Giving Societies: The Field of Dreams Myth

giving societies- the field of dreams myth

“If you brand it… they will come.”

 

There is no magical key to donor engagement.

If you brand it, they won’t come.

Or, at least, it doesn’t guarantee that they will. Giving societies can be an amazing way to engage donors, to make them feel part of a community. There are some giving societies out there that are so strong and full of engaged donors, so it’s a great “tool” in fundraising.

However – it’s not always the right tool. And again, it’s not a magical key.

Let’s say you’re starting a mid-level giving program.

A lot of organizations start the process with a giving society. They create a name, a brand, letterhead, and a great brochure.

And then they sit back and wait for the donors to join the club!

And they wait… and wait… and wait…

And the donors don’t come.

Too often as fundraisers we’re motivated by what makes most sense to us internally. By what’s easiest administratively. By what seems like a quick, cheap strategy.

“We can’t feasibly call all our donors and find out what they want and need. But it’d be really convenient to have a name to refer to our mid-level donors as, so let’s call them the 1986 Society. The donors will identify with that!” 

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, written by a total heroine of mine: RuPaul Charles.

You can call me he. You can call me she. you can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me.

That’s RuPaul’s attitude towards what pronouns you choose to refer to him with. The truth is that he doesn’t care! What he cares more about is that you call him! Acknowledge him!

Donors are the same! We spend too much time thinking about the “other stuff” – the giving societies, internal naming conventions, letterhead – and not nearly enough time acknowledging the donors themselves.

And maybe if we spent more time on that, we’d find out more about what the donors actually want.

Maybe they DO want a giving society, a group to be part of. A sense of being a VIP. Access to behind-the-scenes at your charity.

Or maybe they DON’T want a giving society. Maybe they won’t identify with a separate, special brand. Maybe they’d prefer you spent more time on the mailings they receive; add more content, give them more giving opportunities that inspire them.

The truth is we can’t know until we ask. And donors love to be asked!

Don’t look for the easy way out.

Give your donors the #donorlove they deserve!

Call a donor today to find out what they do and don’t want from you, and let me know what you find out!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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Giving Societies… What Gives?!

I am in program analysis / program planning mode for my Leadership Giving program in my new role, and with that comes a lot of thought and reflection… what is a leadership gift? What makes someone a leadership donor? What needs to happen in order for me to consider moving a donor into major gift territory?  I find the process energizing and exciting, but it brings up some tough questions.  One of those tough questions is:

Do donors care about giving societies???

As I plan the year ahead for the Leadership Giving program, I’m considering whether it would be effective to create a concrete leadership-level giving society.  The thing that makes this consideration tough is whether giving societies only mean something internally and the donor doesn’t really care.  Would a giving society strengthen a culture of philanthropy?  Would donors who make it in the society care, and really identify as part of that society?  Would a society make someone stretch their giving to a new level so that they can be part of something?

When giving societies are effective (because sometimes they really are), why are they effective?  Is it when they’re really established and have been around a while?  Is it when being at a certain level means certain perks, like invitations to events and/or some kind of tangible benefit like a pin or a special name tag?  Does the giving society have to equal some kind of prestige?

If a giving society has to be well-established in order to mean something, then is it in our best interest to start them if it will take such a long time to establish them?  Will it be worth the time and resources to push on until, say, the 20-year mark where it starts to mean something?

Or do people care about these things any more? Do giving societies promote giving and/or a culture of philanthropy, or do we just like to think they do? Do we like it internally because we have an easy way to refer to certain levels or giving and certain donors?

Regardless of all this, can we still refer to a group in a specific way in mailings? For example, whether there’s a society or not, can I refer to my donors as leadership donors in a direct mail piece? If they don’t already identify with that label and there’s no concrete giving society, can I still use it to give them a sense of their being special?

 

What do you think??? Are giving societies worth our time and thought?

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Mid-Level Gifts

Happy New Year!!!  I hope that everyone enjoyed a lovely holiday season and that 2014 is off to a good start for you.  I am a person that really enjoys the promise a new year brings – opportunities for fresh starts, recommitting to goals, reflecting on the accomplishments of the last year, and considering with excitement the year to come.  Bring it on!

But on a totally unrelated note, I’d like to talk briefly about mid-level gifts.  When I attended the 2013 CCAE National Conference last June in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I attended a session on mid-level gifts.  These gifts, categorized differently by different organizations, are becoming a bit of a hot topic in fundraising.  We keep our annual funds running smoothly (they are the life-blood of our organizations, after all), and we focus our attention on those ever-important major gifts, but what about the area in between???  What about those people who are giving (or have the capacity to give) year after year in, for example, the $5,000 – $25,000 range?  These are meaningful gifts, making a measurable difference for your organization.  Are they getting attention?  Do you know anything about these donors?  Are you stewarding them?

