Conversations from the Exit Row | npENGAGE

Conversations from the Exit Row

By on Dec 21, 2011


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

Katherine has over 30 years of experience in the fundraising industry as a consultant, development officer and advancement team manager. As a member of Blackbaud’s analytics consulting team for over a decade, she facilitates strategic, client-facing content for Blackbaud’s custom modeling, wealth screening, and prospect research solutions to enhance clients’ development efforts with data-driven strategies.  Before assuming this role, she served as the national director of gift planning at
the National Multiple Sclerosis Society home office. Katherine has raised over $200 million during her career. She is a past president of the Colorado Planned Giving Roundtable, a former lawyer and also served as an affiliation faculty member at Regis University where she taught development-related courses at the master’s level for more than 10 years. She is a frequent speaker at BBCON, NACGP, Apra, AFP and other industry conferences.

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