By Sarah B Lange under Uncategorized on May 12, 2023

What is Philanthropy, Really? 

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.

Hey everybody, it's Sarah Lange here with episode three of the Philanthropy Revolution. So glad you're here. My lovely producer Chris, who's my best behind  the scenes guy on this show, reminded me that it would be a good idea to tell you guys who I am and what I do. So, duh. I will tell you a little bit about myself. I have been in the fundraising field since I got out of college. And yes, that was only five years ago. 

But I've been in the  field for 35 years. Over that time I've raised $90 million and I've also worked with over 200 non-profits. So I bring a lot to the table in terms of being able to raise money. But I'm also really interested in, I look at fundraising as a very holistic approach. So I look at your  communications because if you're not communicating about the amazing stuff you're doing, people can't find you, right? So then I think about your board. Is your board adding to your fundraising efforts or taking away from your fundraising efforts? And my experience is that most of the time boards are  really challenging to work with in terms of fundraising. And I will do a whole episode on why your boards hate fundraising and what we can do about it. But today I won't. And then I also look at planning. Do you have an exciting vision for the future? Do you have a roadmap to get there?  So I think we can really excite people about our thoughts for the future and get them engaged  by doing good planning. We also need to make sure we're going to have enough finances in the bank. So I know for so many nonprofits, that's like a pipe dream. Like, oh, we would have money in the bank. What does that look like? But every single one of my clients has a surplus at this point. So  we budget for a surplus. We make a surplus. And that's just how we roll around here. So that's a little bit about day to day, what I'm doing on a big picture basis. I'm sparking the philanthropy revolution. And I will tell you why in today's episode. But I'll tell you a little bit  about how I got started. And it started when I was four years old and I dug up some arrowheads in my backyard and went in to ask my father what they were. And so we grew up in the area that used to be occupied by the Mohawk and the Iroquois Indians. And we had lots of Indian names.  So for example, the name of my town was Niskayuna, which is a Native American name. And I went to, you know, there was a school called Iroquois School. And, you know, I went to the Dutch, you know, middle, it was Van Antwerp anyway. So my father, I don't exactly know how he explained  it to me, but he basically explained that the land we were living on belonged to the Indians. And I promptly stood up on a chair in the kitchen and started ranting at my parents about giving back our house, how you can't take things from people. That's not right. That's not  fair. So I think I just had this like little social justice warrior inside me that came, came through the birth canal with me. So it's been with me for a long, long time. I have always been that kid, much to the teacher's chagrin, who would point out when things weren't fair, things weren't  right. I remember in sixth grade math class telling Mrs. McDowell that she was not answering Paul's question and that wasn't fair. So I just am wired this way. So that's a little bit about me, what I do, who I am. I have my own consulting company. I've had my company since 1999.  I now have a team of 10 people. We're all working really hard to raise money for nonprofits. And like I said, we are passing the 90 million mark. And I love what I do. I'm very passionate about it. I'm sure that doesn't come across at all. Anyway, so you might be wondering why I'm sparking  the philanthropy revolution and why now? And what is it all about? So what I've seen over the last 35 years in the field and what I'm here to change is that we've allowed philanthropy to become primarily about counting dollars and donors. I know there's a lot of pressure on us to deliver  the numbers at our monthly board meetings. But to me, it's about so much more about that. And so the method that most of us use is called transactional philanthropy. And it's certainly one way to go about fundraising, but it's certainly not going to help you reap the  maximum rewards or benefits. So I'm here to help you reach your maximum fundraising potential, not just do the hard scramble from year to year. I want to see you thrive. So the word philanthropy is actually Greek for love of mankind. And yet in the nonprofit sector,  we've narrowed that into an exchange of dollars for what is usually a generic thank you letter. And I always wonder, is this really all there is? And the answer is no, we could do so much more and so much better. So beyond helping folks raise more money by revolutionizing, that's a mouthful, huh? Their fundraising, to me, philanthropy is a much, much bigger playground. And I feel like we're losing a lot of opportunities by not adopting a wider perspective. So my question  with my clients is always, how do you express love? So love of mankind, how does that come across to your clients? How does that come across among the staff? How has it come across to your board and to your volunteers? So how do you infuse love into nonprofit culture? And some of you are really, really good at it. And I love seeing examples of it. And I think some of us are so busy trying to serve the next person, raise the next dollar that we kind of end up on this treadmill  and we end up in kind of a hustle and grind environment, which is not always a loving environment. So I'll tell you a little bit about one of my favorite places that I worked was a place called Oak Hill Community Development Corporation. And the bosses were amazing. We had  two co-directors who job shared the position. So that tells you a little bit about the environment, but we had a lot of, and both of them were working parents. And so most of