call 100 donors this week,” or, “Order flowers by this date.”  Then, for each action step, assign a deadline and a responsible person.

Then – and this is crucial – you need to use your critical path.  This means sticking to it, modifying it, and tracking your progress against it.  Even if you are only a one-person development shop, you should still be using a critical path to help you reach your fundraising goals.



Fundraising Premiums: What’s Working and Why

November 19th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, How Not For Profits, Marketing

Non-profits are using premiums and branded products in myriad ways.

Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been producing an annual Christmas ornament for 20 years and sees about a $7.50 profit on each one. The organization has become adept not only at marketing its ornaments for optimum donor engagement, but also in choosing designs supporters want to buy.

The organization offers an array of services to people in more than 60 counties, and each year’s ornament design is chosen to reflect something that resonates with local residents. One year it was the home of a local veteran whose annual Christmas light displays had become a nostalgic part of the town’s celebration; another it was a diner where residents, their parents and their parents’ parents had their first dates; another was an image representing the charm of historic Georgia boulevards.

“We always try to choose something that is nostalgic to the area,” says Rosalyn Kirk, development coordinator at Easter Seals of Southern Georgia. “And something that, when it is hanging on their tree, reminds them that they have helped their community and helped us continue to provide services right in their own community.”

Kirk says a committee of select members chooses the design (often taking into consideration suggestions from the community) each year, then sends its ideas to its partner ChemArt, which turns the concept into reality.

Allison Houle, marketing manager at ChemArt, explains that organizations are best served by choosing their perfect designs first, then allowing their vendor partners to turn those into reality.

“Look at it as a fundraiser first and not as an ornament. Focus on designing something that will generate a lot of interest from your audience. That’s what makes Easter Seals so successful; they come up with an idea that will touch the people they are hoping will buy it,” she says. “To try to think of it off the bat as an ornament can be limiting. If someone comes to us with a concept, we can then go back and tell them how best to design it.”

Kirk says designing the ornament is only the first step in creating a successful fundraiser. Proper and provocative marketing is essential! Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been producing holiday keepsake ornaments for 20 years, and it has learned a thing or two about promoting them.

The new design is announced each year at the beginning of November, and the organization is very careful about keeping it quiet until then. The secrecy helps build anticipation and keeps people chomping at the bit for the ornaments. Same is true with the local media. The organization has nurtured relationships with TV, radio and print outlets, and has partnered with them for coverage of the big reveal (as well as other Easter Seals events).

Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been so successful in pinpointing and marketing those designs that resonate with its supporters that its annual ornaments have become a passion for many collectors. When that happens, your collectibles program has struck gold.

By Kimberly Seville and Margaret Battistelli Gardner

August 1, 2013


You can get the full story on Easter Seals of Southern Georgia’s super-successful holiday ornament program — plus more valuable tips — by downloading the free ChemArt whitepaper, “Utterly Engaging: Engaging Donors With an Annual Ornament Program.” — MBG

Launching a campaign to end the Overhead Myth

July 9th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits, Marketing

My nonprofit friends, it’s time we changed the conversation about “the overhead ratio”: the percentage of your organization’s expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs.

For too long, we’ve let a few bad apples—the rare cases of outright fundraising fraud—confuse donors about what matters when judging a nonprofit.

This confusion is actively harming the nonprofit community, creating what the Stanford Social Innovation Review called “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” Experts agree that many nonprofits should invest more in overhead, particularly administrative costs. You all know this as well as I do: you need to invest in your organization to be able to effectively serve your missions.

We’ve been calling for a more nuanced understanding for some time, as have others, and today we have stepped up the effort.

My counterparts at BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator, Art Taylor and Ken Berger, respectively, have joined me in signing an open letter to the donors of America denouncing the overhead ratio as an indicator of nonprofit performance—though recognizing its rare utility as a filter for fraud

The letter, published today on a new website,, states that “Overhead costs include important investments charities make to improve their work: investments in training, planning, evaluation, and internal systems—as well as their efforts to raise money so they can operate their programs. When we focus solely or predominantly on overhead…we starve charities of the freedom they need to best serve the people and communities they are trying to serve.” The letter instead recommends that donors focus their attention on more relevant factors behind nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results.

I ask you today to stand with GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator to end the Overhead Myth. You can support the campaign in four ways:

  1. Print out the letter, which is under a Creative Commons license, and include it in your donor solicitations, or on your website, or however else you wish.
  2. Spread the word about the letter among your networks. For those of you using social networking sites, we’ve created a social media tool kit with language that you can copy and paste.
  3. Sign the pledge on and publicly commit to shifting the conversation from overhead to impact.
  4. And, most importantly, you can offer donors an alternative by sharing detailed information about your programs, strategies, measurement systems, and governance. Tell a data-rich story about the people, communities, and ecosystems you serve.  If we do that, we can end the overhead myth.

Will you join us in the campaign to end the Overhead Myth?

 · by 


Raising Money from Volunteer Grant Programs – Top Seven Questions

March 1st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits

At Double the Donation, our mission is to help nonprofits increase fundraising from employee matching gift and volunteer grant programs. When we speak to development officers at nonprofits, they’re often familiar with the intricacies of employee matching gift programs but have questions regarding volunteer grant programs.

We wanted to take a few minutes to share seven of the most frequently asked questions we receive about volunteer grant programs.

Question #1: What are “Volunteer Grant” Programs and are they different from “Dollar for Doer Programs”?

“Dollar for Doer Programs” and “Volunteer Grant Programs” are one and the same. They’re corporate giving programs created by companies to encourage volunteerism in communities where employees live and work. Companies provide a monetary grant to organizations where employees volunteer on a regular basis.

  1. Set $ / hour structure – Companies will provide a set monetary donation  for every hour an employee volunteers. For example, Carmax provides a $10 grant for every hour an employee volunteers up to $10,000 annually.
  2. Thresholds – Companies will provide a monetary donation once an employee volunteers for at least a certain number of hours. For example, 3M offers $250 volunteer grants for nonprofits once an employee volunteers for 20 hours in a year.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our overview on volunteer grant programs.

Question #2: How much money is available from employee volunteer grant programs vs. matching gift programs?

In general matching gift programs are much more prevalent for nonprofits than volunteer grant programs. That being said, no organizations should overlook a source of free grant money that is available based on the work volunteers are already performing. Each grant counts, so make sure you’re maximizing donations from every source of fundraising that’s available to your organization.

