By Sarah B Lange under Uncategorized on March 1, 2024

New Revolutionary Ideas about Capital Campaigns

Hey, everyone. I'm Sarah Lange, and I'm here to spark the philanthropy revolution. The word philanthropy means love of mankind. My show is all about the ways we can revolutionize our fundraising so we can raise more money and do more good.

Sarah: Hey everybody, Sarah Lange here. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, I am a professional fundraiser. I've raised over a hundred million dollars and worked with more than 200 United States based nonprofits. And this show is all about how to raise more money and do more good. And I am so excited because my guest is Steven Shattuck today and he's the director of engagement. He's gonna tell us all sorts of new things about capital campaigns. So Steve, thanks for joining me. I really appreciate you being here.

Steven: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Sarah: Yeah, so tell me about this crash course in Capital Campaigns you've had, what you've learned, maybe what was different from the work you did before, any “ah-hah’s” or surprises you've had.

Steven: Yeah, there's so much. And I really appreciate having the floor here. Yeah, if folks aren't familiar with Capital Campaign Pro, we're a consulting agency, obviously helping people with capital campaigns. And when I joined the company, it was last year, maybe a year and a half ago, people may know me as someone who likes to do a lot of research, right? I was involved in the donor retention report from the fundraising effect in this project, in my days at Bloomerang. We kind of quickly identified it at CC Pro that there isn't a lot of really any good research on capital campaigns, right? There's a lot of case studies and a lot of anecdotes and all that is great and hopefully people will start start, you know, keep putting those out because they're helpful But we're kind of missing that third leg at the stool of actual, you know hard concrete data on why people do capital campaigns, and you know how they go, and what impact this would have on other fundraising operations. So that's what we set out to do last summer. We put out a survey and got about 300 responses back that we all verified and got the identities verified and all that. Basically asking them, “hey, if you're in a capital campaign, how's it going? If you recently completed a capital campaign, what happened? And then if you're just thinking about a capital campaign, Why is that? What's driving that?” So there were sort of three surveys divided into those spaces. And we got a lot of really interesting data back. Published a report. People can find it on our website. It's just capi slash research. And yeah, so many fun nuggets. And I can rattle them off, Sarah, unless there's something kind of deep in your mind or maybe top of your mind. on what you might think is the most interesting, but we asked about feasibility studies, impact on the annual funds, success rate, board engagement, we were talking about the board earlier, that was a really interesting one. So there were so many awesome insights that were touched on there.

Sarah: Good, well, rattle away.

Steven: Okay. Good.

Sarah: I'm very curious to find out what you learned because I've worked with a number of organizations doing capital campaigns and. I don't know if you found this, but a lot of times they jump in before they're ready. And then the whole thing kind of stalls. And then that's when they call me to help get it back off life support. And I'm like “Eeeehh”, so yeah, I would love to hear what you found.

