Guest Post: Fundraising As a Vocation, Not a Job

After I read this post by Lynne Wester, I e-mailed her about re-posting it here for all of you and she graciously agreed. Please feel free to leave comments here or in Lynne’s original post.


There are two types of people that work in nonprofit fundraising. Distinct and telling differences emerge when you examine those two types of people. Many times I am often asked why I do all I do in addition to my full time employment. My first answer usually revolves around insomnia, my second answer strikes at the core of who I am, fundraising is my passion. I fully feel that there are two types of people working in our field. Some who feel it is their day job and the rest of us that feel it is our vocation or calling.Growing up, I was the kid who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Among my lifelong dream careers were the first female NFL referee, the next Ernest Hemingway, and a  restaurant critic. Growing up, never did I say I wanted to be a donor relations professional. After trying many things from a boat captain to a pastry chef to a teacher and a bartender, when I found philanthropy, something in me changed.  We now have the opportunity to teach others about our profession, to hire the kinds of people that inspire us to do better.So why am I on this vocation kick? Because I meet people who are just in it for other reasons and I’m baffled. You won’t become rich working in nonprofit fundraising, but boy is your heart full. The dictionary defines vocation as “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” The first time I heard vocation it was in 8th grade when I had to take a series of all of the vocations, including wood and metal shop, agriculture, home economics (am I dating myself?), typing, and auto shop. But I am now convinced more than ever that fundraising is my vocation. I chose higher education as my specialty for a deeply personal reason that I won’t go into in this blog (let’s just say it involves my Dad) but one day if you catch me at a bar over a glass of Malbec I’ll try telling you without crying.The folks I tend to do business with, those whom I admire, and those whom are my mentors all are in this profession and see it as their vocation. I actively choose not to spend my time on and with those who see it as another job or a means to an end. They exhaust me. As some might say, they don’t
“get it”.

A job is defined as, “the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money” this designates a few differentiations from a vocation. The first is that the end goal is money, anyone in nonprofit will tell you the benefits are great, the pay is not that fabulous. The second thing about a job is that it seems to have a finite end and purpose, I just cannot say that about a vocation. My vocation consumes me at times, for better or worse.

Maybe I can relate it in philanthropic terms. People who work in nonprofit fundraising as a vocation are donors, and those who see it as a job are non donors? Is that too bold a statement?

As I wax philosophical, I would love to hear your thoughts. What drives you in your career? why do you do what you do? Is it a vocation, a job, what? How do you define what you do and who you are to others?


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:

Guest Post: Workplace Inspiration — In the Shadows

By Jen Price

During a recent #smNPchat on Twitter (chat for those working for or with smaller nonprofit organizations), the discussion covered strategies for fundraisers during the slower summer months.

Slow summer months?  WHAT?  Summer is my busiest season, though this is somewhat by choice.  I like to focus my larger scale efforts during times when not as many organizations are asking. Yes, I miss some of the vacationers.  We more than make up for it with the exposure we get and because very few nonprofits are asking or creating awareness during the summer in our community.

During the chat I mentioned that one of the things my staff does during the summer (our busy season) is shadow “program” staff at our organization.  I work in healthcare, so all it takes is getting fundraisers in the patient care areas, experiencing a day in the life of individuals battling complex medical problems to get them refocused and re-energized.

Our most successful shadowing experience this summer was unexpected.  It came not from a patient care area, but from a staffer spending two hours with a receptionist.  Seeing the integral part the receptionist plays in the overall success of our organization inspired a new sense of focus and belief that each and every staff member, regardless of their role, makes a difference in the lives of our patients.

Getting overwhelmed by work happens far too often in the nonprofit sector.  When work only consists of tasks on a to-do list, it loses passion and energy.  We are not going to be successful fundraising if we are asking for gifts without this passion or energy. Shadowing has become the perfect rejuvenator for my team.

With all of that said, here is my recommendation: Create a shadowing program. Allow your staff to spend two hours once a week for a month each summer and winter learning about different roles in your organization.  They will return ready to embrace their work with the passion it deserves.