Did you know:

Your organization has already done the hardest part which is recruiting volunteers willing to dedicate a significant amount of time to your organization. Make sure to ask them to take an extra 30 seconds to determine if their employer offers a volunteer grant program.

Question #3: How many employers provide volunteer grants?

National employers which offer volunteer grant

Volunteer grant programs are a fairly common program especially at medium to large companies. For instance, 40% of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs. While not as high as the 65% of Fortune 500 companies with matching gift programs, they’re still very prevalent.

All of the companies in the image on the right offer both matching gift and volunteer grant programs

Click here for an additional list of some of the largest employers which offer volunteer grants for their employees.

Question #4: Which companies offer exceptional volunteer grant programs?

Double the Donation hasn’t compiled a ranking dedicated exclusively to volunteer grant programs, but you should check out this list of companies who ranked highly in our overall analysis of corporate employee giving programs. For this ranking, we combined information on both volunteer grant and matching gift programs.

That being said, it isn’t too challenging to identify the traits that would make a company’s volunteer grant program stand out. Programs quality can really be judged based on the minimum volunteer hours required, value per hour, and the maximum annual limits.  A few companies with great volunteer grant programs include:

Click here for a list of additional national companies who offer volunteer grant programs.

Question #5: What are the typical restrictions for organizations?

In general companies apply very few restrictions on the types of nonprofits that are eligible to receive volunteer grant programs. Companies typically state that any 501(c)(3) nonprofit or school is eligible.

Normally there are only a few restrictions such as not providing grants to political organizations or religious organizations unless they’re focused on serving the broader community (ex. homeless shelters, food banks, etc.)

The rule that you should be most concerned with is the minimum number of hours. In most cases, companies only provide grants to organizations where employees volunteer on a regular basis. You can expect that most companies require at least 20 hours of volunteerism from a single employee in a calendar year before he or she is eligible to request a volunteer grant.

Question #6: Why are volunteer grants programs underutilized by nonprofits?

Even for organizations who have a large number of individuals who volunteer on a regular basis, there are multiple barriers that make it tough for organizations to tap into volunteer grant dollars. The most common reason is that individual volunteers actually have no idea their company offers a program. The program is often only buried in the employee benefit book that is given out once per a year.

Even if an employee has heard his or her company offers a program, there’s oftentimes a gap in knowledge around the process for submitting a volunteer grant request. Fortunately many companies now offer an electronic submission process so if your organization can communicate out company specific instructions, volunteers would be more likely to submit the grant requests.

Given these challenges, it’s not a surprise that much of the available money goes untapped. If you’re looking to increase revenue from volunteer grant programs, check out Double the Donation’s service. We can help you raise more money from corporate employee matching gift and volunteer grant programs.

Question #7: What steps should organizations take to increase fundraising from dollar for doer programs?

If your organization is lucky enough to have a large number of volunteers, make sure you’re asking them to check if their employer offers a volunteer grant program.

Prompting a volunteer with company specific information is a great way to increase the likelihood they’ll submit a volunteer grant request to their employer. Check out some of these marketing strategies.

If you’ve already done the hard work of organizing a passionate group of volunteers, make sure you’re providing them with the tools they need to submit a grant request to their company. It only takes a few minutes and doesn’t require them to open up their own wallets.

Double the Donation

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Overteased and Underwhelmed

February 26th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits

To tease or not to tease? When in doubt, test without.

Sometimes teasers are like bad pick-up lines. And with the split-second decision your donor makes when she glances at your outer envelope, you don’t get a second chance to talk your way out of a poor first impression … you’ve already been round-filed.

In a recent two-week period, I received 58 pieces of mail. Discounting five self-mailer newsletters, all but four packages had teasers. Very few of them were understated.

Maybe that’s what made the teaser-free packages stand out. There are times, however — particularly with certain offers — when a teaser helps entice your recipient to open the package.

Premium teasers
Three of the 49 packages with teasers offered back-end premiums, and all of them used photos or a description of the premium — an umbrella, a blue-footed booby plush and an “I AM POWERFUL!” scarf.

With the six up-front premium packages, I received three sets of note cards, one zipper pull, a collection of wrapping paper and a bumper sticker. Interestingly, four of the six packages teased with a line about a “gift” or “surprise” enclosed; two said exactly what was offered inside.

I’m not sure how well bumper stickers are working these days, but I have hopes for Sen. Harry Reid ’s effort. The bumper sticker he sent me reads, “Give ’Em Hell Harry” with his Web site address.

Classic offers
Like premium offers, there are a few other classics that likely benefit from a teaser. Three teasers announced matching-gift offers — one was an annual fund, and two were personalized, local, door-to-door/neighbor-helping-neighbor drive teasers.

Three packages showed colorful membership cards through a second window in addition to using teasers pointing out the card, along with other directions and information about the contents of the packages.

After that, the teasers are a free-for-all. And not all good. Many did nothing but announce the fact that inside the envelope is a solicitation. Some teasers tried to be clever; others were real head scratchers.

The power of teaserlessness
As an illustration of when forgoing a teaser most likely is in a package’s best interests, consider what I received from political strategist and consultant Mary Matalin  a while back.

It’s a simple, baronial closed-face carrier with a live, presorted stamp and mailer’s cancellation. The addressing is done in a blue, handwritten font, and the automation barcode is moved away from the addressing down to the bottom edge of the envelope.

Inside, a four-sheet, eight-page letter signed by Matalin explains the plight of her friend, Scooter Libby . She tells me of his tireless service as Vice President Cheney ’s chief of staff and top national security advisor, and about his unwavering commitment to our country. Then she explains that, “Scooter’s world has come crashing down,” and he needs our immediate help.

The letter explains quickly but simply that Libby was put on trial regarding “supposed leaks from the White House.” All of us who followed the story know many people were involved, but the letter is concise and without all the details that could be confusing to recipients who did not follow it closely.

In a nutshell, it explains, “the sad truth is Scooter was tried for having a bad memory about conversations he had with reporters.” Then, and not surprisingly, the letter goes on to say, “The bottom line is ever since the Iraq war began there’s been a band of left-wing activists and liberal members of the media who are intent on bringing our President down. … Scooter has gotten caught in the political crossfire.”

