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How Fundraising Really Works:
How to Secure the Best Talent Interview With Jason Lewis
Jason Lewis is a CFRE & AFP Master Trainer who provides the sector with an often needed contrarian voice, willing to question deeply ingrained beliefs and assumptions of how effective fundraising really works. Whether writing or speaking, Jason challenges the prevailing wisdom about effective fundraising practices, hiring decisions, and donor behavior. Jason’s first book, The War for Fundraising Talent, is an honest yet hopeful critique of professional fundraising, intended especially for small shops that find it difficult to consistently achieve their fundraising goals.
Jason is the host of The Fundraising Talent Podcast. Every week, Jason and his guest have an honest conversation about what it means to be a fundraising professional. The podcast provides listeners with a better understanding of what it means to be in one of the sector’s critically important yet least understood roles.
Jason is the creator of The Fundraising Toolbox, introduced in the conclusion of The War for Fundraising Talent, which consists of four planning models designed to ensure that nonprofit organizations can align their board, professional staff and volunteers around a shared understanding of how effective fundraising really works.
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Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is The Nonprofit Exchange with Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis. Russ, how is it out there in Colorado today?
Russell Dennis: Slightly overcast, but warming up. We are rolling into spring. Spring has sprung.
Hugh: We are sitting here in these old mountains in Virginia. They are smooth mountains; we don’t have young ones like you guys. We’re getting some spring. It’s almost time to drive out with the top down in the convertible. That will be later in the week next week.
This is a topic that you know something about. It will be fun interviewing our guest today. This is Jason Lewis. He is coming in from Yorktown, Pennsylvania. Is that right, Jason?
Jason Lewis: Yes, York, Pennsylvania. My wife and I have been here with our family for about 10 years after spending a couple of years in the DC area.
Hugh: I would like to skip that traffic, too. Tell people folks something about you and why you are doing this niche with fundraising. You have a podcast and books, which we will get into later. Who is Jason Lewis? Why are you doing this?
Jason: That’s an interesting question. I would probably have to think all the way back to when my wife and I first got married. The opportunity was presented to me. My wife and I went to work for a children’s home in the southwest corner of Virginia. I didn’t fit well in the direct service work as I think a lot of fundraising professionals find themselves in. I was part of that cohort of fundraising professionals that finds themselves in a direct service role in the nonprofit sector and the opportunity unaware I didn’t know what fundraising was. The opportunity to do something that I was completely unfamiliar with and unaware of was granted to me, which is a common, familiar path. Many people in the nonprofit sector end up in fundraising roles after first working in the program. I have found fundraising to be very meaningful work. That’s what I want for anyone who is reading my book, listening to my podcast. That’s what I want for them: to find fundraising to be admirable and meaningful work.
Hugh: Good for you. People talk about fundraising. I think that topic comes up more often than any other topic. Say a little bit about fundraising. What is fundraising? What are things that work really well? What are things that prevent it from working well?
Jason: One thing that a lot of people are hearing me say is that fundraising is in the midst of its messy adolescence. Fundraising is a young profession. It’s not a profession that has been around forever. The baby boomers can be admired for subsequent after the Civil Rights movement, and as they came into the workplace, as the nonprofit sector was starting to grow, the baby boomers championed this as a professional career track. Most of my peers and anyone younger now can find professional training, academic programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Historically, I would say the fundraising profession has always struggled historically with an inferiority complex, much like a used car salesman might. Not sure how they would fit within the economy. But as the profession has matured, I think actually they are now struggling with something that you might refer to which is characteristic of our adolescence as an identity crisis. Historically, the profession was aligned with professional domains such as PR and marketing, advertising. Now, fundraising is coming into its own and standing on its own two feet. That is a lot of what myself and my peers are, as we are beginning to take the resin and opportunity to lead and be thought leaders in this sector, a thing we are wrestling with. What does it mean to be a fundraising professional? What is our identity in the sector and in the broader workplace and economy?
Hugh: Who comes to you for help with fundraising?
