Tag Archives: fundraising

How America Advocates

Have you seen this infographic on philanthropy in the United States?

It has received a ton of attention, with some really fascinating ‘slices’ of the data, including this piece on whether ‘red’ or ‘blue’ states are most generous, in terms of the percentage of income contributed to charitable causes. (Of course, there are some obvious distortions there, particularly that religious/sectarian organizations receive a large share of charitable contributions in the U.S., so, without an ability to parse out giving to non-sectarian entities, ‘generosity’ can be conflated with ‘religiosity’, even though they are really measuring somewhat different constructs.)

There was an article in my local paper about how one quite poor census tract was pretty extraordinarily generous, and the data came from this same report.

I love data, I love people giving their money to help others, so this is quite fun for me.

But what I’d REALLY like?

The same sort of map, but with information about how, and where, people engage in advocacy on behalf of causes they care about.

We have voter data, of course, on the same scale: who votes, how often, and for whom.

But what I want to know is what advocacy looks like, both because I’m just curious about how civic and political engagement play out across the country, and because I think that kind of data would lay the foundation for really important studies of the quality of policies that emerge in different areas depending on the level of advocacy, and, maybe, how voter engagement fares where there is more policy interaction, too.

Maybe the raw data would be communication generated to members of Congress, because that could be trackable, and number of non-corporate registered lobbyists in the state, and maybe some local measures, like participation at city council meetings. Maybe we could roll in referenda, too, in the states that allow them. It would require many different data sources, obviously, since ‘advocacy’ takes so many different forms, and no one measure could adequately capture them. It would be subjective to a considerable degree, and certainly miss a lot of activity that could be considered advocacy, but, again, the charitable giving measure isn’t perfect, either, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t tremendously valuable information there.

I haven’t found any sort of ‘advocacy aggregation’, in my search to date, but I would be beyond delighted if someone knows of data sources (or, even better, something that’s already analyzed!) to point me towards.

In the meantime, I’m thinking about what we can learn from these data on charitable giving–since donors are obviously people who are at least somewhat attuned to the needs of others, and willing to make an investment to meet them–to continue to explore the fundraising/advocacy link, in our organizations and within the sector.

Besides, the map is super fun.

My mother was right

I can remember, at least twice in my life, getting a thank-you note from my mother, thanking me for my thank-you note.

Honestly.

My husband thinks it’s bizarre that I still send thank-you notes to my parents and to his, when they give a present to the kids.

We buy them in bulk, to have on hand just in case.

And I still follow the rules my mother instilled in me more than a quarter-century ago now: each thank-you note should be handwritten, no matter what; there should always be a specific reference to the gift or deed that warranted the thanks; and the thank-you note should be prompt, written no more than 48 hours after the occasion.

It hadn’t occurred to me, until I was reading Fundraising for Social Change, the extent to which these lessons in gratitude have permeated my advocacy work.

But they have; I say thank-you to elected officials all the time.

I thank losing candidates for having run good races, especially if they have raised issues that would have otherwise been overlooked. I thank my own members of Congress and state legislators for their votes on a variety of issues I support. I thank elected officials and non-elected leaders for their statements in the press, their willingness to attend certain events, and their attention to pressing problems.
And, you know, now that I think about it, they have an even higher rate than my own Mom of thanking me for the thanks. I received a very heartfelt thank you for my thank you from my member of the U.S. House after his vote in favor of health care reform, and from my state senator after she supported the Kansas revenue increase. In the latter case, she said that I was the only constituent to have thanked her for that vote. Just last week, I got a thank-you note back from a state senator (not my own) thanking me for my thank-you note for his vote against the instate tuition repeal (and, no, he’s not even related to my mother!).

I can think of several instances where my thank you resulted, later, in a stronger relationship with an elected official, an entry point on a subsequent issue, or even a slightly healed breach where there had been conflict. Especially for those who are not my own representatives, sometimes these “thank you” relationships are the start of much deeper communication and an ability to work together on issues important to me.

People, whoever they are, really do like to be thanked, especially when they’re so used to be asked, or even harassed, instead. So, in honor of my mother and her lifetime commitment to thankfulness, here are some tips for thanking policymakers in an advocacy context, with an eye towards how today’s “thank you” just might help with tomorrow’s “would you please?”