Classic political rhetoric, yet in the context of the whole letter, it’s delivered without any shrieking. It’s not until Page 5 that I’m asked to help fund his defense. And I have to say, this letter is written brilliantly — it endeavors to make me see what happened and feel for Libby long in advance of making a request for a contribution.

The case for support is reinforced with an insert, “What Others Are Saying About Scooter Libby” with quotes that, while far more complicated than the letter’s explanation of events, bolster its points.

I can only think that any teaser on the carrier about Libby, or a legal defense fund or any of the specifics of the case would have had a negative impact and completely undercut the recipient’s experience and reactions once the envelope was opened.

Now, I don’t know if the package worked or not — but I applaud its creators for letting the letter do the work of making the case for support all on its own, minus a tip-off from a teaser.

More than ink on paper
Is there a growing trend out there, that no package is “complete” without a teaser? If so, that’s worrisome.

Without testing the must-have-a-teaser theory on a package-by-package basis, I raise a concern that teasers could hurt more than help. If a teaser doesn’t compel the donor to rip the envelope open, we should ask ourselves, “What’s the point?”

Being creative is fun, but I’ll take boring and effective over creative any day. And these days, if there’s a carrier all but guaranteed to get opened, it’s a plain envelope addressed by hand with a First Class commemorative stamp. You might go with a corner card or not, depending on your brand recognition. But instead of a printed logo, try addressing the corner card by hand, too.

Yes, it’s very expensive. However, even though it might be viable only for a select group of high-dollar donors, that doesn’t mean volume mailings to millions have to be compromised to death and end up looking mass produced, over-designed or overly clever.

Bottom line: When you’re struggling with the teaser and nothing seems right, my guess is you’re stuck in a teaser-for-teaser’s-sake rut. When in doubt, test without. You might be surprised at the results.

By Kimberly Sevillea creative strategist and freelance copywriter.

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What is a fundraiser?

February 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits


Please don’t shoot me till I’m finished. And please, if you must judge me, will you do so by what I say, not by what anyone else might infer I’m saying? Thanks.


A few weeks back I wrote a blog about who is a donor.  Seehere. Who or what is a fundraiser is more controversial and perhaps less well understood. So when recently I read in the UK sector press some inaccurate comments about the fundraising credentials attributed to me and my colleagues, I bristled.


A fundraiser is anyone who, either as a volunteer or paid, works to raise the money, commitment and enthusiasm that’s needed to fuel good works. Full stop.


A hands-on fundraiser is any fundraiser who doesn’t just talk about it, but actually does it. Data-planners, copywriters, input clerks, creative strategy-formulators, major donor solicitors, fundraising directors, marketers, team leaders, envelope-stuffers, thankers and bankers, agency account executives and telephone and doorstep askers are all hands-on fundraisers. To name but a few. CEOs, board chairs and trustees could be fundraisers too, though they’re not often hands-on.


I am a hands-on fundraiser and proud of it.


So why would anyone say I’m not?


‘Joe Saxton of nfpSynergy said …he did not support the marketing message, did not wish to speak on the topic for which he had been assigned, and objected to the lack of practising fundraisers on the speaker panel.’


Civil Society, 8th February 2013


Practising means doing it day in and day out or, at least, most days. In the two weeks before writing this I was planning a major national appeal, writing thank-you letters, recommending changes for someone else’s direct mail appeals, planning strategy ideas for testing in street and doorstep fundraising, working on ‘the donor’s first 48 hours’, tracking database problems that contribute to poor retention, working with teams of fundraisers to perfect their storytelling skills and answering detailed questions from fundraisers around the world about their day-to-day activities.


Seems pretty hands-on to me. And I have been doing stuff like this consistently, for more than just two weeks. When you have shared as many exhibits on SOFII as I have, then I’ll be happy for you to tell me I’m not a hands-on fundraiser.


Wait, I hear you say. ‘But… you’re a consultant. You hold people’s watch for them, then charge to tell them the time.’


If only. Sorry, these days it doesn’t work like that. As you well know.


In the article series quoted above I was also called an old fart, a dinosaur and ‘not a fundraiser’. It was the last bit that hurt me. Though, my co-speakers-to-be Alan Clayton and Kevin Schulman, both in their early 40s, were similarly labelled and dismissed. How stupid of anyone to conclude that this line-up was composed of the old, the hands-off and the irrelevant.


Professor Adrian Sargeant may not be a hands-on fundraiser. But my goodness, where would our sector be without him? Putting him down for not being hands on is like cutting off an arm because it doesn’t help you when walking.


That said, I have learned something from this bruising experience. Fundraisers accountable to their boards and CEOs for delivering at the bottom line day in day out might well resent others less deeply engaged appearing constantly to hector them over shortcomings or to lecture them as to what they should and shouldn’t do. I’ll try to be more sensitive to that when offering advice in the future. Promise.


Sure, the structure of the Summit wasn’t perfect. The organisers (who speak for themselves, because I was not one of them) have already conceded that.


But dinosaurs, supposedly, have thick skins. I’m less concerned when blokes like myself are excluded from the ranks of ‘true’ fundraisers than I am when street and doorstep fundraisers and telephone fundraisers are excluded simply because they work for a commercial supplier. ‘True’ fundraisers routinely sneer down at these folk, despite the vital, difficult job they do, so they often feel marginalised and unappreciated by their peers. Yet these are the people who day in, day out, talk to our donors. Other fundraisers would be wise to reflect on how much they might learn from them.


My main point is, before jumping to assumptions based on limited knowledge or hearsay, surely a true professional should at the very least probe a bit to get to the truth, to find out what’s really going on?


Giles Pegram is a fundraiser. For most of his life a hands-on, creative, visionary entirely at the forefront of promoting effectiveness, diversity, equality, inspiration and innovation among the legions of fundraisers that over more than three decades worked with him at NSPCC. That much about him is chronicled publicly and is well and widely known. Seehere.


So why would Civil Society imagine that it should run an article on its website labelling him as sexist? See here. For the full sorry story, click on the two other links within the article.


This feature made my heart sink. What I read there is totally at odds with the character, convictions and integrity of the man I’ve known and worked closely with for over 30 years. As I went through the accompanying comments I was pleased to see many constructive and thoughtful contributions. I found myself in broad accord with Charity Chicks, even though I’m not allowed to be one (I’m long since over that).