What do we know about mid-level donors?  Some of the things I’ve learned from colleagues, at conferences, and in my own experiences, are that these donors don’t necessarily know the difference they’re making through their gifts.  They give loyally and consistently, and aren’t asking for much in return.  There’s not much of a culture built around these gifts.  6-figure and up gifts often have more fanfare – naming opportunities, receptions, gift agreement contracts, and expectations from the donors, but mid-level gifts don’t have that.  I’m not saying they should, but perhaps mid-level donors should have a bit of a community built around them.  I talked about a culture of philanthropy in my last post of 2013… perhaps there could be a culture of mid-level giving…

What would a culture around mid-level giving mean?  Well, it could mean that mid-level donors know that they’re mid-level donors.  They have “chinned themselves up”, to borrow a term from my current Executive Director, to a larger gift than the average annual donor, because they have the capacity to, and the passion to.  Their gifts are making a significant impact on your organization, and they ought to know it.  Perhaps this group of donors could have a name, and a way of being recognized, like an annual cocktail party.  Maybe instead of just passively watching those larger gifts come in, you could meet these people face-to-face; get to know them, have them get to know you, understand where their passion lies at your organization, and then let all that information simmer so that when the right project comes along… they could be the major donor.  

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not only about the donor pipeline.  Yes, these mid-level donors have the potential to be major donors down the line, but they’re also incredible just as they are… and we need to make sure they know it!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Young Alumni Fundraising – Part II

Young Alumni Fundraising - Part I (1)

On April 26th I wrote Young Alumni Fundraising – Part I, and shared with you the many reasons why you cannot ignore your young alumni.  I ended the post by promising to share how to ask your young alumni, so here is Part II answering “how?”.

Again, this post in two parts is the result of my passion for young alumni fundraising combined with the enthusiasm for this topic that I’ve developed, thanks in large part to the dynamic discussions I’ve participated in on LinkedIn.  Members of those discussions requested that I share with them some samples of solicitation techniques I’ve used and/or fundraising appeals.  I intend to share some of those pieces with you, too.

Here are five techniques I’ve found work best:

  1. A specific, manageable amount
    Back when I was a phonathon caller, I learned that asking for a specific amount is crucial.  If you leave it open-ended, potential donors feel uncertain and confused and may give much less than they’re able simply because they weren’t given any guidelines.  Young alumni are no different.  I find using a consistent, concrete, and manageable ask amount for young alumni across the board (I’m referring to GOLD – a.k.a. “Grads Of the Last Decade) yields great results.  What number do I use?  $25.  There’s something about that number that jives well with me, and it seems to jive well with the young alum, too, because 8 times out of 10 they give exactly that.  It’s reasonable, it doesn’t have much pressure attached to it, and it emphasizes the important message that participation is what counts, not how much you give!  For the record, $25 isn’t the only amount I include on our pledge cards, but it’s the one I use in my messaging and emails, etc.  It’s not scary, it’s specific, and young alumni feel comfortable with it.
  2. Regular updates
    My solicitation process with young alumni follows a particular plan, and last fiscal year (2011/2012) it went a little something like this:a) Direct mailing – In the Spring (there had been no solicitations sent out before then), I sent out a letter to every member of GOLD that we had a mailing address for.  More than that, I sent each of the past 10 graduating classes a letter customized for their class.  The bulk of it was the same, but there was a custom message identifying their participation rate from last year and their participation goal for this year. (Click here for a version of that letter).b) Two weeks after the direct mailing went out, I sent out a short and sweet email – again, customized per class – linking to a PDF version of the letter and letting them know they should’ve received it in the mail.c) Two weeks after that, I sent out another email.  The purpose of this
    message was to update them on the gifts made so far, encourage them
    once again to donate, and let them know how many people would have to
    give in order to reach their participation goal.d) A few weeks before our fiscal year-end, I sent an email to all of GOLD (not
    class-specific) to update them on overall GOLD progress, and encourage
    people to give in order to be included in our 2011/2012 totals.  It also
    featured specific class totals.e) And lastly, I sent a final email in August 2012, after the FY year-end, to
    update each class individually on their final totals.  I even mentioned each
    of the donors by name!  I thought this email was crucial; why push them so
    hard to meet their goals if I wasn’t going to tell them how they did? (Click
    here
     for a version of that email).For the record, I never received any complaints for over-soliciting these classes by
    email.  My purpose wasn’t to inundate them, but to regularly keep them posted on
    how they were doing. My sense was that it really got them uniting as a class, keen to
    meet their participation goal.  And with each email blast that I sent out, gifts came
    rolling in.  So in my humble opinion, the plan worked!
  3. A project they can rally behind
    We all know that donors are changing; people making donations expect their gift to go to exactly what they want it to go to, they expect follow-up, they want to know how they’ve impacted your organization, and they hold you accountable and expect you to do what you’ve said you’ll do.  Young alumni have the same expectations, and they only want to give to something they care about.  Of course, they care about your institution, but many of them don’t want to see their hard-earned money go to superficial things; they want to make a difference.So, when approaching young alumni, the project/gift designation is key.  I’ve found the best project is – and will increasingly be – financial assistance.  I’m not saying this is the only project that works, it just needs to be something that tugs at the heart strings and that they consider personal.  Whether they received financial assistance or not, they want to support the best, brightest, and most deserving students so that they can attend their alma mater.  And it’s a need that’s difficult to argue, and it’s only becoming more important.  Again, financial assistance isn’t the only project that falls into this category.  Perhaps their residence needs sprucing up, or the sport they were passionate about needs funding… whatever it is, you need to consider it.  I don’t think young alumni are interested in supporting the area of greatest need, so be creative, think hard, and put forward something they can really rally behind and believe in.
  4. Class-specific goals
    I already highlighted the importance of this when I outlined my solicitation plan to you, but I’ll say it again: customized and/or class-specific goals and appeals are great! When you present to them the fact that they’re part of GOLD or the young alumni society, or whatever it is, they feel a part of something.  When they then consider the fact that within GOLD, they stand with their classmates and have the opportunity to challenge themselves and make a difference, there’s power to that.  Sure, you can ignite some friendly competition, too, but something I like writing in letters to young alumni is: “Show GOLD what you’re made of.”  In other words, you are part of a smaller community within the alumni community, and within that community, your class can make the biggest and best impact together.
  5. Creating a young alumni giving culture
    I was getting at this with point #4: create a culture.  I talked in my last post about planting the seed and creating a culture of philanthropy.  But don’t just throw young alumni into the big sea of all your alumni; make them something different. Acknowledge the meaning of them giving back when they’ve only just recently graduated.  Recognize the difficulty of giving at a young age, when they haven’t yet established themselves.  Tell them you understand, but that they can still make a difference.  Treat them as a separate class within GOLD, but when GOLD does great, acknowledge the whole group!  As one class, they might be happy with reaching a participation rate of 5%, but they might not think their total dollars matter much.  Tell them the total that GOLD raised, and they’ll put it into perspective.  Create that culture and nourish it, with regular updates, consistent messaging during their years in GOLD, and constant encouragement and celebration.  They need it, and it’s worth your time and investment of energy and more, because they’ll deliver!

