August 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
We are all fundraisers
August is Black Philanthropy Month! Unfortunately, I only learned this at the end of the month, but I am delighted to amplify the message and be an ally (especially in future years). The August newsletter of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University includes an article by Valaida Fullwood, one of the architects of Black Philanthropy Month. In it, she artfully connects this years observation with the 400 year anniversary of the first documented African slaves to arrive on American shores. For more information about this, please see the brilliant New York Times 1619 project.
Eddie and Sylvia Brown were featured in the August Chronicle of Philanthropy as leading Black philanthropists. They very generously share their story as an example and inspiration to other Black philanthropists, and philanthropist in general.
This profile, and an interview with Dwayne Ashley, a Black fundraising professional who founded his own consulting firm, are great stories for Black Philanthropy Month, but it’s not clear that the Chronicle has made the connection. Like me, perhaps they will amplify this more next year.
Well, Nonprofit AF has done it again. A scathing piece on overhead fundraising, which, they argue, we need to stop talking about AT ONCE! (Quick! Don’t think of an elephant!). It’s a paradoxical situation (my favorite – really) because as nonprofit professionals we need to address it, and ignore it at the same time. They are not wrong. It IS really terrible that the general public is counselled to give only to organizations where most of the money goes to programs and services. How do people think those programs and services get administered!? Who keeps the records? Who stewards the donors? Who makes sure the donor intent is being honored? The hard-working folks who are considerd “overhead,” that’s who. I guess we need to be prepared to talk about overhead when the question rears it’s ugly head, and then keep the focus on the wonderful work our organizations do the rest of the time.
Another from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the cover article (subscription needed) is about the industry-wide dissatisfaction of front line fundraisers. According the the article, 51% of fundraisers say they will leave their current job within two years. I’ve been a professional fundraiser (albeit not on the front line) for 25 years, and I’ve always known the tenure of major gift officers to be about two to two-and-a-half years. That has long been the average, as I understand it. So while this is nothing new, what I appreciated about this article is the plain way it dived into all of the reasons why this may be: no culture of philanthropy; unrealistic goals; no resources; toxic work environment; low salaries; no professional development, and no career advancement possibilities. It gives me hope to see these issues stated plainly out in the open. I have a couple of gripes, though: 1) It speaks of millennials as if they are young up-and-comers in their twenties, new to the field and the world of work in general. Millennials are in their thirties and forties, full grown adults with families, and mortgages. 2) It assumes that only front line fundraisers can call themselves “fundraisers.” I take issue with this. Those on the front line could not do their jobs without those on the back end, identifying the prospective donors, maintaining the database, answering phones, doing the gift entry, running reports, etc. They may be the stars of the show, but those of us moving the sets around and running the lights, we’re all invested in raising lots of money and ensuring the gift officers’ success.
Those of us in the fundraising, development, advancement, whatever you want to call it…
We Are All Fundraisers
February 20, 2019 § Leave a comment
In honor of Black History Month, I thought I would post here about some resources and articles I have found recently about Black philanthropy. I have noticed some increased visibility in the profession, and I will amplify it here.
Morehouse College, the historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, received one of the largest gifts in its history last month. Philanthropist and entrepreneur, Robert F. Smith.
At the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Perdue University Indiana, the Mays Family Institute of Diverse Philanthropy provides training for fundraising and philanthropy in “diverse” communities. While this is inclusive of everything from different ethnicities to the queer community, Black philanthropy features prominently in the curriculum. This month, the website features a couple of videos by one of its faculty members, Tyrone Freeman, about the traditions of Black philanthropy.
Apparently, it’s going on in Indiana! (Who knew?) The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) is hosting a Conference on Diverse Philanthropy and Leadership in Indianapolis this April.
From the Chronicle of Philanthropy, an opinion piece by Michele Norris of NPR and Sean Gibbons the Communications Network, talks about how nonprofits and foundations unwittingly perpetuate racism, and offer some possible solutions of how to stop in the latest issue of Change Agent, the journal of the Communications Network.
In doing a little research on Black philanthropy for this post, I came across this resource that was new to me: Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), “a philanthropic partnership for Black communities.” On their website there are articles, information about upcoming events, and resources.
While this is an old piece, it was the latest list I could find of top philanthropist of color from Inside Philanthropy in 2016. I suspect many on this list would still be there in 2019, but I am curious to know how the list may have changed.
Happy Black History Month!
