Tag: philanthropy

Why Youth Philanthropy is so Important

At our organization we love it when children or youth decide to do a fundraiser for us. There is little that resonates with our stakeholders more than hearing a story about kids helping other kids. We tend to refer to these fundraisers as Third Party Events. Our chapter is fairly small local charity when compared to some international or national charities, however the funds raised by these third party events is by no means insignificant. For the fiscal year that just past groups doing third party events raised a million dollars for us- that is a lot of penny carnivals and lemonade stands.

However as important or maybe more important than the  dollar figure is the behavior inspired by these junior philanthropists. In the video below I talk about two of the youth who made a big difference to our charity. I will also talk about some of the ways we recognize and reward youth philanthropy (not that they are looking for any rewards).

Top 5 ways Canadians Give to Charity

On average Canadians gave $531 last year to charity. In Alberta the average was a little higher at $596.96 per person. Although it would not be surprising if this average amount drops a little this year due to the dropping price of oil and the effect on the local economy. These stats came from an article last week in the Calgary Herald. The article was based on a recent Statistics Canada report. As an organizational leader for a nonprofit I am always thrilled to read any report about how people express there generosity and how they donate to charity. In the video below I talk about the top 5 ways listed in the report as the ways Canadians give to charity. Some of the ways will definitely not surprise you -but one or two just may.

Live From New York its Blackfalds Alberta

We love and need our donors, but nothing resonates with our supporters like kids helping kids. Here is follow up on 5 year old Haylen’s efforts to raise money for sick children. It is a great story but truth be told it is also a great story about the power of social media. It is a good lesson for small charities not to underestimate how they might use digital platforms or social media to get their message out.

Kids Helping Other Kids

Working for a charity is pretty great because you get to help other people. Another great thing about working for a charity is you get to witness every kind of human generosity possible. These situations tend to give you a “glass is half full” perspective of the world. Clearly some of the stories that resonate best with people in general are when children start to think about and act in ways that are very generous. You have to think what kind of great parents are able to raise really generous children. Here is a quick video update on 5 year old Haylen’s efforts to raise money for children at Ronald McDonald House.

Can mobile giving help your small charity?


              We recently entered the world of mobile fundraising. Well more like we stuck our toe in the water than jumped in and splashed around. Recently our MarComm team suggested the idea of adding a text to give $5 option to one of our signature events. The barriers to entry were fairly low, by that I mean it didn’t cost a lot. I have been unsure whether this approach would work for our type of cause. I do tend to view our organization as a learning organization and felt like it was a good opportunity to learn how to make this type of option work for us. Our peer to peer fund raising initially did not produce game changing support for our charity but over five years the program has grown significantly making it a very viable fundraising strategy. Over five years we have learned better strategies to make this fundraising option effective. As well more of our supporters have become comfortable with raising funds for us this way and seeing it as a way to help our cause.

           Anyway back to why I was skeptical that mobile or a text to give program might work for our cause: when mobile giving was in its infancy, some of the disaster relief organizations had unbelievable success with the approach.  Many other charities jumped on board with dismal results. It appeared that to make mobile giving work you had to have a great deal of urgency to have success with fundraising.  I did come across a recent article in The NonProfit Times that made me think our decision to wade in, might have been the right one. The article refers to a study done by The mGive Foundation. The foundation’s Executive Director describes: “ None of the nine organizations studied are specifically focused on disaster relief but range from environmental and animal to health services.” Okay this caught my attention- charities not involved in disaster relief who were having success with mobile giving. The other thing that really caught my attention and likely a reason a small charity might consider mobile fundraising is a quote by the author: ‘Retention rates for mobile subscribers who opt-in to receive messages or donate via text are on average 80 percent (Hrywna, 2014)”. Personally I might have guessed that the retention rate might have been a lot lower.