Jason: Most of my clients tend to be smaller nonprofit organizations that are striving to raise more money. They are at wit’s end with what I would refer to as the arm’s length fundraising methods that have been out there for a long time. These are the organizations that have been deeply entrenched in direct mail. They have run the course on special events. Maybe they have started to experiment with what you can do online, with various platforms that allow them to raise money. Those things are not keeping up with what their expectations are. A lot of these organizations have certainly dabbled in the grant-writing space. They have come to find out that it’s not working for them. What they are realizing is they have this existing network that have contributed to their organization over the years. Maybe it’s time they learn how to engage them in more meaningful ways. Learn how to take these folks out to lunch. These are organizations that are paying attention to the bigger shops. There is something that these bigger, more mature fundraising operations have going for them. They are starting to question, which is one of the questions I challenge my readers to ponder in the book, whether or not these larger institutions that appear to be very good at fundraising, is it just size and affluence of their constituency that is working to their advantage, or are these organizations actually fundamentally carrying out this process differently?
In fact, the argument that I make in my book, and the argument I make on my podcast and in my seminars, is that the most mature fundraising operations are engaging their donors beyond the- Once you have reached the point of diminishing returns with direct mail and special events and other fundraising techniques, you have to start taking these people out to lunch and raising the expectations of what these folks give to you.
Hugh: Wow. That’s a lot of stuff to ponder. When people come to you, speak about the skill of the leader, the engagement of the board, a clearly defined strategic plan with specific outcomes. Talk about which of those are important for you to be able to help them.
Jason: Hugh used the word “strategic plan.” A lot of nonprofit organizations, unless they have the benefit of, an academic term I borrowed from another educator, this idea of a mature fundraising operation, a lot of these organizations have never gotten to the place where they have realized or incorporated that fundraising is a strategy incorporated into their strategic plan. They have historically maybe approached fundraising as something they could bolt onto things, but it wasn’t interwoven into everything they did. Consequently, the major donor, the prospective donor, the current donor is bolted as well. They are not incorporated into the logic of how we are going to carry out this mission. When you look at the private sector, when you look at the products we buy and sell in today’s marketplace, marketers have gotten wise to the idea that the product can now be designed in such a way to sell itself. We really need to start taking some of that insight about the way we carry out our organizations and think about how to design our organization in such a way where we can not only accomplish our mission, but how can our mission not only be compelling in such a way to those we serve, but also those who enable us to serve?
You asked about the executive directors. A lot of them have historically come into the nonprofit sector as the save-the-world types. These are baby boomers who came out of the Civil Rights movement. Whatever their passions were, they found a professional spot in which to play out their commitment to the world. What has happened is they have realized this organization also has to pay the bills and keep the lights on and pay employees. I am not a fundraiser, so they enlist the help of a fundraiser. They haphazardly try to enlist someone to do it for them, which doesn’t necessarily work. There is a fundamentally different mindset that has to be interwoven into how these organizations are operating. I loop this all the way back to what I started with. Fundraising as a profession is in a messy adolescence. Therefore, we have to be thinking as a sector and as a professional group of people how to transition from where we are today to where we will be in the future.
Hugh: I am going to throw it to Russell. Before I do that, I want to come back to this thread of how a fundraising professional helps educate a nonprofit on what you need to be able to do a good job. Part of what people can learn is your podcast and your current book and your next book. Talk about your podcast, your current book, and the next one. Then Russell will have the real hard questions.
Jason: Russell, I’m eagerly anticipating your questions. Starting to sweat here.
My only book is The War for Fundraising Talent. I am proud to say it’s the only book of its type. What I recognized is I thought back on my professional career. There is a lot of books out there that are the how-to books, tips and tricks, and this is how you do it. Linear thinking. Focused on the methodologies. I thought, our profession now is long overdue for a critique. I wrote a critique of contemporary fundraising practice, which is what the book is. I make the accusation in the book that the large majority of nonprofit organizations, especially the smallest ones, are addicted at an organizational level to a cheap and shallow form of fundraising that undermines their ability to accomplish their goals. Until they ultimately own up to this organizational addiction, they won’t make any strides in terms of how much support they are raising.
The way in which I solve this—the first half of the book is a heavy critique, and it’s hard to swallow for some folks who have never taken such a critical look at their professional path, but the second half of the book is I begin to solve the problem. There are two things which I see to be two sides of the same coin. Fundraising professionals themselves have got to set the expectations, and employers need to set the expectations for fundraisers that they need to be recognized for meaningful work. But to do that, the flip side of that same coin is they have to find organizations that know and understand how fundraising really works. You can’t have one without the other. If you want to be recognized and admired for meaningful work, if you want to be doing something that is still at its messy adolescence as a professional career path, you sure as heck want to be working for an organization that knows what they’re doing.
