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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 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

Is being a “responsible” company enough? CSR specialists are beginning to redefine – or at least expand the definition of – what it means to be a good corporate citizen. In a video released by Cause Marketing Forum, Dr. Michal Strahilevitz , a marketing professor at Golden Gate University, suggests that companies should differentiate between corporate social responsibility and corporate social contribution. (Skip ahead to 08:55 if you want to view the video but you’re pressed for time.)

What’s the difference?

Corporate social responsibility refers to those actions that a company takes to comply with the basic standards of being a good employer, business owner and corporate citizen. These would include:

  • Maintaining a safe and wholesome workplace – free from work hazards, employee harassment, etc.
  • Operating within legal and ethical compliance.
  • Offering safe products and services and “making good” if defects are discovered.
  • Being environmentally conscious – recycling waste, controlling emissions and, in general, leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible.

Corporate social contribution, on the other hand, would refer to those efforts that go above and beyond compliance and actually seek to improve the community. While the owners of a company may feel compelled to make a positive impact, it is not technically their responsibility.  Social contribution efforts would include:

  • Starting a foundation and providing grant money to charitable, environmental or community-based causes.
  • Supporting employees who volunteer during company hours and compensating them for the time.
  • Partnering with nonprofit organizations by sponsoring fundraising events and providing cause-related marketing.

Today, there’s a temptation to view too many internal and external corporate initiatives through the prism of CSR. Distinguishing between social responsibility and social contribution helps keep companies more honest with their reporting and cuts back on the “greenwashing.” And, it encourages us to be better than “C” students – that is, not just doing what it takes to get by, but proactively seeking to make a positive impact on the world around us.

– LuAnne Speeter

When dollars are tight, consumers focus on what gets them more bang for the buck. It’s no different with charitable givers. Inspired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations and corporations, donors and volunteers are beginning to use high-impact philanthropy models to compound the efficacy of their efforts.

One subgroup of charitable givers and volunteers has considerable long-term impact, and they may not even be aware of it. The subgroup? Parents. Read more  on my guest blog post at Leadership and Community.

– LuAnne Speeter

Have you had the privilege of working with a business that provides exceptional service in an ethical and socially responsible manner? Well, not only can you patronize the company – and provide valuable referrals – you can also go to the next level by nominating it for an award.

A number of programs recognize businesses that go the extra mile through corporate volunteerism and charitable contributions, as well as demonstrate a high level of ethics, community leadership and professional integrity. While recognition programs are not usually a motivation to act in an ethical manner, they can reward businesses by helping them retain customers, attract new clients and recruit quality employees. Even more important, recognition programs remind businesses that they can make a real difference in our communities.

The following are a few recognition programs that express appreciation for the positive impact of Minnesota’s businesses:

The Jefferson Awards were founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard as a national recognition program for individual and corporate volunteerism.  Beginning in 2008, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal teamed up with the Wilmington, Del.-based program to present awards to Twin Cities businesses for their outstanding public and community service. This year, 12 companies received the award – one per month – and will be honored at a reception at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

The Minnesota Keystone Program recognizes and honors companies that donate at least 2% of their pre-tax earnings to the community.  The program was begun over 30 years ago and is offered through the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. It also serves as the basis for Minnesota Business Gives, a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiative. Businesses that enroll in the Keystone Program can choose to participate without public recognition. In-kind donations can be considered in the calculations, and closely held businesses can include personal as well as business donations. See worksheet for more information about calculations.

Now going into its 11th year, the Better Business Bureau Integrity Awards are presented to companies in Minnesota and North Dakota that have demonstrated a commitment to conducting daily business operations in an ethical manner. The BBB invites nominations by individuals who feel a company has shown an exceptional degree of ethics. Nominees are then categorized according to company size, based on number of employees. A panel of independent volunteer business and community leaders reviews the entries and decides on the winners.

Minnesota Business Ethics Award was established in 1999 by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas. The MBEA Program seeks to raise the standards for business ethics in Minnesota and to recognize businesses that reflect the highest standards of ethical performance.  Like the BBB’s Integrity Awards Program, MBEA recipients are selected based on company size. A business may be nominated for an award by a customer, client, employee, vendor or a private citizen who is impressed with a company’s ethical business conduct. Local finalists may also move on to compete at the national level.

– LuAnne Speeter

When it comes to charitable giving, most of us assume that corporations and foundations carry the load. However, according to the Giving Institute/Giving USA Foundation, 75% of the $307 billion contributed in 2008 came from individuals and 7% from bequests. Corporations and foundations provided 5% and 13% of charitable contributions, respectively.

Individuals tend to be even more generous when they take part in an increasingly popular phenomenon known as “giving circles.”

A giving circle is a social group in which individual participants pool their donations and decide together where the money should be distributed. A study released in May 2009, “The Impact of Giving Together,” shows that those within a giving circle tend to contribute more than if they were to give on their own. Giving circles exert significant influence in other ways, as well. According to the study:

  • Giving circle participants are more strategic about cause selections. Members put more effort into researching organizations and give toward a specified vision for change.
  • They have a more long-term perspective and are more likely to make multi-year gifts.
  • Members give to a broader array of causes, especially those that support women, ethnic and minority groups, the arts and culture, neighborhood development, advocacy and international aid.
  • Giving circle members also express a stronger sense of civic responsibility, channeling their energies into community involvement and changing government policies.
  • Participants gain a greater understanding of philanthropy and the issues that nonprofits face in serving their constituencies.
  • They believe they have better leverage in affecting change in the community, that giving can have a positive impact on the health of the community, and government should do something to reduce income differences.

