A culture of philanthropy

At this time of year, everyone seems to be a philanthropist.  Philanthropy is about passion, caring, love for humankind, and the spirit of giving, among other things.  Christmas – which I celebrate – is about all of those things, too.  It’s in this season that we’re reminded of the innate good will and giving nature of our fellow human beings.  So – if this is human nature, why can fundraising be such an uphill battle so much of the time???

In our line of work, we talk a lot about a culture of philanthropy.  More often than not, there is a need in an organization to create that culture.  For example, you work for an organization, and the mission is supported by all the staff and so many volunteers and friends in the public, but the instinct to donate money just isn’t there.  Perhaps they don’t know the organization’s case for support, perhaps they’ve never been asked… whatever the reason, sometimes philanthropy is engrained in the culture of the organization, but it’s usually not.

Can you create a culture of philanthropy?  If so, how?  I’m fortunate enough to work at a school where philanthropy is very engrained in the student, alumni, and parent experiences.  The school is about 18 months away from its 150th anniversary, and it receives zero government funding.  All funds are provided by tuition and fundraising dollars, so there’s no subsidy to fill that gap.  With such a long history of philanthropy, and buildings named after the school’s great benefactors, and plaques in buildings acknowledging generous donations, the culture of philanthropy is really evident.  I’m not saying everyone is “drinking the Kool Aid”, but it’s not as difficult to fundraise as I know it is in other organizations.

But I know there are ways to create the culture.  One of my favourite ideas is “Tag Day”, which is implemented by a number of schools I know of.  I wrote about this idea in April 2012 in a post called “Do your prospects know where their dollar will go???”, which referred specifically to my alma mater Wilfrid Laurier University’s Tag Day initiative.  The idea is to “tag” (with an actual tag) buildings, statues, classrooms, etc. on the university’s campus to bring awareness to what wouldn’t exist at the school without philanthropy.  Creating awareness certainly helps create a culture of philanthropy.

I’ve also heard of “Tuition Free Day”, which is a somewhat confusing name for it, but the idea is to highlight to students when their tuition dollars stop covering their student experience and when government funding and fundraising dollars kick in… it happens a lot earlier in the year than you might think.  Again, it’s about creating awareness.  When people understand the WHY, they’re more likely to make contributions themselves.

Those are just two, educational-centric ideas, but I know there are more.  What are your favourite ideas that contribute to creating a culture of philanthropy???

 

And that, my friends, is my final post of 2013.  It’s been another excellent calendar year for What Gives Philanthropy, and I look forward to more excellent posts and guest bloggers in 2014.

Thanks for reading!

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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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Personalization pays!

Personalization Pays!

I know I’ve talked about compassion/donor fatigue before.  We have so many communication channels available to us, and every one of them – from email to Facebook to snail mail – are asking us to give.  These weapons of mass communication are powerful, and they’re a positive tool on the one hand, but we have to work that much harder to connect with people when using them.  What can we do, say, or design that will catch people’s attention???  Is a video enough?

The best tool I’ve learned to use is personalization.  I was working on an event recently – an art auction – and was brainstorming some ways to get more attendees there.  I didn’t just want more attendees though, I wanted people to attend who would actually buy the art.  So since this was the fifth time the event has taken place, I looked back at records to find out who had bought art in the past, which artist’s art they had bought, and whether the same artist was submitting again this year.  If they were, I wrote a personalized email to each of these past buyers, inviting them to the event, letting them know that “their favourite artist” was submitting again, linking them to the event website (specifically to where this artist’s piece was featured), and also letting them know that they could submit an absentee bid if they couldn’t make it.

This process was lengthy and tedious, but it comes with a great ROI.  A few of these individuals submitted absentee bids, many of them attended, and at least one purchased another piece by “their favourite artist”.  Regardless of the outcome though, this personal touch is a great way to engage members of your community.  One person I emailed was impressed we even knew what he’d bought before, and others were simply pleased to have been personally contacted.

This event is simply an example though, and the strategy can be even more effective with fundraising.  I’ve worked on custom proposal packages that include archival photos of an alumnus from when he/she was at the school, videos that have the head of the school addressing the major gift prospect who is meant to receive the video… the list goes on, and the result is always positive.  Personalized communication resulting in a large gift or a piece of art being purchased is really the cherry on top.  No matter what, personally connecting with people is always worth your while.