Hugh, the title that is floating around in my mind, I haven’t officially announced yet until now, is that title of How Fundraising Really Works. That is the title of my seminar, and that will presumably be the title of the next book.
Hugh: The War on Fundraising Talent is available on Amazon?
Jason: Yes, the large majority of my reviews are generous. I am grateful for that, maintaining a very high rating. Anyone who is interested should go out there and see what other people are saying about the book. It’s a relatively easy read. One of my readers referred to it as a pocket manifesto for today’s fundraising professional. It’s a credo for how fundraisers should be thinking about their work.
Hugh: All right. I am going to let Russell ask you some questions.
Russell: Thank you for coming. Very interesting. Fundraising has to be something that has to be in the DNA of the organization. Hoss Foundation did a study with Compass Point back in 2013. You have probably seen that. They talked about a culture of fundraising. Trying to explain the need for this culture of fundraising is a big challenge. I myself am not a certified fundraiser, but I am very practiced at relationship building and creating some systems. When I go in and talk to people and start talking to them about strategy and bringing pieces together, sometimes their eyes gloss over. Do you find that a lot of the people you talk with really are fussy on what your meaning is when you talk to them about really knowing how fundraising works?
Jason: I think you’re right. The Compass Point study you are referring to, underdeveloped is what I think they called it, they sounded the alarm on the inability for nonprofit organizations to fill these vacant development officer roles, and then keep people in these roles. When they summarized at the end, I think culture was the #1 thing on that list.
In my book, I make the distinction between- I believe there are two fundraising cultures playing out within organizations. That is what I am trying to help fundraisers sitting in an interview with a prospective employer or board evaluating them. A fundraising culture can be characterized by arm’s length fundraising. This tendency to maintain an arm’s length from their donor, and never allow the donor to move in closer to the organization. I make the case in the book. I observe nonprofits struggling with this. I tend to think it’s the inverse relationship between growth and control. By maintaining an arm’s length with our donors, who are oftentimes presumed to be these wealthy, more powerful, oftentimes part of a majority group, for us to maintain an arm’s length with them prevents them from having an undue influence or influencing decisions that we don’t want them to.
In a large part, I see that as a desire for control. Highly functional, highly successful fundraising is a function of growth. We have to learn how to relinquish that need for control and learn how to raise expectations of our donors and consequently not always be running around fearful that they are going to hijack our mission. When we do that, we develop a sincerity and understanding, genuine, what it is the expectations of our donors are. We become better listeners. We understand how their story interweaves with our organization. The best fundraisers I know, and certainly my best experiences, have always been where I have interacted with a donor, where I could raise the expectation of their level of support, not allow them to take advantage of whatever position they were in and say, We are going to paint the wall pink while you are painting it purple. We are not letting these folks hijack our mission. But allowing ourselves to be peer to peer with them. We need to be on a level playing field. We come in with this mission and vision that is superior, and they similarly come in with their money, which is therefore- We have to level that out and not be so fearful of these folks.
Russell: I think there is essentially four basic steps to building what I call a high-performance nonprofit. That fourth one is communicating the value you bring. Value has a different language based on who you’re talking to. I don’t know how many nonprofit leaders really think in terms of, We’re here. We don’t have our hat in our hands. We are actually providing a valuable service to society. We want partners to help us continue to make this impact. I think that whole notion of growth versus control could be feared by how clear are the nonprofits on the value they are actually bringing? Thinking in terms of a partnership and having people trust you to maximize their return on whatever they are putting in in time, talent, and treasure.
Jason: It sounds like you interact with nonprofits significantly, and it sounds like you know what you’re doing. When Hugh was asking me to introduce myself, if you think about the reason why nonprofit leaders come into the sector, it’s oftentimes because in some way or another, they identify with those they intend to serve. That is what I think is part of the predicament that we’re in. We don’t necessarily want to identify with these wealthy people who can write us these really big checks. If I am the administrator of the local school in a city trying to serve low-income kids, or if I am the gentleman who is running the soup kitchen trying to feed homeless people, there is something in my identity that helps me identify with these people. Therefore, we are compelled to do what we do. That is what allows us to forego compensation. That is why we chose to do this. But we have this crisis of identity because we don’t want to identify with these wealthy people who enable us to do this, which is the reason why I think the fundraising profession has moved beyond this inferiority. Trust me, it’s a legitimate career path. Anyone who is reading anything out there- If you go into any major metropolitan city in the country today, you can easily make a six-figure salary raising charitable gifts for nonprofits. That is legitimate work. We don’t have an inferiority complex anymore; we have an identity crisis because if you hear all the critique happening in the nonprofit sector, it’s all about this possibility that we in some way or another will be overwhelmed. The donor will come in, and we will have to do what the donor wants to do. I think that’s an identity crisis, not an inferiority issue.