Steven: I'm not surprised to hear you say that because there's a lot of fear surrounding capital campaigns because sometimes they can get off track and that can be really harmful to the organization, not just the campaign. So there were a couple of things that we were really interested in, in addition to the more kind of roter generic questions that we asked. One is, are campaigns typically successful? Because that anecdote you just told, Sarah, that's really common, right? Oh, I heard about another organization and they did one and it was a disaster and it went off track, like, should we even do this? So we wanted to say, “okay, what is the actual success rate for capital campaigns?”. And we asked a question amongst people who had just finished their campaign, “did you consider it to be a success?” And 96% of people said “yes”, which was great. So there was a huge relief on our end, like, yeah, most people who actually go down this road are pretty happy with the results. And we also asked people what was the average percentage of your goal that was raised and the average is 108%. So not only did we almost have 100, yeah, it was great. Um, what the highest reported org said, 170% of their goal, which maybe, maybe you want to have them on next week, Sarah, but maybe, maybe the goal was a little too low and they just overachieved, but the lowest reported was only in the seventies. So, you know, getting 70% of your goal wasn't too bad. No, that's not too catastrophic. But in general, it seemed like there weren't a lot of people who answered the survey saying it went off track, it crashed and burned, which was really nice to hear. The other thing that we were really curious about and in a lot of ways was kind of the driver of the survey was the impact on the annual fund. So if I were to rank the top two fears, one is, is it going to be successful, which we talked about, and number two is, does it cannibalize the annual fund? So we'll talk to a lot of people that come to me like, “well, we're thinking about a capital campaign, but if we're just gonna take money from the annual fund, like what's the point?” So we asked people a series of questions, what has happened to the annual fund during the campaign and what happened in sort of the ensuing years after the campaign concluded. And only 21% of respondents said that the annual fund decreased during the campaign. Everybody else either said it stayed the same. I think it was about 40% that stayed the same, and then another 40% said it actually went up. So that was awesome to see because on our end as consultants, we don't usually see that, right? And a lot of it is because we'll put in very specific sort of guardrails and steps to prevent it. But there was still sort of the sphere that it's almost a foregone conclusion that something bad is gonna happen to the annual fund, but by no means. And then we also asked people, “okay, what has happened to the annual fund after the campaign?” And half of the people that responded to our survey that have completed their campaign, not enough time has passed. So like a full year hasn't elapsed. But the other half, 28% of those people said it increased. 6% said it stayed the same and only 9% said that it decreased. So very similar kind of split between the three possibilities as the people during the campaign. So I'm hoping that when we're going to do the survey every single year, in fact, we're getting ready to open it back up for 2024, I don't anticipate that breakdown really shifting very much. And so that was awesome to us to see that, hey, there, you know, it's not gonna necessarily blow up the annual fund, right? It can happen, but it's not something that has to happen, right, just because you do a capital campaign. So, you know, there were two big fears that were immediately put to rest. And then the third thing, I'd say the third most important thing that we were kind of curious about was feasibility study. Does it actually matter? Does it actually have an impact kind of long tail, you know, throughout the rest of the campaign. So when we define feasibility study, we're talking about not necessarily doing a campaign study where you're saying, “okay, should we do a campaign?” This is like, “okay, you've decided to do a campaign, you've got your goal, but you are testing that goal with major donors, other key stakeholders by talking to them.” So is that process worth it? And the quick answer is, it seems to be worth it. So all of the questions that we asked, I sort of cross-referenced their answer by whether or not they did a feasibility study. So things like, did you have 100% board giving? Was your campaign successful? What were some of the other benefits to the campaign besides just the dollars raised? Every time I cross-reference the answers to those questions with whether or not they did a feasibility study, the people who did do a feasibility study outperformed the people who didn't in those other questions. So for example, one question we asked was, what was the biggest benefit to doing the campaign other than dollars raised? So among people who did a feasibility study, 94% of them said that major donor relationships got stronger. And that was the biggest benefit to doing a campaign. But among people who didn't do the feasibility study, that number dropped to 66%. So by about a third in terms of major donor relationship strength building. And Sarah, I mean, you know, that's gonna have a huge long tail benefit for the organization, you know, years and years after the campaign. So there were just a lot of other fun areas around there. You know, the goal, people, the average percentage of the goal raise was 101% among people who didn't do a feasibility study, but it went to 115% of their goal raise if they did one. Those are just two examples of areas where, “hey, doing that feasibility study does seem to be worth it.” And yes, it's an expense and it's an extra step, for sure, but it does seem to pay dividends, especially dividends long after the campaign, which is great to see.

Sarah: Well, one of the things that I'm curious about is, you know, one of the things I talk a lot about is like donor relations, the donor journey, donor retention, because, you know, there's such a drop off between gift number one and gift number two, like, you work so hard to get gift number one in the door, then 50% of those people are going to disappear before they make a second gift. And I think that's all pretty much I would say 99.9% of the time. because we didn't cultivate, steward, and build those relationships. So I think, you know, I'm wondering if you see, I'm guessing there's a very strong connection between investment and donor relations and the success of the capital campaign, but I'm wondering what your thoughts are about that.

