Conference Recap: Fundraising IS Community Organizing

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network’s Leaders Conference and  one of the amazing people I met was Renee Bracey Sherman, today’s guest blogger.  She mentioned that she would be attending this amazing conference, so I asked her to share some of what she learned there with you.  As always, share your thoughts and responses below in the comments section.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training’s Money for Our Movements fundraising conference in Oakland, California. This wasn’t your average fundraising conference – it’s a conference specifically for grassroots fundraisers and community organizers working in social justice movements across the country. Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training  (GIFT) is “a multicultural organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice, and movement-building.” GIFT’s vision for social justice fundraising includes working to break down the stereotypes about who can give and who cannot and working to ensure social justice organizations are owned by the communities they serve.

Previously, I attended GIFT’s Fundraising Academy for Communities of Color in Fresno, California and learned how to create a community of donors among my organization’s constituents and how to create a culture of fundraising with all staff in my organization – including how program staff can talk about their work and make a basic ask of community members. As a fundraiser of color, I often feel left out of the typical fundraising training because they are teaching how to talk to the stereotypical White, older donor; however, they are rarely my organizations’ communities of donors or constituents. GIFT’s trainings also address the power and privilege, as well as the oppression felt when discussing money and asking for large gifts – something not taught at any other fundraising training. GIFT changed my fundraising life and helped my colleagues feel at ease when talking to donors – which can be scary for non-fundraising staff. The most important thing I learned, and taught my colleagues, was that ANYONE can be a donor and invest in your organization and the larger movement. Fundraisers should never forget that donor relationship building IS community organizing.

At Money for Our Movements, attendees had the chance to attend workshops of all levels discussing everything from how to raise $300 to $10,000 online in six weeks to how to have a 100% grassroots fundraising program at your organization. They also had workshops that focused on the history and politics of fundraising including how fundraising and organizing go hand in hand, the history of people of color and fundraising, and an anti-racism for White folks in in fundraising. As you can tell, all of these workshops dealt with everyday issues that arise in our society, but often aren’t discussed or taught in most fundraising spaces. The conference was also simultaneously translated in Spanish for Spanish speaking attendees and also had several workshops only held in Spanish and had childcare for attendees – a direct effort to engage more communities and accommodate more attendees’ needs.

On Friday morning, the conference was keynoted by Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), an organization that fights for the rights of restaurant workers across the country, and by Attica Woodson Scott, the District 1 representative to Louisville Metro Council and former coordinator of Kentucky Jobs for Justice. Both women spoke eloquently about how organizing workers and community members can create sustainable change in local communities and on a larger scale through laws. However, while change can be made politically, implementation is a very different game and that is where community involvement and education is important to change the day-to-day experiences of your constituents.
One of the highlights of the conference each year is the Saturday morning debate. This year, the debate, “From Moment to Movement”, featured two teams debating the Occupy Wall Street movement – is it a moment to be captured in history or is it a long-term movement for social change. They also debated whether it being helped or hurt by nonprofit organizations, which are seen as organizing in silos. Saturday afternoon, the conference was brought to a close with Kim Klein’s keynote, “What is Our Demand?” Klein is an internationally known speaker, author, and fundraising consultant, as well as the co-founder of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Klein discussed with the audience how as fundraisers we can change our movements with the power of our constituents’ dollars. She noted that we have to be conscious of who we raise money from because they are the people we are accountable to – if we raise the majority of our money from our community, we stay accountable to our community and our organizations’ missions.
Klein also tied in the earlier discussion of the Occupy movement and said, “We’re not going to turn this [our movements] around with money. We’re going to do it with people. The 1% doesn’t have people!” Her last point was about educating our constituents and movements about our nation’s current tax structure. She reminded us that you can see a nation’s values based on what they fund through their tax structures – education, roads, healthcare, firefighters. Klein also said that as organizations “we will only raise the money we need when we have a fair and just tax structure” since many of our organizations replace the work once done by the government or the work they never had the funds to do. Klein stressed that we as leaders in our communities need to start having more conversations around our values and taxes. By simply having conversations or thinking about it ourselves, we become more engaged in the larger movement in society.
GIFT puts on several amazing trainings and one hell-of-a conference. Sadly, their conference is only every other year, so your next opportunity is in the summer of 2014 – which I highly recommend you attend! Until then, check out their amazing and insightful tips on their website, in their newsletter, and subscribe to their magazine, Grassroots Fundraising Journal which has practical ideas for grassroots fundraising as well as case-studies of organizations all around the country in all social justice movements. GIFT has turned me in to a better fundraiser and gave me practical tools to share with my community. I am thankful for their great and continued work.

