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Donor Participation Project

Forget Scalability: Do What Works for Your Organization

For small nonprofits, especially those in start-up mode, focusing on scalability can be counterproductive. When resources and capacity are limited, organizations should do what works for them rather than trying to emulate larger institutions.

Ali Evans, Executive Director of Foodnet Meals on Wheels, advises not getting caught up in “shoulds” and prescribed best practices.

Instead, rely on instinct and do what feels right for your organization and supporters. For Foodnet, that meant sending emails and handwritten cards to donors outside of their usual schedule during the pandemic. These personal touches built trust and helped to retain donors despite canceling in-person events.

For recruiting, Foodnet skips job boards in favor of networking. According to Evans, “You’re going to get like-minded people” through connecting with local organizations and at community events. They also get creative by partnering with nearby colleges to provide work-study roles. These internships provide needed support at low cost while giving students valuable experience.

Investing in basic systems and infrastructure is still important for efficiency and retaining knowledge, especially with high turnover common in nonprofits. However, organizations don’t need “all the bells and whistles” and should choose tools that meet their current needs. For Foodnet, that’s a simple donor database to track gifts and communications. They also worked to formalize policies and procedures to ensure consistency even when staff members leave.

Partnerships can also help build capacity. Foodnet was able to establish a planned giving program by working with their local community foundation. The foundation acts as a fiscal sponsor, accepting and managing complex donations on Foodnet’s behalf.

Overall, the key is not to get caught up in unrealistic expectations of how a nonprofit “should” operate. Focus on building trust, meeting your supporters’ needs in authentic ways, and embracing creative solutions. What works for large organizations may not suit your unique situation. Forget scalability and do what is right for your organization.

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

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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.

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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).

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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

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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).

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Donor Participation Project

How to Launch a Successful Development Shop: A Case Study Setting Realistic Expectations and Long-Term Goals

Heather Thompson has built fundraising programs from the ground up at multiple nonprofits. As the Chief Development Officer at Norwest Community Action Partnership, she shared her lessons learned for launching a successful development shop.

The key, Thompson says, is setting realistic expectations.

When she started at Norwest CAP, she created an ambitious five-year plan. Her CEO wisely advised her to scale it back to a one-year plan. Fundraising takes time to build, and grand plans can set you up for failure and disappointment. Focus on laying groundwork and incremental growth.

In that critical first year, Thompson focused on internal goals within her control, not just an arbitrary fundraising target. Her goals included retaining current donors, adding new donors, producing grant proposals, and building infrastructure like a CRM to track donors. Reporting on progress towards these goals built credibility and trust in her leadership.

Fundraisers often want to do everything, but you have to start somewhere. Thompson began with institutional fundraising since Norwest CAP had strong program outcomes and metrics to leverage. Small wins from initial grants gave her funding to build on. Each year, Thompson evaluates what’s working to build on successes and make changes where needed. An event in its second year grew after she dropped ticket prices in response to feedback.

Thompson also advocates for resources to support long-term success like a CRM, website, and communication. While the return on investment isn’t immediately clear, these tools build trust and awareness to enable future fundraising. Her tip: find board allies who understand fundraising to help make your case.

Overall, launching a successful development shop starts with a solid foundation, not flashy short-term gains. Set incremental goals, evaluate and adjust based on outcomes, and invest in infrastructure to enable sustainable long-term growth. With realistic expectations and by building strong relationships, Thompson created a flourishing development program to further Norwest CAP’s impact.

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

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Donor Participation Project

How to Shift Donors from Occasional to Regular Giving

Nonprofit organizations depend on the generosity of donors to fund their important work. While one-time donors are appreciated, regular givers provide a stable base of support. According to recent research, only 33% of Americans donate to the same charity on an ongoing basis. How can nonprofits encourage more occasional donors to become regular contributors?

Focus on participation, not just dollars.

Make donor retention and frequency a top priority metric, not just total funds raised. Regular givers are more valuable over the long run. Set specific goals around converting one-time donors to repeat donors.

Understand donors’ motivations.

Donors give for two main reasons: to support the organization’s mission (the “collective good” motive) or for internal reasons like reducing guilt or gaining social approval (the “input” motives). Tailor your appeals to match donors’ key motivations. For example, emphasize the impact of donors’ gifts for the collective good motive or highlight social approval for input motives.

Listen and build relationships.

Conducting in-depth interviews with donors, like the successful program at Georgetown University, can reveal their passions and values. Listen to understand their motivations better and to make them feel valued. Then, craft more targeted fundraising appeals that resonate with their interests. Over time, these relationships can turn occasional givers into regular supporters.

Test different strategies.

Try various techniques like matching funds, seed funding, and social pressure to see which are most effective with your donors. But evaluate the long-term impact, not just immediate results. For example, while matching campaigns may boost short-term giving, they could reduce future donations if they primarily trigger feelings of guilt. Test and iterate to find the right formula for your organization.

Make the next generation a priority.

Children often mimic their parents’ philanthropy but need help making giving a habit. Educate families about your mission and engage children through programs like “read to donate” campaigns. Building lifelong donors starts young.