Russell: Our good friend Dr. David Gruder talked at length a while back. We had a podcast where we actually talked about the relationship that we have with money. How important is it for a professional fundraiser to be clear on his/her relationship with money? How do you gauge that when you go onto an organization and help them address the relationship that some of the leaders might have with money?
Jason: I briefly addressed that issue we have with money in my book. I certainly have a part of my seminar where I have people break up into small groups, and I tell them I want them to unpack their money story. One of the items on the list of three is, “Tell a story about how your mother or father interacted with money, and how does that translate into the way you see and experience the world as you spend money and save money and preserve money? Whatever you do with it.” I think we carry into the nonprofit sector, and then we carry into this particular line of work, these assumptions about how money works that we have never really contemplated. I was the son of a military man. We never had a whole lot, but we were never broke. That shaped my economic worldview. Consequently, I am sure there are plenty of instances having an interaction with a major donor, and my financial experiences in life certainly influence how I react to those sorts of things.
Russell: I know these are probably some challenging conversations. Do you find when you go into some of these nonprofit agencies that call you to start talking about maybe getting some work done on improving their fundraising, do you find that you run into leaders who have significant challenges? Do you meet a lot of resistance when you run into these leaders? How do you cope with that resistance, or maybe point it out in a way that doesn’t agitate or alienate them?
Jason: Learning how to better serve my clients and understand who my clients are, in terms of my consulting work, has always been my challenge. It’s not my ability to interact with the donor, to sit at the lunch table alongside my client. It’s a continuation of your comment about the money story. Knowing how to understand that the way my client knows and sees the world, how they see their relationship with the donor, there is oftentimes this desire for control. There are money issues. There is a fear component. There is a lot of naïve assumptions about what the donor really wants. A lot of times, these nonprofit leaders have spent years if not decades trying to shape and adapt and mold themselves in order to better serve the people they are trying to serve, only to be told by a guy like me, now you have to adapt in order to meet the needs of a person who has this affluence and wealth. That is the last thing in the world they want to hear is, Oh my gosh, I have to be adaptable for someone who shouldn’t need that sort of courtesy. Stewarding those relationships can be problematic. I tend to rely on personality assessments to think through how am I lining up with that particular client? I use those same personality assessments to understand who they are in relationship to the personalities of their donors. Self-awareness is certainly the first place you start.
Hugh: That’s lacking in a lot of leaders. I want to butt in. The adapting. That sounds scary. Would you dig into that a little bit?
Jason: Are you asking Russell or me?
Hugh: I was apologizing to Russell for interrupting. But not really. He is used to it. The adapting. Doesn’t mean you are changing your values or what I was doing. Say a bit about how that works and what it’s like.
Jason: I was working with a client last year. It was a private school client. One of the things I had to explain to them that they found to be helpful was oftentimes when we talk about marketing, so this is an insight that comes from marketing that translates well to fundraising, a lot of people approach marketing through what’s called a product orientation. They are focused on the product itself. In a private school, they are oriented toward the customer who is buying that product. Marketers will tell you that in order to expand your business, you have to shift from a product orientation—you have to stop focusing so much on selling the product, and you have to learn how to have a market orientation. You don’t change your product. You don’t change the cheeseburger; it stays the same. But you have to understand that different markets, different customers are going to buy different features on that cheeseburger differently. For instance, when McDonald’s goes into a different country, they are relatively still selling the same Big Mac, but they are going to understand that particular Chinese culture or a different culture in such a way where they point out particular features differently than they would to you or me as Americans.
That’s the same thing with fundraising. We don’t have to change our mission. We just have to know and understand there are different parts of what it is we’re doing that appeal to a particular market or particular donor category differently than it does another. Using an example. In a private school setting, oftentimes your donor prospect is not your tuition-paying parent; it’s your grandparent. Your grandparent is generally not interested in a whole lot more than what is going to benefit my granddaughter in second grade. They really don’t care about the things that tuition-paying parents are thinking about. You have to understand that constituency differently. That doesn’t mean you change the cheeseburger. You are not going to sell a different cheeseburger. You just have to sell the customer differently.