the people in the organization were working parents. And so just little subtle things like, you know,  I would get a call from a daycare center that my son had thrown up. And for any of you who have ever had children in childcare, you must go pick them up. And they cannot come back until they've been, you know, vomit free for 24 hours and fever free for 24 hours. So, you know, it was never a  question of, you know, well, well, what about your work? It's like the daycare center called, your child was vomiting. Yes, you must go pick up your child. So there was a much lower level of work family tension in that organization. And, you know, they did things like they threw  us little birthday parties. So at the beginning of the month, whoever's birthday it was, we had a little cake and we sang. Obviously it didn't happen every month because there were 10 of us in the organization, but it just felt really nice to be seen and celebrated. They would do other  things. So for example, we did not have air conditioning. We had a very, very old office building. In fact, it was a former residence. And while the building itself was very beautiful, we had no air conditioning and there were a lot of stained glass windows. So we couldn't even put  window air conditioning in. We could in certain offices, but not everybody had it. And there were just some times when the building would get really hot in the summer and they would come up and they would be like, okay, everybody just go home. It's too hot to work. And so just little things like  that, let us know that we were seen and loved and cared for. Or the fact that that one time they got us all popsicles, you know, so it was just like the little things that made it a really, really good environmental culture in which for us to work. So there are lots of things we can do that  don't cost a lot of money. Don't take a lot of time that can be ways that we show people that we care about them and we can do loving kind things. So that's just one example. So then the other side of the coin is how good are you and others in your organization at receiving love? I find a lot of  times we block love and therefore opportunities from our donors, from our volunteers and others who are trying to support our endeavors. And what would that even look like? So if you have any thoughts on what receiving love could look like in your organization, drop them in the chat.  I often start by looking at, you know, what, what asking volunteers, you know, aside from your current job, are there other things you want to do? Same thing with your board. There might be other things that they want to be doing rather than, you know, serving on the board or being  on a committee. So just opening up these conversations can create a whole new bevy of resources and opportunities within your organization where you can actually receive the love that people have to give. The other thing I look at is areas of operation. You know, are there  areas of your operations that aren't quite so loving? So for example, when people come to you, they're seeking something that they can't provide for themselves or get from their family, their friends, or their network. So maybe they need help finding  a job. Maybe they need help putting food on the table or support as they work their way through a difficult period. Maybe they just need a soul satisfying, uplifting experience, like listening to music or seeing art. So regardless of what you do and what they're seeking, there's a need,  right? So there's a gap that's not being met. And when we're in need, we often feel quite vulnerable. And maybe that's not as true for the arts, but, you know, for example, I make a point of going to the art museums at least once a month because art is really important to me. And being out in nature  is really important to me. So for example, yesterday I went tiptoe through over 700,000 tulips in Connecticut because that was like filled my heart with joy and it helped me connect with nature. And all of that then comes back into my work. So, you know, when people show up at our  doors, there's some sort of need they're trying to fill. So how do we meet them when they're in need? You know, how do we answer the phone? Are we even really that accessible? When they come in, do we shove a clipboard with a form? Or do we have an online form? Or do we have an intake coordinator  who can meet with them and help them start the process? I remember when I was working at Oak Hill CDC, we had built this beautiful access database and we wanted to know everything about everybody who came in the door because we were eager to share the resources that we got with them.  But what we didn't realize is that we were actually kind of creating this barrier. So when somebody's having a problem with their landlord and their housing becomes unsafe, or they've had a job loss and are risking eviction, they don't need a clipboard. And so some people would fill out the  intake form and then when we would follow up with them, they wouldn't come back. So that was a really good learning for us. So instead, we would take the clipboard and the form and we would sit down with them and we would fill out the form and we would get to know them and we would explain why we were  asking if they had children, what ages the children were, because we got camps at summer camp slots from two local youth providers and we would always enter people into a raffle for these free camperships, right? So that's why we're being nosy about your kids, but we didn't explain that,  right? So instead of being a gesture of, oh my gosh, we care so much about you and your family,  we want to give you these free things that we get, it just felt very invasive, right? Well, why do you want to know about my kids? So that's where we started the whole intake coordinator piece where we would have, you know, someone sit down with them and fill out those forms and get  them started and also help them feel human and also feel that, have them be seen and heard and safe, right? So sometimes