February 3, 2019 § Leave a comment
Great news! I’m back. Looking back at the last time I posted on this blog, it was right around the same time my job at Bryn Mawr College changed, so that explains a lot. It was also not long after we took our current campaign public, and, well, not to make excuses, but the truth is I have been putting my energies elsewhere. I miss writing, so I resolved this year to put a little more time here, if only to write about what I am reading.
More great news! The outlook is rosy for philanthropy broadly, according to the latest Philanthropy Outlook from Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Marts & Lundy.
Both, it turns out, have their strenghts, and can be supportive of one another. This article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscritption required) gives some useful pointers to fundraisers who are more introvert than extrovert, and also suggests team work, playing to individual strengths for overall organizational success.
The always astute Helen Brown writes about the importance of knowing your donors and makes a strong case for always including your prospect researcher at the strategy table. Do you really know your donors and the source of their wealth? By accepting large donations, are you putting your institution at risk of getting entangled with a donor’s scandal? More importantly, do you have a gift acceptance policy, and do you follow it?
From Nonprofit AF, some great food for thought just in time for Black History Month. This post about treating “funder fragility” like white fragility invites funders to examine and challenge the power dynamic between themselves and the organizations they support.
Another from Nonprofit AF gave me pause and made me think. This post argues that organizations should NOT solicit their employees, and lays out some pretty persuasive arguments. Every fiber of my being resists this as it goes against everything I have learned throughout my career. Fundraising is a profession that is vastly misunderstood and undervalued, and many professionals already feel a certain lack of self-esteem (how many times have you heard someone say “I’m just a fundraiser,” or worse, heard it said about someone else…”she’s just a fundraiser.”). It doesn’t help that I have worked for an organization that, at holiday time, invites its employees to make charitable contributions to a handful of community organizations, excluding the one that they work for! Needless to say the effort to establish a culture of philanthropy (essential for philanthropic success) is challenged there. Nevertheless, this post gave me something to think about.
Finally, a post from LinkedIn about alumni engagement caught my interest, making a strong argument for human capital campaigns, in addition to fundraising campaigns. This topic is right up my alley, in that alumnae engagement has become the focus of my work. The main point of the article is fundraising, as it is widely known that volunteers are more likely to also be generous donors. What the article doesn’t address, however, is succession planning and readiness of volunteers. To ensure that important donors are successful and have good experiences in their roles it benefits organizations to be forward-thinking in forging relationships and building a deep bench of candidates for key volunteer roles so that you have people who are prepared, ready and wanting to step into important leadership roles. A human capital campaign in the short-term might be able to address some of the needs for long-term succession planning.
Please share! Your thoughts, or other philanthropic readings of note!
March 19, 2016 § 1 Comment
Well, it has happened again. A high-profile charitable organization has come under fire for questionable spending, putting the entire charitable industry on alert. Earlier this year, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was hit with allegations of lavish spending on travel and and organizational events. Sadly, but predictably, this story has caused some journalists to scrutinize overhead expenses for all nonprofits.
As Dan Pallotta, founder of the Charity Defense Council, says, “Overhead expenses are necessary for raising funds for maximum program impact.” The preliminary response by the Charity Defense Council to the Wounded Warrior WWP story shows that, while the percentage of overhead expenses to fundraising results is higher than some other comparable organizations, the amount of money that they raised is so much greater, it is clear that the programmatic impact of that funding is huge. The data visualizations in the report bear this out.
Fundraiser Grrl speaks my mind:
This is about as articulate as I can get, sometimes.
If you’re in the nonprofit world, you should really be reading Fundraiser Grrl. It’s very cathartic. But I digress.
It’s unfortunate that the anecdote of questionable actions on the part of one organization will call into question the overhead spending practices for the entire nonprofit world. Certainly, the optics for the executives of the WWP are pretty bad, but in fairness, that should not shine a negative light on the rest of us.
But this is also an opportunity to bring to light some things about charitable work and fundraising that are often misunderstood.
Prospect Development Pride Month was started, in part, in response to situations like this. I could go on here about the value of prospect development, and the importance of overhead expenses to a successful nonprofit, but I have already done that, and my colleagues are doing it so much better. Just follow the #ResearchPride hashtag on Twitter, or search for it on Google, and you’ll see what people are saying, and you’ll find some really wonderful blog posts.
Also, check out the mission and “Five Functions” of the Charity Defense Council. Their work is helping me to better articulate the value of what I do for a living.
March 11, 2016 § 3 Comments
I am pleased to dust off this old blog, and join many of my esteemed colleagues in fundraising in observing Prospect Development Pride month. I can’t think of better inspiration to join the chorus of advocates for this profession.