Steven: No, I totally agree. And that's the beauty of the feasibility study, right? Because that is typically the first sort of built-in excuse to have engagement with existing donors. in the context of a capital campaign, right? And everything kind of flows from that. So that's why I'm not so surprised to see such lower numbers amongst the cohort of people that didn't do the feasibility study, because I assume they just jumped right into the quiet phase and the solicitation meetings, right? Which. Obviously, you can be successful. Their percentage of the goal was 101%. So it's kind of hard to tease them too much. But that extra 15%, I mean, that could be millions of dollars depending on your goal, right? And I know it's a little self-serving, because I work in an agency and we sell feasibility study as a service. So I get how this might sound. But I've also got the data. And only like 10 out of the 300 or so organizations represented in this study are our clients. So it's not as though it's just like, well, this is our way of doing it. So of course the numbers are good, but you're right. That's what starts everything. And some of those key stakeholders, yeah, they may have only given one or two gifts in their lifetime, but maybe we know that they've got some extra capacity or that they're giving to similar causes to us elsewhere. And we wanna be part of that. So there's not a lot of downside other than the expense and the time. You get great information from the donor. There, you're involving them in the project and the goal. And just by talking to them, you are building and enhancing that relationship. It's that old adage, you want advice, ask for money, you want money, and ask for advice. That really seems to play out in that feasibility study stage. And the fact that it happened so early in the campaign, again, everything kind of cascades from that.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, I think what's interesting to me is, you know, one of the things you're saying, one of the things I really, really believe in is this long tail effect, right? So you're not just talking about these people reaching 101%, 115%, 170% of their goal, which is amazing, right? But you're also talking about an elevated level of giving. They just got their donors to give in an unprecedented level to them. And if they take care of that relationship, that is going to continue, maybe not at the exact same level, but at the, you know, at a heightened level for the, you know, that's a huge increase in the value of that donor over the lifetime. And I think that's where it's a little frustrating for me, because I think so many nonprofits are so focused on the short term.

Steven: Yes.

Sarah: In terms of like, let's get the money in the door now. And then they're worried about the next dollar and the next dollar. And I, you know, I'm not blaming them because I know it's a high pressure situation. And Lord knows I've been in the field long enough that I know that most nonprofits are understaffed in the development department. But you and I both know the only way to make money is to invest in fundraising. So it doesn't surprise me to hear that sometimes people are reluctant to invest in a feasibility study, but that's a very short term nickels versus dollars kind of perspective. So I think it's really good that I think the investment in feasibility study is going to tell you so much more about your donors and where they're at and how they feel about you. And not only will that help with that pool of donors, but it also helps you kind of understand who your typical donor is. And then you can find more of those types of people.

Steven: That's a good point because you're not going to interview every donor. I mean, you can't, you're probably going to interview a couple dozen, right? But that's true, It probably assuming there's kind of a lookalike persona, we'll tell you more about the rest of the people, right? To an extent. And I think you're dead on about the long tail because I think about like the quest fundraising. That is, you talk about stronger relationships, that is an aspect of major gift fundraising that really suffers from the retention issue you mentioned, right? So if you get a stronger relationship, you get a big gift or a series of big gifts. And the other thing in the research is that most capital campaigns are at least 10 years apart. So you've got 10 years to fill before you engage them in another typically big way. But legacy gifts can be a really nice sort of bridge to the next campaign. And everyone, if you know anything about bequests, you have to have a strong relationship. That's not just going to be some rich stranger that dropped. It happens, right? You hear about it, and it was like, oh, that beautiful lady librarian, she was so modest and gave a million dollars despite not having much of an estate. That's not really something we can count on. So why not be proactive about it? And that's just you. Go ahead.

Sarah: Oh, no, I just I was thinking of that exact situation happened to one of my clients. I got a phone call one day from the executive director of a historical society and she's freaking out. I'm thinking, oh, God, the building burned down, right? Because I couldn't imagine why she was like freaking out. It turns out same thing. Little old lady, modest lifestyle, no heirs. She left them $1.25 million. She's like, “Oh my God, what do we do? What do we do?” I'm like, “well, first of all, go get some champagne.”

