I was traveling to Philadelphia by plane this week and through sheer luck was seated next to a vice president of a hotel management company. Turns out he is also the incoming Chair of the Board of my local American Red Cross chapter, as well as a volunteer with a recently formed local micro-granting organization. The 3 hour-2 minute flight rushed by as we discussed the state of fundraising, the challenges of staff turnover and the awe-inspiring dedication of thoughtful and impactful donors.
I asked him what he thought the organizations could be doing better and the answer was the same for both – “Reaching out more personally to people and asking them to give – whether time or money, we don’t really ask everyone to give.” I had to agree.
He told me that the local Red Cross group had recently held a “Thank-a-thon” but suggested that they hadn’t included all of the volunteer callers they had available. Specifically, a group of prominent local women, all of whom had made contributions of at least $10,000 that year. He said, “I think it would have been a great idea to ask them to come and make calls with us.” I also agreed.
He then told me that the small micro-granting organization was really doing some wonderful work and shared the story of a high-school janitor, recently downsized, who needed only $1,000 in order to purchase equipment so that he could start his own janitorial service. A success story in the making. But he was concerned that the organization was satisfied with their total annual distributions of $9,000 – a bit shocked that their year-long efforts had amounted to so little. I asked him how they raised funds and he said that their sole effort was through grant-writing and donations from the few volunteers involved. He suggested that the focus of their mission funding needed to expand. I again agreed.
When the plane landed, my seat-mate said that he had learned a lot and was excited to think more about some of the topics we had discussed. I learned something too. Through this brief meeting, I realized that no matter how large or small, many organizations are probably not using their donors and volunteers strategically and a simple conversation with a stranger in the Exit row may be all that one needs to see things more clearly. Do you agree?
*Katherine Swank is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.