But equally I was sad to see people I know chipping in with hurtful, often inaccurate, partial, recycled or selective comments too. Such was their ardour to condemn a supposed rampant sexist that what he actually said and the context of it scarcely mattered.


Of course Giles was foolish to even engage in any debate on the subject. For that, and any offence his unguarded comments caused, he’s apologised comprehensively. All he wanted was to introduce something significant that would move our sector on. He was making that his life’s mission. Instead he got caught up in something he never thought he’d have to do – self-justification. He wasn’t prepared for that at all. And he tripped up.


Our sector prides itself on a well-developed and robust sense of right and wrong. So was it right, or wrong, to publish that Civil Society article in the first place? At least without doing some simple background digging among those who know and have worked with the man, to establish what really lay behind such uncharacteristic sentiments? Was it right to leap on a story reporting unwise, unguarded utterances from a leading figure in our business then recycle them with accompanying criticism, knowing that doing so might destroy his reputation and ruin the last years of his working life? Was it right that he was interviewed when obviously caught off guard, that he was not given time or opportunity to form a right of reply and was not given any chance to correct what, in the light of day, were evident absurdities and contradictions in some of the things that, in haste or the heat of the moment, he might have said, to his own obvious detriment?


The outcome of this online fiasco is that the voluntary sector not only lost a much-needed innovative event, it also hurt and hugely damaged one of its genuine pioneers and in doing so looked foolish or worse to many outside our immediate circle. In my eyes at least it also lost some of its credibility and respect.


Perhaps we need to rethink the nature of modern chatter.


Now, I’m off to lunch with a potential major donor. Please wish me luck.

By Ken Burnett

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4 Reasons Your Nonprofit Needs a Monthly Giving Program

February 20th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits


At the DMA Washington Nonprofit Conference earlier this month, I got the chance to speak about one of our favorite things – monthly giving.

Yet from some corners, I still heard this:

How did you convince your [board / boss / staff ] to invest in monthly giving?

For sure, monthly giving isn’t always easy. It takes an additional investment of time to implement a monthly giving program, to ensure gifts are processed correctly, to report on and fully understand your program metrics. But despite the challenges, your organization can’t afford to ignore it. Here’s why …

1. This is the donor climate we’re all working in …TA_Index_ResultsSummary_Q3_2012

For years now, the universe of donors has been shrinking, and the number of new donors has been declining even faster. Although this trend was certainly not improved by the recent recession, declines in donor numbers began as early as 2005 and there’s no strong evidence that we’ll soon see a dramatic turnaround in this trend.

2. At the same time, we’re seeing more and more donors acquired online. While there are some benefits to online donors – they’re often younger, richer and give bigger gifts – donors acquired online are harder to retain, even controlling for age and income level.


Together, the picture that emerges is that it is harder than ever to get new donors … and harder than ever to hold on to those new donors.

As development professionals, our mandate is two-fold: to do whatever we can to retain donors, and focus on upgrading donors to higher levels of support, so that as we’re spending more on those ever-harder-to-acquire donors, we can be sure that our investment will pay off.

And this is exactly where monthly giving can help.

3. Monthly giving improves retention. Although rates vary by organization,retention for one-time donors is around 41%. In contrast, retention of monthly givers is 70% to 80%. Acquire a prospect as a monthly donor, or convert a new donor to a monthly donor, and you’ve immediately improved your long-term expectations.

4. Monthly giving will upgrade donors.  Consider the following example …

One-Time / Monthly Comparison

We’d all be thrilled to have the donor on the left on our file; she’s a dedicated supporter who makes nice gifts several times a year. Yet by accepting a far smaller monthly contribution, we can increase this donor’s value by $85 annually – a more than 48% increase.

So next time someone asks if you think your organization can afford to do monthly giving, ask the opposite – can you afford NOT to?


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Directing Donors to Matching Gift Forms

February 6th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits

Does your organization have a strategy in place to maximize fundraising from employee matching gift programs? If not, directing donors and members to company specific matching gift forms is a great place to start.

Directing donors and members directly to matching gift forms is far more effective than suggesting they “reach out to HR”. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways your organization can increase fundraising from corporate matching gift programs.

At Double the Donation, we utilize four different approaches to directing your organizations donors and members to the forms they need to submit matching gift requests. We know each method isn’t created equal, so we’ve prioritized the information we provide to donors to maximize the likelihood they’ll submit a matching gift request.

This post is designed to shed light on the prioritization process we use to ensure your donors can easily double their donations. Feel free to contact us via email or at (404) 913-0589 if you have any questions.

Direct Donors to the Electronic Matching Gift Submission Process (1st Preference)Employee Giving Online Process

Nowadays many of the largest companies offer an electronic matching gift submission process. While a few companies have developed their own proprietary process, the majority of companies contract the matching gift administration process out to a vendor (ex. Easymatch, Cybergrant, etc.)

Fortunately for nonprofits, in the majority of instances the electronic login page is actually publicly available on a website which anyone can access. We direct donors to the login page where they enter their username and password and then proceed through the matching gift submission process.

Wondering what the electronic submission process is like for a donor? Read our article that includes a walkthrough of Home Depot’s electronic matching gift submission process.

Rationale: Your donors are already online and looking for company specific matching gift information. They’re most likely to submit a match request electronically, especially since once at the proper location, it only takes a few minutes.

View an example of Abbott Laboratories matching gift details page where we direct donors to an electronic submission process.

Link to the company’s matching gift website where forms are located  (2nd Preference)Paper Employee Giving Submission Process

While more and more companies continue to migrate over to an electronic submission process, many still require donors to print out / fill out a paper matching gift form. In many cases the form is posted out on a publicly accessible website so we direct donors to the company page where the matching form can be downloaded.

Just so you know, we’ve gone back and forth on whether the preferred approach is for us to download the form and host it on Double the Donation’s servers or direct donors to the actual company page where the form is hosted. Ultimately we decided on the latter

Rationale: While directing donors to a company page to download the form involves an extra step, we see it as the preferred method for providing donors with the form. It ensures they have access to the most up-to-date form as well as reassures them the matching program is still active form.

Click here to view an example of Marathon Oil’s matching gift details page where we direct donors to an electronic submission page

Provide Donors with the Matching Gift Form on our Servers –  (3rd Preference)

If a company requires employees to submit a paper matching gift form, we do our best to provide the donor with a copy of the form. If it isn’t posted publicly on the company’s website, we request that the company provide us with a copy of the form.

