Guest Post: Lessons in Fundraising from Lady Gaga



This weekend I went to a Lady Gaga concert. I danced. I sang. I screamed like I was 14.

I also learned a little something about fundraising.

The most powerful moment of the concert, for me at least, was when Gaga addressed the audience and did something extraordinary – she talked about beliefs. “We’re the same,” she screamed in a bejewelled outfit, “We believe in equality, we believe in human rights, we believe in social F#$%ing justice”.

I lost my mind.

Indeed, part of what I think makes Gaga’s fans – the “little monsters” as they are called – so fiercely loyal of their mother monster – is how unapologetic Gaga is about what she believes. She’s more than a pop star – she has opinions and values and doesn’t shy away from talking about them.

Shared beliefs are the bedrock of truly transformative relationships – between spouses, friends, colleagues, and even between donors and charities. Few things can bond us together more strongly as human being than shared beliefs.

Think about your non-profit – what do you believe in??? What is at the core of why you do the work you do? Can you answer that question? And how often do you talk about your beliefs?

Some charities are afraid to talk about what they believe in, for fear of chasing off donors. I think the opposite is true – if you can stand proudly behind what you believe in – like Gaga – your supporters will be fierce and fanatical – because they see their own beliefs reflected in you.

So what do you believe – whether it’s the Social Gospel or the Flying Spaghetti Monster – share those beliefs to get super fans of your very own.


Written by Rory Green


Rory is a Senior Development Officer by day, and FundraiserGrrl by night. As a major gifts fundraiser, she connects donors with an opportunity to invest in a better future. FundraiserGrrrl is a blog about her cheeky observations about life in fundraising.

Happy 2-year Anniversary!!! – Maeve’s Top 10 Favourite Posts


Tomorrow – November 23rd – marks the 2-year anniversary of  731 days have now passed since I introduced this blog about philanthropy and fundraising to the world, and during that time this website has produced 59 total posts, 16 guest posts by 14 different guest bloggers, and topics have been covered that range from annual reports to storytelling to donor fatigue to fundraising events to organizations that inspire to social media to the power of listening to introverts!

Last year at this time I decided to take a leap forward by introducing a mission and vision statement for this blog.  I also made a promise to update the website every other Friday, a promise I’ve kept (with 1-2 worthwhile exceptions).  I wanted to aim for consistency as well as purpose.  I wanted to create content that was exciting, interesting, and thought-provoking.  I believe I’ve done that, but I also believe that I can do even better, so rather than use this opportunity to shake things up, I want to recommit to excellence at  I want to work harder to find great guest bloggers, I want to ask my fellow fundraisers what they want to read about and deliver content that meets those needs, and I want to inspire others in the philanthropy and fundraising world to work harder, be more passionate, and make more of a difference in their work.

All of that being said, I still want to use this occasion to celebrate how far this blog has come, and so I thought it would be worthwhile to share my top ten favourite posts from the blog over the past two years.  Let me know what you think, and THANK YOU for reading!  That’s what makes all of this worthwhile.

Maeve’s Top 10 Favourite What Gives Philanthropy Posts
(in no particular order)

Cause vs. Cause – about the New York City Opera needing $20 million and the debate being that there are causes out there in greater need than the opera

A question of ethics – about the “Crackstarter” campaign to buy an alleged video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack, and the ethics of – if the campaign failed – making a donation to an addiction facility with the proceeds
**my favourite part about this post was the comment section!**

Young Alumni Fundraising – Part I about why to focus on young alumni giving Young Alumni Fundraising – Part II about how fundraise among young alumni

Guest Post: The power of Listening by Rory Green  so honoured to have the Fundraiser Grrl write a guest blog post!

To be a fundraiser, do you have to give??? – are we better fundraisers if we’re supporting our cause ourselves?  Do we have to be philanthropic?

You’re a fundraiser.  What next??? – about being a fundraiser when you’re in a fundraising position (and aren’t necessarily feeling like you’re fundraising)

Happy Anniversary, What Gives!!! – A look back and a leap forward! – the first milestone in What Gives Philanthropy‘s history, which I celebrated by creating a mission and vision statement for the blog, as well as a format for how often I would post, etc.

