This is a Tremendous Opportunity-Interview with Andy Robinson

Andy Robinson, author of Selling Social Change, and Training Your Board, and Everyone Else to Fundraise, was kind enough to let me interview him about the new funding environment-and he had a surprising perspective!

Give 22 minutes of your time and listen to Andy Robinson’s 30 years of experience on these current funding threats to nonprofits.

OK I know my voice is hard to hear on this recording-Should have worn my headset, so TURN IT UP baby!

When you listen to this interview, you will learn:

–We raised 380 BILLION dollars last year, from private philanthropy, breaking all of the records

–The trend is now away from big 1% donors and into mid-level and lower level donors.

–If you’re a fundraiser and trying to broaden your donor base-this is a good time to do it

–We’re getting new people coming in, and our challenge is to keep them. How do we do that?

–The number one predictor of someone giving to your nonprofit is…

–How to see a need programatically and plug volunteers in

–The desperate need right now-in this political climate

–Is this a doomsday scenario? OR not?

–How the Third Sector Research of the Individual Donor Benchmark Report can help you now.

–Helping your board actually get involved in fundraising-what do you need to do?

–Basically the best T-Shirt Idea that WILL MAKE US ALL RICH 😉

Should you come to the online Nonprofit Leadership Summit?

Well, if you want to learn more from Andy Robinson, if you want to learn how to help your board fundraise for you, if you want to learn how to make a fundraising plan, then you should definitely come to the Nonprofit Leadership Summit.

But the choice is up to you.

Learn more about the NOnprofit Leadership Summit

Here’s the transcript!

Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and I am so pleased today to be interviewing Andy Robinson, who has written Train Your Board and Everyone Else to Fundraise, and Selling Social Change, as well as a variety of other books. Coming to us live from Vermont, Andy. Welcome.

AR: Hi, Mazarine. How are you today?

MT: Very good, thank you. A little early on the West Coast.

AR: It’s fine here. It’s the middle of the day.

MT: I got so excited to interview you today because I felt like you have this perspective that I haven’t heard in the doom and gloom of the national news that is really exciting. One of the things that we just talked about is how you’re seeing nonprofits respond to what’s going on nationally and what the trend is. I’d love to hear your take on what should we be doing now and what are you seeing?

AR: Well, let me start with what I’m seeing. Then we’ll go to what we should be doing now. I think this is a really good time to be a nonprofit organization. What’s happened post election is that a lot of people who were sitting on the sidelines – and I mean in all ends of the political spectrum. A lot of people who were sitting on the sidelines jumped in, and they’re giving money. They’re volunteering. They’re engaging. They’re showing up. In some cases they’re marching and they’re rallying.

There’s just a lot of new talent and new energy that is flowing into the sector right now. This is, in part, in response to what people perceive to be a crisis. But I think it’s also in part because there’s an opportunity there. So the energy level is up. The data came out a few months ago about giving in 2016. This is a document called Giving USA published every June by the American Association of Fundraising Council. We had a record breaking fundraising year last year. We raised $390 billion from private philanthropy. This broke every record.

What was really interesting about this is that the greatest growth in giving came from midlevel donors and lower level donors. It wasn’t all the mega wealthy. We’ve seen a trend for a number of years where more and more giving is concentrated at the high end. It’s the one percent. That trend reversed last year. So if you’re a fundraiser and you’re trying to broaden your donor base, this is a really good time to be thinking about that.

MT: Wow, so monthly giving or individual gifts that are not major gifts?

AR: Yes, correct. That’s precisely right.

MT: Wow. That’s good we’re having two sessions on that at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit. That’s good.

AR: Yes. The other thing I would say about that is there was growth in every subsector of philanthropy. So when they do this report, they break it down by people who give to the arts and people who give to healthcare and people who give to the environment and people who give to social service, etc. Every single category had an increase last year. People have this fear like when there’s an emergency, people give money to the emergency and don’t give to my group.

An example might be that people give money to Planned Parenthood because they’re concerned about reproductive rights and then they won’t give money to the local food bank because they gave that money to Planned Parenthood instead. We have not seen that. We’ve seen the opposite, which is that the Planned Parenthoods of the world are getting more money, but the local food banks are also doing well too. So it’s had an additive effect rather than a competitive effect.

So I think the work for us right now, and I’ll use the word us. Really, I don’t mean this politically. I mean if you’re a nonprofit and you’re involved engaging your community. The work right now is to plug in those new people, give them meaningful volunteer opportunities. Empower them to participate in all the ways that people can now participate. Ask them to give and engage them in a way that they want to give and give again. Because we’re going to get some new people coming in and our challenge is to keep them and to make sure that they’re not one off.

