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Donor Participation Project

Arts Fundraising: Run it Like a Business!

Join us for a special DPP session to meet with arts leader, entrepreneur, and advisor Aubrey Bergauer.

Her book “Run it Like a Business” reveals how to run a successful arts business in the post-pandemic era, adapting for-profit methods for not-for-profit goals.

In the US alone, the arts are a $763 billion sector whose 100,000+ organizations serve almost every community in the nation. There’s no reason arts organizations should struggle to make ends meet.

​Aubrey will join DPP for an honest conversation about:

  • ​Grow audiences and keep them coming back again
  • ​Make our organizations more inclusive
  • ​Get younger attendees in the seats and on the donor rolls
  • ​Generate millions more dollars in revenue
  • ​Continue to create the art we love—without the stress of figuring out how to afford it

Learn more about her new book here.

Donor Participation Project

Building the Fundraiser Talent Pipeline

Did you “fall into” fundraising? Join this DPP Lunch Analysis session to share your story!

​Dave Delozier, CDO of Helping Harvest, is deeply committed to studying and improving the pipeline for future fundraisers.

​He will share his personal story of discovering advancement careers, introduce us to his research, and interview McQuillin Murphy, program administrator of Penn State University’s Development and Alumni Relations Internship program.

About: The Donor Participation Project (DPP) is a community of fundraisers who co-create solutions to reverse the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016).

Donor Participation Project

Friday Research Findings with Samir Khan, GivingTuesday

Welcome to the #4 episode of “Friday Research Findings.”

Whether you’re a seasoned fundraising professional or new to the field, Friday Research Findings offers something for everyone.

Each session explores research findings, best practices, actionable insights, and real-life use cases that will help you elevate your fundraising strategies.

In this episode, our host, Louis Diez, and our speaker, Samir Khan, will discuss ‘Understanding Diverse Donor Mindsets.’

💡 So, come join us for this insightful discussion on the 8th of December at 1 p.m. EST.

🎁 You’ll also receive exclusive access to resources from Almabase and DPP.

About Samir Khan:

Samir oversees GivingTuesday’s research, data, and academic partnership initiatives, supporting the work of the team in creating new initiatives, developing approaches for understanding problems and research approaches, and interpreting findings for actionable insights. He is passionate about helping the social sector better tackle the pressing challenges and navigate social, economic, and technological change. Before joining GivingTuesday, Samir had a long career in program evaluation and policy analysis. organizational learning, and strategy, having worked in the fields of workforce development, education, and civil society strengthening.

About Louis Diez:

Louis Diez is the founder of the Donor Participation Project and Annual Fund Toolkit. He advises nonprofits in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies. Previously, he was Executive Director of Annual Giving at Muhlenberg College, Director of the Annual Fund and Development Business Operations at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Director of Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (both in Spain), and an MM in Music Performance from the University of

Donor Participation Project

What’s Better: No Overhead or a Match? And More Fundraising Research

This Donor Participation Project session has passed. You can still get the recording in our Resource Library.

Renowned economist and author Uri Gneezy shares his expertise on the profound impact of incentives on human behavior.

​Drawing from his book, Mixed Signals: How Incentives Really Work,” Gneezy discussed the importance of aligning incentives within organizations and avoiding common pitfalls.

Join us to learn from his research and how it might apply to your fundraising shop!

About: The Donor Participation Project (DPP) is a community of 3,300+ fundraisers who co-create solutions to reverse the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016).


Chat with “State of Nonprofits 2023” – The Center for Effective Philanthropy

Chat with State of Nonprofits 2023 from The Center for Effective Philanthropy:


Chat with “Generosity in Florida: Giving Groups under 45”

Here is a chatbot trained with the research paper “Generosity in Florida: Giving Groups under 45

We hope the chatbot behaves, but please know that it can make things up. Enjoy learning!

Donor Participation Project

Donor Data Lab with Tim Paris

​If you could talk to your data, what questions would you ask?

​Join Tim Paris for an exploration of some of the most interesting data questions he’s working on and a chance to ask your own!

Join us to learn how to interact with your own data to answer fundraising questions!

About: The Donor Participation Project (DPP) is a community of fundraisers who co-create solutions to reverse the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016).

Discuss this Topic and Learn with Your Colleagues During our December 13 Lunch Analysis

  • ​Check out Tim’s free fundraiser data tools at Dataro.
  • ​This event will take place over Zoom.
  • ​The session will be recorded and accessible post-event for DPP members only.

This session has passed. You can view it in our Resource Library

Donor Participation Project Resources

Free Insights and Resources: Connecting With Dr. Russell James

Dr. Russell James is a leading expert in philanthropy and charitable giving. He generously shares his knowledge and resources for free to help nonprofit fundraisers strengthen their fundraising programs.

His recent presentation in the Donor Participation Project offered key insights into effectively using storytelling to motivate donors.

You can view the entire presentation video in our Resource Library.