Guest Post: The Story of NationWares by Amie Mariana Sider – Amie’s story and her organization NationWares are both so inspiring.  I’m honoured to know her personally

Why I love what I do: reason #2 – about getting to combine my passions in my work: meeting new people, writing, words/language, psychology, feel-good industry

Guest Post: Is storytelling really the answer for your charity??? by Brock Warner – Brock is another fundraising hero of mine.  It was such a pleasure to have him write one of the first guest posts for this blog


FUNDRAISERS IN TORONTO: It’s time for another #maevesmeetup! Click here to see the details and chime in on date and venue.


Written by Maeve Strathy

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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“Trinkets & Trash”

What do you think of the practice of sending donors “trinkets and trash” to encourage giving???  I know that’s a rather pejorative way of referring to it, so I guess you can gather that I’m not a fan of this approach.  Though I should preface this by saying that I’ve never worked for an organization that did this, so I haven’t been in the position where I’ve had to justify it before.  Furthermore, I do hear that organizations have a great return on those mailings, so if it ain’t broke…

Let me give some background on why this is on my mind.  I recently made what was intended to be a one-time donation to a well-known, Toronto-based charity.  I read one of their ads and was so moved by it that I felt compelled to give.  And then the onslaught of mail and trinkets and trash began.  I’m pretty sure I made my gift within this calendar year, and I swear I’ve received 6-10 mailings from them already, with 3-4 containing gifts of some sort; gifts I’ll never use, gifts I never asked for, gifts I never wanted.  These gifts are not motivating me to give.  In fact, they’re irritating me, numbing me to the cause, and making me feel far less inclined to give.  The gifts are getting in the way of their message, which is what inspired me to donate in the first place.

I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who felt this way, and luckily I had the perfect opportunity last night to see what others thought of it.  What was the opportunity, you ask?  #maevesmeetup!  Last night I held my third #maevesmeetup event, formerly known as the Midtown Toronto Fundraisers Social.  I started this event at the suggestion of one of my mentors, Paul Nazareth (@UinvitedU), and held the first social in May of this year, and the second in July.  Last night was another great event, with a smaller group, so it was a more intimate experience.  Regardless, it was a great evening!  Thanks to all that joined us!  (Click here to read more about the event.)

photo 1When the first people started arriving, I posed my question about trinkets and trash: what do you think?  Everyone said they didn’t like this approach, and from what I could tell, nobody worked for an organization that practiced it.  One of the attendees, Stacey Charles (@Stacey_Charles), put it well: it’s “old school”.  There is a generation of donors who like getting gifts, but I’m not part of that generation.  I want to sense a need in the charities I’m supporting, and sending me gifts doesn’t express need in the same way an inspiring letter does.  I want to sense that my dollars went straight to work, so I don’t want to have to worry that they’re being spent on gifts for donors.

What do you think???  Is the ROI worth it?  Is this a worthwhile approach?  Or is it going the way of the dodo bird…?


Written by Maeve Strathy

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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Guest Post: What’s Wrong with Philanthropy (And How We Can Fix It)

There’s a great TED talk (here) that got me thinking. In it, Dan Pallotta – who essentially created the multi-day charitable event industry – argues that the way we judge charities is wrong. There’s an obsession with keeping overhead low and an understanding that salaries for those in charge should be kept to a minimum. After all, they’re working for charity. But this isn’t the best way to succeed. When a business wants to grow, society understands that it’s necessary to reinvest its earnings into creating more earnings. It’s worth hiring the best leaders (even with high pay) because they bring more value than they cost. And it shouldn’t be any different in the non-profit sector. The best way to raise more money is to reinvest a big portion of what they’ve earned so far. Pallotta’s charity events, despite comparatively high overhead, have grown exponentially faster than others and have, as a result, raised a much higher overall dollar figure. And that’s what matters, right?

Okay, I’m convinced.

