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A couple of months ago I attended a fundraising seminar. The speaker, Kim Klein, an expert in grassroots fundraising, stated that most people give because they’re asked to give.
Really? It’s that simple? (Simple, I said. Not easy.)
Playing the skeptic, I wanted first-hand knowledge of why givers give. So I posed this question to several of my LinkedIn groups: “What motivated you to make your most recent donation?” Sure enough, a personal invitation to donate to a friend or relative’s pet cause (and no, I’m not just referring to the Animal Humane Society) was the most commonly mentioned motivator.
But the responses proved that other factors came into play, too: commitment to the cause’s mission, ready access to goods to be donated, compassion in the face of crisis or disaster, easy online donation, a desire to make the world a better place, to emulate a generous role model – or even, to be that role model.
The take-away for donors is that we should follow our hearts, but also research the organizations and develop a long-term giving strategy.
And for nonprofits it’s that multiple approaches should be used to develop a solid donor base. But don’t assume your cause message is enough to generate fulfillment. Include the call to action and always ask for the donation.
The LinkedIn responses to my question were by no means a scientific study. Yet they were rich, well-thought-out and varied, and I’d like to share a few with you:
“I GAVE BECAUSE …”
“… I was asked by someone special to me.”
“A friend was walking in the Humane Society’s Walk for Animals, so I felt like I was supporting both her and the cause.” – K.V.
“I got a direct appeal from a young friend for his involvement in a fund-raising event – walking in high heels as part of the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence. The donation part was easy – online with a credit card. I wanted to encourage his efforts.” – P.P.
“My son prompted our last few contributions. He is in kindergarten and had a lot of questions about Haiti and a child’s photo he saw raising awareness about The Smile Train. We were affected by hearing his view of things.” - L.O.
“A friend who has MS asked me for a contribution. Her husband also asked for a contribution; they were both participating in the MS Walk.” – A.B.
“The last two donations I made because people I knew requested them. One was even for a cause in which I don’t support, but I do support my friend and understand the synergy of reciprocal giving. You cannot underestimate the power of personal contact.” – K.L.
“Normally I give to friends’ endeavors, whether they are walking to raise awareness or starting their own theatre company. That personal piece is huge.” – M.C.
“…I’m committed to the cause.”
“I just gave $200 to the Phoenix Theatre Company. A friend of mine is on the board, and he took my wife and me to one of the group’s fund-raising events. We believe in the cause we gave to, which puts high school students in touch with the theater company and other venues for the arts in Phoenix. So, it was a combination of a personal invitation and being impressed by the cause.” – P.F.
“Most of my donations over the past several months have been to organizations involved in aiding the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and … in the Tibetan region of China. I am a regular supporter of Doctors Without Borders, so I increased my donation to them. I also saw a piece on the work Sean Penn is doing in Haiti and donated to his organization.” – L.Y.
“…I followed someone’s example.”
“My 12-year-old son used his gift money to purchase a book at the local book store for a children’s hospital book drive. When I asked him what motivated him to do that he said he watched someone in front of him do it.” – B.Z.
“…I have the resources to donate goods/time.”
“I frequently donate small amounts to charities due to personal connections…someone I know is involved in the cause (Humane Society Walk for Animals, MS bike-a-thon, Walk for the Cure, collecting for American Lung Assoc.) OR charities where I can donate stuff (clothing, household items, box tops and soup labels, hand-made items for auction). I’m actually more likely to give to these types of charities than to donate to organizations (colleges, hospitals) where I would like to make donations but hold back because I feel like a donation of less than $100 would be too pathetic.” – T.B.
“I’m a big fan of ARC’s Value Village (great second-hand store, and supports people with developmental disabilities), volunteer a lot of time at WomenVenture (LOVE helping women succeed and get ahead in life), and recently co-hosted an accessories exchange party with some girlfriends, with all of the extra accessories donated to the new local chapter of Dress for Success.” – K.W.
“…I responded spontaneously.”
“It has a lot to do for me with impulse. If the timing is just right, I’m likely to give to a random organization that has a compelling mission.” – J.L.
“…I already volunteer with the organization.”
“After losing my job last year, I made a decision to give of my time more – but still find myself making financial contributions to the place for which I volunteer as well – as being involved helps me to understand their need even more.” – T.W.
“…I want to change the world for the better.”
“I tend to give of time and financial resources to efforts that are focused on change that is both fundamental to the whole person and that is sustainable.” – M.C.
“My tag line and the way I think about giving is – leveraging human and economic resources for the common good.” – L.H.
“Most of my donations go to organizations that I believe are making important improvements in our world. Some of these improvements are taking place at more basic levels (access to food and shelter) while others are more involved (medical research).” – D.B.
“…it was part of my giving strategy.”
“Yes, we have a ‘strategy’ about our giving – giving to the causes that we believe in and that hopefully make this a better world. We also leave a percentage of our dollars for causes that we know will come up throughout the year such as fundraisers and walk-a-thons and that sort of thing.” – J.T.
“…I seek to alleviate pain.”
“A single woman who lost her job and had no health insurance was diagnosed with cancer. I attended a fundraiser for her.” – P.L.