          One of our considerations with mobile giving is that we may only capture a donor’s phone number through this type of giving. Only having a phone number makes it difficult to appropriately thank donors and to keep them informed what you are doing with donated money. Jenifer Snyder the Executive Director of the mGive Foundation actually views a mobile number as an advantage. In the article she is quoted as describing:” data and connection point is the mobile number, one of the only pathways that people typically will retain for seven years or more”. When you think of it this makes sense I have had the same mobile phone number for the last 9 years.  Snyder makes a suggestion that may help charities respond to the need to find ways to appropriately thank and keep donors informed.  She suggests:” … organizations can “cross-pollinate” channels, encouraging constituents to opt-in at the same time for using email and text. If an email gets bounced back, an organization can then target them with a text message, informing them that the email bounced back.”  The article does not reference the percentage of text donors who will if asked subsequently opt –in with their email or mailing address, but I guess the point is the charity does have one more avenue to ask donors for this information.

          I personally don’t mind getting the odd text from a company I deal with or a charity I support, however I am not sure I would want frequent text from these organizations. I think a charity should be very cognizant of how frequently they communicate with stakeholders on any particular communication channel. However a least one group that mGive works with had some fairly interesting results with more frequent text messaging. The article illustrates;” The number of messages sent each month by one mGive client directly affected their conversion rate. When sending one or two messages per month, 10 percent made a gift when prompted compared with 21 percent who responded when five to seven messages were sent. The five messages, however, weren’t sent to the entire list but specifically targeted parts of the list,”  Five to seven texts a month seems fairly high to me –however if you used this frequency and had a large percentage opt-out I suppose you would know how to adjust the frequency.

         Mobile giving does offer an alternative or perhaps another communications tool that a small charity should consider. Snyder emphasizes;”   “You’ve got to start taking this channel more seriously.  It’s really not that expensive…but its super effective with 85 percent of texts read within 15 minutes and a 90 percent open rate.” I would caution against viewing mobile fundraising as a silver bullet. For our own team we view it as one of the many ways we communicate with our stakeholders. We also expect over time it will become a more significant source of donations- but not overnight.  I think if this avenue of fundraising and communication takes longer than two years to develop as a significant source of support- I will not be too upset. However overall I would tend to agree with Snyder’s last quote in the article;” Mobile has to be a strategy, someone has to pay attention to that, whether it’s outsourced or done internally. The first year of a campaign is about building infrastructure and getting your following built, honing your message and tone while the biggest turnaround comes in year two.”


Hrywna, M (2014) Mobile Donors Stick Around; The Nonprofit Times May 12014 as retrieved from:


Does giving to charity make you wealthy?


          Anne Frank wrote “No one has ever become poor by giving” –but is it possible that giving can make you wealthy? For centuries a number of religious and philosophical texts have described the relationship between giving or being charitable and the generation of personal prosperity. In general there is a lot of evidence and research that describes that the wealthier you are the more likely you are to give bigger gifts to support important causes, locally, nationally and/or internationally. Is there any science to back up the religious and philosophical teachings that might suggest that the relationship between generosity and prosperity goes both ways? Brook (2007) in a paper titled Does Giving Make us prosperous? points out:” A large majority of Americans give of their money and their time. Most estimates place the percentage of U.S households that make charitable contributions each year at about 75%, and the percentage that volunteer about 55 percent.”  Brooks in his research goes on to describe:”… charity and prosperity are mutually reinforcing. That is of obvious importance for nonprofit research and management: It gives much greater importance to the role of fundraising in the nonprofit economy, suggesting that it is far more than a simple means to an end- it may be an engine of benefit in and of itself.”  Brooks does have an explanation as to how this phenomenon may be created: Many psychologists believe that charitable behavior can provide a productive focus in people’s lives, which enhances their confidence and self-esteem –and consequently their likelihood of prospering.”

           I don’t think most of the people I know give because they want to prosper; actually I think most would describe just the opposite. They would describe their giving or generosity is designed towards giving without any expectation of a return. Interestingly Brooks (2007, pp409-410) concludes:”…many philosophical and religious teaching have asserted that it is charity that leads to prosperity. This article has sought to test the direction of this relationship, and has found strong evidence that money giving does in fact, influence income. “For those who believe that real prosperity is really related to happiness, there is certainly research to suggest that giving can create some happiness.  Dunn, E.W.  et. al. (2008) thought that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. When these authors considered this question they found that;” …spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). “

        So there you have it-giving to charity can make you both prosperous and happy. Two more reasons to support your favorite cause.



Brooks, A,C. (2007) Does giving make us prosperous? Journal of Economics and Finance: Vol. 3 N.1; pp.