  • Promptness still does matter, especially because our requests are so often time-sensitive. We don’t want to be seen as only respecting the urgency of the policy process on the front end. Especially on tough votes, the criticisms will roll in immediately, and our thanks need to as well.
  • Hand-written notes do receive more attention, I think. I’ve often written a note out by hand for Congress but then faxed it there so that it would arrive quickly, given the delays of mail screening at the Capitol.
  • Include supplemental materials, if at all possible–one of my favorite tactics is to include supportive editorials from a local paper when thanking a state legislator, for example. You can reference this in your thank you, “I’m not alone in appreciating your stance on this issue. I’ve included for your reference a letter from the Garden City Telegram applauding your vote.”
  • Ask others to join you in thanking the elected official. This has the dual purpose of increasing the number of thank yous someone hears as well as strengthening your network (because it’s an easy ask and gets people in the habit of contacting elected officials, when they know that there won’t be conflict).
  • Be creative in your thanks. I received more than 10 personal “thank yous” for the thank yous that we generated as part of our DREAM Act campaign–student groups at universities around Kansas came up with their own thank you ideas, ranging from signed t-shirts from their school to photos where they spelled out “thank you” in a sort of human letter thing. We also generated special diplomas, signed by students, thanking people for their commitment to higher education. These ideas were nearly free, but very thoughtful, and I’ve seen at least a few state legislators with those diplomas still up in their offices, more than six years later.

    Nonprofit fundraisers tell us that thanking people for their contributions can mean the difference between continued and increasing support or publicly denigrating your organization to other would-be donors. I’ve never known of an elected official to change a vote because he/she wasn’t thanked, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be the advocate asking someone to take a courageous stance without having thanked them for their past support.

    And I think my mom would be proud.

  • Why Advocates Make the Best Fundraisers

    One of those books that I’ve had on my nightstand for months (thank goodness for really long checkouts from the university library) is Fundraising for Social Change.

    Once I finally opened it up, I found not only some still-relevant and very applicable (although my edition is somewhat outdated, technology-wise) fundraising strategies, especially for grassroots social change organizations, but also even more parallels between advocacy and fundraising than I had contemplated before. This has me thinking about how fundraisers are advocates for their causes, and how advocates should spend more time asking for money, and I want to hear from those who are fundraisers and those who are advocates (and those who consider themselves both!) about your reactions to these areas of overlap. In the weeks to come, I’ll sprinkle in some posts with some specific ideas about how some of the strategies suggested in Fundraising for Social Change might be applied in an advocacy context, but, here, I’m more interested in the big picture, a sort of “Venn Diagram” of how the worlds of asking for money and asking for policy change collide.

  • Organizations that ask most frequently get the best response: This is true in fundraising, and explains part of why people give so many of their charitable dollars to religious institutions, and it’s true for advocates, too. I’ve won at least one legislative battle, in particular, because I refused to go away, and I’ve garnered more than a couple of votes by having the audacity to just ask.
  • You need strategies to acquire, retain, and upgrade: We can’t use the same messages to bring in new people, keep those we have, and move people from peripheral to central involvement, and that’s true for fundraising and for the realms of organizing and advocacy. We lose people when it’s obvious we’re not exactly talking to them, and we can miss out on valuable opportunities to help people take the next step, too.
  • Nonprofit Boards matter…a lot: I’ve never seen a successful advocacy program, over the long term, in an organization without a supportive Board of Directors, and without the active participation of those core community leaders, fundraising efforts stagnate, too.
  • Emphasize your passion, but don’t forget to close the deal: I’ve debriefed with advocates often, only to find that they can’t tell me whether they have the support of the person they just lobbied. They didn’t directly ask. We get the most sympathetic attention when we stress our connection to the cause and the reasons it matters, but we have to stop talking at least long enough to listen to the other’s response.
  • Don’t apologize: I never felt bad about asking an elected official to do something morally correct but politically unpopular. I was giving them the valuable chance to do the right thing. Asking for money is the same way. People give because they want to invest in a collective response to a social problem, which is why people decide to support certain courses of policy action, too. They’re grateful for those opportunities, and we provide a valuable public service by providing them.
  • There’s no substitute for preparation: Fundraising for Social Change emphasizes the importance of understanding your donors, and your prospects, and of entering the conversation with the data and the practice you need to succeed. Obviously, that’s true in many life and professional endeavors, but especially in advocacy, where (as in fundraising) you may only have 5 minutes or so to make your case. You need to maximize every moment.