Jen helps nonprofits advance their impact via fundraising, collaboration, and effective board and volunteer management.  She currently manages philanthropy operations for a healthcare organization.  Be sure to check out her website and follow her on Twitter!

Photo credit

Guest Post: 6,000 Donors in One Month? Really?


By Kathy Howrigan

Really.  In a recent #fundchat Twitter chat, the topic of multi-channel marketing came up.  I mentioned that when I was at Dartmouth College, we did a “challenge” integrating messages from direct mail, phonathon, e-mails, volunteer managers, and anyone else who would talk about it.  It was HUGELY successful, totally exceeding our expectations, so Dan Blakemore asked me to elaborate a little bit — hence my first guest blog post.

Sylvia Racca, Executive Director of the Dartmouth College Fund, and I designed the challenge (but it was her idea).  I debated sharing the theme and messaging we used for the challenge in this blog post, but as I worked through it, I realized it would be way too long.  Anyone who is interested should feel free to contact me for more information.

The goal: The Dartmouth College Fund’s participation goal for fiscal year 2006 was 50 percent.  In February, we realized that we were behind the curve to hit 50%, especially in bringing lapsed donors back on board.   To reach this milestone, the Fund needed to increase the number of lapsed donors significantly in the months of April, May and June over previous years. To help achieve our goal, we created “The April Challenge.”  More specifically, our goal was to get 4,000 alumni to give in the month of April (note that the record at the time for April donors was less than 2,400).

The strategy: A “challenge.”  Find some leadership donors who offer to give X dollars per Y donors – no matter the size of the gift.

The plan: Four alumni challenged the Dartmouth College Fund to bring in gifts from 4,000 donors in April. At each 1,000 donor benchmark, each donor would give the Fund $25,000 (up to $100,000 each).

Because we were concerned that the challenge would only cause regular donors to give earlier in the year – in April and not June (which would get us to our challenge goal but not to 50 percent), we wanted to develop a segmentation strategy for lapsed donors.   We knew we needed to do well in these categories.   We set goals by solicitation strategy (direct mail, phone-a-thon and volunteer solicitation) and by giving segment (last year donors, one year lapsed, two year lapsed, three year lapsed, four year lapsed, five year plus lapsed and never givers), and used these goals to develop the marketing plan.  These goals were applied specifically to each channel as well, and closely monitored all month.

The marketing plan included a direct mail piece sent to 33,424 non-donors, inserts for pledge reminders distributed during April, customized scripts for the student phone-a-thon callers, five e-mail solicitations directing non-donors to our website to make an online gift, and communication with our volunteers.  A special webpage, which included a “thermometer” tracking progress towards the challenge goal, was created and promoted through the e-mails, student callers, and on the main webpage.

The results: The April Challenge final cash donor count for April 2006 was 6,031 donors.  The previous record for the month of April was 2,379 donors.

• In the end, we did well in all segments, including LYBUNTs, but it was recapturing lapsed donors that pushed us over the top.

• 1,199 alumni made a gift for the first time in several years and 370 were first-time donors.

• The student phone-a-thon brought in a total of 2,058 donors, 121 percent of our goal.

• Volunteer teams and direct mail donors equaled 3,973, 192 percent of our goal.

• The DCF online giving site saw tremendous activity during the month of April.  The number of online gifts increased with each e-mail solicitation sent.  The first e-mail solicitation sent on April 4 resulted in 92 gifts in one day, while the last e-mail sent on Friday, April 28 resulted in a total of 555 gifts from Friday – Sunday.

• Including the challengers, the April Challenge raised more than 3.8 million dollars.

The Dartmouth College Fund achieved its ultimate goal of 50 percent participation with a final result of 50.8 percent alumni participation. The success of the April Challenge enabled us to reach this milestone.

Most surprising thing: I was most surprised by the e-mail responses — keep in mind that we were e-mailing the SAME PEOPLE!  So the 260 donors on April 28th were replying to their FIFTH e-mail solicitation.

Why I think The April Challenge was successful:

  • It was metric-driven, with desired metrics informing the strategies.
  • Clear and consistent messaging across all channels.
  • The use of all channels – one direct mail piece and two e-mails would not have been enough.
  • We provided feedback via callers, volunteers and in e-mails on a regular basis.
  • There was a clear deadline.