Dunn, E, W. Aknin ,L,B & Norton ,M.(2008) Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness; Science 21

         March 2008: Vol. 319 no. 5870 pp. 1687-1688 DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952

Is your small charity ready for some million dollar gifts?



            A lot of small not for profit organizations and charities, in their wildest dreams they could not imagine receiving a million dollar gift. If a million dollar gift seems inconceivable to your small charity, this doesn’t mean you can’t acquire a gift that is transformational to your organization. Have your leadership team ponder what level of gift could be transformational for your charity. Don’t sell yourself short do a little blue sky thinking here. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University published an interesting study assessing institutional readiness to receive million dollar gifts. The study focuses on Universities, it can be hard to compare our small charities fundraising efforts to our local Universities as our organizations and our fundraising program is so different in size and scope. I am sure some of you other nonprofit leaders are thinking the same thing, but bear with me the study does point out some relevant findings (even for a much smaller charity).Some of the findings make a lot of sense, but at least one finding might seem counter-intuitive to some small charity board members or management. A lot of small charities I am familiar with can become concerned that if they do not look poor enough then people won’t make donations to them. I have worked for organizations in which staff or board members were worried that having financial reserves might give the impression to donors that we don’t need their donation. However in this study would not support that type of notion. The researchers found that:” Solid finances attract more gifts. Endowment value in 2001 is positively associated with the number of million dollar gifts received and the value of those gifts.” So in essence it seems that having a lot of money in reserve gave the message that the organization was financially viable and there had been good stewardship of resources.  The researchers went on to describe:” Those that have more get more, according to the Million Dollar Ready Study, which revealed that bigger endowments, more valuable assets and higher levels of government funding at the beginning of the study correlate to big gifts over the 13 year study period.” 

           Another factor which appears to affect the likelihood of receiving million dollar gifts is stability and long tenure in your organizations leadership. The study suggests;” A new president might earn a college or university some headlines, but it’s the long term established leaders who are likely to attract big gifts. According to study results ,having a president in office since the year 2000 is associated with receiving about 18 percent more million dollar gifts than having a president with shorter tenure.”  The study also found that a board that doubled their own giving was likely to create a 5% increase in the number of million dollar gifts.

        Two other quotes that resonated with me, and  are in keeping with the views I described in this post:



“Transformational philanthropy requires a transformational vision, and that vision must be articulated in a way that allows donors to see how student’s lives will be changed.” If your charity is a small charity and not a college, just substitute whatever word you use to describe your user group in this sentence and the meaning is the same for your organization. The researchers go on to describe: “ Invest in excellence and donors will invest in you. As powerful as a strong vision is, it must be partnered by institutional excellence.”


Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (2013) Million Dollar Ready: Assessing the institutional factors the

             lead to transformational gifts: as retrieved from:


Your smartphone is 80 percent of everything Radio Shack carried in 1991


         A little over a year ago we re-designed our website. This year we will be doing some work on improving how mobile –friendly our website is. We re-designed the website to “tweak” our branding a bit, but mostly we were working on the backend to improve our on-line giving features and our peer to peer fundraising pages.  Our assumption was that we would raise some additional funds through peer to peer fundraising pages and overall this would drive more donations on-line. A couple assumptions that we made were that our millennial (and younger donors) would be the major users of the new features and that in general we would be receiving gifts in the $20 to $250 range. We knew we would have some larger gifts but the improvements to our website and software was really targeted at the base of our donor pyramid. Well wouldn’t you know it one of the first donors to use our new on-line features was a couple in their early seventies? This couple typically comes in twice a year and physically hands Marla a cheque. If Marla isn’t around they ask if I am in and they personally give me the cheques. The donation was a $5000 donation which blows assumption number two out of the water. The lesson is everything you think you know about on-line donations and new technologies will change by next year.

             The additional lesson for our team is that we do need to think of our on-line technology as major gift tools, not just as tools to solicit smaller donations. We also need to consider the behavior and habits of our more affluent supporters.  Six thousand smart phone users were surveyed by BBC World news and the findings are interesting. BBC World News found that:

•39 percent of affluent individuals access their smartphone at least once per hour (18 percent higher than the general population).

 •Affluent smartphone users are 18 percent more likely to share their location than the general population.