With creativity and persistence, nonprofits can shift occasional donors to become regular supporters. A focus on participation, understanding motivations, cultivating relationships, experimenting thoughtfully, and engaging the next generation are proven strategies to turn more one-time givers into long-term philanthropic partners.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Missed Deadlines and Scope Creep: How to Navigate Common Challenges with Consultants

Hiring a consultant can be invaluable for nonprofits, but it also introduces challenges like missed deadlines and scope creep that require navigation. Missed deadlines often happen despite the best of intentions from both parties. Life events emerge and priorities shift, and what seemed feasible in the planning stages may prove unrealistic.

The key is maintaining open communication.

Explain the situation truthfully but compassionately, revising deadlines collaboratively. Consultants aiming to build long-term relationships will show flexibility; work with them on realistic solutions. Internally, reset stakeholder expectations, emphasizing that quality work takes time. Build in margin for the unexpected in the future.

Scope creep refers to the natural tendency for projects to expand beyond initial parameters.

This frequently stems from enthusiasm, as new possibilities emerge. Again, ongoing communication is critical. Consultants should speak up if extra work strains their capacity or budget before resentment builds. Clients should avoid presenting new ideas as fait accompli.

Discuss any changes openly, including new deadlines, work, and fees.

Both parties must compromise to find the optimal balance of scope and feasibility. If significant changes are needed, it may make sense to end the current project and launch a new engagement with revised goals.

Navigating challenges with consultants requires empathy, honesty and a solutions-oriented mindset from all sides. While missed deadlines and scope creep can damage relationships and trust if left unaddressed, a willingness to be flexible, communicate openly, and focus on a mutually agreeable path forward can actually strengthen partnerships.

When challenges arise, follow the Golden Rule, treating your consultant—and client!—as you would like to be treated in their place. Approach the situation not as a conflict to win but an opportunity to forge an even more productive working relationship based on good faith and understanding. With this mindset, common challenges often become a chance to build rapport and demonstrate reliability, cultivating partnerships for the long-term.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Attracting Lifetime Donors: It’s Never Too Early to Start

Legacy gifts, also known as planned gifts, make up a significant portion of contributions to nonprofits each year. According to Giving USA, legacy gifts accounted for $46.01 billion given to charities in 2020. These gifts are from donors who thoughtfully include charities in their estate plans to create a lasting impact.

The best time to start securing legacy gifts was years ago. The second best time is now.

Donors often make estate planning decisions years before they pass away, so consistent communication about your mission and impact is key. Provide sample bequest language on your website and in print materials so donors and their attorneys have the information readily available. Sending annual reminders about planned giving opportunities through mailings, e-newsletters, and social media also keeps your organization top of mind for donors thinking about their legacy.

While major gift donors are obvious planned giving prospects, mid-level donors, lifetime members, and devoted volunteers also have the potential to become legacy donors. Treat these most loyal constituents as planned giving prospects, inviting them to attend special donor events and recognizing their consistent support. For younger donors in their 50s and 60s, a planned gift of even 1 to 3 percent of their estate could have major impact down the line as their assets appreciate. Starting cultivation of younger donors today sets the stage for a meaningful planned gift years later.

The most successful nonprofits know that legacy donors are often their most dedicated supporters, continuing annual gifts even after providing for the charity in their estate plan. Take a donor-centered approach by listening for clues that a donor is working with an estate planner. Be ready to share helpful resources and sample bequest language to ensure you have a seat at the table.

With consistent messaging and stewardship, donors who start out making small annual gifts can become your greatest legacy donors. In the end, planned giving success is all about relationships and taking the long view. Start now, keep going, and your nonprofit will reap the rewards for generations to come.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Why Engagement Isn’t Enough: Building Trust and Advocacy Through Community

For nonprofits, building an engaged audience is important but not enough. True impact comes from developing a community of advocates and supporters who trust and believe in your mission. According to marketing expert Mark Schaefer, “Community is the last great marketing strategy.”

Schaefer argues that nonprofits must move beyond engagement metrics and focus on building authentic relationships. This means creating spaces, both online and offline, for people to connect over shared interests and values. Bring together your most loyal supporters and give them opportunities to bond over their passion for your cause. Even starting with just five highly engaged people can be enough to get the momentum going.

A thriving community has benefits that engagement alone does not provide. Organic advocacy happens when community members spread your message through word-of-mouth and social sharing. Their endorsements are far more powerful than your organization saying the same thing. Community also offers a direct line to your supporters that provides instant feedback and ideas to help you stay culturally relevant.

However, community requires nurturing the right culture. It must be a welcoming space built on trust, respect, and support. Members want to feel that they belong and that their voices are heard. Identify and empower community advocates by giving them leadership roles and opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. While community may mean giving up some control, the rewards of relevancy and organic growth are well worth it.

For resource-strapped nonprofits, community may seem like an impossible challenge. But according to Schaefer, it does not require a huge budget or staff.

Start small by experimenting with a Facebook group or monthly meetups. Focus on creating interesting content and experiences that elicit emotion and participation. As leaders emerge, reward their contributions to help the community thrive with limited resources.

In the end, community comes down to people – how they connect, share, and advocate for a cause bigger than themselves. Nurturing these human connections will build trust in your organization and a shared belief in your mission that endures well beyond any single campaign or communication. While measuring engagement provides data, building community creates true and lasting impact.

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