That gets back to that adaptability. It’s the ability to think differently to adapt to a different customer can be difficult.
Hugh: Russell and I talk to people about their messaging, their scripts. Russell has a story that a confused mind says no. You see the track that I’m on about clarifying- This helped a lot, Jason. Russell, am I making sense?
Russell: Perfectly. I have been involved. In my early education into trying to work with an entity to get resources, we find ourselves chasing money frequently. By that, I mean we are looking at something that looks like an attractive pot of money that we can go for. Instead of being true to what it is we are trying to accomplish, we try to fit ourselves to the desires of fundraising. That was a common problem for me back then. I think that some organizations still go through that. The one thing I think that is very scary for an organization is this idea of backing off of a specific piece of funding because they need it. When is the most appropriate time to say no? How do you have that discussion with an entity that is seeking money?
Jason: Before I answer, I’d be delighted, but Russell, I want to piggyback on your comment a few minutes ago. One of the great ironies of the nonprofit sector and this notion of chasing after money is that a lot of the organizations that are doing what they do, the mission statement they have, the reason we are in the business of doing what we are doing, is because someone was chasing after money, the marketplace was chasing after money, and there are people in a capitalistic society who get forgotten when we are trying to grow a country, when we are trying to do the things that we do. There are people who are forgotten in a society driven largely by capitalism. I don’t want to pick on capitalism. But what I’m getting at is there is a great deal of irony in this utilitarian ethic that says, Hey, if it works, let’s raise money that way, when in fact it is the utilitarian mindset that is actually why we exist. People get forgotten, overlooked, marginalized. That is why we do what we do. We can’t flip that ethic over and say, Hey, we are going to use that utilitarian mindset. If it works, we will do it for our donors. If that’s the same reason.
I don’t want to get on that. I don’t know if you guys talk ethics on this show, but I can get on that bend. Russell, remind me where you were going with that question before I grabbed hold.
Russell: Where I was going with that is oftentimes, there is a lack of appreciation as it were within the organization for the value, the impact they are actually bringing. There could be a number of reasons about that relationship with money. They lose sight of their own DNA, who they’re about and who they’re serving, and start stretching themselves in ways that move away from their core strengths to satisfy requirements to get a specific pocket of money, whether that is from a donor or a foundation or government agency. There are probably times when they’re approaching a source that for a number of reasons might not be in alignment with who they are. There is the dilemma of should we take this money and risk being pulled off track, or should we say no? How do you have that conversation about when it’s probably more appropriate to say no?
Jason: There are some recent statistics, when they look back on 2018, and this trend is not particularly new, but one of the trends that is scaring the nonprofit sector, and I heard this from a colleague this morning, is that giving from new donors is down 7%, and giving from renewed new donors, these would be the donors that give in the first year, that number is down 7%, and that same category of donors that gives in subsequent years, is down about 14%. That is alarming for most of the nonprofit sectors. My tendency to look at that data, and I haven’t dug deep into that information to confirm the validity of my assumption. I think what you’re actually seeing is a much more deliberate, intentional donor who is saying, I am not spreading my generosity across a smorgasbord of nonprofit organizations. I am going to be more intentional about who I’m giving to. I think it’s changing the dynamics of what will work and not work. I think it’s going to prevent us from being able to do all this fundraising at an arm’s length, which gets to your comment. If we don’t learn how to engage with these individuals and incorporate them more intimately, more closely to what it is we’re doing, our organizations may not survive.
The nonprofit sector has not stopped growing. I don’t think it will stop growing. As our society continues to be more pluralistic, which is to say more individuals—I am teaching a college course to a bunch of nonprofit students—as our identities become more unique, as we all recognize we are all unique, you are going to have people spring up and say they are advocating to raise money for their particular identity group. That’s fine. It’s a free society. Do that. What that also means is there are more people grabbing at the limited charitable dollars out there. It’s going to be the organizations who get good at this who will win the day and advocate for their particular cause.
Hugh: We are on the last 20 minutes of the hour, so I am going to get a couple topics in. People will find a lot of data on your podcast. I think they can go see the topics themselves. It’s on LewisFundraising.com.
