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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Why don’t people give???

I participated recently in an “interview” with an individual who is working to develop a social media strategy for the Development & Alumni Relations department at a higher-ed institution.  His intention was to get my input on what alumni want from their alma mater and how that might be provided through social media.  I was pleased when alumni giving made its way into the conversation and intrigued by his approach to the topic; he asked me, “Why don’t alumni give???” What a great question!  And one that definitely applies to all forms of fundraising – not just educational.  There are, of course, a myriad of reasons people don’t give.  Drawing once again from my experience as an Annual Giving phonathon caller, I heard reasons including a negative experience at the university, still paying off student loans, big transitions in life with big costs attached (getting married, buying a house, starting a family), and sometimes a plain old “not interested”. But then I thought, “Why DO people give?”  And as any good fundraiser knows, the #1 reason people give is … say it with me … because they are asked!!!  Yes, it’s often that simple!  So, would that mean that the opposite is true???  Do people NOT give because they’re NOT asked?  Well, let me say this, rarely do fundraisers hear from their prospects that they’re not being asked enough… So, what is it?  Perhaps people don’t give because they’re not asked right. What do I mean by that?  Is it that best practice fundraising approaches should be thrown out the window?  Not at all!  My thought is that we’re doing a great job except that we’re not giving our prospects enough info on HOW to give.  We’re telling them who to give to (our organization), when to give (now), why to give, what amount to give, where to designate, but are we giving them the right options at that point on HOW to make their gift?  And I’m not talking about which credit card to donate with… It’s my belief that many people don’t give because (a) they think only enormous major gifts matter and (b) they don’t know their options.  For example, I donate regularly to four causes, and in all four cases I’m a monthly donor.  Are we as fundraisers making options like monthly giving clear when we make our ask?  This is just one example, of course, but I think it’s part of a key “toolkit” we ought to be sharing.  A $240 gift may seem intimidating, but $20/month might not… So I told this individual I had my social media interview with that sharing quick updates on Facebook and Twitter, not asking for donations but informing people on how to make them, could be a potential way of engaging more alumni in giving… I guess we’ll see if it works! Food for thought… Why do YOU think people don’t give???


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: Giving Circles at Illinois Wesleyen University

Sharon Lipinski, What Gives???’s original guest blogger and Founder of Change Gangs, is back with her second guest post, which she has generously shared from her own blog: Giving Circles Help. Read more about Sharon and her amazing organization by clicking here.

Also, right click to download the mP3 of Sharon’s interview with Jeffrey Mavros to your computer: Giving Circles at Illinois Wesleyn University.
Or, of course, click the link to hear the interview now!


Jeffrey Mavros was looking to increase donations and engagement with their younger graduates, and three years ago he hoped that giving circles would be a great tool for reaching the Millennial generation. They now have 16 different giving circles with over 200 participants funding 16 different scholarships for current Wesleyen students.

This is a win-win situation. The alumnus feels like he/she is doing their part for the university and making a significant contribution to a student. And the university engages their young alumni, develops long-term, deep relationships with them, and raises more money for scholarships for the university’s current students.

I hope you enjoy discovering how giving circles may work for your university.

Location: Bloomington, IL
Founded: 2009

Written by Sharon Lipinski
Founder of Change Gangs, Virtual Giving Circles
You can connect with Sharon via:
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Donor Fatigue