But then I think about if one of the charities that I give money to told me that their CEO takes a big chunk of the proceeds and a majority of the rest goes towards marketing to get more donations and it just feels… wrong. I don’t want my money going towards overhead.

So: either I’m being irrational or there’s a piece of the equation that I’m missing.

Pallotta establishes – and I agree – that the best way for a charity to grow and raise more money in the long term is to reinvest their profits. Yet I still don’t feel comfortable donating to charities that operate in this way. Is that a contradiction? I’m not sure it is. Not necessarily. If my goal in giving to charity is to maximize the charity’s overall proceeds then yes, it’s a contradiction. But that isn’t my goal.

Let’s step back for a second: If I give $100 to charity and they reinvest all of that money to convince my neighbor to donate $101, is that a good thing? There’s been a net drain on society of $201, yet the charity only has $101 to show for it. That’s not good. I don’t feel like that was money well spent.

Compare that to a company that does the same thing. If I spend $100 on a new gadget and they reinvest all of that money to convince my neighbor to buy the same gadget for $101, is that a good thing? I’d argue that it is. My neighbor got something that he values at over $101 (otherwise he wouldn’t have bought it) and the company made additional revenue. Sure, we’re talking about small numbers so it seems insignificant, but it’s clear that everyone benefitted.

So what’s the difference???

It’s the fundamental problem with philanthropy today: When you give to charity, you are trading your money for the feeling that you’re helping.

That’s it.

And that leads to the societal beliefs that overhead and salaries should be low, and all the donations should go directly to helping the cause. Because, if they don’t, then the person donating didn’t get their end of the bargain. Their money didn’t help the cause.

When a charity spends $1 million on marketing – even if it has a positive ROI and generates $2 million in donations – that’s $1 million of contributions from people who gave money to help a cause and didn’t. Or, phrased another way, $3 million was given to help a cause and created only $2 million in real change.

In economics, we talk about growing the pie. And Pallotta’s speech assumes he can follow that logic: it’s worth reinvesting because it grows the pie. But donating to charity isn’t growing the pie, it’s just shifting wealth around. It’s a one-way transaction. So a reinvestment into getting more people to donate isn’t growing the pie the way reinvesting in a business would, it’s just a net loss for the sake of shifting the wealth around in a more favorable way.

So let’s recap quickly: Pallotta’s logic is flawed because a bigger overall dollar figure isn’t all that matters when people are giving out of sympathy. The best example is imagining a charity that reinvests so much into good marketing that they raise $1 trillion dollars. But only $1 billion of that money actually goes to help. They’ve created a huge bottom line, but because the cost of that bottom line was so massive (and the people giving didn’t get anything of value in return) it isn’t worth it. Donating to charity is a transaction where you are giving money in exchange for being able to help. And when the majority of those giving money don’t get to see their dollars put towards good, it doesn’t matter how useful that money was in creating more donations. It’s an overall societal loss.

So how can we fix this?

We need to change the way we see philanthropy. Businesses operate on the principle that they can provide more value than their costs of producing that value. In other words, they create transactions where both parties selfishly benefit and there’s profit leftover.

Why can’t charities do the same?

That’s the idea behind a charity I’m working with called GiveGetWin. Except – and here’s the secret sauce – there’s more ways to deliver value than just in dollars.

Essentially, what we do is ask someone doing something interesting to provide us with some value free of charge for us to sell. Often, that’s a handful of 1-on-1 consultations. Sometimes, it’s a product that they usually sell.

In exchange, we market the hell out of the deal and, in doing so, raise awareness of what they’re doing and drive a bunch of traffic to their page. Plus, it looks good on them and raises their credibility.

Great – they’re benefiting personally and doing good for charity.

Eventually, people who are interested in what they are selling find our deal and are amazed by the incredible value. The prices are shockingly low and, in many cases, the offers are things they wouldn’t be able to buy elsewhere.

Great – they’re benefiting personally and doing good for charity.

At the end of the day, all the profits generated by the deal go towards helping change the world. Today, we’re developing educational infrastructure in Mongolia. Tomorrow it could be something different. Because those giving are doing so for their own sake (with the added benefit of helping charity), we aren’t tied to one cause. We don’t rely on sympathy to raise money. Those who give are getting something for it. And this gives us the freedom to spend the money however it’s best suited to generate the most value.