Steven: Yes, be happy.

Sarah: But like, you never know. And obviously, we don't want to build our fundraising plan around those little old ladies. But that goes back to cultivation and stewardship because she volunteered at their society every week and they deeply appreciated her. They always let her know how much they appreciated her. you know, every volunteer award they ever made up went to her, you know, other volunteers too. But, you know, sometimes they would just make up a volunteer award just to get a turkish they didn't know how else to thank her. You know what I mean? There's only so many historical society mugs you can give somebody before you know, right? That's gotten old. But yeah, I mean, it goes back to the relationship, right? So, you know, I, in my role as a philanthropist, when I'm you know, engaged deeply with the organization. I'm expecting that conversation about bequest giving eventually. But I also know we're talking about death and money in the same conversation, right?

Steven: Yeah, it's hard.

Sarah: Yeah, but you know, and I took the burden off them and just said, “I have a fun setup for you. Don't worry about it.”

Steven: Nice.

Sarah: Yeah, but well, cause I mean, I know what it's like. I'll just make their job easier cause I was gonna do it anyway, but. Um, yeah, I just think it's always about the relationship.

Steven: For sure.

Sarah: Yeah. So what are the kinds of interesting things did you find?

Steven: Well, I think, you know, we were talking about the board. Um, so I shared a lot of good news. There's a couple of areas where I think we can do a little bit of better job. So we asked people flat out, have all your board members contributed to the campaign? So we asked that question to people in the mid-campaign cohort and in the post-campaign cohort. The average is only 63% achieved 100% foregiving. Yeah, that breaks my heart. And this is something I've harped on for over a decade, going back to my bloomering days, because this is another sort of trailing indicator. Now, what was interesting is I looked at the people who said they didn't 100% board giving, so that’s 37%. And I looked at some of the answers to their other questions. One of the questions I asked was, what was the biggest challenge of the campaign? And a lot of people said, coming out of the pandemic, I know we're still in a pandemic in a lot of ways, and the economy, and there are a lot of headwinds. But other than those headwinds, those sort of external societal factors, there the number one headwind was board engagement. The people who didn't have the board giving, the 37%, you can guess how abysmal their board engagement numbers were. So one follows the other, right? If you don't have the buy-in and the involvement in the board, that hurts the campaign in a lot of ways. But one tangible way is you're not going to give to it, right? So when you talk about what do we kind of coach people on, That is so, so critical. And if you don't have 100% board giving outside the campaign, which you should, but I know it's hard, I'm not gonna tease people about it. In a way, the capital campaign might be a good excuse to get that going, right? Hey, we're doing this campaign, we'd love for you to chip in. It's kind of a nice built-in excuse to ask board members to give. And then if they're giving, you know, maybe after the campaign ends, it's like, hey, you know, you were giving to that, maybe we should just make this an annual thing, right? And that can be kind of a sneaky back door into 100% board giving. So it's fun, because it seems like the capital campaign is a catalyst for a lot of this stuff, right? But yeah, the board engagement piece, and then the board giving was an area that we do seem to be hurting on. I'm not sure if maybe you see that, if that resonates with you. But Yeah, 63% we can do a lot better there.

Sarah: Yeah, I mean, I think boards can make or break the fundraising of an organization because 63% of people give to organizations that they've heard about through their families and friends. So boards can play a huge role in terms of being ambassadors for the organization, in terms of talking up the organization. But also, if you're not willing to contribute economically, to the organization on which you are a board member, what does that say about you as a board member? And I'm not even talking about, you know, leaving them your house. So I used to be, like, I was on the Boston University Alumni Association Board for the School of Social Work. I know it's a very long title, but so I was on the board for 10 years and I started out the first year I got out of grad school. So like, you can imagine the first year out of grad school, not a lot of money in my pocket, right? Still paying my loans for grad school, but the board policy was 100% giving. And so that first year, basically the only amount I could squeeze out was $20. And then I got to the point where I was the board president and I had to kind of enforce this 100% policy. And there was one board member who had not yet given, it was getting towards the end of the fiscal year, it was our last board meeting of the year. And I quietly went over to her during a break and I said, “hey, I said, we're so close to a hundred percent giving. We just need a gift from you. What can you do today?” And she opens up her wallet and she's like, “I have $3.” I'm like, “I will take it. Thank you so much.” And so like, we didn't really care.