They volunteer once or twice and they go away. They give once or twice and they go away. We have to engage and reengage. I feel like this is the moment to be thinking about that and talking about that.

MT: Wow. So what you’re saying, if I can paraphrase, is that we need to be focused on volunteer retention, volunteer engagement and volunteer giving.

AR: Yeah. There was a strong correlation between people who give time and give money. We’ve tracked this for a million years. We have a lot of data on this. How do I say this? The number one predictor that someone is going to donate money is that they’re already donating time. This is probably a whole topic for some future webinar. People are very squirmish about this. Like they’re already volunteering. We shouldn’t ask them for money. They might be upset. The time is so important. We don’t want to lose them. I think there are respectful, appropriate ways to ask. But if you’re not asking your volunteers to give, you are leaving money on the table.

MT: Oh, 100% yes. So I mean, for nonprofits that are listening right now and they’re just like, I don’t really have a pipeline in place for that. What would you suggest?

AR: This is interesting. I have a client in Vermont that’s an affordable housing organization. They develop, build, run, rent, sell affordable housing. They’re very strong, well regarded, well organized. They’re an impressive organization. I’ve been meeting with them on this conversation about how to build an individual donor base because they’re great at grants. They’re great at government funding. They do that stuff awesomely. They don’t have a lot going on in the individual donor area. Where the conversation went was how do we build meaningful volunteer opportunities for folks?

For example, they teach people how to get their finances in order so they can qualify to buy a house, which can be fairly complex. They can do that with staff, but there are people in the community who work at banks or work at mortgage agencies or realtors who know that stuff cold. Those people could be recruited to help. In fact, the staff says, you know, we get these requests all the time. We don’t know how to plug these people in.

I said, okay. Think about a meaningful way to do that. Another thing we talked about is they do coaching for folks who are low income on how to manage a household budget, how to save, how to bank. Some fairly basic things there. There are people in the community that have great skills in that area that could mentor folks. That would be a really meaningful experience. What one of my colleagues said is it’s sort of mindblowing for somebody who has resources and has privilege to sit down with someone who’s poor and try and figure out how they manage their finances.

It’s transformative for the people who are helping because they’re sort of clueless about what it’s like to be in poverty in America these days. So it is not only a volunteer opportunity. It’s also a social justice opportunity. It’s also an engagement opportunity. So I think we just have to be creative about this. How do we plug people in? It’s worth noting, and you know this, Mazarine, is that volunteers are not free labor. You have to train them. You have to support them. Sometimes you have to fire them. You have to recruit them. You have to manage them. It takes time and effort.

But I’m just feeling like that’s a way forward for a lot of groups is to think about how do we engage people with both their time and their money.

MT: Wow. That’s sort of what boards do.

AR: Well, it’s one thing that boards can do and should do, yes. Now, I’m going to flip this for a minute. What are you seeing? Because you do work similar to mine. What are you hearing from your clients? What are you hearing in your community?

MT: I’m seeing small groups afraid of left behind by the big groups that are fundraising more aggressively now.

AR: Interesting.

MT: Like ACLU, Planned Parenthood. I’m also seeing a need by the smaller groups such as Meals on Wheels to be more efficient and effective with how they build trust deliberately with their new volunteers that are coming in because there are people who are coming in and coming out because they’re not being given the right opportunity. They’re actively trying to recruit younger volunteers because the boomers are the ones who are doing it and the boomers are boomers. They’re not going to always be able to do it. They want younger people.

So the challenge and the trick is getting them to stay. So I’m seeing small, very tiny groups in the middle of nowhere really, being like what do we do? I’m seeing a wonderful result for the national groups but I’m not necessarily seeing the smaller groups being able to stay, to message. This is a national moment. Here’s how you can help by giving to us. You know what I mean?

AR: Well, you know, I feel like all engagement begins locally.

MT: Yes.

AR: Yes, people want to perhaps fight a battle in DC or fight a battle in their state capitol. Those are important battles and we need to fight them. But I mean, I’ll tell you a very quick story about this. I was on the road election week. I woke up the day after the election in Colorado and I had three jobs in three days in three different cities. I woke up and I did not know what to say when I walked into the job the next morning. I was training, I don’t know, 30 or 40 people in Fort Collins, Colorado. Here’s what I said.