Jason: Hugh, I designed that podcast. This loops back to what I said earlier. I think the fundraising profession is in an age of messy adolescence. If you think about adolescence, it’s that time period where we as young people like to answer questions. Every one of my podcasts begins with a title that is a question. For instance, the one that went out today, the question was: What was that scary trend we were all afraid of from 2018? My guests on the show are generally nonprofit leaders or fundraising professionals themselves. We are not really seeking after answers, but we are contemplating and wrestling with these bigger questions for this maturing profession.
Hugh: Who listens?
Jason: Who is listening? Frontline fundraising professionals. My intended audience for that is primarily the frontline fundraiser. Ideally, the people I get most excited about when they reach out to me and say they are listening, is somebody in a small shop. There is a woman I have gotten to know over the last year who is in Chicago in a small nonprofit organization. She listens every week. There is another woman in Detroit who alerts me when she listens. Both women are frontline fundraisers in the trenches doing the work, wanting to do meaningful work. That’s what they listen to.
Hugh: These nonprofit leaders who are listening here, when they tune in or read your materials, can they learn things about hiring a professional fundraiser?
Jason: If you are an executive director or a board member, I would expect the podcast would be intriguing to you, not so much because you yourself are fundraisers, but because the types of people I am inviting on the show are oftentimes the types of people that I want employed in shops that want to do this really well.
Hugh: As we’re teaching nonprofits, part of our strategy is identifying who that hamburger is for. What makes that hamburger set itself aside from all others? We give value to people so they buy our hamburger. But part of it also is how do we expand our reach in terms of where the money comes from? We identify eight primary sources that any organization can access. I’d like you to respond to these areas that you and your colleagues work in. We have identified eight, and there are two others that are not as common: donations; sponsorships; grants; earned business income; events, sometimes events lose money; in-kind donations, they save you money; planned giving, most of them do a poor job of talking about it; and what I call partner money, like churches and rotary foundations collect money because they want to support a food bank. You do it. They don’t do it. It’s not really a donation or a sponsorship. I call it partner money. If you do have money, you have an interest income. Sometimes you have real estate that was donated, and you make money from it. Do you have a need to add to those categories or prioritize any of those? I teach people that you need multiple sources to have ultimate regularity of income and sustainability of income.
Jason: Generally speaking, I’m speaking to a smaller nonprofit organization that has one development officer. I advocate for organizations to take advantage of all of those various streams of revenue for their organization. However, what I also encourage that one development officer to recognize is that in almost all of those cases, with the exception of the Amazon Smile money you referenced, unless we were able to get a meeting with Jeff Bezos, in all of those cases, there is a living, breathing human being that has to write a check to your organization, be it a corporation, be it a foundation, be it an individual. Whatever that channel or method you’re using, be it a planned gift, all of those methods begin with an individual writing a check and handing it to your organization.
I want development officers to focus on knowing who that individual is and not so much focusing on the stream. Private foundations are one thing. Individuals are another. Grants are another. We get fascinated with the stream, the way the transaction occurs, where the money is being held. We draw a lot of assumptions as if there is a lot of complexity about how that plays out, when in fact the complexity is really in the human being who is sitting there writing that check. If he/she wants to sign that check and hand it over to you, it doesn’t really matter what structure that money is being held in. if fundraisers don’t recognize they need to know Mr. or Mrs. Smith who runs that foundation or who can give me that planned gift, ultimately they are not getting very far. By knowing who that person is, I refer to in my book as what’s called an assigned list, it’s the same practice major gifts officers use in institutions. There is a human capacity of about 150 people you can have those meaningful relationships with. I don’t get hung up on what channels that money is coming through. Don’t have so many of those sources on your list that you can’t engage with any of them in a meaningful way. Does that make sense?
Hugh: That’s a really good point. It’s a personal commitment and relationship. We also teach that money comes as a result of Return on Relationship, ROR.
Jason: In my hometown here, I have raised a significant amount of money from individuals who have given to the organization I was working for. They could have opted to give to the organization through a corporate gift, a private foundation, the company they own, a personal gift, or they could certainly have given a deferred gift. A lot of times, it’s that one relationship that represents- The more affluent an individual is, the more likely they can have influence in any number of those channels.
Hugh: Russell, let’s have another go at a question before we finish.