Steven: You did it.

Sarah: Yeah, we did it. We crossed the line. And then I was able to announce like later in the day that we had reached a hundred percent board giving. And that bought us all kinds of leverage across the university. As you can imagine, law, medicine, the School of Management, they're all kicking our butts in terms of the amount raised. But we were always the ones to have, we were the first ones to hit 100% giving in the university system.

Steven: Wow.

Sarah: Yeah, and we had the highest percentage of our alumni giving. They weren't giving a lot, but we had a really high percentage. So in that way, we were at the top of the heap. But of course, social workers don't have a lot of disposable income all the time. So anyway, it just gave us such pride because we were used to kind of being like seen as the peons in the university. We were like, “yeah, we did it. 100%.” 

Steven: We got 100%.

Sarah: Yeah. And we were the first to get 100%. So there, but like, I think it's so important for who it's yes, you should give a gift that is of your capacity. So like I mentioned. I'm fresh out of grad school, here's my $20, right? But as my career progressed, obviously, my giving progressed with it. And I feel like it's really important to ask your board to make that monetary contribution because otherwise, like, why are they on the board? And to me, it's different if it's a consumer rep board. So, you know, my first job out of grad school, we had a community based organization and more than 51% of our board was from the neighborhood extraordinarily low income. So we were just like, give a gift that works for you. You know, and sometimes it was $5. Sometimes it was $10. One person gave me $8. I'm like, “awesome”, you know. So I feel like it's a little different there. But if your board should be giving at a level that reflects their capacity and their commitment to you. And if they're not giving to you, then maybe they shouldn't be on your board.

Steven: Yeah, I totally agree. I’m so glad you went to the dollar amount right away because that’s my philosophy for what it’s worth is. You know, I didn’t qualify the question, I just asked yes, no, did they give. To me, I totally agree, it does not matter, the amount. Now the research, not my research, the other research shows that most, this is the first gift, right, to get a 100% board giving from the people who haven’t give, this is their first gift. Most people do not give a capacity for their first gift, so the dollar amount, in a way, does not matter, right? And your story of, yeah, they may grow in their career, they're gonna get older if they're a college graduate, maybe their income is gonna change. But if you have the first gift, it's better than zero gifts, right? And then the engagement, and then perhaps the upgrades over time. I totally agree. It's about the signal that it sends, right? That they're on board. You know, they're committed to the campaign, they're a contributor to the campaign. And then I think the other thing is, if the board is participating in solicitations, which they should be, right? On some level.

Sarah: They should be, yeah.

Steven: They can say, I'm a donor, right? This is a donor talking to another donor or a prospective donor. That totally changes the paradigm of the conversation. And you know. If I can just imagine the awkwardness, if that person being solicited were to fire back and say, “have you given to this campaign?” The answer is no, yikes, you know, for the rest of that conversation. And-

Sarah: Yeah, or they may even just say, well, then if you're not gonna give, why would I give?

Steven: Why would I give? Right. You're on the board. I'm just, you know, some random community member perhaps. Yeah. And your story about sort of the grassroots board members, made me remember another stat in the study, which is we asked people what percentage of all the dollars raised came from board members. And this is one that came out of a lot of conversations we have with people early on who are interested in bringing us on as consultants. I remember one very recently where the, I think it was the ED or the president said, “we want to do this capital campaign. Well, we don't have wealthy board members,” as if like that was some standard that she thought she was not falling short of, which kind of broke my heart. No, we have members of the community. Exactly what you just said, Sarah, about that board you were talking about. They look like the people we serve, right? They're not a bunch of wealthy doctors and lawyers. Can we still do a capital campaign? Because their assumption was, if you don't have rich board members, you can't do it. And I said, no, first of all, you have the best board makeup, in my opinion, that you can have. But what we the answer we got in the research was only 14% of all the dollars raised came from board members, which to me, it seems like a healthy number, right? Now, I just bemoaned board giving. So that 14% is going to go up if we get to 100%. But it's not gonna go like 70% or 80%, right? This is not, you know, capital campaigns are by no means a board subsidized, you know, fund, right? That's not what that is. So we put that out because we wanna show organizations like the one I described that, yeah, you can do this. It's not about having super wealthy board members, but it is about having engaged board members. So there is a differentiation there that's really important. And giving is an engagement signal. But they don't, to your point earlier, you don't have to get a million dollars from each board member to hit your $20 million campaign goal.