As you may know, I got my start in fundraising with a job as a student caller at Wilfrid Laurier University, calling alumni of the school as well as parents of current students, sharing updates and asking for their financial support.  Many friends of mine would comment on how tough it must be to make those “cold calls” to alumni, but I always replied saying, “They’re not cold calls, they’re warm calls”.  I don’t know where I’d picked up that term, and you could call it kind of corny, but it seemed applicable.  Calling alumni or parents was never cold, because at the very least – whether they were an enthusiastic supporter or not – they had some connection to the institution. I’m thinking about this because I recently read an article from The Globe & Mail entitled “Toronto hospitals are about to find out just how deep donors’ pockets are”.  The article begins by telling the story of Harvey Walker.  In short, Mr. Walker’s wife, Joan, died of pancreatic cancer and he wanted to find a way to honour her memory.  He decided the most fitting tribute would be to donate $100,000 in her name to the Scarborough Hospital, which provided compassion and care to Joan and her family.  According to the article: “Two years later, Mr. Walker has become something of a darling on the mailing lists of hospital foundations across the city.  Appeals for money arrive in his mailbox constantly.  He’s never donated to most of the hospitals asking for his cash and doesn’t even know how they got his name.” As someone who has only worked in educational fundraising thus far, this is a very interesting concept to me – contacting people who don’t have a clear connection to the institution I work for.  I’ve been to a few prospect research workshops where so much discussion surrounds making a prospect list based on other institutions’/organizations’ annual reports (for example), and for a while I didn’t even understand why.  It’s not as if I’m opposed to this because I know other organizations work differently, but when this article brought up the idea of “donor fatigue”, I could understand where that stems from. “But what about the risks? Hospital fundraising campaigns have become an incessant year-long event with appeals coming in the mail, online, on the radio and TV. Yet, as the fundraising pitches become increasingly enormous in size and scope, so too grows the worry that potential donors are beginning to tune out.” My point is not that one type of institution is better than the other, not at all.  It’s just interesting where our prospects come from and how that differs from organization to organization.  The truth is, too, that many of a school’s most generous donors are also turning up on other organizations’ – including hospitals’ – lists and so despite having a clear, personal connection to their alma mater, “donor fatigue” is still a concern. What are your thoughts? How do we combat donor fatigue???


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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Do your prospects know where their dollar will go???

What is the biggest roadblock you face as a fundraiser???  I’m sure this answer is different for all of us and likely those answers touch on all sorts of different aspects of fundraising and philanthropy.  Perhaps it’s incomplete/invalid data on your prospects.  Maybe it’s having a tough time communicating your mission to a larger network.  OR, perhaps it’s that your prospects (or future prospects) don’t know exactly what you’re fundraising for.

I try to keep this blog pretty general, but being that I work in educational fundraising, it’s hard not to write from that slant.  However, I think this predicament happens for all fundraisers.  Your prospects/community may know that your organization has something to do with homelessness, or animals, or building wells in Africa.  They may even know more info about how exactly you help the homeless, which animals in particular you rescue, or which countries in Africa you focus your efforts on.  But, do your prospects know where their dollar goes when they donate???  Do they know what kind of projects their donations fund???

For example, working at an independent school (like I do!) or a university – your future prospects are your current students.  While in school, they’re not thinking about donating/fundraising.  If they’re university students, they’re overwhelmed as it is with tuition, and being asked to donate may even seem insulting.  So maybe we won’t ask you to donate as a current student, at least not until your grad year, but how do we educate you as a student on what exactly fundraising does for you, so that when you’re in a position to donate, you’ll know that it’s important???

That question is what inspired me to write this post in the first place, because schools like Wilfrid Laurier University (my alma mater) are attempting to answer that question with initiatives like Tag Day.  I highly suggest clicking the link to learn more, but in short: Tag Day was created to generate awareness of how donations and philanthropy positively impact Laurier and its student experience every day. Tag Day’s student volunteers attach purple tags to places and objects that are made possible or enhanced through donations.

This initiative is great because it presents a tangible way of illustrating the power of philanthropy.  Annual reports and web articles are all well and good, but a big, purple tag attached to a bookshelf in the library is pretty hard to ignore.  It grabs your attention and makes you think.  Kudos to Laurier for being innovative and inspiring with their fundraising and stewardship efforts.

What initiatives like Tag Day have you seen???  What efforts have you made to overcome roadblocks in your organization???

What Gives???