when people come to us, they're not feeling safe, they're not feeling seen, they're not feeling heard. And just by sitting down with them and filling out a form,  we can help connect with them. So again, just little changes to your operations can make a huge difference in terms of receiving and giving love. So I'd really encourage you to take a good hard look around your organization and ask, where are we inadvertently creating barriers or using  practices that are not loving? And I know sometimes it can be hard to find a balance between efficiency and lovingness, but I trust that we can do this. We do hard things all the time every day. So I think we can figure out that balance. And so the people who have the most information on this very  particular topic are your clients. So if you're not already surveying your clients to identify potential issues with your programming and your processes, I'd really encourage you to do that. If you need help with it, let me know, because I do these kinds of things all the time.  And again, this is just part of the work that I do to build up philanthropy and organizations. And also, are you asking them to leave reviews? I know it's not typical for us to ask people to leave reviews on Yelp or Google for our nonprofits, but it really can't hurt for you to collect quotes  and testimonials, because these days, social proof matters. So even if you're not going to have them leave a Google review or a Yelp review, you can still collect quotes and testimonials from them. You can have them fill out an exit survey anonymously. So collect that information from  them, because they know. They know how things feel in your organization. So I really believe that giving and receiving love to and from people using our services is all part of philanthropy. So why now? Well, I don't know about you, but people are exhausted. We've been fighting the  same social problems for decades, and we don't really seem to be moving the needle very far. And in some respects, we've lost a lot of ground. So if you think about all the violence that's happening right now, like a young person getting shot for going to a door to pick up his siblings,  a woman turning around in a driveway, like it's just gotten a little kooky out there. And so I'm not here to say anything about guns or guns control, but it just, it can be very scary for people to just be going about their day and then have their lives threatened or terminated. So  it just feels a little kooky out there right now. And I think it's just time for something new. People have tried lots of different things, but I think it's time to try something new because what we've been trying hasn't been working. So my question is, can it really hurt to try  to inject more love into the world? I don't think so. I think the world needs more love. And I know there's a song from the seventies, I know I'm dating myself. I think it was like what the world needs now is love, sweet love. But anyway, I think it can't hurt. Right? So also I definitely  want you to think about a business that you love. One of the reasons you probably love it is because they treat you well. They care about you and you're not just a number, right? These are the businesses we return to over and over. And these are the places we tell our friends about.  So maybe we even leave a positive review on Google or Yelp. It's the same thing with our nonprofits. I don't know if you know this, but 63% of people give to organizations they hear about through their family and friends. 63%. Think about that for a minute. It's a lot of people, right? So what does that mean for us in terms of our donor stewardship? How are we interacting with our donors? What does it mean for our social media and communications, for our reputation management?  Are you even thinking about reputation management? Right? So those are all things we need to think about because the majority of people are relying on their friends and families to tell them about great nonprofits to support. So you want to make sure that the people who are already connected  to your organization feel connected, right? That you're showing them that you care. The number one reason a donor is going to walk away from your organization is because they feel like they and their gift don't matter. It's the number one reason. So we have to show them that they matter.  So I'll tell you a little bit about my own experience, the feeling the love front and how it's impacted my philanthropy. So I went to Boston University School of Social Work. It was a phenomenal experience for me. It really shaped who I am in the world. I mean, I think I was pretty  much already that person, but it just, it like professionalized it. So I came out of school feeling really good about my education. I had made some really amazing connections with my fellow students, but also my professors and some alumni. And excuse me. So my second year  in grad school, I was selected to be the student representative of the alumni association board. And so right away I was engaged. I was involved. I was talking to other students, reporting back to the board. So I was already sort of engaged with alumni and the alumni association before I'd even  graduated. Then for the next 10 years, I participated in various positions on the alumni association board ending as president. So on my ninth and 10th year, I was president. And then I rolled off. Then I joined the Boston University alumni council, which sits right below the board  of trustees and has representatives from all 16 colleges and schools in Boston University. So I was there to represent the school, but I was also part of this group. So for example, we were spearheading the billion dollar campaign. So BU is one of the first universities to have a  billion dollar campaign and we were kind of the driving force behind it. So I was really involved in that for six years. In the interim, between the time I graduated and the time I rolled off of the UAC, I set up a prize fund at the school. So I set up a fund which generates