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December 3, 2021
Five Ways to Encourage Donors to Become Philanthropists
By Sarah Lange

Sarah Lange
Sarah Lange
Just when you thought you didn’t have enough fundraising headaches, there are some significant shifts going on in the fields of philanthropy and fundraising that need to be heeded – and nurtured.

TREND #1: Raising funds is more than just about money; it encourages philanthropy
"Philanthropy,” meaning love for other people, is a great word, and anyone can be a philanthropist by writing a check. Cash will always be king, but it's only one way people can express love for their fellow man. There are other ways people can be philanthropic, and it's up to nonprofits to encourage those impulses.

Are you calculating the value of volunteer labor? When I did the math for one client, we discovered their army of volunteers was saving them more than $400,000 in staffing costs. Calculating in-kind contributions demonstrates that you are leveraging local resources and saving money.

Many people get involved with organizations through non-monetary means. By capturing these contributors, we can grow our fan base, which, when it comes down to it, is the true purpose of fundraising.

TREND #2: Fundraising will continue to be under-funded
Many nonprofits are leaving money on the table because they refuse to invest in fundraising. As Dan Pallotta states in his TED talk, we do not live in a world where there is only a tiny revenue pie from which we can only cut a tiny slice. Most organizations fail to claim their fair share because they don’t have sufficient fundraising resources to do so.

We’ve fallen prey to the ridiculous notion that “overhead” is a dirty word. Guess what -- that’s just a story! How is your development staff, the light bill, or directors’ liability insurance not an essential part of the work you are doing?!

If you strive to keep overhead low by not investing in fundraising and other items that will help promote our organization (e.g., communication and marketing), how can you possibly expect to raise more money?

TREND #3: Evaluation is here to stay
More foundations are incorporating evaluation into the application process because they want evidence that you’re making a difference. Unfortunately, most nonprofit executives do not have a background in evaluation, have no idea what to measure, or how to go about it.

Few nonprofits have the resources to hire someone, which means staff must now add “evaluation” to their lengthy, ever-changing job description. Even if you capture the data, who’s going to enter, collate and analyze it?

What to do?

1) Change the conversation. Start brainstorming all the ways in which people can—and do—contribute to your organization. Broadcast these. Calculate the value of the contributions being made to demonstrate how much you’re saving to anyone else who will listen. Be sure to thank the people for their contributions!

2) Change our attitudes about/toward fundraising. You wouldn’t ask your board to serve as volunteer dentists, would you? So why ask them to serve as volunteer fundraisers? Fundraising is a skill set. And yes, it can be taught. But when it comes to fundraising, many nonprofits throw their board to the lions and complain when they fail to raise money. Board members need to be educated, trained, coached and supported, given specific roles and instructions.

Nonprofits need to build a culture of philanthropy across their organization. Fundraising is the responsibility of every single person in the organization, even if they don’t work in the development department. Boards should dissolve their Fundraising Committee, as fundraising is the responsibility of the entire board.

3) Change the paradigm. To raise more revenue, invest in fundraising. Adequately staff and budget for robust fundraising and communications programs. Without adequate communications and marketing, people won’t hear about the great work you’re doing. Without adequate development staffing, you’re never going to be able to take advantage of all the inspired giving that your marketing and communications generate!

4) Collaborate for impact. Tackling large-scale social change is not easy, particularly for mid-sized nonprofits (73% of the sector). Until recently, many people have believed that a handful of large donors will tip the balance. There is growing recognition among many nonprofits that to fully meet their mission, they will need to expand beyond their organization to create strategic partnerships that increase the scope, reach, and impact of their programs.

Seek out new alliances, networks, and ways of working together. Adopt more integrated and strategic approaches. Partner with businesses, colleges, government, donors, funders, civic groups, etc. It's by working collaboratively, and across sectors, that nonprofits can thrive.

5) Learn the language of evaluation. Like any field, evaluation has its own terminology. Learn the lingo. Figure out what you can measure, how to do so, and who’s going to do it. You may already have tools that with adaptation can become part of your evaluation system (e.g., intake/exit interviews, surveys, etc.). Use data to demonstrate the difference you’re making via your newsletter, social media, annual report, and other communication channels.

Finally, start by picking one thing you can do now. Try it. See how it goes. Then try another. Before you know it, you’ll be succeeding beyond your wildest dreams!

Sarah Lange is principal and founder of New Era, which helps nonprofits integrate best practices in fund development, marketing and communications, board development, strategic planning, and leadership. Email her at

May 2016
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