    I don’t love asking people for money. Just as I don’t naturally love confrontations with elected officials or media representatives, or policy debates with my neighbors. But I know that I can do it, and I have, and I will, because I know that winning advocacy campaigns requires money, and that money which is raised from our constituency is money that is more secure and more empowering than that which is begged from distant benefactors. I see raising the money to fund social change as an extension of my belief in it, and so it must be part of the equation.

    And you, advocates, can fundraise too.

  • Glass Pockets–seeing your way to social change funding

    Back in February, The Foundation Center launched Glass Pockets, an online effort to provide greater transparency to the philanthropic sector. There was quite a bit of discussion about the initiative when it was launched, but, in my conversations with nonprofit folks on the ground, I haven’t found too many who know much about it, or, certainly, are using it in their resource development work.

    So, albeit a bit belatedly, here’s a quick overview of what GlassPockets is, and, most importantly, how it could contribute to a successful strategy for fundraising advocacy dollars from foundations.

    First, what it’s not: a major revolution in the information available about foundations and their activities–Glass Pockets is much more about compiling currently available information in one place, and making it accessible to grantseekers and interested folks in the general public than it is about really reaching into foundations’ secrets to share big new revelations with us.

    Still, there are some tools here that can help to guide us as we’re navigating the foundation world, in search of those critical, unrestricted dollars for our social change work, and they’re especially valuable because most of the Foundation Center’s resources are only available if your organization has a paid subscription or you travel to one of the on-site locations for their database.

    The highlights, and their possible application for advocacy-focused grantseekers:

  • * Detailed case studies about grantmakers’ activities in targeted issue areas, including anti-poverty, climate change, economic crisis, health care, and education. While you may not find a funder here who is a good fit for your organization/grant, these examples may serve as inspiration for funders with whom you do have a relationship, as well as for your own thinking about how you might partner with philanthropy.
  • * Foundation profiles, which, again, are especially valuable if you don’t currently have easy access to Foundation Center resources. While not all foundations have submitted Glass Pockets profiles, and those that have are often not as complete here as they are in the other Foundation Center databases, it’s a good starting place for information about how a foundation invests, in which issue areas, and to what extent.
  • * Reports on trends and breakthroughs in philanthropy which, like the case studies, point to the ‘big picture’ in the funding world, and may provide a good starting point for your conversations with funders about how your work connects to their mission, or how they see that mission changing in the years to come.
  • * Perspectives directly from grantmakers–it seems to me that this section is targeted more directly at a grantmaker audience (peers talking to peers), but the blog links and commentary from those in the philanthropic community, as well as some ‘inside’ information on how foundations work (and give!), do provide some unique information that is difficult to access elsewhere on the web.

    The folks at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy recently had a great piece on the need for Glass Pockets to become more of a two-way conversation, with pressure from the public (including the grant-seeking kind) for the information that we want/need, whether or not foundations are naturally inclined to share it (such as, for example, perhaps some of the public policy priorities of the foundation’s staff, or the foundation’s investment practices?).

    That’s how I’d like to see Glass Pockets develop, so that we bring not only a measure of transparency but also increased engagement and accountability to philanthropy. And, I know just the people to raise those issues effectively–the same nonprofit advocates whose work can be furthered by strategic analysis of the information that foundations themselves are starting to reveal!

  • Community Organizers & Big Money

    photo credit: dgilder, via Flickr

    In my work with national coalitions on immigrant rights, I had the opportunity to work closely with several individuals from the Center for Community Change, a kind of capacity-building organization for community organizing efforts that convenes regional/national efforts, provides training, coordinates the efforts of affiliated organizers, and, through the Linchpin campaign, attempts to convince a larger swath of large donors to invest in community organizing.