The latin term alma mater, used to refer to any school, college, or university someone has studied at and, presumably, graduated from, means “nourishing mother”.


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:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

Guest Post: 3 Reasons Your University Should Have a Giving Circle (And How You Can Start One)

Enjoy this post by What Gives???’s first guest blogger Sharon Lipinski, Founder of Change Gangs.  Read more about Sharon and her amazing organization by clicking here.

What Is a Giving Circle? 

A giving circle is a form of shared philanthropy. The only defining feature of a giving circle is that members pool their donations into one large fund, and as a group decide how to disburse that money.

3 Reasons You Want a Giving Circle
A giving circle can help you:

  1. Deepen relationships with donors.
    A giving circle gives alumni an “insider” view of what’s going on at the university.  Many alumni already support the university in different ways; they may be buying tickets to the games, donating to their specific colleges or even donating directly to the university. But when they’re part of the giving circle, they have a deeper understanding and information about how the university works and they get to have a say in how their gifts to the university are spent.During the course of their membership in the giving circle, some members may become very interested in a particular program or department and give additional funds. They may get involved in capital campaigns. Because they are more emotionally involved in the university and donating to the university is an active part of their life, giving circle members often support multiple areas of the university.
  2. Fund projects the university can’t or doesn’t fund.
    The university’s funds are limited and as much as they’d like to, they can’t always fund all the worthwhile programs. A giving circle can fill in the gaps and fund the new, the untried, the small, and the otherwise overlooked but valuable endeavors.  It’s even possible that the giving circle’s grants allows a project to grow into such a valuable program that the university takes over funding it.
  3. Raise more money.
    Giving circle members are emotionally involved in donating, and donating to the university becomes part of their identity. As the relationship deepens, the amount of money a giving circle member chooses to donate can increase.  In addition, because members are exposed to programs and faculty they may not otherwise know about, members can get excited about supporting those individual programs and donate above and beyond their giving circle contributions.

How Would a Giving Circle Work At My University?

Starting with your most active alumni and inviting them to be a part of the university’s new giving circle that will support programs within the university. You may choose to focus on women or science programs, but you can choose to support any university program.

These new giving circle members make an annual donation into the giving circle’s fund. Perhaps the starting donation is $500 and there is a second tier for “president’s circle” at $1,000. If an alumnus has graduated within the last 4 years, they could donate $250 a year. The tiered giving structure can encourage higher levels of giving while still making it accessible to everyone.

Once per year, you notify departments, faculty, and student organizations that grant money is available and how they can apply. You review the grant applications with your giving circle (maybe a few members volunteer to review the grant applications), and the applications meeting your giving circle’s requirements go on to the next round.

The remaining applications are then researched a little more in-depth. Maybe a giving circle member will visit the department or have a call with the faculty member to get a better understanding of the project. The notes and applications are uploaded to a website and emailed to members who then vote online for which projects they’d like to fund.  The project(s) with the most votes receive the giving circle’s funds. Because the grant process is finished up on-line, alumni who no longer live in the area can participate.

You organize a ceremony to award the funds where alumni mingle and hear from the winners and past winners about what they’ve done with the funds and what the funds have done for them. This allows members to connect with other alumni and hear about the difference they’re making first hand. As a result, their membership in the circle and relationship with university feel even more rewarding.

Next year, you start a direct mail campaign to invite more alumni and your current members introduce you to other alumni you can invite. As you grow, so does your relationship with your alumni, the amount of money you’re collecting, and the impact you’re making on the university.

How to Start a Giving Circle
Download the Start A Giving Circle Guide for the 4 steps to starting your own giving circle.

Also, review the articles and interviews at Giving Circles Help to learn from people around the country who are already running giving circles.

Giving circles are infinitely adaptable and flexible, so be creative and design a giving circle that works for you and your university.


Written by Sharon Lipinski
Founder of Change Gangs, Virtual Giving Circles
You can connect with Sharon via:
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