Change is the only constant. No one knows that truth better than fundraisers. We’ve been forced to continuously adapt and respond to changes such as societal priorities, decision-makers for our funders, technology, and much more. But we’ve never confronted such profound changes and challenges as we do right now. For as long as the we can remember, face-to-face meetings have been the gold standard in nurturing relationships, and especially making major gift asks. All that has changed. Fortunately, we are seeing proof positive that virtual asks work! This does require some tweaking of tactics such as shortening the length of meetings and making sure the donor prospect is comfortable with the technology selected. Most importantly, it requires a strong relationship that is already in place, typically with the donor who has demonstrated a commitment to our respective missions. It remains essential that the solicitation team include a board member or other representative of the organization who has a strong relationship with the donor prospect, even if they don’t actually make the ask. Here’s my guide to the Virtual Asking. We would like to hear from you on what you’re finding is working best. Please e-mail me your experiences, positive and negative, so they can be shared with our learning community.

Don't Let Up

I love the power of thought expressed through simple elegance. Mark Twain declared: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” There can be countless excuses for not starting a fundraising project: Waiting for a new CEO/ED, new board members, changes in economic conditions, alignment of stars, and other reasons. Some may even have a measure of credibility. But on the other hand, there is the timely and compelling urgency of the good works that fuel our non-profits. Our recent webinar guest, Larry Vaclavik, Managing Principal, Dini Spheris, summed it up so well: Missions cannot wait — there are those who are hungry, students to educate, homes to build, music to play, stories to tell, wounds to heal and so much more. Let’s go! As the social sector grapples with unprecedented challenges, the needs they serve have never been so great. We’ve stressed it before, but it bears repeating: This is not the time to let your foot off on the gas pedal. Now is the time to tell your stories with passion, nurture relationships, and above all else, continue to ask for the precious gifts of time and money.

Farewell to a Great Guy

One of the rewards of working in philanthropy is getting the chance to meet, know and experience what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” close up. I had the privilege of working with the late Neil Griffin of Kerrville Texas, who recently passed away at the age of 93. He exemplified all the finest qualities in both philanthropists and people. I enjoyed working closely with him to secure the largest gift ever made to Alamo Colleges Foundation — $2.5 million. It was far from the largest gift in his diverse philanthropic portfolio. In 2018, he gave $10 million to his alma mater, Arkansas State University. What struck me the most about Mr. Griffin was his humility and the relentless way he never forgot his modest roots. I remember one time walking him back to his car, and he remarked that he left his notepad behind, so we walked back to the office to retrieve it. It had two sheets of paper left on it. He didn’t want to waste anything, so he could give more away. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, higher education put him on the path to a remarkably successful business career. Most of his philanthropy was directed to education, and especially, scholarships. Here’s a profile I had the privilege of writing about him in 2017. We will miss but never forget him.

Belt Tightening

More than half of charitable organizations in the U.S. are expecting to raise less money in 2020 than they did in 2019, and an equal percentage believe the same will occur in 2021, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals‘ (AFP) Coronavirus Response Survey. More than 850 fundraisers in the U.S. participated in the survey distributed to all AFP members in May. The impact of COVID-19 didn’t affect charities immediately. Asked about its impact in the first quarter of the yea — January through March — respondents were evenly split. Overall, compared to the first quarter of 2019, 33% didn’t see any changes in fundraising totals, while 31% saw increases and 35% saw decreases. However, when queried about the impact in the second quarter of the year (April through June), respondents answered less favorably. More than half of respondents (57%) expect to see decreases in giving. Only 25% expect an increase, while 18% believe giving to their charity will remain the same. Similar numbers are expected from respondents for the rest of 2020. Fifty-six percent of respondents expect to raise fewer funds in 2020 compared to 2019, while only 21% predict organizational funding will increase, and 23% believe fundraising totals will remain the same. Most fundraisers expect to see some negative impact into 2021, with close to 72% anticipating that giving next year will continue to be lower than in a typical year. Approximately 16% believe giving will be about the same, while 12% think giving will increase in 2021.