    I really love the major premise of this guide, designed to help community organizers connect with (and fundraise from) major donors: that, since fundraising is really about building relationships to work together towards common goals, community organizers have tremendous potential to be really, really good at it. This is a critical assertion, because, all too often, nonprofit organizations that include community organizers have them segregated in an organizing department, away from fundraising, away from Board operations, even sometimes away from everything else that the organization does. Not only is this bad for morale and the reputation of the organizing profession, as well as bad for how organizations come to see organizing as somehow apart from direct service or other work, but it’s also bad for fundraising, because the organization can’t paint the fullest or most compelling picture for donors about what their work means (and they’re losing the participation of their often most effective communicators).

    On the whole, it’s a tremendously hopeful document, full of quotes from real, live, major donors who support community organizing as well as sample scenarios about how community organizers can go after that money. It also includes some good explanations of what community organizing is–kind of the ‘elevator speech’ that all of us need to be able to deliver to make our work make sense to those unfamiliar with it.

    I have only limited experience in approaching major donors for advocacy and organizing support, but, even through the lens of those memories, much of this resonated. The most significant learnings I took from the guide:

  • There is money to be found for community organizing among major donors: 94% of those surveyed give to community organizing, but 42% give fewer than 25% of their donations to organizing. Of particular interest are social venture donors, those entrepreneurial types who may be more willing to risk than others, naturally curious, and understanding about organizations’ needs for capacity building.
  • Community organizers are often our own worst enemies when it comes to cultivating major donors. We’re used to thinking about members and their financial capacity, so we often don’t ask major donors for enough. We’re often uncomfortable with wealthy people, but if we get over that and learn to see donors, too, as complex people with passions and fears, we can 1:1 organize them just as we would any prospect.
  • There are some real advantages to major donors as compared to foundations: no proposal to write (usually), quicker decisions, easier to build relationships and influence, can also contribute time/relationships with others, and give unrestricted funds! There is some evidence that they are less vulnerable to economic downturns, too, with many even planning to increase their giving in 2009-2010 to compensate for losses elsewhere.
  • We need to get over our hang ups about asking people for money. They make a great point: we have no problem asking poor people to give up their time, drive hours to the state capital, sit in for an action, but then we hesitate to ask rich people to give to our worthy cause? We need to stop apologizing for the ask and, instead, prepare as we would for any encounter with a target.
  • While it’s important to involve leaders in the cultivation meetings and, where appropriate, in the ‘ask’, organizers need to learn that cultivating major donors may not be a time when our backseat approach works. Donors want to build relationships with organizers, too, and we need to find ways to do that.
  • Major donors can be a positive force in the field of community organizing. They are pushing for better evaluation of the cost/benefit of organizing investments, funding projects that can assess short and long-term outcomes, and raising the importance of connecting organizing efforts into a broader progressive movement. They believe in organizing, connect it with hope, and articulate how it supports cooperative solutions to our society’s greatest problems. Combined with what the report cites as increasing awareness of community organizing and civic engagement (in part because of Obama’s election as a former community organizer), that all bodes very well for community organizers and, more importantly, those with whom they work.

    It’s an easy read. Please, read it, start a list of 5-10 people who could move into ‘major donor’ category for your organization, chart out a strategy for beginning and relationship with them, and practice your asks with a friend/colleague (I’d be happy to practice with you!). We can’t afford to leave any money on the table! And if you have successfully raised money from major donors to support your organizing, please share some of your experiences!

  • Hey, Mr. (or Ms.) Grantmaker!

    photo credit, colors in B&W, via flickr

    Grantcraft recently published this guide for grantmakers interested (or, at least, maybe potentially, if the right organization comes along and that one loud Board member of ours won’t shut up and you present a really great proposal, interested) in funding community organizing. And it’s somewhat genius–it’s essentially a guide to hold grantmakers by the hands, walk them through an introduction of what community organizing is and does and can accomplish, and seek to bridge the barriers between traditional foundations and community-based organizations, in order to start the dollars flowing.

    It has a TON of examples about why community organizing works (paying attention to implementation, coming up with pragmatic solutions, increasing accountability); about how funders are supporting community organizing today (not just salaries, but also funding infrastructure like training, travel, research, public education, and policy advocacy); and about how community organizing fits in with philanthropy’s overarching goals (building a more robust democracy and solving social problems).

