The magic of engagement

Here I was last night watching fireworks when found myself engaged in a conversation with a gentleman by the name of “Dan”. In no time, our conversation turned to non-profit organizations and philanthropy. As he ticked through a number of different organizations he has supported over the years, he ended each of those thoughts with a negative memory attached to a fundraising issue or event. Here is a list of terms he used repeatedly used:

  • Dreaded special events
  • Rubber chicken dinners
  • Money grubbers
  • Beggars

If you personally know me, then you know how enthusiastic I am about philanthropy. So, this conversation was painful to sit through. However, five minutes into our chat Dan’s tone changed completely when he started talking about a new charity in which he has recently gotten involved. The name of this non-profit organization is Year Up.

I was desperate to change the path we had been on, so I started asking questions about this particular  non-profit organization. What I discovered just confirms everything I’ve learned about philanthropy over the last 15 years. In a nutshell, Dan glowed on and on about a recent “rubber chicken fundraising dinner” where participants weren’t just asked to give money, but the entire program was geared towards promoting involvement.

  • Creating internship opportunities for clients
  • Helping clients with resumes, cover letters, and their job search
  • Mentoring clients

While these words didn’t exactly come out of Dan’s mouth, he essentially said, “Ah ha! Finally a non-profit organization that isn’t just after my money. I am more than just a meal ticket. I am seen as a partner who is willing to roll up his sleeves and help advance the mission.” Most importantly, he had a twinkle in his eye and was obviously excited.

In my opinion, this is exactly what Penelope Burk is talking about when she writes about “donor centered fundraising”.

Isn’t it funny how many fundraising and non-profit professionals are afraid to ask donors to get involved? All I can figure is that we practice this avoidance behavior because we’re afraid donors will see us as “asking for too much” and withdraw their support completely. So, instead of letting donors make decisions about their own time and level of engagement, we oftentimes make that decision for them.

I can imagine that there are donors who might stop supporting a non-profit organization if they feel harassed. With that being said, I’m not advocating harassment tactics. So, here is my challenge to you … identify 10 current donors and schedule face-to-face visits with them sometime in the next 30 days. During your sitdown meeting, talk to them about the impact their most recent financial contribution has made and then ask each donor this simple question: “in addition to your generous financial support, is there anything else you would like to do to support the mission?” Don’t offer up your ideas and thoughts. Just like when you are soliciting a contribution, be very quiet and still after asking the question.

You might just be surprised with where the conversation leads you. You might also like what kind of fundraising and non-profit professional or volunteer you become. I bet you will find an army of people just like Dan who will roll up their sleeves and end up becoming some of your most loyal donors. And those donors who are happy remaining financial supporters and cheerleaders will likely be thrilled that you asked.

Do you know anyone like Dan? What words have they used to describe fundraising and non-profit organizations? Have they fallen in love with a particular charity? If so, what do you attribute to their change of heart? Please use the comment section of this blog to share because these stories can be so transformative for so many of us.

Sorry for today’s super long post, but I always get excited when I can relay a real life donor story to those of you who care so much about philanthropy.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653


  1. Eric- you are ‘da man! Very enjoyable, thought proviking and right on. If more fundrasining professionals would try or take on your challenge they would be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and succesthis this approach is! Bravo, keep up the great work.

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