Sarah: Yeah. Well, and let's remember that Barack Obama raised a million dollars. Wasn't it like a dollar from a million people that he wanted?

Steven: Yeah. Right. Great idea.

Sarah: Right? So he raised a million. Right. It's like, OK, give us $10. And then obviously, we're not going to all reach a million people. But. Um, you know, I remember we were having this conversation, this community based organization about membership and it was a mixed committee. So there were some constituents from the neighborhood. And then also we, we had a, you know, community represented board, but then there were some people on the board who were not necessarily living in the community and I remember having this conversation and I was just there as the staff member facilitating the conversation. And One person on the board said, “well, you know, $25 is too much for people in this neighborhood.” And the residents around the table went nuts. And they were like, “are you kidding? Like we all have disposable income. And how dare you say that we can't afford $25 when this organization is changing the quality of life in this neighborhood?”  You know, and I was like, “oh, we just got taken to the woodshed.” And So we made it a yeah, it was so interesting, right? So here we are, people who don't live in the neighborhood saying, “oh, well, we want to go easy on them.” And they're saying “no.” So what the compromise was that it was a suggested membership level. But the people who, yeah, the people who lived and were engaged with our organization all paid the $25.

Steven: Great.

Sarah: Right. So again, it goes back to engagement, right? So people who are engaged in your organization, invest in your organization. And then, you know, I think the other piece of it is, my experience when I'm out doing solicitations is a lot of donors are very savvy, especially the wealthier members in your community. They know you're coming. They know why you're coming. They’re not stupid. And one of the first questions they're going to ask is what is, what is your board doing?

Steven: Yeah, for sure.

Sarah: And like, if you don't come up with the right answer, they'll be like, “well, get your board lined up and then come back to me.”

Steven: Yeah, for sure. That is a growing, yeah, yes. They're becoming much more savvy. Yeah, so much flows from the board giving. I love the suggested amount. That's great. And yeah, there is a danger of assuming that just because you have a community-based board that they can give it a certain amount. And you don't want to do that either. So you can kind of go into both extremes, right? So that, I think, is a really valuable cautionary tale, Sarah, that I don't think. see or read very much. I wish I read that more of. It's like, yeah, we can give $25 for Pete's sake. Like we can probably give more. So I love that.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, and it was really just about the way we engaged our community. I mean, we were really out there. They were deeply involved in the life of the organization. They populated our committees. We, you know, had all these activities going on. And so we were like, really, we had such a great base in that neighborhood. And you know, we let them own the organization and, and almost to too much of an extent, but no, they were, I mean, they lived in that community and we figured, all right, well, we're all, you know, first of all, we're all white chicks, right? And we're from outside this community. So we're going to let you really lead us in terms of what you need, the direction. Yeah. Cause I think so, so many times, especially in community development, it's kind of this white night. We're going to come into your neighborhood and fix it?

Steven: Yes. For sure.

Sarah: You know, so, yeah, we did not want to adopt that approach. But I think, you know, coming back to the capital campaign, I think it's really, really important that you line this up way before the quiet phase. You know what I mean?

Steven: Oh yeah.

Sarah: Like, yeah, I think it's really good to look at your retention numbers, your donor relations, you know, do you have a major gifts program? Have you had any conversation about major gifts or significant gifts? I mean. All of that is stuff I think you need to tee up way before you get into a campaign. What are some of the other things you think people need to tee up?