I looked at the group and I said, I don’t know if you voted. I don’t know how you voted. I don’t know if you care about voting. I don’t know what your politics are. I don’t need to know. Here’s what I know. Today your work is more important than it was yesterday because we have to build community. Everybody in this room does, regardless of your mission or your organization is you are building community. That is the desperate need right now.

So the better you can get at fundraising, the better you can get at managing your board, the better you can get at volunteer recruitment. All the stuff we teach people to do. That’s how we build community. So I think people are hungry for that and frankly it’s easier to do that on a local level than to send a check to national organization. No, I take that back. It isn’t easier. Ultimately I think it’s probably easier to send the check to the ACLU. But people are more likely to volunteer locally and engage locally than I think they are on a national level.

I don’t have data on that. That’s just my impulse. I will go ahead. The other thing about being of a certain age, and those of you who are watching can see all this gray on my face. I have been through several rounds of government funding cuts to nonprofits and threats to nonprofits from the political environment. We have seen a steady defunding of nonprofit organizations going back to the days of Ronald Reagan. This is not new stuff.

Every time this happens, there is the doom and gloom scenario which is there’s going to be all these mergers. All these organizations are going to fail. The nonprofit community is going to implode or collapse. Pick the word you like. We now have a 1.5 million charitable organizations in this country which is up 30 or 40 or 50% from when I started. So every time there’s this sense that the world is ending, what happens is more people get involved through nonprofits.

So I think the threats are real. If people are feeling a sense of threat or a sense of concern or worry or dislocation, I want to respect and honor that because that is a real thing. I totally get that. I don’t think it’s the end of the world. As I said to that group in Colorado, I think our work as charitable organizations is more important now than it was six months ago. I think it will be even more important a year or two from now than it is now. So we are being asked to do more. We are being sometimes asked to do more with less. That stinks. So our job is to make sure that there’s not less, that there’s more so we can actually do our work with more rather than with less, which is why fundraising is so important.

MT: Yes. That’s one of the reasons why this leadership summit is so focused on fundraising is because if we don’t have a consistent fundraiser in an organization or we don’t have really good support across all levels of the organization for fundraising, or we haven’t invested in a database, or we have no understanding of how to have a Plan B or C when Plan A doesn’t work. That’s what Erik Anderson is going to be covering. We are doing the people that we serve or the animals that we serve a disservice. You know what I mean? To not be more deliberate with our scenarios. You know what I mean?

AR: Right. Well, you have written about this and I have too. What I’m thinking about is Heather Yando [sp?] does this survey every year about how grassroots organizations raise money. Heather is at Third Space Studio in North Carolina. She collects a lot of data. She’s a total data head and she crunches and crunches. She produces a very good report. Every year she’s done this report, the number one finding has been that groups that have a fundraising plan raise more money than groups that don’t have a fundraising plan, even if it’s rudimentary.

Even if they don’t follow it to the letter. The fact that they went to the trouble of building a plan makes them more effective at fundraising. So it’s like anything else in life. If you do it randomly, you get random results. If you’re organized, you get better results.

MT: Yes, exactly. I’m interviewing her for my blog for the last couple of years. She’s totally right. Data doesn’t lie. So if we’re going to think logically and strategically, that’s one of the number one things we should be thinking about for 2018. How can I make my fundraising plan and communications plan all line up with where we’re going as an agency and an organization? So Andy, you’ve taught boards to fundraise for a very long time. How does the board fundraising piece fit in with what we were just talking about?

AR: Well, it’s worth noting that I will be doing a session at the summit regarding boards and fundraising. So this is advertising. It’s all right. It’s good. Two or three things. First of all, I think we have to redefine the word fundraising. People assume that fundraising equals asking for money. That is one small, very small piece of fundraising. Most of the work in fundraising is the stuff you do before you ask and the stuff you do after you ask. A lot of people will say I don’t want to ask for money. I’m talking about board members here.

My response is pretty much always, you don’t have to ask for money. There are 20 other ways that you can participate in fundraising that don’t involve asking for money. So for me, job one is to broaden the definition of the word fundraising. It’s all the stuff we do to identify potential donors, cultivate and engage them, ask them to give, thank them, recognize them, involve them, all that stuff. I’m forgetting the math but maybe 15% of the work in fundraising is the part where you ask for the money. So that’s number one.

The second thing I would focus on with board members is that every board member is an ambassador. One of your jobs if you’re a trustee is to be out in the community letting people know about the work of the organization. Not just soliciting them, again. But being someone who’s talking about the work when it’s appropriate and being proud of your affiliation and bringing it up and letting people know.