    The tools for grantmakers are probably the most helpful: a checklist for site visits (that acknowledges the culture shock that foundation types often experience coming into a grassroots organization for the first time); language to use in talking with a foundation Board about funding organizing (it’s almost comical, really: “civic participation”, “community-driven solutions”, “building civic infrastructure”); and the “lingo of organizers” (so that we’re, literally, speaking the same language).

    Something I haven’t seen anywhere else is the discussion about power dynamics between funders and organizers, and an effort to prepare funders for the hard questions that grassroots leaders (who are used, after all, to speaking truth to power!) will ask about their foundations and their operations. This preparation, I believe, could go a long way toward helping foundations to see such interactions not as assaults on their legitimacy but, rather, demonstration of the efficacy of organizing work. The guide also seeks to prepare funders for budgets and Board compositions that look different in grassroots groups than traditional grantees and gives some concrete steps to help in establishing relationships.

    And the authors don’t try to sidestep the inevitability of controversy. They use examples of where foundations have grappled with this in the past: when grassroots groups take action against the corporations of foundation Board members, for example! The guide helps foundation staff to explain how public actions fit into the overall change strategy, so that, while they may never like them (that’s part of the idea, really–to make power uncomfortable so that power will yield!), foundation leaders can at least understand the role of actions.

    The guide ends with a discussion of evaluation and a rather astounding figure from one foundation that tracked its community organizing investments over 10 years, which estimates $1.3 billion in tangible dividends from $2.6 million in grants! The power of policy change.

    My guess is that you could use more money for your community organizing work, right? And you’d like foundations in your area (geographic or issue) to understand and value your community organizing work more? And you’d love to have an honest conversation with funders about your community organizing needs and how they can support them? And you’d like some help with the above, because, quite frankly, while challenging public officials has become second nature, you still hate asking for money?

    I think this can help. And, perhaps more importantly, the conversations it will help to engender among grantmakers (wherever they hang out) will help to create the conditions where your entreaties will be more positively received. Think about a sympathetic ear you might have within a foundation today and how you could share this, or a current funder of your service work who might be receptive, or a foundation with which you’re working in a coalition who has demonstrated some interest in building power among your community.

    Social change requires organized people or organized money, the adage goes. If we bring community-organizing groups and foundations together, we’ve got both. And we can’t lose.

    What we should all learn from community organizers

    Community organizers have never been so high profile. Our President used to be one, for crying outloud. We’re sort of rock stars.

    And yet not.

    The reality is, though, that while relatively few professionals identify themselves as a ‘community organizer’, the most successful nonprofit (and, likely, for-profit) professionals are putting community organizing skills and practices to work every day. I’d even be willing to argue that if everyone had more community organizing experience, we’d see more effective, vital, engaged organizations at all levels…and be on our way to a more just society.

    Just the other day, I read an article on nonprofit fundraising that said that marketing in today’s social media age requires finding your organization’s ‘fanatics’ and developing them, since they are the ones who will sell your organization/cause to the broader world. Sounds like community organizing to me.

    And there have been long threads of conversation going around the blogosphere about authenticity among nonprofit ‘brands’ and the need for people to build real relationships that are meaningful yet not entirely personal, built around mutual self-interest yet genuine and accountable. Um, that’s the first and last thing you learn as a community organizer–these are among the most powerful relationships you’ll ever form, but you’re not making friends, you’re building a movement.

    I was discussing job seeking in the digital age with some students last week, and they talked about having to manage multiple ‘versions’ of your own life, and being okay with the dissonance that arises from operating in a world with diffuse boundaries. That’s precisely the point I make in class when we talk about how community organizers have to learn to practice ethically in a world without black and white roles for ‘practitioner’ and ‘client’.

    And when I talk with nonprofit executives about their desire to see their agencies do more effective advocacy and yet their fear for the conflict that may accompany it, I wish that they had more of a community organizer’s soul–the realization that conflict is not only inevitable but oftentimes quite invigorating, and that sometimes it’s only by finding out who the ‘other’ is that we get a full sense of ourselves.

    It’s a function of how demanding, draining, and all-around hard community organizing is that one meets so many ‘former’ community organizers, especially in the world of social policy change. At the same time that we advocate for working environments that enable many more organizers to stay within their vocation, let’s ensure that all of us, former community organizers and those who wish they were, retain some of the best lessons that community organizing has to offer.