Coincidentally, despite all this, we have an awesome team of volunteers and are able to give 100% of all our earnings to charity. But the point is that, the way things are set up, nobody would have that negative gut feeling if we reinvested our proceeds in growing. The transactions don’t consist of trading money for the feeling that you’ve created change. The change is an awesome byproduct of mutually beneficial deals.

And I haven’t even told you the best part. My job? Well, I do a lot of things. But a main portion of that is finding people who are doing cool stuff that I admire and reaching out to them. I explain how we operate, spend some time chatting with them about how we could structure a deal, and work with them to put something amazing together. It’s an awesome opportunity to connect with really incredible people and I consider myself lucky to be able to do it.

Great – I’m benefiting personally and doing good for charity.


Written by Zach Obront


Zach Obront manages recruitment and development and GiveGetWin, a new kind of charity for the 21st century. You can read more of his writing at and find out more about GiveGetWin at


To be a fundraiser, do you have to give???

At Wilfrid Laurier University – my alma mater, and the place where I got my start in fundraising – there was, and I think still is, a program called Our Community, Our Laurier.  This is a fundraising program for staff and faculty of the school, and it’s my first reference point when I ponder the question in the title of this blog post: To be a fundraiser, do you have to give???

When I learned about Our Community, Our Laurier, I learned about the importance of staff giving.  Why is it important?  Well, of course, at the very base of it, staff donors are giving to your organization.  More donors and higher fundraising totals = good!

…but of course it’s much more than that.  Staff giving means something very important: your staff support your cause.  If these people are spending (at least) 40 hours a week working for your organization, then you hope that they support the cause… you assume they support the cause… but when they give to the cause, their support is self-evident.

Staff giving results in a totally different culture at your organization.  Everyone is behind the mission, everyone is putting their money where their mouth is; whether they’re administrative staff, professors (at a university), doctors (at a hospital), marketing and communications staff, or part of the fundraising team, they believe in what they do.

But it goes further than that, too, because it’s also a great thing to share with donors or potential donors.  Being able to say (if I can dare to dream) that 100% of your staff are donors is a powerful message.  It’s the same with having 100% participation from your Board of Directors; it tells your community that the family behind the organization – staff, Board members, Trustees, etc. – are 100% behind the organization’s mission… and you (the donor) should be, too!

But I’m talking generally about staff giving, whereas my question focuses on the fundraiser.  To be in this position, must we be philanthropic?

I’m really curious to know what YOU think!  I don’t know that we can say there’s a definite answer to this, but I’m willing to share mine…

…and it’s YES!  I think we as fundraisers should be philanthropic.  I’m not saying we should donate 20% of our pay cheque or anything like that, but the spirit of philanthropy should be within us.

I think we should give to our organizations, and I think we should give to organizations we are passionate about.  I don’t think we need to give a lot, but I think we should give, and the reasons why, in my opinion, are twofold:

  1. We know how easy it can be!  I’m a young fundraising professional and I don’t have a wildly disposable income, but I know that monthly gifts of $20, for example, can make a meaningful impact.  It’s easy, it’s not too much money at any one time, but over the course of a year it becomes $240 and that’s a contribution I can be proud of. 
  2. If our job is to ignite passion for our organization in our donors or prospects, then I think that job will be significantly easier and more meaningful if we actually give ourselves.  I think it is our duty to support our organization in whatever capacity we can.  It shows our confidence and belief in the mission… never mind the fact that it saves us if a prospect ever asks if we give… an awkward situation worth avoiding…

But once again, that’s my opinion.  What’s yours???  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.  I’m keen to know what you think!


Written by Maeve Strathy

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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Time Management for the Busy Nonprofit Professional

It strikes me as ironic that I’ve attempted to write this post a number of times already, each time failing because I got a call, email, had to run to a meeting, or anything else that happens on any given workday.