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Part of this post was inspired by Dan Allenby’s recent blog post, “Content vs. Distribution”, from his amazing website: The Annual Giving Network.

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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

 

The space between sitting on a Board & writing a cheque

I think I’ve mentioned before that the school where I work has an alumni mentorship program, which is designed to facilitate the establishment of meaningful mentoring relationships between recent graduates and more experienced alumni, focused around career path advice, guidance on future educational development and professional growth.

www.whatgivesphilanthropy.com is about fundraising, but it’s also about philanthropy, which – although it’s frequently expressed as financial support – is the love of people; the love of humankind.  And this love can be expressed in a variety of ways.  Some people instinctively pull out their wallets, which is much appreciated, but others choose to show their support by giving their time and talent instead, and that’s a wonderful and necessary thing.

When I first started managing the mentorship program, I took some time to meet with mentors registered in the program to introduce myself and get a sense of the program’s climate at that time.  I met with one gentleman who said the following:

Participating in the mentorship program fits in the space between sitting on a Board and writing a cheque.  It’s not a huge commitment of time or money, but it gives you an opportunity to give back.

This man may have been capable of some donations here and there, and I believe he does donate, but maybe his larger philanthropic priorities fall elsewhere, so he chooses to give back to his alma mater in another way, as a mentor.

As fundraisers in our respective organizations, we need to find these ways for people to engage with us in whatever way they’re capable of/comfortable with.  Money isn’t the only way in, so it’s important to create these opportunities.  An engaged individual never hurt anyone, no matter how they choose to stay connected.

 

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

 

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Speaking of mentorship, I recently presented on alumni mentorship programs at the CCAE  National Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  Check out the Storify story below to learn more about my experience:

Career Connections: teaching students about fundraising

I have to admit that this week I didn’t have the ease of inspiration that I usually do for writing my biweekly Friday posts.  Lately I’ve been so busy and have been lucky enough to have some incredible guest bloggers come in with their ideas, so when faced with coming up with one of my own… I uncharacteristically faltered.  However, I was saved by the fact that every once in a while I save a draft of a blog post on something while it’s fresh on my mind and figure that I’ll post it sometime in the future.  That’s why today I’m writing about an event I participated in back in November 2012 at my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University: Career Connections.

Career Connections was a combination of a career fair and a networking event: current university students had the opportunity to visit “exhibit tables” hosted by alumni where they could learn about a specific career they were interested in, or network with alumni in diverse occupations to inspire their own career paths.  Students were encouraged to ask questions about the alumnus’ current career, industry, and the path they took to get where they are today.  We – the alumni – were invited to share advice we have for students interested in pursuing a career in our field.  We were also encouraged to bring information about our organization and any other information that might be helpful for students thinking about a career in our industry.

Firstly, I was delighted to be asked to participate.  Being that I work in alumni relations, and organize events somewhat like this one, it’s always fun to be on the other side of the event.  Secondly, I was so grateful that – especially at a business-focused school like Laurier – the organizers were making an effort to include careers like fundraising, something that isn’t likely to spring into a 4th year student’s head when they’re thinking of what they’ll do after they graduate.  Thirdly, I was excited to have the chance to share the joys of my field with soon-to-be university graduates!!!

When I go to events like this, or networking events in general, my mission is simple: truly connect with a few people.  I’m not a mingle and small talk kind of girl; I would much rather invest in deep and meaningful conversation with 2-3 people than leave with 15 business cards of faces I can’t recall.  So at Career Connections, I didn’t pressure myself to have a line-up at my table, just a few students who I could have some good conversations with.  Thankfully, that’s what I’ve got.

I had three students come to my table and really stop to learn about what it is I do.  When asked by a student what I love most about my job, I said that every day is different; one day I could be out in Halifax hosting an alumni event, the next day I could be quietly working on a young alumni solicitation letter, and the next I could be calling a major gift prospect.

One student said that he was interested in education, but not in being a teacher.  I said educational fundraising is an amazing way to be involved in education if it’s something you’re passionate about; you might not be on the front lines teaching kids, but you’re actively working to raise funds so that the teachers can do what they do with the best resources available.

On the same vein as every day being different, I spoke to another student about how fundraising engages so many different “muscles” in you; there’s lots of opportunities to build and enhance interpersonal skills, many times I find myself using the critical thinking skills I learned in university to analyze fundraising communications materials, and when it comes to making the ask, it’s a great challenge every time!  You have to think hard to align the needs of the institution/organization with the passions and interests of the prospect.  It’s tough work, but rewarding, and fun!!!