Notice that I didn’t list the challenge funds as one of the factors that made the challenge successful.  While this is obviously critical for any challenge, finding donor/s willing to make a significant gift is not enough.  The key is to be thoughtful, strategic, integrated and purposeful in how to use that generous contribution.

Kathy Howrigan joined Marts & Lundy in March of 2011 as a senior analyst and associate consultant.  She has spent the bulk of her career in fundraising and marketing capacities for various non-profits, particularly higher-educational institutions. You can follow Kathy on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Photo credit

Guest Post: Donors as Investors

By Guest Blogger Sarah Pierce

For a long time, on behalf of the nonprofit sector, I’ve been jealous of the corporate sector. Corporations have investors who, via financial interests, are tied to the future of the company. These investors seek out information on the corporation and identify themselves with the company. Is it possible to harness that relationship and help donors to be similarly invested in nonprofit organizations?

Last week, Rosetta Thurman and Allison Jones hosted the monthly Twitter chat #ynpchat with Dan Blakemore as guest host. The chat for young nonprofit professionals focused on fundraising and discussed how we define fundraising, what role we play in it, challenges it presents, and fundraising resources. As it is each month, the chat was filled with passionate individuals and fascinating side-conversations, including one spurred by Dan and Red Cross Development Director, Patrick Sallee: How does donating compare to investing? And what can we, as fundraisers, learn from the company-investor relationship?

The Company-Investor Relationship

In the corporate sector, investors are shareholders. As shareholders, each person legally owns a share of stock in the company. Shareholders also hold special privileges with respect to the company that can include the right to vote on or nominate directors, get dividends or share in the company’s success, and the right to vote on other important company decisions. All of this means that investors and shareholders feel a sense of ownership about the company and its future.

What’s more — the relationship is mutual! Every corporation has a legal obligation to work to earn money for their shareholders.

The Nonprofit-Donor Relationship

Nonprofit organizations have a similar ongoing structure that misses one key element: the return shareholders (aka donors!) get on their investment. At the heart of every nonprofit organization is the social good contract it maintains with the public. The organization does social good and the public supports it with donations. The key for every nonprofit organization is convincing the public that by donating to the organization, they’re investing in receiving a return – a social good.

If nonprofit organizations had a way to make their social good more like the return that shareholders get on their investment in corporations, donors would feel more ownership over the organization and the part they play in it.

I’ll never forget my Business Associations professor explaining that he invests in The Walt Disney Company because it felt good to be a part of The Magic Kingdom. Nonprofit organizations need to find a way to give donors some sort of return on their investment that helps them to feel a similar ownership over the organization.

Sure that’s nifty, but how do we go about doing it? How do we give them ownership and a return?

A feeling of ownership can be established through knowledge and power. Nonprofit organizations already have a pretty strong handle on the knowledge aspects. We educate donors through blogs, newsletters, emails, mailings, events, and just about any other existing channels. The more familiar donors are with the workings of the organization, the more they feel a part of it.

The harder things for nonprofit organizations to emulate are the power and return aspects of the company-investor relationship.

One of my favorite examples of empowering donors is the model that FORGE uses. FORGE is a U.S. based nonprofit that gives donors the power to select the specific project to which they would like to contribute, and educates them on how much the project costs overall and how much has been contributed so far. Thus, donors know exactly what their money is being used for and how they are helping.

The return aspect however, is still trickier. I think a big part is the message Dan gets across so clearly in this blog: stewardship. It gives donors the return of both the appreciation of the nonprofit organization and knowledge of what a difference their funds are making. Personalizing thank yous and appeals to each donor can make him or her feel some of the positive impact the gift made on the organization and ideally help to create a long-lasting and meaningful relationship.

But that can’t be the only way! Are there other ways to establish the company-investor relationship with donors? What should the “return” be? And are there downsides to doing this?

Guest Blogger Sarah Pierce is a third-year law student at the University of Iowa and the Director of Outreach at Child Soldier Relief.  While in law school, she has interned at Human Rights Watch and the California Appellate Project.  You can follow her on Twitter @sarahcpierce.