The profession of prospect development is often misunderstood. One thing that many people do not realize about is that, at its heart, prospect development is about relationships. This is true even though we primarily work on the back end, rarely having the opportunity to interact with donors, and even while the introvert stereotype fits many of us (myself included). One of the fundamental areas of prospect development, as outlined in the Body of Knowledge of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), is relationship management. Yes, we focus a lot on technology and information. but those are just the tools we use to help manage the complicated and messy nature of human and institutional relationships. It is easy to forget this, even for those of us in the profession.
Prospect development professionals care deeply about those relationships, and we are invested in the success of the relationships of our donors with the institutions we work for. What we do in building and maintaining institutional memory will ensure that those relationships will thrive for years, and ensure that donors will continue to have a positive experience with their philanthropy.
The relationships with our front line colleagues are also important. I used to joke that in prospect research, we specialized in delayed gratification because we would gather information and write wonderful profiles on fascinating people, and then never find out what happened regarding their engagement. But when we work in partnership with fundraisers, there is a flow of information back and forth, a real synergy that benefits building successful donor cultivation strategy, and this is very satisfying. James Rygg’s Thank You Letter to Fundraisers echos my sentiments exactly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with my front line colleagues.
One thing I often hear prospect development professionals say is that they love to learn. It seems to me that our relationship to the day-to-day work is one of love and respect. This field appealed to me at first because it felt like an extension of my work in graduate school. The subject was different, but the process was very similar. There are always new things to learn, whether it’s the fascinating distinguished alumni, the latest research resource, or a new information management tool. The constant challenge of learning keeps us engaged.
Of course none of this would work if I didn’t have a good relationship with my employer, if I didn’t feel passionately about its mission. I am inspired to go to work every day knowing that what I do effectively empowers young women to be thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and change makers. I feel privileged to work at Bryn Mawr College, an institution that is demonstrating the relevance of liberal arts in the evolving economy.
Finally, the community of prospect development professionals is truly second to none. I continue to learn so much and to be inspired by what I see my colleagues doing their organizations. Never have I encountered such generous professionals, willing to share their knowledge and experience, and mentor peers and those coming up in the field. One common trait among us is that we all seem to love to learn, and that opportunity never ceases in this field. We encourage that in each other.
Research Pride Month gives us the opportunity to “come out” as Helen Brown so aptly put, and educate those who don’t know what it is that we actually do. It also gives us the opportunity to remember why we love what we do, and take such pride in it.
Many thanks to Helen Brown for her leadership and starting Prospect Development Pride Month, and to all who helped organize it.
May 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
Fundraising numbers look good so far for 2014! This is great news!
Meanwhile, some very funky things are happening in the world of philanthropy:
World Vision’s Flip-Flop on Hiring Married Gays Shows a Stunning Lack of Foresight. I quite agree, and I can’t really imagine that changing the organization’s position will be good for its image over the long term. I’m disappointed by its decision to cave to the pressure of vocal evangelicals with extreme views. I’m even more disappointed that the same religious zealots who lift their voices so loudly to oppose same-sex marriage remain silent about the new anti-homosexuality law in Uganda, a country where World Vision has a strong presence. The new law makes homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment, and it has created a climate of violence and fear for gay Ugandans, their family, and friends.
On ethics and gift acceptance, UCLA has rejected a $3 million pledge from Donald Sterling after revelations of his truly despicable, racist remarks that were recorded and later released in the mainstream press. This is a big gift to turn away, but it’s a good decision by UCLA. They would have a hard time justifying publically acknowledging a gift from such a notorious donor. The other remarkable part of this story is that the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP was going to bestow a lifetime achievement award on Mr. Sterling later this month. Needless to say, that award has been rescinded, and the president of the NAACP chapter has resigned. How on earth a man like Sterling could even be considered for such an honor is hard to understand.
More philanthropy news of the weird: Google CEO Larry Page Has a Weird, Troubling Definition of Charity. The fact that this guy seems to be proselytizing his confusion of capitalist investment for charity is troubling. The article rightly points out that the problem with this confusion is that a corporation is motivated first and foremost by staying profitable, and a nonprofit organization’s first priority is its mission. Let’s hope this is an idea that doesn’t get popular traction.