income every year. And that is given as a prize to a graduating student. I've also left them a bequest in my will. It's very clear. My son knows that I have a certain amount that I want to give to Boston  University school of social work. So obviously they did a great job of engaging me in a meaningful way  that led to me giving them more money than I ever thought I would give anybody. So it just goes to show you, I'm not saying you're going to do this with every single one of your donors, but it makes a difference. Now on the flip side, I have my undergraduate institution  and I have been very, very loyal with them as well. Since I graduated in 1987, I'm pretty sure I've given to them every single year. And the percentage of alumni who do that is less than 2%. And yet every year when I make my gift, I get a generic thank you note. And then I get a sticker  or a magnet that says 1819 on it because I'm part of the 1819 club, which says that I've given for three years or more. Well, honestly, I've been giving nonstop since 1987. So for them to issue me a generic thank you note with a sticker to me is just such an under-representation of the,  what, and you know, I'm not, I'm not putting up buildings on campus. So I like, I understand that they're trained to go after big bucks only, but they're missing a bunch of opportunities by not acknowledging those of us who have given nonstop since graduation. It's less than 2% of us.  We've already been shown that we're, we're rabid fans, right? So like we've raised our hands up again and again and again. And yet I keep getting this dumb sticker and no offense, but like how many stickers do I really need or want? So, you know, not to throw Colgate under the bus, but I  guess I just did. It's just frustrating for me as somebody who's been that loyal and that dedicated as a donor, that that is the extent of my acknowledgement. I've also left them a bequest in my well, and I keep getting estate planning materials from them, which feels like a little  bit of a slap in the face. So don't do what Colgate's doing. It's not cool. But I'm using this as an example to tell you that the way you steward your donors is absolutely going to impact the way they do philanthropy. So it's really important to think about your stewardship and  your communication. So I'm not saying you have to go to this extent for every single one of your donors, but it would benefit each one of us tremendously to pay more attention to the key donors at our organizations. So obviously you're going to look at your top donors. Maybe you don't  have that much bandwidth and you only start with your top 10 donors. That's fine. Start somewhere with somebody, right? The other thing you want to look for is people I call sleeping giants. So I'll tell you a little story. I used to work for a historical society as a consultant, as a  fundraising consultant. And there was this older woman who volunteered for them. She literally volunteered for them every day. So she was steadfast. She's kind of quiet. She was really sweet. And she would be there every day. And she dressed very normally. She drove an old car. So to look at her, you wouldn't think she was wealthy. But one day I got the phone call from the executive director who was like screaming, like, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I'm thinking,  oh, geez, the historical society burned down, right? Because I was thinking she's freaking out for a reason. Well, it turns out that this older woman had an estate of $1.25 million, had no living relatives, and left all of it to this historical society. So don't assume.  There may be some sleeping giants in your pool. So I really want you to look at people who have been with you for a long time. Anybody that's been with you for more than three years is serious about dating you as a donor. So I would really look at your database, look at the folks who are sleeping  giants. Maybe they're only giving you $100 a year, but you have no idea what their potential is, right? So a lot of times we look only at the amount that people are giving, not the longevity. So I would really encourage you to look at your sleeping giants because they are an undertapped  resource. So you don't have to do this on your own. I know a lot of us are already stretched super thin. And this is a great project for your board to take on. And they should be helping with this. And if they're not, I can help with that. And again, I will do a whole episode on why your  board hates fundraising and what we can do about it. But this is definitely something your board should be helping with, is cultivation and stewardship. So from the donor side of things, philanthropy can be expressed through all sorts of things. So it could be a donation of money,  it could be a donation of time or other goods. So for example, if you're running a food drive, maybe they're collecting food at work or at their religious institution, they're coming and dropping it off. Maybe there's other resources. So maybe they're bringing their  friends and family and colleagues to your annual event. So it's our job to invite people to contribute to the cause in a way that's meaningful to them. And this is where I find donor surveys can be so helpful. It's such a great way to find out more about your donors, what they want, what's  important to them, and to engage with your organization. So it's going to help you kind of hone in on your fundraising efforts accordingly, and then create custom tailored approaches for your top donors and your sleeping giants. So again, I'll use the example of Boston University  School of Social Work. They've done a great job over the years of having me come in and talk to graduating students or being part of alumni career discussions, because a lot of people don't think that social work and fundraising are necessarily like a fit, but I think they're a great fit,  because social workers are all about people, right? And fundraising is all about people. So to me, it's a perfect match. Anyway, so they've done a great job of engaging me. So you can engage your donors through the survey. You can learn more about them. And then you can further engage them.  