Dr. James emphasized the importance of evoking a clear visual image and generating social emotion.

A vague, complicated, or confusing story won’t trigger the mental visualization needed to feel empathy. Focus on a single sympathetic character and share specific details to help the audience envision them.

Too much complexity also inhibits giving by making the story hard to follow. Find the right balance of details to fill in the picture without overcomplicating things.

For major gifts, the most compelling story is the donor’s own story.

Ask open-ended questions to understand their journey and values. Then find meaningful connections between what they share and your mission to build their motivation to give. Help them define what victory would look like to inspire their support.

Dr. James studies neuroimaging to understand the science behind generosity. His research shows that donating depends on empathy and taking the perspective of the character or beneficiary in the story. The more donors can identify with a story, the more motivated they will feel to give.

Surveys are a useful tool for learning details to personalize stories and relationships at scale.

Dr. James generously provides free resources to help nonprofits strengthen their fundraising. He shares his knowledge through presentations, videos, slide decks, and four books on encouraging generosity. Connect with him on LinkedIn to gain access to these valuable materials. His insights and scientific approach to philanthropy can help any nonprofit achieve their mission through smarter, more effective fundraising.

Take advantage of this opportunity to learn from an expert in the field!

Donor Participation Project Resources

Asking the Right Questions Elicits Donor Victory Stories and Gifts

Nonprofit fundraisers know that connecting donors to the impact of gifts is key to building lasting relationships and major gifts.

According to fundraising expert Dr. Russell James, the most powerful way to make this connection is by helping donors tell their own meaningful “victory stories.”

Dr. James explains that victory stories show how donors’ values and life experiences connect to a nonprofit’s mission. By asking donors questions about what first inspired their support, their vision for change, and what is most meaningful to them about the work, fundraisers can uncover elements of donors’ stories.

They can then share how current and future priorities of the organization will help achieve donors’ visions of victory.

For example, a fundraiser might ask, “What first motivated you to support our cause?”

A donor may share a personal experience with a health condition, exposure to poverty in childhood, or parents who modeled philanthropy. The fundraiser now understands more about what shaped this donor’s passion for the mission.

Fundraisers can also ask, “If money were no object, what would you change about this issue?”

Donors’ responses point to the victories they most want to see. A donor supporting a food bank, for instance, may say they want to solve the root causes of hunger through policy changes and job training programs. The fundraiser sees this donor is motivated not just by filling empty bellies but by empowering people to provide for themselves.

Finally, fundraisers can ask, “What is most meaningful to you about what we do?”

The answers reveal what moves and inspires donors at the deepest level. A donor to an animal welfare organization may say “reuniting families with the pets they love—that is what motivates me most.” The fundraiser now understands the most emotionally compelling ways to engage with this donor are by sharing pet adoption stories. In summary, the key to unlocking major gifts is understanding what drives donors at the level of identity and values.

By asking questions that reveal donors’ victory stories, fundraisers can connect priorities that shape donors’ self-concept to the work they support.

The result is inspired donors and transformational gifts.

View the video recording of this presentation with Dr. James in our Resource Library.

Donor Participation Project Resources

Simplify Your Story: How Too Much Complexity Hurts Donations

Nonprofit organizations often have intricate, multifaceted stories to tell about their missions and work.

However, sharing too much complexity with donors can hurt fundraising efforts.

According to research by nonprofit fundraising expert Dr. Russell James, a clear and simple story that generates an emotional response is most effective for motivating donors.

Dr. James has studied how our brains respond to stories and complexity in the context of charitable giving. His research using fMRI neuroimaging shows that donating is linked to feeling empathy and identifying with a cause or beneficiary.

This “social-emotional valuation” requires a clear mental image and narrative.

If a story is vague, confusing or overly complicated, it fails to trigger the visualization needed to motivate giving.

In one experiment, donors gave 90% more when asked to help one child with a name, age and photo versus helping eight children. Another study found donations decreased by 58% when a story grew more complex by adding details about eight beneficiaries. However, a cohesive group, like six siblings, can simplify a multi-character story and double gifts. The key is evoking a simple, empathetic image.

Dr. James cautions that while nonprofit experts understand complexity, sharing too many details with donors destroys stories and fundraising potential.

The internal goal of a fundraising story is not just getting a gift, but generating a clear visual and emotional experience that leads to giving.

To achieve this:

  • Make stories specific but keep them simple.
  • Focus on one empathetic character or group, not many individuals.
  • Connect personal details to a meaningful victory or outcome to bring the story to life.

In summary, an effective fundraising story needs a relatable character, not just statistics or facts. Details should enhance a simple story without introducing confusion.

When visualizing the story generates empathy and social emotion, donors are compelled to give to achieve a shared victory. But if a story fails to evoke a clear image and feeling, its fundraising power is lost no matter the details.

The moral for nonprofits: simplify your story and make sure it is one donors can see themselves in.

View the full recording of this Donor Participation Project session in our Resource Library.