On a related topic moving in another direction, the “effective philanthropy movement” was dealt a blow last month when the Flora Hewlett Foundation decided not to renew funding to support research on nonprofit financial performance. “Philanthrocapitalists,” as they are called, believe that nonprofits should be run more like businesses, with specific performance benchmarks and metrics. Holding nonprofits to the same standards as a corporate model isn’t often an appropriate measure of an organization’s efficacy, and it sounds like the Flora Hewlett Foundation has come around to this opinion, as well.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that nonprofit organizations are at a disadvantage because there are few women in leadership positions. Thus, they tend to overlook opportunities to engage with more women philanthropists. I work at a women’s college, and as such, our primary constituency is women. Among our highest-capacity donors, so many women have been virtually ignored by other organizations, paying primary attention to their husbands. It’s indeed a lost opportunity.
The May 8th Chronicle of Philanthropy has several pieces about how organizations are working with data to identify likely donors. It seem that statistical analysis (though those of us in this business have been busily establishing these best practices for years) is taking the spotlight in fundraising. The lead article quotes Josh Birkholz wisely advising readers not to give up the tried and true practices of peer screening and prospect research, but that data analysis “should be a voice at the table.” The same issue has an article that is basically a case study about the Human Rights Campaign, and how the organization used statistical analysis to convert activists into donors. Subscription required.
What are you reading?
March 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
I was inspired by this wonderful post by Helen Brown: Coming Out. I have written here before about prospect research and its misperceptions. It’s frustrating for those of us in the profession to be so consistently misunderstood and intentionally misrepresented in the press. The latest example is this piece by CNN. Helen speaks for many of us when she says that it’s time for us to come out, come into the light and represent with pride what it is that we do. Prospect researchers are essential to fundraising, and it’s well beyond time for us to speak for ourselves. I join Helen in celebrating March as Prospect Research Pride Month.
Speaking of coming out, CASE Currents cover article in the February edition is about welcoming back LGBT alums to campus. I like the article’s approach. The author counsels that schools need to acknowledge the pain points and the historical wrongs that some have likely experienced while they were students, while showcasing what things are happening now to make LGBT members of the campus community, including alums, welcome and safe. I co-wrote an article in 2001 about lesbians in philanthropy for APRA Connections (available in print). I’m glad to see the wider fundraising profession take this topic seriously. It’s about time.
More on LGBT philanthropy, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Disney is going to stop charitable gifts to the Boy Scouts of America because of its discriminatory policy towards gay adults in leadership positions in the organizations. I applaud Disney in this decision. There are numerous Boy Scouts in my neighborhood, and I always feel so bad when I pass these kids as they are trying to raise money for their troops. I always just say no, thank you and continue walking. But I want to question the parents about their decision to allow their children to participate in an organization promotes discrimination. What values are they teaching their children? It’s a shame.
But I digress…
This article that was in the New Yorker in February gets at the question: “Does philanthropy by the most affluent among us make up for the negative consequences of inequality?” I remember in college and graduate school, before I had an inkling that I would have a career in fundraising, discussing with my peers the question of whether or not philanthropy necessitates the division between rich and poor. I tend to think not, though I do agree with this article that philanthropy by the 1% is not going to solve the problem of poverty. Nevertheless, the super rich have a responsibility to give, as we all do. Philanthropy should be a priority for everyone.
More on the philanthropy of the 1%: Meet the 12 Most Generous Tech Leaders – and the 6 Least. While this piece offers in depth profiles on each person, it also offers an interesting perspective about capacity versus actual philanthropic giving. The article also examines the question that the super wealthy and super busy face: Give now or later? Like me, the article leans towards “now”, stating “It’s not that complicated to put big money to good use.” Indeed.
And even more about how the 1% give, here’s a fascinating piece by the New York Times about the pros and cons of how American philanthropy is impacting science research, in light of shrinking government grants. The article asserts that, “[t]he availability of so much well-financed ambition has created a new kind of dating game.” It also points out that “the United States risks losing its leadership in invention and discovery.” It’s really long, but well worth the read.
Another one by Helen Brown: What your capital campaign is missing. For gosh sakes, find out the capacity of your prospect pool before declaring your campaign goal! As I say this, I freely admit that I have worked with more than one organization that did not do this. But I do share Helen’s opinion on this.
The Chronicle of Higher Education gave an interesting behind-the-curtain look at university fundraising by profiling Villanova’s kickoff events for its $600 million campaign. Subscription required.
Finally, I just want to give a shout out to the Veritus Group Passionate Giving blog. There is just some great writing here about major gifts fundraising. It is now in my RSS feed.
What are you reading?