Russell: This diversity of sources should be limited to what you can do well so you don’t make a mess of it. My approach is not so much on methods as it is on relationships because it’s easier to apply the tools. It’s really working on identifying who those customers are. Nonprofits have a diverse customer set. You have people who receive the services, and multiple people who pay for them. Finding out what’s valuable to them and how to speak their language to communicate that value you bring is critical. You need to do that in a way that doesn’t take away from who you are. There are a lot of moving parts to this. Earlier, one of the things you had said that stuck in my mind was the cheap and shallow fundraising practice. I view that as the easy pay-off or the low-hanging fruit. How common is it for people to shoot themselves in the foot that way? What’s the best way to steer away from that?
Jason: On my podcast, I just had a guest, I think that was #57 or #58. I had two women who work for the Sick Kids Foundation, the big hospital in Toronto. They told a case study of a donor who was giving a corporate gift of $100 a month. The way the story goes, and I won’t impact the whole story, but your listeners can check this out, is essentially the donor goes from $100 a month donation that would have otherwise not hit their radar. A monthly donor, $100, they’re not thinking about it. Within a year’s time, this donor is now giving $2,000 a month for 10 months. Once this gift hits their radar, this donor commits to $1 million over five years. I think the last significant commitment they got, because this is the way the case study goes, is the donor has committed to $6.5 million. We’re talking about a very short period of time. We’re not talking about a lifetime of gifts. In a very short period of time, this donor went from $100 a month to $6.5 million.
The reason these two women were sharing this story with me is because they are sitting back, looking at their database, and thinking how many of these $100 donors are within our midst. How much opportunity exists? It’s looking for a needle in the haystack. How much is there? Can we take on the risk to explore that? This notion of growth versus control. If you think about these methodologies that we use, the diversified methods we like to use, they tend to make us feel in control. But if you sit down and have lunch with any one of those people, the chairman of a board, the trustee, those things tend to be growth-oriented. Don’t make you feel in control. I could go all day, and you guys could probably keep me going.
Hugh: Obviously, you’re an expert on a lot of facets of this topic. I know that some folks come to you that aren’t really yet fundable. There is some structure to be built. You have given us a lot of good things to talk about. After our sponsor message, what is a tip or challenge you want to leave people with? We want to encourage people to go to LewisFundraising.com. You will see the book there. I discovered today there is a free fundraising tool kit you offer people, which is a PDF they can download and study. Anything else people find when they go to your website?
Jason: That tool kit, I appreciate you brought it up. That reflects a philosophy. We print those cards that are in that tool kit on heavy cardstock. It’s essentially a philosophy of fundraising on four cards. It’s designed to empower fundraising professionals to know and understand how fundraising works. Those are the tools that will outline this next book I’m talking about.
Hugh: Also, they will find your upcoming events.
Jason: Yes, certainly. We have an event calendar. I also have some deliberate practices downloads if you are trying to improve your expertise in this area. There are a couple things on there.
Hugh: Our guest coming up on the next podcast is an expert, Hank Robinson. Hank is a Google Grants expert, how to get traffic to your website. He is more than that. My acronym for HITS is How Idiots Track Success. We don’t care how many people come; we care how many people do something. There is a conversion piece there. We will have an active conversation on the next episode. Thank you, Hank for that piece.
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Jason, I’m going to throw it to you for a quick closing tip, thought. Russell takes us to the top of the hour and closes out this helpful session. Thank you so much for being here today.
Jason: My closing tip is the two sides of that coin I talked about earlier. If fundraising professionals want to be recognized and admired for meaningful work, they are going to have to work for organizations that know and understand how fundraising really works. Fundraising professionals need to be working for organizations that have a shared understanding of how fundraising works. If you put those two together, you will have a good opportunity and see a lot of success. Otherwise, you need to keep looking for an organization that matches that.
Russell: Jason Lewis, it’s been a pleasure. I now own your book which I will be writing a review on. I have subscribed to your podcast because you never can learn too much. Here at SynerVision, that is part of the conversation we are having with people: to understand their DNA and build their fundraising strategy. Once it becomes part of your DNA and who you are, you can pull the trigger on it, become more comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to the next book. Let us know when it comes out. I’m finding that people are having a hard time getting that talent because good fundraising pros work their weight in gold. Smaller organizations can’t afford that. It’s spreading that out across the culture so they can maximize their use and not put all the pressure on the fundraising professional.