 •Affluent smartphone users are 4 times more influenced by mobile ads than they are by desktop ads.

Justin Ware suggests;” we at BWF_social have been suggesting clients look at online as a major gift tool, in addition to something to strengthen the annual fund”.  Overall charities need to consider tactics and appeals that are more robust when considering all ranges of gifts that may be solicited on-line. Ware also provides a few more rationales why a nonprofit may want to invest more thought into their on-line appeals to donors. He points out:” studies tell us that online-acquired donors give larger gifts, give more of their lifetimes, and have greater capacity to give.” My personal beliefs are that larger gifts are more likely to be made face to face, but our world is changing and as a society our comfort with online and electronic transactions are increasing. This January we received an on-line donation of $25,000, at a time when I still get pretty excited about $1000 on-line gifts a donation out of the blue like this reminds you how much fundraising is going to change in the near future. As an illustration of how much the world is changing on his blog post Ware has an Radio Shack ad from 1991. You can see in the ad that almost everything they are selling in the ad, now can be replicated by your  smartphone.



Ware, J (2014) Smartphones are Powerful Major Gift Donor Engagement Tools: on the Social Side of

          Giving Blog as retrieved from: http://justinjware.com/2014/03/05/smart-phones-are-powerful-major-gift-donor-engagement-tools/

Social Media that goes bump in the night.


           I must admit when I first began to use social media it made me a little nervous. I was frequently worried that I would say something that would be damaging to my organization. Let’s face it if you follow me on twitter or IG you will know that at times I post some pretty goofy stuff.  Some of our staff embrace social media and are excited about its potential for our organization, some of our staff are terrified of it and are fearful it will damage our credibility or we will not be able to control the messaging about our organization. It is fairly likely that whether you are excited or fearful, people in your community are already likely talking about your charity somewhere on social media.

             If your organization’s  CEO is having a hard time being convinced that social media is important to your cause, Caroline Avakian, has some good advice;” Set up Google Alerts and TweetBeep (email alerts for Twitter mentions) for your CEO so she can see that there are already many discussions happening on social about your nonprofit. Once this is apparent, two things are likely to happen. First, it will become clear that your organization no longer controls your message and what people are saying about you online. Second, once engagement is revealed to key stakeholders, it will be apparent how valuable it is to join those conversations online – which is what social engagement is all about. Often resistance or apprehension comes from not actually experiencing the conversations and engagement in real time. “

          It seems that often fear comes from not understanding a situation, condition or phenomena.  Often I think people fear that if they say something on social media it is a permanent record and you can never take it back. If you spell someone’s name wrong or make a grammatical error it is a permanent record of how inept you or your charity is. Once you push something out their it is sort of permanent –but be real – how much attention do you think the world is paying attention to you. You will have to work fairly consistently to get noticed. Mansfield (2012) suggests;” The lifespan of a tweet is about 90 minutes. Most people browse only tweets in their timeline in real time. It’s rare that a tweet you posted last week gets traction.” If you tweet something out ,that is ,misspelt or grammatically incorrect pick yourself up and move on. You have not done your organization irreparable damage. If no one comments on it in an hour and a half-relax no one but you noticed the error.

           I think the reality is that you have to work consistently and persistently to get noticed amongst a very crowded digital space. That probably means that making a few mistakes will likely go partially unnoticed and you will have to work a little harder and longer to get that good following that is very interested in what you are saying about your cause. In saying this by no means would I suggest that it is not worth the effort.  Alex Swallow says it quite well on his blog: “I think that there are a number of important reasons why social media can be particularly powerful for small charities. The first is that I think social media, if used properly, is a way to start leveling the playing field. I can see lots of small charities who punch above their weight on social media in a way that their budgets would never allow them through traditional advertising and communications.”



Avakian, C (2014) Getting your board on board with social media: website SocialBrite Social Solutions for

          Nonprofits; as retrieved from: http://www.socialbrite.org/2014/02/24/getting-your-board-on-board-with-social-media/

Mansfield, H (2012) Social Media for Social Good: A how to guide for Nonprofits:  New York: McGraw


Swallow, A (2014) How small charities can get big benefits from social media- 5 tips from me: blogpost

          as retrieved from http://alexswallow.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/how-small-charities-can-get-big-benefits-from-social-media-5-tips-from-me/