So say, for example, I know this is one of the things that my clients did was they do an annual cleanup on Earth Day, and they wanted to know if their donors wanted to be a part of it. And their donors were like, yes, of course we do. So now, suddenly, like literally doubled the size of their  cleanup crew. So there's little questions you can ask like that, where you can, again, engage with people, have them come to the organization, get involved in the mission. I have another group that feeds dinner to people five nights a week. And they're always asking their donors, hey, do you  want to come help cook dinner? And people, a lot of times, are like, yes. Or some people are like, I'm terrible at cooking, but I will clean up the dining room when food is over. So there's just lots of ways that we can get people involved that doesn't require a lot of extra work on our part.  So those kinds of things are called relational fundraising. And I believe that, and actually,  the data shows that a relational fundraising approach is way more effective in terms of retaining your donors who are going to increase their gifts with less and less prompting from the organization over time. And who doesn't want that? Less work, more money? Heck, yeah.  When we engage in transactional fundraising, we treat our donors like ATMs. And what's one of the top things that donors hate? Being treated like ATMs. And I actually really love Penelope Burke. She's out of Canada, but she actually does data collection on donors' desires on a regular basis. So I love her book called Donor-Centered Fundraising. It's really good. So that's how I know people hate being treated like ATMs. And I can tell you, through my own philanthropic experience,  I hate being treated like an ATM, too. It's really annoying. So this is why we can lose up to 30% of our donors every year. And not only does it cost you more money to acquire more donors, but the replacement donors we find are usually not giving at the same level as the donor we just lost.  So it keeps us on the donor treadmill. Donors on, donors off, donors on, donors off,  which is exhausting, inefficient, and ineffective. So you want to figure out how do you keep your donors around? Well, first, we have to remember that their donations are gifts from the heart. Philanthropy, right? So they are engaging in philanthropy. Their donors are handing you a gift  in the hopes that you will help fulfill their philanthropic agenda. So if I want to cure cancer, I'm not a microbiologist. I cannot find the cure. So I'm going to take my money. I'm going to hand it to somebody who can potentially find the cure and say, could you please help me cure  this problem that bothers my heart? Right? So your donors want to be part of your community. They want to be part of the community that's working to fulfill your mission. And they want to be treated as a valued member of that community. Because remember,  there's 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and they can take their money elsewhere. So they're coming to our organization for a reason. So this is why we need to shift gears and use a relationship or relational approach. So it's a way to increase donor retention,  encourage additional donations, because remember, these people come back more frequently, and they give larger gifts when they do. It's going to grow the individual donation amount and grow, obviously, your total revenue. So you're going to save money,  you're going to raise more money and grow your impact on your community. Ding, ding, ding, threefer. So a relational fundraising approach is really going to get you way further down the road than you would imagine. And also you get to go down the road with a bunch of people who really  care about your cause. So let's stop focusing so much on fundraising and widen our lens to consider philanthropy and the ways that we're giving and receiving love, and how that can lead to a wealth of resources that potentially we can't even imagine. So I want to thank you for joining me.  My next episode is going to air on May 25 at 115. And I'm going to be talking about why overhead is not a dirty word. I also want to let you know that enrollment for my membership program is opening up. So it's a monthly program. You get access to my Fundamental Five curriculum, which focuses on  individual donors, grants, strategic planning, board development and social media and communications. It is like all of my thinking on these subjects in pre-recorded videos that I've broken down into specific topics. So you don't have to like watch a three-hour training for the five minutes of  information you need. So I'm breaking it down into little bite-sized pieces. There's going to be handouts and worksheets. And then on top of that, your entire organization belongs. So once you have one membership, anyone in your organization can come. It could be a board member. It could be a  staffer. It could be your executive director. It could be a volunteer. Like I don't care. I just want you guys to have access to all the things that have helped me raise over $90 million. So on top of that, there's going to be two one-hour coaching calls every single month.  I don't ever want you guys to get stuck. I want you to have somebody here who can answer your fundraising questions. And so membership is opening up this week or is it I think it's next week. Anyway, we will be sending out emails and posting on social media. And speaking of social media,  really would love for you guys to join me on social media so that we can stay in touch and talk about these topics that we care about. So again, thanks for joining me and I'll see you in two weeks. Bye. 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 want to talk about what that looks like, drop me an email.

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.


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