If you’re interested in starting your own giving circle, start by researching through the Minnesota Council on Foundations or your own regional resource. Make it your primary goal to help foster a greater level of commitment from members, thereby increasing your ability to influence positive results. Also, think about the size of the group; larger groups tend to focus more on the strategic giving aspects, whereas smaller circles value civic engagement and volunteerism.

– LuAnne Speeter

Chances are, you started up a corporate giving program because you care about one or more causes and want to make a difference – whether your goal is to help eradicate a disease, provide a warm meal or shelter for those in need, or clean up the environment. Just participating may seem to be reward enough, but measuring and promoting your program’s effectiveness is a wise business strategy.

There are a number of stakeholders who will benefit by learning the program’s results:

  • The partnering nonprofit organization
  • The individuals who are the end recipients of donations and volunteer efforts
  • Your employees
  • Your board of directors
  • Your customers who contribute to your cause program
  • Community members

Promoting the results gives a positive boost to all those involved and encourages ongoing effort.  It also enables you to make adjustments during the process to better reach your goals, and to help you assess at year’s end whether to continue the cause relationship.

First, decide what you want your corporate giving program to accomplish, and then which metrics are important to track. Consider the following areas:

Donations and donors

Generate enthusiasm by setting a financial goal and a timeline. In many cases, the nonprofit organization can help you determine your first year’s goal based on your company size. For subsequent years, develop a stretch goal that exceeds the previous year.  Track online donations through a dedicated landing page on your Web site, or through sites such as Keep counts of noncash donations, such as number of toys donated to Toys For Tots or pounds of nonperishable items for food shelves.

Corporate growth and brand perception

Determine how much your company revenue and brand reputation is benefiting from your cause promotion by gathering a variety of metrics and other information, such as:

  • Leads generated from cause marketing efforts tracked through unique toll-free numbers, URLs or “how heard” questions
  • Sales trend (over  five years, if possible)
  • Share value trend (over five years)
  • Customer testimonials
  • Focus groups and customer surveys on brand perception

Employee satisfaction, loyalty and recruitment

According to the 2009 Corporate Citizenship Study, 56% of survey respondents believe that working for a socially responsible employer makes a difference. Determine the effects of your corporate social responsibility program by measuring the following:

  • Employee satisfaction through surveys conducted before the program’s initiation and annually thereafter
  • Annual contribution of employee volunteer time, five-year trend
  • Employee growth, five-year trend
  • Employee retention, five-year trend

Include the above results in your annual report or as a separate corporate social responsibility report. Round out hard data with testimonials from a representative of your nonprofit partner organization, customers, employees and community members.

– LuAnne Speeter

Related post: Enrich the lives of your employees with socially responsible efforts

Maybe it’s shyness, humility or simply Minnesota Nice. But many small business owners around the state are keeping the good they do for charity to themselves. Whether they’ve contributed a check, a percentage of annual sales or employee volunteer hours, some companies never get the word out to the public.

That’s a shame.

By being quiet, you could be depriving your cause. Your donation is only a portion of the potential benefits your chosen charity will derive from your partnership. If you really want to maximize your effectiveness, take on the role as ambassador. That means you could:

  • Show photos of your volunteers in action on your Web site, on your company’s Facebook page or in your newsletter.
  • Include the cause’s logo on your home page and add your commitment, such as “2% of every dollar you spend with us is donated to help [cause name] achieve its goals.”
  • Display your cause’s logo with photos at point-of-sale locations.
  • Talk about your cause – world of mouth is the most powerful influencer.
  • Submit press releases about your cause partnership to local newspapers. Increase the odds of it being picked up by including a human interest story, too.

Minnesota businesses are generous. According to a 2002 survey of 595 companies conducted through Building Business Investment in Community,* the vast majority of businesses make cash contributions to their favorite charities:

Business size by # of employees

% of businesses making cash contributions









In addition, many companies donate products, sponsor scholarships and events, contribute employee hours to school and community projects, and serve on nonprofit or agency boards. Add more impact to your generosity and dedication. Tell the community about your partnership, give information about the cause and provide others with a way to contribute, too.

*A project of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and 12 Minnesota business and philanthropic organizations.

– LuAnne Speeter

If your company’s social responsibility program includes volunteerism, it can have tremendous impact not only on the community, but also on your company and employees.

How the community benefits

  • Increased access to resources
  • Improved health and welfare
  • Enhanced economic development
  • Community needs are addressed

How your company benefits

  • Enhanced reputation
  • Increased product/service awareness
  • Raised productivity
  • Improved staff satisfaction and retention

How your employees benefit

  • Increased community awareness/involvement
  • Heightened employee satisfaction
  • Acceleration of professional development
  • Opportunities for leadership
  • Improved attitude and outlook 
Source: Corporate Volunteerism Council – Twin Cities

But what motivates employees to offer their time and skills to a charitable cause? The answer may surprise you.

In past years, personal recognition was the primary motivation for corporate volunteering, according to LBG Associates, the firm that launched the study involving more than 8,000 employees in 36 companies. However, the latest study, conducted from late 2008 to early 2009, showed the following:

When it comes to recognition, employees rank “a donation made to my charity when I volunteer” highest among all other forms of recognition.

When asked to rank the reasons they volunteer, employees listed the following on a 1-5 scale, with 5 as “very important”:

  • The cause is important to me personally (4.35)
  • Community organizations are experiencing financial hardship (3.61)
  • My volunteering results in a donation for the organization from my company (3.53)
  • The cause is important to my company (3.35)
  • The charity came to the company to talk about what they do for the community (3.08)

When you’re selecting a charitable organization and you want maximum participation from your employees:

  1. Start by looking at several options that are relevant to the majority of your employees’ interests and skill sets.
  2. Choose venues that are local and easily accessible.
  3. Ask employees to vote among the charities and go with the most popular choice(s).

– LuAnne Speeter


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