To learn more about Grassroots Fundraising Training, visit or follow them on Twitter @gift_tweets. To see some of the Twitter conversation from the conference, search the hashtag #mfom12.

Renee Bracey Sherman is from Chicago, Illinois where she graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, studying economics and sociology. Renee found a passion in working to break down barriers of multiple oppressions that women/people of color/LGBT/low income/immigrant folks face each day through story sharing. By day, Renee is a fundraiser for Wikimedia Foundation and in her spare time, she volunteers with ACCESS Women’s Health Justice, serves on the Board of Directors of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, and is a Pro-Voice activist with Exhale.
Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman
Connect with Renee on LinkedIn:

Will I See You in Vancouver?

As I write, I am preparing for the 2012 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Vancouver, Canada.  I am proud to be one the AFPeeps, a group of fundraisers who are helping provide social media coverage of the conference and some short training sessions for the attendees.

I will be live-tweeting and live-blogging from some of the sessions and doing a brief session on using Twitter for professional development (with the always impressive Beth Ann Locke).

If you are going to be in Vancouver for the conference, please let me know — I’d love to meet a few of you dear readers!  If you cannot make it, be sure to keep your eyes on this blog and the Twitter hashtag #afpmeet.  I’m really looking forward to the experience and to sharing it with you here.



The Importance of Professional Development in Fundraising

After attending the Association of Donor Relations Professionals New York City Regional Workshop last Friday, I am feeling a bit refreshed and full of new ideas to try in the next year.  It’s one of my favorite times of the year, as the conference season is getting under way.  I say it all the time and will say it again — fundraisers need professional development opportunities (and many other things) to stay sane and effective.

There are many reasons that professional development is critical for fundraisers, but here are my top three reasons:

  1. Time to recharge — We all can benefit from some time away from the office, which allows us to see the bigger picture and return to our work refocused.
  2. Source of new ideas and inspiration — Conferences and workshops are always full of the latest and greatest ideas and strategies.  As Lynne Wester reminded us at the ADRP Regional Workshop, we can all learn from each other and borrow ideas  that will help our fundraising efforts.
  3. Expand your network — Being able to pick up the phone or send a quick e-mail to a few fellow fundraisers with a question or issue is absolutely priceless.  Professional development events are the best place to make these connections and you should capitalize upon these opportunities to meet and get to know your colleagues.

What professional development events and associations have been useful in your fundraising career?  What events will you be attending this year?

For your information, I’ll be attending AFP’s International Conference in Vancouver next month (which I’ll be writing more about very soon), the New York Philanthropic Planning Symposium in May and Fundraising Day in New York this June.  I look forward to sharing some of the lessons I glean from these upcoming events with you.

Seminar Recap: Engaging Your Board in the Major Gifts Program

As I noted in a recent post, I attended Fund Raising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference for fundraising professionals here in New York City, last month.

The other workshop that really caught my eye was entitled “Leading the Leaders — How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts.”  Gregory Boroff, Vice President of Development at amfar, The Foundation for AIDS Research; Kerry Kruckel Gibbs, Vice President for Development and Communications at WNET-Thirteen; and Andy Robinson, an author and consultant served as panelists with Kevin Allan, Senior Managing Director at Changing Our World, moderating.  I have summarized below some of the major points that I gleaned from this talk.

Ms. Gibbs was very clear about the board of WNET-Thirteen’s responsibility to give and get.  She also advocated for the implementation of term limits for board members, as an opportunity to shift off those members who are not as effective, but also to  keep exposing new groups of prospects to your organization’s work.