And that brings me to my last point.  I know you fundraisers, you want proof!  Well, last fiscal year (2011/2012) saw GOLD participation in the Annual Fund double.  Yes, double.  In fact, participation more than doubled.  The final participation rate for all of GOLD last year was 4.9%, and the year before that it was 2.2%.  The year before was my first year on the job and all I did was send out one direct mailing, and maybe the same letter via email, but no regular updates, no specific strategy, nothing like that.  So it shows that when you put the effort in, the young alumni respond.

This year is on track to be even greater.  I don’t know that we’ll see another doubling of participation, but it will grow, and the more the culture is established, the more growth we will see.

 

I hope you enjoyed part II of this post and that you found some practical, implementable ideas within.  Please comment here with questions, concerns, and ideas, email me at maeve@whatgivesphilanthropy.com, or interact with me on Twitter @fundraisermaeve.

Thanks for reading!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Who to include…???

My five or so years in “the biz” of fundraising has led me to believe that who to include in the annual report is a hot topic.  Paper isn’t cheap, so you want to use the pages of your publication wisely.  On top of that, the annual report is much more than a report – it’s a tool.  It’s a tool to encourage those who gave to give again; those who didn’t give to give; and those who gave some to give more.

With all that in mind, what do you do?

My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is to include everyone.  Yes, absolutely there are limits to this, but if you can – include everyone.  As a young person, I focus a lot of thought, research, and attention to young people and their capacity to give, their knowledge of philanthropy, and what drives them to make a donation.  So when I think about the annual report, I think about a young alumnus (in the case of educational fundraising).  I think about a young alumnus making a gift of $25 and thinking, “This is all I can manage at this point.  I hope it can make a difference.”  And of course, if the alumnus told that to us fundraisers, we’d say, “Absolutely it makes a difference!  Every dollar counts!”  But then what if they look at the annual report and see that only people who made gifts of $1,000+ are listed?  What will they feel about their $25 gift then?  Will they think it matters?

And, of course, this doesn’t only apply to young donors – it applies to anyone under that $1,000 mark.

Yes, the idea of excluding those who gave under $1,000 is to encourage them to give that bit more to get them in the report.  But let’s look back at what I said the annual report is a tool for: to encourage those who gave to give again; those who didn’t give to give; and those who gave some to give more.

How do we encourage those who gave to give again?  We recognize their gift by listing them in the report.

How do we encourage those who didn’t give to give?  We show every single gift from $0.01+ in the report so that those who didn’t give see that they’ll get recognition no matter what they give.

How do we encourage those who gave some to give more?  This is the only one for which perhaps only including gifts of $1,000+ encourages giving.  But there’s another way – we all have them – giving societies.  The donor who gave $1-$999 could easily be encouraged to give more when they see if they give $1,000, they’ll be part of another society.  No, it’s not a surefire way to encourage a larger gift next year, but it could work.

As far as I can see, you can’t lose by listing every gift in the annual report.  What do you think?  Do you passionately disagree?  Share your thoughts!  I can’t wait to see the debate!

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email