In these cases we host the form on our server (typically as a PDF) so your donors can easily download it.

Rationale: Providing a copy of the form enables a donor to submit the matching gift request without having to dig around for additional information.

Click here to view an example of Coca-Cola’s matching gift details page where we provide a copy of Coke’s matching gift form. 

Redirect Donors to the Company Intranet or HR / Community Relations Contact

Unfortunately we don’t always have the best access to the matching gift forms your donors need. Typically this is for one of the following two reasons:

  1. There’s an electronic submission process which can only be accessed over the company intranet.
  2. The form is posted on the company intranet, but the company didn’t want to share a copy with Double the Donation.

In these cases we typically redirect donors to the company intranet. If it’s an online submission process, we notify the donor of this and ask them to go to a specific location on the intranet or to search for “matching gifts.” If there’s a paper form, we

Rationale: While this is less than ideal, just telling donors “Hey, company XYZ will match your donation up to $5,000 and your organization is eligible” increases the likelihood they’ll log into the company intranet to retrieve the form.

Double the Donation

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10 Things Every Organization Should Do to Enhance Donor Loyalty

February 4th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits

Developing a solid donor base is not something that happens overnight. It takes time to cultivate a database of constituents who support your mission time and time again, and recommend your organization to others. Many factors are at play in the development of true loyalty, engagement and trust. How your organization utilizes its resources, the impact of your programs and your ability to communicate effectively with donors all factor into the equation and can significantly impact your organization’s ability to earn lasting loyalty.

With the goal of providing you proven, effective methods of increasing donor loyalty, I asked a sample of development professionals for their ideas on this topic. I received dozens of great responses, so thank you to those who provided feedback.

Building an effective program takes time and effort. Here are a few ideas to help you foster the one thing we all desire most, retention.

1. Listen to your donors
Find out what will compel them to further help you achieve your mission. Ask for their advice, and put it to practice.

2. Share your good news
Communication is key to building any relationship, and nonprofit relationships are no different. Think about newsletters, e-mails and face-to-face visits to keep the flow of information open.

3. Measure your success
“In general, donors like to receive regular, measurable and concrete feedback about how their money makes a difference,” says Ursula Pfahl, vice president of business development at Bigham Jewelers, who worked with CMON — The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. By sharing the impact in real measures, you solidify the good work you are doing.

4. Survey your donors
When Courtney Polster, fund development manager at Agrace HospiceCare, started surveying her donors, she discovered that a high percentage were utilizing planned-giving vehicles to support a charity — but she was surprised to see how few said hers was their charity of choice for this option. This revelation led to further research. “Quality initiatives like these are helping build a stewardship and recognition program as well as a planned-giving program,” Polster says. “It has been most beneficial!”

5. Leverage donor loyalty

Use your board members to make calls and write thank-you notes. The power of appreciation from a strong board member can go a long way in building loyalty.

6. Involve donor in the cause
By regularly inviting donors to come and see their donations in action, Keith Greer, fundraising and membership coordinator at Popejoy Hall, has changed the way donors view his organization and increased retention rates by 14 percent and the average donation size by $500. According to Greer, many of Popejoy Hall’s donors always shared the great work of the organization, but with stronger collaboration he has seen a shift in the way donors began talking to their friends after participating in the mission. Now it’s, “Look at what I’m doing to help.” In addition, today he has excited donors asking how they can do more. Greer says that the firsthand experience has “been more powerful for loyalty, engagement and increasing giving than any communication piece we have ever done.”

7. Get social
Create connections in the social networks where your donors spend their time. Connecting socially is very powerful.

According to the 2012 Sage Nonprofit Insights study, 84 percent of nonprofits are in social networks, withFacebook topping the charts. Surprisingly, 69 percent of participants say their organizations are not blogging. Blogging is a great way to keep donors up to date on the status of the organization. Additionally, through social sharing in tools like Facebook and Twitter, nonprofits can further engage donors and volunteers with those same updates.

8. Customize your approach
“Bottom line: Loyalty comes when we show folks we know them. This means we have to really listen to them. There’s no cookie-cutter approach, as donor preferences vary. We have to be sensitive to our donors’ particular styles, then give them what they want,” says marketing and fundraising consultant Claire Axelrad.

9. Recognize repeat donors
“Whether your organization is new or has been around for years, you can recognize continuous yearly donors in your annual report. Give recognition to donors who have supported you (at a set level) for three years, five years, 10 years — break it down however it works for you — but with recognition, if they have to drop a nonprofit one year, hopefully it won’t be yours!” says CFRE Debbie Joyner.

10. Say thank you
“One easy element is thanking donors for every gift either with a phone call or personalized e-mail. When dealing with loyal donors, I am always sure to mention how long they have been giving and let them know how much their continued support is appreciated. Most donors haven’t thought about how long they have been giving, and I think these small gestures have deepened donor relations with a pretty small investment of my time and our long-distance bill,” says Daniel Blakemore, assistant director for individual giving at International House, New York.

Loyalty, retention and engagement seem to be harder to come by these days — probably because we all seem to be running the race faster and faster. True loyalty takes time, effort and commitment to yield fundraising success, but the return is happier donors with a strong commitment to your organization.

Bridget L. Brandt

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The Permanent Disruption of Social Media

January 23rd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits, Social Media

Social media has chipped away at the foundation of traditional donor-engagement models. A new study highlights the realities of donor behavior and how organizations can redesign their outreach strategies to be more effective.


(Illustration by Andrew Bannecker)

Spending an entire workday on Facebook isn’t part of a typical nonprofit employee’s job description. There are programs to run, decisions to make, funds to raise—all higher priorities than the online world of status updates, tweets, pins, and check-ins.

But for one day last fall, all of the people who work at For Love of Children (FLOC) spent all of their time on Facebook. At the end of the day, the organization was nearly $114,000 wealthier. As a participant in Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, FLOC rallied its supporters to donate $87,000 during the one-day competition, earning it additional prize money from contest organizers for having raised the most donations. For FLOC, Give to the Max Day provided more than just much needed funds. It brought an influx of new donors—many of whom were first introduced to the organization by their friends using social media.