Steven: Well, I think I kind of glossed over it, but I mentioned the headwinds. And a lot of people said that those external factors were a challenge for them. But I also asked the question more explicitly, did you pause the campaign? because of either the pandemic or fears of a recession. And we did this survey last summer, and last summer, we're recording this in early 2024, but in summer of 2023, it seemed like, you know, inflation was really bad. I know it's bad, but it was really, really bad. And it seems like there was gonna be a recession. Now that is tempered, but when we asked the question, that's why we did it, because we thought, hey, maybe that wasn't a major driver, but- overwhelmingly, everyone said no to both questions. It was like 20% pause because of either the economy or the pandemic. Now those were challenges. I'm not meaning to minimize those things, but they didn't delay the campaign. So my answer to your question there, Sarah, is don't decide for the donor, right? Because there's always some external factor, right? It's either the economy. or hopefully there won't be another pandemic, but there may be something more localized to you, like maybe a natural disaster. We've got an election coming up. There's always something that I can imagine a board member saying, I don't think it's a good time, because I don't know if we want to ask this of our donors right now, because maybe they're going through hard times. That is a killer if you succumb to that. Because, and we've seen this in the over the last four years, people do tend to respond in great times of need. And if you've got a clear case for support, if you've got an awesome plan for the campaign and a distinct need, you've got to expand, our hospital's overflowing, the animal shelter, we don't have room, let's go. Don't let some, because there's always something that you could talk yourself into, now's not a good time, or our donors are gonna think we're bugging them or, you know, we're going to be annoying. Don't do that. And that was so, I thought the numbers would be higher. Maybe I'm a little bit pessimistic, but it was so awesome to see like high teens, low twenties for those people that did pause. Now, a lot of those people maybe they had a really, I know it was hard for performing arts organizations. I'm not teasing them either, but for the most part, keep your foot on the gas, right? Don't kind of fall into this trap of, hey, we're gonna alienate people by asking because it's not a good time. They may be sitting there wanting to be asked, right? They may be someone who knows your place is overflowing or who knows you could have another satellite office and help even more people. So give them the opportunity. Don't deny them the opportunity. They can say no, that's fine. And a no is just another step closer to yes and you may find something out about them, but don't decide for them.

Sarah: Yeah, that is one of the things that drives me a little bonkers in fundraising is that people do decide for the donor. And so, for example, like I've been deeply involved with Boston University since I graduated, which is a little unusual because it's a graduate program. Right. And so that's..

Steven: Okay.

Sarah: But it's also social, you know, it's the school of social work and it's something that's near and dear to my heart. And what's interesting is so I've been a single mom for twenty five years. And you know, there were times in my life, like, so for example, the four years my son was in college, not a good time to ask me to amp up my giving because every dollar I got, I was like, “Oh, you need this one too? Okay.” Or he called me like, “Oh, I need more sheet music. I need new drumsticks. I need this.” So yeah, those four years were just, I felt like I was back in grad school. I was joking with a friend. Right. “I'm back to rice and beans and tuna fish”, you know, but I wasn't, but some days it felt like I should. But it was interesting because my graduate institution has been very thoughtful about engaging in ways that are important to me. They have consistently asked me to increase my giving years ago, they asked me to increase my giving. to a level that I never thought I would give to anyone. And so the initial ask felt like a little bit of a slap, like, oh my God. And then they said, you know, that's this much a month. And I was like, “oh, I can do that, right?” So they immediately broke it down into bite-sized pieces. And that just made me, A, realize that I could give at that level. So I felt really proud and really happy. And Like, and let's not forget the dopamine effect, right? So when you give, you actually release dopamine in your brain. So we're actually making our donors feel good, right? We're giving them that little stimulus hit, but it also just made me feel so good about like that I was creating an opportunity for the social workers who were coming up, right? So grad school was expensive enough when I was there, but then, you know, tuition rates went through the roof. And it just made me feel really good. And it still makes you feel really good that I've set up a fund that helps social work students come out of their career and be a little less in debt or have at least a little money to work with. And I never really envisioned myself at that level of philanthropy. So they showed me a whole new level of philanthropy that I could attain that I never envisioned for myself. So they stretched me. in the best way possible. And I'm so grateful to that because now I give it the, do you know what I mean? It's like, “oh, if I can do this over here, I can do it at other places.” And it just heightened my commitment to philanthropy because I'm like, oh, it's beyond where I was comfortable and where I thought I could go. And, you know, here we are years later and I've got multiple funds at multiple places. And I'm like, oh, wow, I didn't think I would be able to do this. But, you know, there were times, like I said, when my son was in college, don't ask me to, like, ramp up my giving. That's not broke. But yeah. So I think that's another thing that you can come out of capital campaigns is it doesn't hurt to ask people to go further than they even themselves think they can go.

