Does Giving Need Saving?

Probably.  If you read any recent reports or statistics, yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  Fundraising Effectiveness Project, GivingUSA, literal thousands of case studies, webinars, trainings, conferences . . . . we’re investing a lot of time, money and energy in saving giving.

This article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy  . . . you’ve seen it, right?  It kind of rocked Twitter over the last couple of days.

lifesaver-933560_1920Donor and Philanthropist Lisa Greer – who has started a newsletter and Twitter account called “Saving Giving” – tackles some tough subjects and throws some direct light – or maybe even shade, as the kids say – on current fundraising practice.

It’s good stuff.  Some of it’s hard.

Some of it’s anecdotes and issues we’ve known and countless conference sessions and white papers try to tackle.

Read the part about her getting, essentially, left out of a solicitation in favor of her husband’s opinion.  Yeeeowch.  That’s another topic that’s being written about and addressed a LOT . . . most recently Michael Rosen’s really excellent piece (that I’m grateful to have had a small part in).

We Should Be Grateful

Really.  Straight from the donor’s mouth . . . to hear directly from a donor about what’s working, what isn’t, what can be done, how to do it.

As fundraisers we should be unafraid to take what our donors say, hear it and put it into practice IF it means we’re honoring their wishes, desires.

How many fundraisers do that?  Actually sit down with a donor and talk – how am I doing?  What could I or my org do better?  How was this process for you?

We’ve got to acknowledge that fundraising is not a subservient profession, we are not “beggars,” but we are PARTNERS with donors in realizing their personal visions and creating great, substantive, wonderful change – together.

But should donors tell us how to do our jobs?

Tough Question

Until I read the article, I’d never heard of Lisa Greer.  Don’t know her personally, am super excited about her newsletter and Twitter account and really grateful that she’s gone public in such an important way.

Should she ever read this, I hope she knows my response is coming from a place of equal honesty and explaining why, sometimes, we do the things we do . . .

Because there are techniques, processes and practice that are unique to fundraising that may appear “wrong” but are actually quite important and helpful.

Especially Around Data and Research

Allow me to quote the article:

My favorite pet peeve is that many of the organizations doing research on donors ask three questions. One, they want to know the value of your home, which tells you nothing because you don’t know what their equity is. Then they also try to find out your political party. Then they want to know how much you’ve given to political campaigns, which is also stupid because there is a cap on it.

Totally get it.  This is probably one of THE most common complaints prospect research folks get . . . and certainly one of the most common issues in trying to convey the importance and great impact of research.

Why Real Estate?

No, this is correct, you don’t know the equity.  Or any other thousands of types of data points associated with mortgage.  It’s not public information.

I’ve addressed this before on the blog with the great guidance of Helen Brown.

TL;DR – home value shouldn’t be used to indicate either philanthropic likelihood or capacity.  It is ONE value in a sea of many and any researcher or algorithm that is basing it’s entire capacity or philanthropic indicator off of JUST home value is steering you wrong.

It CAN tell you SOMETHING, though.   And that something is

Typically lower level wealth scores include just one data point – home value.  IN GENERAL, even a low-level wealth score performs higher with a higher average gift in direct response and/or acquisition than a record with no score at all.

Obviously this needs to be tested at your org; I can vouch for many instances where this proved true, but always, always test.

If a gift officer is making an ask or portfolio assignment off of just home value.  Yeah, that’s a problem.

But knowing that Jack and Eileen Spratt have a $1.4M home and Mary Q. Contrary has a $300,000 home can tell me where I’m going to focus my energies when I have limited resources to go around.

Political Giving

In predictive modeling, political giving is often one of the top three indicators of likelihood to make a philanthropic gift.

Again, needs to be tested on each file, but over 100 models I’ve seen it proved true every single time.

Yes, political giving has a cap.  True.  But IN GENERAL a household with history of political giving TENDS to be more philanthropically inclined than a household without.

Honestly?  Show me a household with a long history of political giving and a low home value vs. the high home value and no political activity?  I’ll take political giving every single time.

Please, if you haven’t, take a moment to go read Steve McLaughlin’s  excellent Data-Driven Nonprofit, especially the chapter on predictive modeling.  It’s excellent and this book should be in your top 10 Fundraising/Nonprofit books if it isn’t already.

There’s a Science To This . . . 

Not calling a donor?  Bad fundraising.

Saying you should stop giving somewhere else so you can give to us?  Horrible, unethical fundraising.  (Sadly, I can verify Lisa’s experience – I’ve seen it happen in phone rooms.  Awful, awful, awful.)

Home value and political giving?  Valuable, important tools in the toolbox that can provide some REAL guidance, help and structure.  When used well, appropriately and ethically.

This question comes up a lot . . .

“Would you ever show a prospect the profile you created?  Would you ever share with them the home value you researched?”




ethics-2110605_1920I think it would be unethical NOT to, but it also puts me in the position of being able to say, “Yes, I pulled this information and used it because we are really looking for partners who believe in this mission and this information made it seem like this might be a worthwhile conversation.”

Honest.  Open.  Direct.

That’s what Lisa’s giving us with her thoughts and observations of fundraising.

We owe the same to our donors – let’s be transparent about why we do what we do.

And we owe the same to our profession by knowing and understanding the techniques that have validity, importance and success – and maybe even explaining to donors why we do what we do.

The Bandwagon

So far there hasn’t been an outcry of “We need to stop using home value and political giving!”  But it could happen . . .

It’s the old trope in direct response – “I’d never give to that!”  Fine.  There are thousands of others who will.

I’m not at all saying that’s what Ms. Greer is advocating.  But we can see – can’t we? – the potential for the sector to go, “Oh! Donors don’t like home value and political giving!  We should stop using it!”

With all due respect, let’s be careful about not abandoning a best practice because a donor didn’t like it.  Let’s take the time to explain, kindly, why it’s important to us.  If we abandon strong, solid, effective technique because donors tell us they don’t like it and don’t understand it then we begin to enter the realm of Donor Dominance.

I’m incredibly grateful to any donor who shares their experience and feelings about the process of fundraising.

It helps us all – immensely.

This work works best when we all work together.  Rising tides . . .




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