FLOC isn’t the only nonprofit taking advantage of social media to raise money, garner new supporters, and increase visibility. One of the most popular—and controversial—nonprofit campaigns of 2012, Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 video, was also fueled by social media. The video has been shared more than 2 billion times on Facebook and Twitter since it went live in March. The vast majority of the people watching the video had never heard of Joseph Kony before the campaign, and it’s unlikely that they will ever have contact with the organization again. But the impact the campaign had on public awareness of the issue was incalculable.

Until recently the models that nonprofits used to find, engage, and cultivate donors, volunteers, and other supporters were reasonably straightforward. The first step was to use direct mail, phone calls, or other techniques to bring in large numbers of potential supporters at a low level of engagement. These supporters were sorted into neat groups, and the most promising people were continually moved up the pyramid or ladder and cultivated for larger and larger donations. It was an orderly and linear process. Today, the Internet and social media have permanently disrupted the traditional donor-engagement process. Online competitions, viral video campaigns, mobile giving—with each new way for organizations and donors to interact come increasingly complex entry points into the traditional models of donor engagement, greater variation in movement along the pathway to deeper engagement, and more opportunities for a person to be influenced by forces outside an organization’s control.

To better understand the impact that social media is having on donor engagement, we conducted a nationwide research project. We learned that donor behavior and communications preferences have changed because of social media. And as a result, the traditional donor engagement models are no longer sufficient. In their place we need to create a new model of donor engagement, one that is more fluid and continuous, and that better reflects the growing importance that a person’s influence (and how she uses it) plays in the process.

The Traditional Donor-Engagement Model

Pyramids, ladders, funnels—all have long been used as organizing devices and models in the donor-engagement process. Their beauty is in their simplicity; donors exist at a single level at a given point in time and progress predictably up the rungs or levels through carefully calculated outreach and engagement by the organization.

At each level, increasing efforts to engage a person result in increasing commitments (and a drop-off of people who will attain that next level). Those at the bottom are thought to be less engaged than those nearer to the top. People at different levels take different actions and donate in differing amounts; therefore, different communications tools are associated with the levels or rungs. Low-touch or automated tools like direct marketing are at the bottom, and more time- and labor-intensive tools like personal outreach are reserved for only the upper echelon.

The assumption of the traditional donor-engagement models is that the great majority of people enter at the bottom. There is an initial period of time during which the person gets to know the organization and the organization gets to know the person. The organization may ask the person to get involved in some small way, like volunteering for or participating in an event, forwarding an e-mail to friends, or signing a petition. Then—and only then—will they make the “ask” for a small financial gift. This is followed by stewardship and deeper engagement, further research into the person’s capacity to give, and eventually, an ask for a larger monetary gift.

In theory, the cycle continues until the person reaches the top of the pyramid or ladder.1 With each subsequent cycle, forward (or upward) progress is made. A person can neither drop down to a lower level of engagement nor be in more than one level of engagement simultaneously. The culmination of this cultivation? Presenting a person with the perfect ask at the perfect time—with meticulous research informing just how much money to ask for and when.

Social Media’s Impact

The traditional pyramid and ladder models of donor engagement have persisted into the age of social media, as organizations try to make sense of how to use the new tools and what advantages—if any—they hold for fundraising. The consensus among development professionals is that the various types of social media have yet to be proven as effective, stand-alone fundraising tools; few direct asks are being made via these channels today. Yet these social media channels are the very ones that increasing numbers of people use to gather and process information today—young people in particular.

“Social media has created a dilemma around how we reach people,” says Shaun Keister, vice chancellor of development and alumni relations at the University of California, Davis. “We can’t solicit directly on social media—yet that’s where people are doing their business, it’s where they’re networking, it’s where they’re getting their information and making a lot of decisions in their lives.”

The approach many organizations have taken is to integrate social media into the traditional pyramid and ladder models—occupying the bottom rungs—and use it to build awareness and foster the beginnings of a relationship with the organization. Social media is not used as a way to engender or demonstrate real depth of commitment. “Liking” a cause on Facebook, blogging or tweeting about it, or adding an organization’s logo to a social profile are all thought to be gateway actions.

The goal is still to move the casual Twitter user up the ladder to become a legacy donor—but there is little understanding of the pathway this person will take and the best way to navigate the pathway using the new mix of online, offline, mobile, and social media tools. An even bigger question is whether social media is even the best use of a person’s or organization’s time and resources.

Despite the efforts to meld the old and the new, there is an inherent disconnect between the static pyramid and ladder models—even those updated with social media—and the dynamic ways in which people interact with causes today. That is why we need to create a new model of donor engagement. But first, it’s important to better understand the changes in how people engage with organizations and causes today.

New Types of Donor Behavior

To better understand the new world of donor engagement, Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide partnered to conduct a quantitative study of Americans to learn how social media has changed the ways people interact with and support the causes and social issues they care about. The survey was conducted in late 2010 with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people age 18 and older.

Although the results certainly don’t imply that organizations should abandon all traditional means of donor outreach and engagement in favor of Facebook, Twitter, and the like, they did reveal important insights into how the traditional models are falling short, both in their discrete categorization of donors and behaviors and in the ways that organizations communicate with their stakeholders.

Survey respondents reported an average of nearly five ways in which they first become involved with supporting causes. The top five ways are donating money (40 percent), talking to others about the cause (40 percent), learning more about the cause and its impact (37 percent), donating clothing or other items (30 percent), and signing a petition (27 percent). Entry points for engagement weren’t confined to a particular level or rung on a ladder, but rather reinforced our hypothesis that people enter at various levels—or even multiple levels—of engagement.

Interestingly, when asked in our survey about the ways in which they most often get involved with causes or social issues, the respondents’ answers look strikingly similar to how they first get involved. This alignment could be an indicator that people aren’t necessarily progressing up a ladder but instead tend to remain at the level(s) at which they are first engaged.

Social media-driven actions are conspicuously absent from the ways in which Americans first get involved with causes. This goes against the updated models that often classify these actions as the gateways at the bottom of the ladder. For example, only 9 percent of Americans first get involved by joining a cause group on an online social networking site like Facebook; other social media actions, like posting a cause’s logo on a social profile (6 percent of respondents), and blogging about a cause (4 percent) ranked even lower. These types of activities (and the people who perform them) are commonly lumped together under the heading of “slacktivists,” and the assumption is that they replace more traditional (and, from an organizational perspective, more valuable) forms of engagement like volunteering or donating.