How Do You Build Trust?

Public trust is the currency of the non-profit sector. Independent Sector, in partnership with Edelman Intelligence, has begun what they hope to be an annual series of surveys to explore the nuances of trust in American non-profit and philanthropic organizations. The first annual study of trust in non-profits and philanthropy found that while a majority of Americans are confident in the ability of the sector to strengthen American society, less than half believe the sector is actually headed in the right direction. The data show that people know what they expect from non-profits — to serve people and communities in need and to be an effective advocate for change — but they aren’t explicitly seeing or hearing these stories. To build trust and credibility, and secure the future viability and credibility of sector, non-profits and philanthropy must be clear about their mission and purpose, demonstrate impact, and show integrity through transparency and independence. Themes include:

1. Broad trust in non-profits, except among underserved communities.
2. There is uncertainty about the sector’s direction.
3. Personal familiarity drives trust.
4. Civic engagement is in reciprocal relationship with trust.
5. Strengthen trust by focusing on integrity and purpose.

Foundation Pay-Outs

Private non-operating foundations are required to spend a minimum of 5% of their assets each year, but they do have some flexibility to meet those requirements over a multi-year horizon. Foundations may also choose to spend more than 5% in a given year. So, while the requirement is a fairly straightforward calculation, strategy may come into play as foundations grapple with fluctuating investment portfolio values and the impacts of COVID-19. In April 2020, Cambridge Associates conducted a survey of their foundation clients to gauge sentiment about spending for the current year and to understand potential sources of flexibility and liquidity. The following highlights are excerpted from a more detailed study conducted for participating foundations. Annual decisions about foundation spending balance immediate needs of grantees and the long-term philanthropic capacity of the foundation. Of survey respondents, 41% indicated that they are sticking with the spending amount that they initially budgeted for this year. These organizations expressed the importance of following through on their funding commitments. Thirty percent of foundations responded that they are paying out more than the 5% requirement this year. They tended to be smaller foundations and foundations with a healthcare focus. Twenty percent may be spending less this year in reaction to declining portfolio market values, and to preserve purchasing power for future years. When foundations exceed their minimum spending requirement in a given year, they build a balance or carryover of excess qualifying distributions. The balance of these funds can be used to meet spending requirements in future years. Strikingly, 63% of responding foundations have a carryover of excess qualifying distributions; however, most of these foundations felt it was unlikely that they would apply these distributions to meet their 2020 spending requirement.

Doing Good is Good for You

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and businesses struggle to adapt to their new normal, many Americans are stepping up to help people in their communities. From personal gestures to financial contributions, CNBC Financial Wellness Council experts say giving back in many ways — big and small — can have a significant impact on your own well-being, emotionally and financially. Research shows helping others in a crisis can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. In this pandemic, psychologists say turning our attention away from rising coronavirus cases, daily death tolls, job losses and economic turmoil to ways we can help others get through this crisis can make it easier for us to cope as well. Sewing masks, creating personal protective equipment, feeding frontline workers, coordinating rides to appointments for cancer patients and raising money for charities, shuttered businesses, as well as families and individuals in need are just some of the ways people have found to uplift their communities.  

DAF Potential

Sure, grants from donor-advised funds are being made at a clip never seen before. But there is vastly more potential. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the national pool of assets parked in DAFs clocked in at a whopping $121.42 billion in 2019. Charitable grants issued from that stash last year? Just $23.42 billion. So, Jennifer and David Risher are urging others to give from their donor-advised funds. To encourage people to give more freely from their donor-advised funds in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the California couple has offered to give up to $1 million to donors’ favorite non-profits. But there is a catch: The contributions will only be made if the donors pledge to empty half of their donor-advised-fund account and direct that money to charity by September 30. The Rishers, who met while working at Microsoft and now live in San Francisco, say they created the #HalfMyDAF challenge because it’s more important than ever to move money out of donor-advised-fund “parking lots” and speed them to charities in need. On its first day, eight donors accepted the challenge and pledged to disburse a total of $413,000 from their accounts. The donors are invited to list the non-profits their gifts support on the #HalfMyDAF website. The Rishers will randomly pick 50 non-profits from the list in July and another 50 in September to receive $10,000 each. The Rishers say they welcome other major donors to add to their match and that some have expressed interest.