Mr. Robinson made a great point (that also came up in last week’s Michael Chatman Giving Show) about how we (non-profit staff, but especially fundraisers) need to stop defining fundraising only as asking for a gift, as it should be regarded as an entire process of engagement.  He also made note what he called “The Incentive Plan,” where specific grants are solicited from longstanding supporters that will incentivize the behavior that you want out of your board members (e.g. a small to medium grant that will be awarded on the condition that the board attends fundraising training or a certain percentage of trustees come along on donor visits).  He found that this is a form of aversion therapy, as the board members will be more likely to be open to doing a specific activity after having a positive experience with it.

Mr. Boroff stressed the importance of annual meetings with trustees to set an agenda for the year and clearly express the organization’s fundraising expectations.  He also made a point to encourage fundraisers not to overlook the fact that trustees also need to be treated like donors by cultivating the relationship, sharing the impact the organization is having and engaging them in the work.

Ms. Gibbs shared a great story about identifying who would make a leadership gift for a capital campaign.  After talking with five trustees, she found that they all agreed that the same fellow trustee would be the ideal person to make this gift and motivate others to support the campaign.  Based upon their recommendations, Ms. Gibbs was able to approach that trustee with the angle that others were “counting on him” to make this gift.  After the trustee made a $15 million gift, they turned things around and had him make asks of the other trustees who had recommended him in the first place to make their gifts and follow his lead.

Mr. Robinson had another great idea about setting clear expectations for your board — let them know that you want your organization to be one of their top 3 charitable priorities during their tenure.  This supplement to the overall expectation that they give and get should also aid in the recruitment of serious and committed board members when they know what they are getting themselves into, in contrast to many organizations that only have unspoken expectations (which tend to frustrate staff members and leaders, though these unspoken expectations are not fair to the board members if there is a lack of clarity and candor).

At its simplest, Ms. Gibbs said that trustees are leaders (whether or not they realize it) and as such should be motivating others to support the organization and sharing why they are involved in this work.

I have taken some of these ideas to heart and hope to use some to more deeply engage board members in various aspects of I-House’s fundraising.  Of course, you can look forward to hearing more about these efforts in the coming months.

In my next post, I’ll share a few tips that I picked up from the panelists about working with your Executive Director/CEO on fundraising.

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7 Ways to Learn About Fundraising

After Rory Green asked me on Twitter yesterday about the best ways to learn about fundraising, way too many ideas came to mind that I could not get them all out of my head and into 140-character sections to answer her question.  In an effort to make it easy for you, dear readers, I have compiled a list of the top seven ways to deepen your fundraising knowledge:

1.  Do the work: If you are currently working in non-profit fundraising, the best way to deepen your knowledge is to take on stretch assignments.  Not only will you demonstrate your value to your boss and co-workers, but you will also have something substantial to add to your resumé.

2.  Engage with mentors: An easy way to build up your knowledge of fundraising is to identify and engage with a few seasoned fundraisers as mentors; these professionals will be able to help you develop professionally, serve as a sounding board for ideas you may have and generally help guide you through this work.

3.  Join a professional association/networking group: Whether it’s the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, or a Meetup group, you should take full advantage of opportunities to engage with fellow fundraisers.  You never know what you may learn and who you could meet.

4.  Volunteer: Some say that the best training is through trial by fire.  If you volunteer with a group that you are already involved in to help out in fundraising, you could end up learning about more grassroots fundraising, how to craft sponsorship proposals for the business leaders in your community or anything else on the fundraising spectrum.

5.  Read industry publications: As you build a career in fundraising, it is absolutely imperative that you stay up on the current trends and happenings in the field.  A great way to do this is to subscribe to and regularly read at least one of these publications: The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fundraising Success Magazine, Advancing Philanthropy (a subscription to which you get as a member of AFP), Planned Giving Today, and The Non Profit Times.