Although this might be true if these were the only types of activities these people undertook, we found in our study that these slacktivists actually supplement—not replace—donating and volunteering with promoting the cause on social media. Moreover, they apparently perform these actions after already having been engaged with an organization. So for this group of people, it’s very likely that they first donated or volunteered, and then progressed down the ladder, so to speak to engage with the organization on social media.

There is very little room in the traditional models for this type of backward motion. In fact, organizations looking to the traditional models may actually think of this downward movement as a bad thing—as if these people are somehow less engaged because they are using social media now.

In practice, it turns out, a person’s engagement with an organization is generally more continuous—and messy. It doesn’t stop and start with discrete levels, and with the broad range of activities available to potential supporters today, it’s actually preferable for people to be engaged on multiple levels.

Communication Changes Too

In the same way that the traditional models don’t fully represent donor behavior today, they also promulgate a somewhat limited and outdated view of how organizations should communicate with donors. The models encourage the segmentation of communications tactics—social media, e-newsletters, and other automated channels at the bottom, and personal outreach, face-to-face meetings, and other labor-intensive, high-touch channels at the top. In practice, segmented communications strategies are quickly losing ground in a world in which the boundaries between offline and online, traditional and nontraditional media are blurring.

Our survey results showed that traditional media (such as television, newspapers, and magazines) are still the way that most Americans learn about causes and social issues (70 percent of respondents agreed that they learn about causes from these sources). But social media and online channels have sizable audiences as well (47 percent of respondents agreed that they learn about causes from these sources).

The most successful organizations are those that embrace communications strategies that integrate online and offline channels. It’s about creating what Jennifer Wayman, executive vice president and director of social marketing at Ogilvy Washington, calls a “surround sound” experience—one that uses various channels in people’s everyday lives and increases opportunities to both introduce and reinforce messages.

It is also important that organizations use new forms of media to communicate continuously. Direct mail or even e-newsletters can be valuable conduits of information for organizations, but the power of social media is its ability to provide continuous and timely communications.

The traditional models also fall short because they are inherently one way—from the organization to the person. A person’s commitment to an organization can depend on many factors that are outside the control of the organization. A donor’s peers can greatly influence her actions and deepen her commitment. Likewise, a donor can have great influence on her peers. Our survey results highlighted the role of influence in driving involvement in causes; 39 percent of Americans responded that they’re motivated to get involved with causes that have affected someone they know, and 36 percent said they’re motivated by it being an important cause to family and friends. Both were among the top five responses, and both outweighed factors like having the time or money to get involved or feeling an urgency to help those in need.

“Organizations need to recognize that they are not their best messengers anymore,” says Katya Andresen, chief strategy officer at Network for Good. “When you rank the potential forces on a donor’s decision to give, family, friends, and peers rank higher than anything.” Fundraising professionals and organizations accustomed to operating according to one-dimensional models that do not account for the variable nature of peer-to-peer influence are at a significant disadvantage.

Creating a New Model

Given what we know about the shortcomings of the traditional donor-engagement models, it is possible to begin to construct the outlines of a new model that takes into account the changes in donor behavior, communications, and influence. The new model should incorporate the following characteristics of donor engagement:

  • Allows for a donor to be engaged at different entry points and to move easily between them during the life cycle of his engagement
  • Has no fixed end point for a donor’s engagement
  • Allows for the donor-engagement footprint to expand or contract in ways that are unique to and driven by the individual donor
  • Places the donor’s needs—not the organization’s—at the center of the engagement
  • Accounts for the influence of other people on the strength of the donor-organization relationship

The best visual representation of this new model is a vortex, rather than a pyramid, ladder, or funnel, which are used to represent the traditional models. (See “Donor Engagement Models,” below.) At the center of the vortex is the individual. Her depth of commitment to the organization (formerly how high up she is on the ladder) is represented by the size of the continuous field around the center. As the person’s commitment deepens, the vortex expands outward. The vortex can be strengthened—and expanded—by the influence of others, but as it grows it also becomes a greater source of influence on others.


In a vortex there are no discrete steps upward or downward or levels to progress, but rather a continuous flow of communication and engagement that begets further communication and engagement. And there is a noteworthy absence of a fixed goal (the equivalent of the pinnacle of the pyramid), recognizing that there is more than one route to maximizing a person’s support of a cause or issue.

Adopting a model such as this requires organizations to change the way they think about their donors and potential donors, and how they both assign value to and ask for contributions from these groups. It also requires organizations to change the ways in which they train and empower all their employees to engage with their stakeholders.

Redefining Contributions

The first change that an organization needs to make is in how it defines a person’s contribution to the organization. Although the pyramid and ladder models tend to emphasize a singular call to action (donate money), a vortex model allows other types of contributions from supporters to be valued.

“I think increasingly philanthropists—whether individual, corporate, or private—are looking at a cause and asking the question: what is the best way to get a result?” says Susan Raymond, executive vice president for research, evaluation, and strategic planning at Changing Our World. “And it may not be writing a check, and it may not be volunteering. It may be other forms of resource mobilization.”

Survey respondents were asked what makes them feel like “cause champions”—defined as being very involved in a cause or social issue. Donating was the top response (33 percent), followed by talking to others about the cause (26 percent) and volunteering (22 percent). A majority of respondents (57 percent) chose offline activities, with only a small minority choosing online activities (19 percent) or social networking (10 percent).

Among the 10 percent of Americans who said that a social media activity made them feel like a cause champion, the list of top responses looks quite different from the majority of Americans.’ Talking to others about the organization or cause tops the list (49 percent), followed by joining a cause group on Facebook (43 percent), donating (39 percent), asking someone else to add a cause logo to a social profile (37 percent), and signing a petition (35 percent).

As you can see from the survey data, when organizations emphasize financial donations as the primary means of support, they may be doing so at the risk of discouraging other types of supportive activities—many of which have the ability to expand significantly the influence of the person at the center of the vortex, and therefore increase the contributions of others.

