Philanthropy, Not Fundraising
The pyramids were built in Egypt. On the backs of slaves. It took a very, very long time. The cost, in human terms, was untenable and unsustainable.
That’s why you don’t see many pyramids being built these days.
Except in nonprofits.
Where building the donor pyramid is still the holy grail. Get ‘em in. Move ‘em up. Acquire through direct mail. Convert to monthly donor or sustainer. Acquire through events. Convert to mail. Up, up, up…. to the pinnacle of major and planned gifts!
Except for one tiny thing.
It doesn’t work. Pyramid building is so 2630 BCE. Nobody’s got 100,000 workers (aka direct mail donors) building a solid pyramid anymore. Many so-called pyramids really look like hour glasses. Or upside down pyramids. Or plateaus. Even the pyramid-shaped ones are resting on shaky foundations of donors who move in and out, in and out… 7 out of 10 leave… making the ‘foundation’ more like a river than a solid, secure slab of mortar.
So… what’s going on? I’ve been thinking a lot about this.
Pyramids are forced.
They’re where people go to die (yes, remember the pyramids were built as tombs). Why are we forcing people up to the top… just to get them there and hope they’ll expire so we can get their planned gift? That sounds like the antithesis of a donor-centric strategy. It sounds totally self-centered – kind of like a Pharaoh!
Instead, what about a model that’s free, active and filled with room to breathe? One that focuses not just on the strength of the dollars given, but on the love and engagement freely offered. One driven not by fundraising, but by philanthropy (i.e., “love of human kind).
I’m thinking of a vortex – an energized circle. Everyone is equal in a circle; just at times some folks have more energy than others. People move in and out of the circle, giving and getting, as the time and spirit moves them.
A natural, circular flow works in two ways.
In the energized circle/vortex model ‘donors’ are not categorized solely by their money.
They’re people, first and foremost. Sometimes, when things are going well for them, they become donor-investors helping other people. Sometimes, when other things in life take precedence, they may become recipients of philanthropy.
I’ve known an awful lot of people who at one time were charity beneficiaries, and who then went on to become philanthropists. Sadly, the reverse is true as well. But that’s what the circle – the circle of life – is all about.
The vortex enables folks to come in and out from various points on the circle.
They can then zoom back in as the vortex continues to swirl around them. The vortex never stops. People may swoop in with a shared tweet, acting as your ambassador. They may jump in with a peer-to-peer crowd funding initiative, acting as your fundraiser. They may dance around on Facebook or G+ trying to get a petition signed, acting as your advocate. They may make a small online special appeal gift … attend an event… purchase an auction item…take a tour… or sit down with your E.D. and end up making a significant donor investment.
All these folks are similar points of energy on your circling vortex.
As the energy builds up, some are swooped towards the center of the vortex and stay there. They’re the ones whose energy (and values) match yours most closely. They’re the ones where the chemical reaction (or, as Yoda might say, “the force”) is so strong… and the energizing experience of the circle (your community; your family) is so potent, that they simply can’t resist you. These become your hard core of supporters – the ones you continue to supply with lots of energy.
But everyone else gets energy too. The folks engaging with you online are just as important as offline. They must be responded to so the energy keeps flowing. Some of these folks have so much energy themselves that they’ll spread your message like wildfire — if you let them. So… let them. Play with them. Invigorate them. Catalyze them. Give them breathing room – rather than trying to force them into rungs on a ladder, points in a funnel, or levels on a pyramid.
Stop treating your supporters – any of them – like bottom feeders.
Don’t get ticked off at them for giving “the wrong way.” No one is at the bottom of anything if they support your cause. They’re the ‘tops’ in my book!
Stop treating your supporters – any of them – like corn to be force fed into a goose. Seriously, stop forcing folks to go where you think they should be. Folks who make repeated small gifts are just as likely to leave bequests as those you force up to the top of your pyramid, ladder or whatever you call it.
Get yourself an embracing circle.
Make yourself a strong, compelling magnet. Concentrate on clarifying your mission and simplifying your case for support. Tell your best emotional stories. This will energize your circle.
Keep the compelling content flowing. Build yourself a content calendar and put someone in charge of donor-centered communications. Watch the circle begin to spin and build momentum. The energy will do the work for you. You just have to concentrate on being the magnet – and rotating.
I’ll have more on the vortex model next week. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
- Don’t miss this month’s Halloween Nonprofit Blog Carnival – Major Gifts Tricks and Treats. Tons of tips from nonprofit experts across the web. Plus you can score some free fundraising E-Books from the likes of Joe Garecht, Mazarine Treyz and Vanessa Chase over at the Halloween Goodie Giveaway. You’ve got a sweet tooth, right?
- Also, I’ll be participating in a free live video discussion with Chronicle of Philanthropy about Clever Ways to Thank Donors on Halloween Thursday, 10 am PST. Joining me will be nonprofit legal expert Gene Takagi (clever doesn’t mean forgetting all the legal requirements), technology and social media expert Cody Switzer of The Chronicle and Tony Martignetti of Nonprofit Radio. Lots of Q & A… so come hang out with us!
Note: This post was inspired by the brilliant work of Julie Dixon & Denise Keyes who wrote an article in Stanford Social Media Innovation Review that nicely sums up the benefits of the vortex model. I encourage you to read it.
Photo: Flickr, Khalid Almasoud