“I guess in all events I attempt to tie giving to the ongoing effort of removing pain in all its forms. All of us, all around the world, have felt the rug pulled out from under ourselves…. I contribute my resources, time and effort to things that allow us to weave bigger rugs under each other…. When I position my heart, mind and effort to removing pain I stop being concerned with idealism, I just try to keep weaving rugs and sometimes I notice someone is weaving on mine.” – D.K.
- LuAnne Speeter
I came across a poll this morning on my financial advisor’s website. The poll question: “How has the recession affected your philanthropic giving or charitable legacy plans?” The answer that drew the greatest response (31%) was “Greatly – my primary concern now has to be providing for myself and my family.”
If you regret that you can’t give the amount of money that you’d like to your favorite charity, consider the alternative of volunteering. Volunteerism rates are the one bright spot in the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ 2009 year-end report. Whereas 61% of nonprofits in the state reported a decline in revenue in 2009, only 10% experienced a decline in volunteers. Sharing your time and your skills is a great way to give when your personal and/or business finances are tight.
But your time is valuable, too. When deciding where to volunteer, you’ll find more personal fulfillment and have a better chance at a long-term relationship if you do a little research for an organization that’s the right match. Here are some things to think about:
Consider how you’d like to make a difference. Are there community concerns you have, injustices you’d like to address or groups of individuals that need particular care? Focus first on broad issues that are your “hot buttons,” such as eldercare, animal rights, disease awareness, education or the environment, before you begin to narrow your search.
Search programs that are in alignment with your core mission if you’re looking for a corporate or group volunteer project. For example, work or church groups may consider projects that help enhance teamwork, such as Feed My Starving Children, a program that invites groups of 10 or more to pack food for children in need throughout the world.
Assess your skills. Are you handy? Good with numbers? An experienced writer with good grammar skills? Some organizations are an obvious match. For example, A Brush with Kindness – Habitat for Humanity’s program that works with homeowners struggling to maintain their homes – might be perfect for those of us who appreciate the “before and after” in addition to helping those in need. Goodwill-Easter Seals is looking for grease monkeys to help train automotive skills to students. Book lovers can lead book clubs for persons with disabilities through Lifeworks Services.
Factor your available time. Your volunteer project should fit into your time schedule so you’re not tempted to back out if it’s inconvenient. Consider the time it takes to travel to and from the volunteer site. While many organizations may require a set amount of time, try to block out a few hours in order to have the maximum impact for each volunteer session.
Visit the organization. Contact the volunteer coordinator to discuss your interests and schedule a time to visit the volunteer site. Be sure to ask specific questions regarding length of commitment and start date. Request a brochure or log on to the organization’s Web site to learn more about its history, mission and community impact.
Still need help deciding? Check out HandsOn Twin Cities and review their list of more than 200 affiliate agencies. You can also find your match through a keyword search, by browsing for projects or by reviewing the project calendar on the site.
- LuAnne Speeter
You would think that the bad economy would make people less prone to be charitable, but in reality the altruistic spirit is stronger than ever – at least according to a poll* conducted recently by PARADE. The poll revealed that 91% of respondents have reached out or participated in at least one activity in the past 18 months in order to make a difference in society.
People donated their time:
- 37% delivered food to the hungry
- 30% helped organize a fund-raising event
- 32% helped clean up a public area
- 27% communicated about a cause through e-mail, Twitter or Facebook
- 24% volunteered at a soup kitchen or food bank
- 21% raised money for a cause through a sporting event
- 19% mentored a student
And they were generous with their money:
- 67% bought charity raffle tickets
- 58% purchased something unnecessary to support a cause
- 34% gave money after being moved by a news story
In addition, parents modeled their social responsibility:
- 90% worked hard to teach their children the importance of activism
- 64% led by example
- 51% talked to their children about issues and causes
- 35% discussed their own contributions and volunteerism
- 31% urged their children to follow the example of socially active role models
- 25% encouraged their children to donate money to causes
According to the poll, motivation to do good is deeply rooted:
- 60% say they donate or volunteer in order to help others
- 57% want to make the world a better place
- 49% seek to improve their neighborhoods
- 39% do so because it makes them feel good about themselves
- 37% act out of a sense of moral obligation
- 36% are fulfilling their sense of duty
And yet, the 2009 financial report from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is sobering. Forty-seven percent of the MCN’s 2,000 nonprofit member organizations experienced a decline in gifts from individual donors. That pales in comparison to the 60% of nonprofits that reported a decline in revenue from corporations and foundations. At the same time, 60% of nonprofits reported an increased demand for services, and 42% an increase in expenses.
Volunteerism remains relatively strong – only 10% of MCN’s organizations reported a decline in volunteers. It’s reasonable to speculate that, with the state’s unemployment rate still hovering at around 8%, people are volunteering because:
- They have more time on their hands
- They want or need the social interaction
- They are exploring possible alternative career paths
- They have a heightened empathy for those in need
- They are compensating for their inability to donate money
As the economy begins to recover, will people be more generous with their money, yet continue to volunteer, too? Hopefully, Americans’ commitment to social responsibility is steadier than the Consumer Confidence Index®.
* Poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland LLC with a national online panel of adults ages 18 and over. Surveys were completed by 1008 respondents. Margin of error +/- 3.1%.
- LuAnne Speeter