There is a parallel shift occurring in the for-profit sector, as more and more consumers turn to social media and online channels to talk about and share their experiences with products and services. As Paul Smith and Ze Zook wrote in their book Marketing Communications, “the ideal customer, or most valuable customer, does not have to be someone who buys a lot. The ideal customer could be an influencer who is a small irregular buyer but who posts ratings and reviews, as the reviews could influence another 100 buyers.”2

For a nonprofit, this valued supporter could be the small donor—with the big network or degree of social platform savvy—who is able to influence others to give well beyond her own capacity. Where the traditional models might write this person off as having a low lifetime value and not worth an organization’s time and investment, a model that takes influence into account will value that person more highly.

The whole concept of lifetime value would be reimagined in a vortex model. Where lifetime value has traditionally been a combination of average donations, future capacity to give, and attrition rates, now lifetime value could incorporate factors like the size of the person’s network, her propensity to share and influence that network, and her skill in doing so.

Diversifying Calls to Action

Once an organization begins to define and value contributions differently, it can begin to diversify the types of calls to action it asks of its supporters. As our research shows, organizations basically get what they ask for. Ask only for financial donations, and that is what people will think is their deepest level of involvement. But ask for more—sharing on social media, forwarding e-mails to friends, advocating for the organization, organizing and leading fundraising events—and a person’s contributions, as well as her sense of having an impact, can grow exponentially.

It’s no coincidence that the two most successful organizations on Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, FLOC and Little Lights Urban Ministries (which raised $79,000 in donations and prize money that day) used nearly identical calls to action in their donor communications. In addition to donating, each organization asked supporters to share the e-mail appeals with their personal networks and to post information about the organizations’ efforts in the contest on social media. Both are relatively easy tasks that require minimal effort, but can reap tremendous benefits for an organization.

In our research we found that Americans do recognize the value of social media tools in facilitating increased cause engagement; more than half of those surveyed agreed that online social networking sites allow people to support causes more easily. And as we saw in the earlier data, slacktivists who are willing to use digital tools to promote an organization or cause are a desirable group to have. They are just as likely to donate as non-social media promoters, are twice as likely to volunteer or participate in an event or walk, and are more than three times as likely to solicit donations on behalf of a cause. They also participate in, on average, nearly twice as many different kinds of support activities as the average American.

Because there are so many different activities that people can be involved with, organizations need to be strategic about what they ask supporters to participate in. To better understand the relative importance of different types of activities, we categorized them in two dimensions: level of involvement (how much of a personal investment in time, resources, and reputation a person makes), and level of influence (how likely it is that completing that activity alone will sway someone else to get involved).

Donating money, for example, has a relatively high level of involvement (assuming a reasonably substantial contribution), but a low level of influence (if a person donates, but tells no one, it doesn’t compel anyone else to take action). Forwarding an e-mail to friends about a cause has the potential to influence other people to get involved, giving it a high influence value, but a lower value for involvement because it’s a relatively easy task. (See “Valuing Support Activities,” below.)


There is a noticeable lack of activities that fall into the low involvement, high influence quadrant, because for an activity to be influential, it needs to be grounded in authenticity and personal commitment. A person can be involved but not influential, but can never be influential without being involved.

The goal for an organization using the vortex model is to offer its supporters a tailored portfolio of involvement that speaks to their strengths and ability to have an impact. This in turn will maximize the person’s commitment and lifetime value, and strengthen the core of the vortex and its ability to influence others. What was a model designed to prepare each individual donor for the annual ask now becomes a continuous conversation in which varied engagement opportunities can be presented throughout the life cycle of the donor.

Sustaining Continuous Communication

Being in continuous communication with donors can seem quite daunting because of the amount of time required. The way to do this is to encourage everyone in the organization to be a communicator. Most organizations equip board members with basic elevator speeches. Some may hold trainings for board and staff to provide guidelines on messaging. But very few embrace the “everyone is a communicator” idea fully—and those that do have a tremendous advantage.

“Give to the Max really highlighted the importance of everyone in-house being an ambassador for your organization,” says Andrea Messina, director of development at FLOC. “We have communications trainings for staff—everyone learns what messages are and what our elevator speech is.” FLOC provides all staff with guidelines on how to tell the FLOC story to different audiences, in one sentence and in one page. Each staff meeting ends with a specific call to action so that people are aware of what’s going on at the entire organization, not just within the confines of their job.

Communications can also be carried on by an organization’s supporters. An organization that does this well is charity:water, which has had tremendous success in mobilizing its online supporters to raise funds to provide safe drinking water to people in the developing world. “The reason it comes to them very naturally is that the organization is founded on the very principle of being a network of networks,” says Andresen. “It is set up to turn the role of fundraiser from an internal function of the organization to a role that’s shared by everyone in their community.”

For organizations that don’t come by this networked mentality easily, online supporters can be identified, trained, and managed like any group of volunteers. FLOC monitors social media to find potential ambassadors. “I can spend a few minutes on Facebook every day and see people who are posting and liking every time,” Messina says. These are the people whom FLOC recruits to be online ambassadors.

What causes most organizations to hesitate in empowering these external ambassadors is the loss of control. “There’s a certain amount of the ‘they’re not going to say it the way we’re going to say it’ mentality, but the cost-benefit ratio is still going to be positive,” says Mark Rovner, founder and principal at Sea Change Strategies. And perhaps with the loss of some control comes an increase in authenticity and transparency, both qualities that can greatly enhance an organization’s overall communications.

Looking Ahead

Our hypothesis going into the study was that social media has revolutionized the ways in which people get involved with causes. In short, it hasn’t. But it has certainly changed the ways in which people can influence others and increased the range of meaningful calls to action available to nonprofits. Continuous communication is now an expectation—if not a demand.

The full impact of these changes on the traditional donor engagement models is not yet known. It’s clear, however, that new ways of thinking about donor behavior should incorporate measures of influence and better account for the fluid and dynamic ways in which people support causes. Even as our understanding of true influence continues to evolve, organizations can begin to respond to these shifts by rethinking their definition of a traditional contribution and diversifying their calls to action.

“People are going to take very different approaches to solving problems as this whole area of social engagement evolves,” says Raymond. “There will be people who will never be on anybody’s pyramid or ladder … and they’re equally valuable in the sector, equally valuable as leaders—they just come with entirely different sets of optics.”

The challenge for organizations is finding ways to maximize the contributions of different groups of people with unique desires and resources. One thing is for certain. The pathway into the digital future is not going to be a linear journey up a ladder or pyramid.

Julie Dixon & Denise Keyes

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