Video Power

We all know how much donors love personalized acknowledgements. Network for Good surveyed thousands of recent donors to find out what would encourage them to give again: 41% said that receiving personalized communication explaining the impact of their continued support would make them much more likely to consider donating again. A similar number said receiving creative and engaging donor communications would make them much more likely to donate again. Many of our non-profit friends are reporting on strong responses from personalized, creative and engaging thank you videos. With video production capacity so common in today’s laptops, tablets and other smart devices — these can be very cost-effective. And they can be fun to make. The smart formula is customizing your work to send personalized videos to targeted donors. There is a huge upside — donors enjoy seeing the impact of their donations, and non-profit partners are proudly sharing their stories while increasing donor engagement. This reinforces the winning strategy that non-profits should be stepping up their communications with donors and friends during the COVID-19 crisis, especially in the area of stewardship.

On the Bookshelf: Philanthropy Misunderstood

The word Philanthropy isn’t new, but many think being a philanthropist is about money. In Bob Hopkins’ new book, he assures us it is not. He and 100 of his friends say, by way of their good deeds, that philanthropy is about love of mankind. Philanthropy Misunderstood is a 256-page coffee-table book that will surely entertain and inform you. The author introduces us to 100-plus new best friends — people like you and me who give of themselves to help others. Optimism and hope emerge from every page. Each person’s story sparkles. Each one makes us prouder to be fellow human beings on the planet. Bob recalls his first experience with his mother when he was five years old in Garden City, Kansas as they delivered groceries to a poor family during the holidays. He remembers the pat on the back he received from someone for doing good.

Chinese Food Philanthropy

Back in 1967, Peggy Cherng moved from Hong Kong to the U.S. to attend Baker University. Sixteen years later, she and her husband Andrew opened the first Panda Express restaurant in Los Angeles. Cherng has her Ph.D. in engineering and used her knowledge to streamline Panda Express’s operations by using a computer (not a common thing back in the 1980s) to track inventory and place orders. Today, there are more than 2,000 Panda Express restaurants across the globe, and Peggy and Andrew Cherng have a net worth of $3.1 billion. However, Peggy says it’s her family’s commitment and Panda Express’ commitment to charity that makes it a real success. Next to the cash register at every Panda Express is a small box labeled “Panda Cares.” Panda Cares is the charitable arm of the company. Peggy and Andrew moved to the U.S. so they could get a better education and have a better life. Since the beginning of Panda Express, the Cherngs instilled the core value of putting people first in their restaurants. Panda Cares officially started in 1999. Customers can drop donations in the boxes at restaurants or donate online. As of June 2020, Panda Cares has raised more than $212 million for health and education for kids in underserved communities and also for disaster relief.

Quiz : Non-Profit Density

There are more than 1.5 million registered non-profits in the U.S. But not all cities benefit from non-profits in the same way. Some places have a far more robust non-profit presence than others. Match the following localities with their number of non-profits per 10,000 people in population.  Answers are at the bottom of this page.
1. Barnstable Town, MA                    a. 16.6
2. Madison, WI                                  b. 17.1
3. Santa Fe, NM                                c. 17.2
4. Springfield, IL                                d. 19.0
5. Trenton, NJ                                    e. 24.2

Stratagems is published monthly by Jim Eskin, Founder of Eskin Fundraising Training, LLC. We offer workshops and customized training sessions for board members, staff and volunteers of non-profit organizations of all kinds and sizes. For details about our services and information, or to find out how to schedule a training session for your organization, visit our website. Follow our events on Facebook, and read more articles about philanthropy on our LinkedIn page.

Jim Eskin

Jim Eskin, Founder

Eskin Fundraising Training

Email: [email protected]
Cell: 210.415.3748

ANSWERS TO THIS MONTH’S QUIZ: 1=e, 2=a, 3=d 4=c, 5=b

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