6.  Attend workshops & seminars or enroll in formal certificate/degree programs: A few times a year (time and registration costs permitting), you should be sure to attend a workshop or seminar related to your area of fundraising; these are usually a good combination of professional development and networking.  If you are in the Greater New York area, my two favorites are the New York Philanthropic Planning Symposium and Fund Raising Day in New York, sponsored by the local PPP and AFP chapters respectively.  If you live near one of the regional offices of The Foundation Center, they consistently offer interesting sessions on diverse topics in fundraising and philanthropy.  To take this a few steps further, you could also consider a graduate degree or certificate program in fundraising, philanthropy and/or non-profit management (in a later post I will share why I pursued a graduate degree and how it led me to my career in fundraising).

7.  Engage on social media: To take your learning to the next level, you should be actively participating in the conversations occurring on Twitter and the multitude of blogs and websites focused on fundraising (like this one!).  I am continually surprised and impressed by all of the people that I have been able to engage with and learn from through these media.

I hope that you find these strategies useful and that you will put them to use in your career.

Does this list reflect your experience?  Did I leave anything off my list?

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Seminar Recap: Ethics & Stewardship in Planned Giving

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the last session of the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York‘s The ABC of Gift Planning seminar series, which focused on ethics and stewardship in planned giving.  The seminar was facilitated by veteran fundraiser and consultant Davida Isaacson; you can read Davida’s full bio (and more about the seminar) here, but let’s suffice it to say that she is one of the big names in the field especially after her amazing tenure at WNET/New York, where she helped raise $30 million in planned gift initiatives for the $65 million Campaign for Thirteen.

I learned a great deal in this session and want to share with you some of those lessons that may help you in managing your planned giving program (or serve as points to consider as you add planned giving to your fundraising program):

The primary ethical issue for fundraisers in planned giving is the tension between who’s interest are you serving — the donor or your organization?
As a fundraiser, you likely have a long and trusted relationship with your planned giving donors, but you also have a responsibility to secure gifts for your organization that will help support its mission for the foreseeable future.  When a donor wants to make a gift that may be more beneficial to him/her and not as useful to the organization, on which side will you fall?  [This is when Davida would start advocating that every non-profit organization compose its gift acceptance policies, which would provide a clear understanding of what gifts will be accepted; the processes of evaluation, valuation, disposal, etc.; what gifts you will not accept; etc.]

Planned giving is more vulnerable to ethical issues.
“Why?” you may ask, well you are usually dealing with older donors, with whom you and/or your organization tend to have longstanding relationships and are likely to trust you.  One particularly interesting issue that can arise in this work is the mental competence of the donors making these commitments.  How would you deal with a donor who is showing signs of dementia but wants to make a planned gift?  Is it even your place to bring this up?

Access to your fundraising database usually presents an ethical issue.
Have you considered that volunteers using your fundraising database could access all sorts of private information on your donors, board members, etc.?  Only because this came up while managing interns have I given this some thought before.  You should set up restricted access logins for your volunteers and anyone else who may need to access a certain part of your fundraising database; if this is not an option, you need to set some office policies in place about how information is provided to volunteers.

Your gift servicing operations must be viewed as a part of the stewardship process.
Providing tax reports, copies of completed agreements, endowment reports, acknowledgments and the like are another way to solidify the relationship with your donors.  By getting documents like these to the donor in a very timely manner, they are more likely to trust you and may even consider making another gift (especially when this is paired with more ongoing stewardship activities).  Be sure to review these processes in your organization and assure that there is a maximum turnaround of a few days.

A few other quick tips:
-When making calls to planned giving prospects or donors, do not get into too much detail if you have to leave a message.  Davida made a great point that the spouse or family of a donor may not agree with his/her intention to make a planned gift and may not pass on the messages if they know why you are calling.
-Use a gift disclosure form like this sample that Davida provided in the seminar materials.  A document like this gives you and your organization some extra protection in the case that the family or other potential heirs of your donor want to contest the gift at a later date.

Have you thought about any of these issues before?  What changes would you make to your planned giving program in light of these points?

P.S.  If you would like to see Davida in action and live in the NYC area, you should join PPGGNY or keep your eyes open for the class schedule at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising.

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