That’s the way it goes, isn’t it???  Our time is full – of emails, campaign cabinet meetings, alumni association conference calls, event planning, reunion gift updating, letter writing, and more!  Whatever it is you do week in and week out, you have competing priorities, projects, and deadlines, all filling up your day.

[TANGENT]  It’s interesting to negotiate the mission, vision, and overall purpose of this blog/website in its early stages of existence.  I have diverse interests and challenge myself to find ways to tie those interests into my posts without losing sight of the What Gives Philanthropy tagline: “A blog dedicated to philanthropy and fundraising“.  It can be hard to achieve this when my mind is bursting with a variety of ideas, so please excuse me if I ever deviate…

…or don’t excuse me!  Comment on this post and tell me to get back on course.  [END TANGENT]

The reason I’m prefacing this post with all this is because I’m talking about time management.  Is this a topic specific to philanthropy and fundraising?  NO.  However, as always, I’m putting this in the context of my work in this field.

The fact is that we’re always going to be busy – it’s always just a matter of how busy.  So, the important thing is to find the best way to manage our time.  How do we organize our priorities???  What should we be doing first when we arrive at the office in the morning???  We all have our own tricks & strategies and that’s important, but here’s a research article by Susan Fish at Charity Village that may offer you some guidance (including a strategy from yours truly):

Time Is On Your Side: Time Management for the Busy Nonprofit Professional


Written by Maeve Strathy

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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Events that inspire!

Us fundraising folks – no matter what our portfolios include – inevitably get involved with events.  Whether we conceive of them, plan them, promote them, or simply attend them, we all get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.  So when we attend an outside event (one unrelated to our workplace) that’s done really really well, we can’t help but get excited… we can’t help but want to put the pointers we picked up to work… and, if you’re me, we can’t help but write about it!

I went to one such event recently which is the inspiration for my post.  There is a great new company, based out of Toronto, called Metro Youth Opera (MYO).  In short, MYO is designed to create viable development opportunities for young artists in all fields related to the world of opera: singers, stage directors, music directors, and more.  It’s an inspired idea!!!  Be sure to click the link to read more about MYO and click here to buy tickets to their two performances of The Elixir of Love at the end of this month!

But I digress…  Metro Youth Opera held an event last month as a fundraiser for this year’s performances.  MYO relies entirely on ticket sales and donations to fund its performances and pay its young artists, so the founder, Kate Applin, has had to come up with some creative ideas to raise funds.  Last month, Kate held the second annual Meet the Artists party, and this is the event that inspired me so much!

Why did this event inspire me???  I could go on and on to answer this question, but I want to boil my answer down to two key points:

(1) The event kept costs low and fundraising high.  Thanks to a pair of generous hosts who held the event at their home (beautiful, comfortable, and warm atmosphere), the costs of the event were low… very low.  This meant that the ticket price, which was elevated-yet-reasonable, went to almost nothing but the company.  When you go to a fundraising event where you get a decadent 4-course meal, it’s hard to feel like you’re making much of an impact.  At the Meet the Artists party, this was not at all the case.

(2) The event served the company’s mission.  The format of the evening was simple — guests mingled and enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvres, heard speeches by Kate and the opera’s musical director, Jennifer, followed by remarks from a special guest who is an important figure in the world of young opera singers, and then there were three performances of excerpts from MYO’s production of The Elixir of Love.  The night was all about opera and supporting young singers.  That’s the company’s mission and the event reflected it.  I thought this was the great strength of the event.  Occasionally you attend an event put on by an organization that seems to have nothing to do with the organization itself.  Why???  People want to financially support the organization because they respect and appreciate the organization, so the event should give them elements of what it is that they appreciate.  The guests at the Meet the Artists event are obviously opera lovers and supporters of young artists, and so all of them were basking in the glory of Metro Youth Opera and its mission at the event, and their pocketbooks followed.

Congratulations to Kate and her team at Metro Youth Opera for such an inspiring event, and best of luck with your performances this year!

What events have inspired you in the past???  What is it that makes you enjoy an event?  Or not enjoy it???  Comment here with your thoughts on events!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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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