Steven: Yep. Absolutely. And what a shame it would have been. If somebody had said, “let's not ask Sarah now, let's not give her that opportunity because of some made up fear or reason.”

Sarah: Right. The other thing that I find really interesting is when I hear nonprofits say, oh my gosh, the recession, the inflation, blah, blah. I'm like, do you realize that $69 trillion is passing down right now? It's like we have the largest transfer of wealth in the history of this country on our hands ever. Right? Like the money is flowing right now, right? So I have lost both of my parents. Most of my peer group have lost at least one parent or their parents are teetering on the edge or probably not gonna be around much longer. And so, you know, and then you've got not just the boomers but also people my age and up who are thinking about legacy, what's next, what mark do I wanna leave in this world? And the people who are inheriting the money have a very different philosophy about giving. And they're very focused on impact and community and making the world a better place. So the timing could not be better to go and ask people for money.

Steven: Yeah. And they get the legacy giving going too, not to be too morbid about it, but and they have stronger relationships. That's going to be much easier.

Sarah: Yeah. And I've had very open, honest conversations with my son about where I want my money to go. Like, he's I've been very clear with him. And so he knows that, and he knows exactly where all the paperwork is. And I realized that because I'm a professional fundraiser, it's probably unusual for people who aren't to have done all this. But yeah, I mean, I think there's a whole bunch of people out there who are wanting to make a difference, who are looking to make a difference, who are in a financial position or will soon be to make a difference. So I think, This whole idea of don't decide for the donors, like goes back to that woman at the historical study. You have no idea what's going on behind the scenes.

Steven: Exactly. Yeah. And even your no in your example when your son was in college, think of the information they just learned about you. That now they have sort of a timeline. Not that they're going to go back and badger you the second he graduates. But the point is they have more information about you. Then that's going to help the next solicitation be even better and hopefully hit the mark, especially if they respect your desire to perhaps not be solicited during those four years or to be okay with a more modest gift. So every no is good. There's really not a lot of other than not getting money. There's not a whole lot of downside to a no, a lot of downside to deciding for your donor to your points.

Sarah: Exactly. Well, Stephen, it has been amazing having you on and Jesse's going to drop the link to your study in the chat so people can grab it.

Steven: Oh, thank you.

Sarah: Yeah. And then when we send, this will go out on YouTube and Spotify and we'll send out the transcript to our folks with the link to the study in it. But thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Steven: Yeah, thanks for having me. That went really fast. I wish we could talk longer, but. There's a lot of good stuff in the study that I didn't touch on at all. So yeah, download it, it's free. A salesperson won't call you if you look at it or anything like that. And if you download it, you'll get the survey in a couple of months and you can participate if you want. Totally optional and you can, again, self-select into one of the three phases and make your voice heard in the next round of data. So I would love that, thank you.

Sarah: Great, yeah, and we'll definitely have you on again because I agree. probably just scratching the surface.

Steven: We can come back and hopefully nothing big changes next year, but there may be some interesting nuggets.

Sarah: All right. Thanks, Stephen. Bye.

Steven: Thanks, Sarah. See you.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Got topics you want me to cover? Organizations you want me to showcase? Let me know. Also, I'm here to help you revolutionize philanthropy at your nonprofit. If you wanna talk about what that looks like, drop me an email.


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