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 Swank, JD, senior consultant at Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company, helps nonprofits apply statistical analytics and donor research to their fundraising efforts with an emphasis on planned gifts. She has raised nearly $250 million for mission funding during her nonprofit development career. Katherine is a retired affiliate faculty member of Regis University’s master of Global Nonprofit Management degree program, where she taught courses on wealth and philanthropy.  Along with writing for publications like Advancing Philanthropy and Philanthropy Journal, she is also a frequent presenter for industry conferences such as NACGP, AFP, APRA, and bbcon. Having grown up in a tourist destination in Colorado, Katherine has become an avid world traveler and is exploring her way through the 1,000 places to see before you die, albeit slowly.  Connect with her on Twitter @KatherineSwank.

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