The number one form of marketing is still word of mouth. Nothing has changed in that regard. The most effective way to promote an organization or a product is to tell somebody about it. So a very quick story. I was working with a client, and the staff came to me and said we need board fundraising training but the board doesn’t think they need fundraising training. They think they’re good at it. Our perception at the staff level is they’re not. So if we offer this as a fundraising training, they will reject it. I said, fine. Let’s talk about that.

We got the board chair on the phone and we are having this conversation. I said, how does your board feel about their skill set as ambassadors? The board chair piped up and he said we’re terrible at that. I said okay, let’s do an ambassador training. He said yeah, that would be awesome. We could totally use that. So what we did is we spent a couple hours working on asking good questions, coming up with a good pitch, how to engage people, practicing that. It was lovely. It worked really well and it was absolutely a fundraising training but it wasn’t called fundraising. It was called something else.

Literally we called it ambassador training, absolutely. That seemed to work well. So those would be two things that I would focus on with boards. There are many directions to go with boards and fundraising. But that’s one answer.

MT: Lovely. I think that that’s much less scary for boards and that’s one of the lessons that Gail Perry teaches in her book, Fired Up Fundraising. I actually talked with her recently, Andy, and I’d like to get your take on this. This is a question. Or maybe not.

AR: Gail’s pretty smart. So if I disagree with her I’ll be shocked. But go ahead.

MT: Yeah, she does disagree with you.

AR: Nice.

MT: Yeah. So she said, “I teach people how to let their boards not ask. Most boards mess up and Andy teaches them how to ask.” She said, “I don’t think boards should be asking.” What do you think about that?

AR: Interesting. Well, I’ll meet her halfway on this one. In terms of the face to face ask, which is what I believe she’s talking about here. Setting up appointments, meeting with donors, telling them about the work, asking them about their interests, looking for a fit, soliciting them, all that stuff. The classic model – and Gail knows this. The classic model is a board member going with a staff member and doing it together, or a volunteer going with a staff member.

Often in that scenario, the person who’s closing the gift is in fact the staff member. But the board is there saying this is why the mission is important. This is why I give. This is why I care about this issue. Etc. So I think board members can be part of the solicitation team. Absolutely. If they’re the ones who are not asking, I’m fine with that. I have no problem with that. It’s better to have a skilled asker. So I don’t know that Gail and I are that far apart on this one. Frankly, I have met board members. I’ve met a number of them who are terrific solicitors and raised a lot of money and raised big gifts and had skills and gave a lot themselves.

So I wouldn’t be universal about this. I would say those really skilled board askers, best case scenario, ten percent of board members. The other 90% are not very good at it. They can be trained. But I think Gail has a legitimate point. The other side of this is I would like to expose board members to face to face fundraising even if they’re not asking. I like them to go on donor visits. I’d like them to see how the process works. I want to demystify that.

So maybe you and I and Gail will get on a call together sometime and we’ll talk about this in front of the world and see what she says because I don’t think she’s wrong. But I think there are exceptions.

MT: Well, Andy, it seems like your video has degraded so we can no longer see you. We can only hear you. Your connection in Vermont.

AR: Really? How sad. I can see me.

MT: Yeah, I know. I don’t think we can. But I feel like this has been a really good time talking about this and I think this is going to be an informative interview for people. Oh, there you are. You’re back. Excellent.

AR: It’s good to be back. I didn’t know I was gone but here I am. So I have an idea for a T shirt that will make us both wealthy. The T shirt is Keep Calm and Keep Fundraising.

MT: Yes, yes. I’m going to have to go redo everything I’ve been talking about for the last month and say yeah.

AR: Crisis thinking begets crisis behavior. I just don’t think we’re in a crisis. We may get there but I think we have an opportunity. So let’s embrace that opportunity.

MT: And embrace it and come to your session all about board fundraising.

AR: Yeah, we’re going to learn about how to raise money and how to get your board to help. So I look forward to that. Do you have dates and times yet that you can share with people? I know it’s in September.

MT: It’s September 18, 20, and 22. Monday, Wednesday and Friday so there’s a little break day in between. So people can rest and do work and whatever else they need to do and process the information.

AR: Cool. Mazarine, it’s always fun to talk with you. Thank you for inviting me. I’m going to go out and pick blueberries now because it’s that time of year. Thank you, everyone, for the work you’re doing. It’s so important. Keep doing it. I hope you can join us at the summit, and even if you can’t, keep doing what you’re doing because we need you. We need you. Bye Maz.

MT: Bye. Thank you.

AR: You’re welcome.

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