Career Connections was a great experience, and I hope to have more opportunities in the future to share with others the joys of the field I love: fundraising.

 

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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Happy Anniversary, What Gives!!! – A look back and a leap forward!

365 days… 32 posts… 6 guest bloggers… endless moments of learning, inspiration, and passion…

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, WHAT GIVES PHILANTHROPY!!!

What started out essentially as another excuse to blog – but with purpose – has become a bit of a part-time job for me, and I absolutely love it!  What Gives Philanthropy has given me a chance to connect with new people, reconnect with old colleagues and friends, and contribute to the dialogue surrounding philanthropy and fundraising.  Whether I’m writing posts myself, or giving a platform to passionate voices, I feel really proud of how this blog has evolved over the past year.

The 1-year anniversary of my blog is also a great occasion to pause and think about where I want to take What Gives from here.  This blog is here to stay, so how can I take it – and my passion for it – to the next level???

Well, for one thing, I’ve decided to instate a mission and vision for the blog.  I will use these statements to guide my writing, my invitations and acceptances of guest bloggers, and my target audience.  It will give more accountability, which I think is a great way of strengthening a growing entity.  Please feel free to let me know what you think!

 

Mission Statement
What Gives Philanthropy aims to create dialogue around philanthropy, fundraising, and related topics.  It intends to discuss and explore these topics from all angles and points of view, inviting guest bloggers to write and share their ideas, with the objective of having posts appeal to readers outside of the industry. Finally, What Gives hopes to connect fundraisers with one another, as well as those in related fields, and to philanthropists themselves, creating a community full of passion, discussion, and philanthropy.

Vision Statement
What Gives Philanthropy envisions continuing this blog, growing the frequency of posts, the variety of topics discussed, and the standard of writing and idea-sharing.  Furthermore, it wants to connect with more and more interested individuals to guest blog for What Gives, providing more perspectives and linking more passionate people together.  On a grander, long-term (15-20 years) scale, What Gives Philanthropy will move into consulting work, evolving the company into an arena for consulting, idea-sharing, and discussion, working with non-profit organizations and advising them on next steps in their fundraising efforts.

 

Along with instating a mission and vision, I wanted to provide you with some updates on how I’d like to see the blog post themselves evolving…

Themes
I want to see a greater variety of points-of-view shared with the readers.  As an educational fundraiser, it’s hard not to look at most things from that angle.  Therefore, I want to bring on guest bloggers who can report from other fundraising niches.  A great example is the recent post from Amie Mariana Sider of NationWares.  Amie was able to speak to fundraising to break the cycle of poverty for marginalized people around the world, something I can’t speak to directly at all.  I think a lot of readers could take Amie’s ideas and think of how they fit into their own fundraising work – I know I could! – but the post focuses on a different side of fundraising, which I love!  I intend to do more of this in the coming year; finding people out there doing totally different things, and speaking about it on this blog under the umbrella of philanthropy & fundraising.

Consistency
You may not know this yet, but I’m the kind of person who works best with a plan.  I love schedules, I live by lists, and I function well with a defined structure in my life.  It’s important to be flexible, spontaneous, and easy-going, so I try not to fight that too much, but I think What Gives could do well with a little more structure.

I did a little number crunching and found out the following: (1) in 6 out of the past 12 months I posted twice and in the other 6 months I posted three times; (2) on average, I posted something new every 12 days.  I want to be consistent, and I also want to be realistic, so I’ve decided…

Moving forward, I will post every other Friday, starting today!

That way, for those of you loyal readers, you know when to expect new posts from me or my growing group of guest bloggers.  A biweekly schedule will allow for regular posts without long gaps or my guilty conscience pressuring me to post before I have a fully-formed thought.  I would love to start planning to blog weekly, but perhaps that should be saved for What Gives‘s third year of existence.  Baby steps…

 

And I think that’s it!  A mission & vision, an intent to break outside of my educational fundraising sphere in terms of content, and a promise to post every other Friday!  I think that’s an exciting plan for Year 2 of What Gives Philanthropy, and I hope you agree!

As always, please comment with your feedback, email me at maeve@whatgivesphilanthropy.com to connect and/or let me know you’d like to write a guest post, AND follow me on Twitter: @fundraisermaeve.

 

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