Claire Axelrad , J.D., CFRE was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clairification.
A sought-after coach and consultant, Claire is a member of the Rogare Fundraising Think Tank Relationship Fundraising Advisory Panel and writes monthly columns for Nonprofit Pro and Maximize Social Business. Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine.
A member of the California State Bar and a graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco California.
Fundlio: Welcome to the Fundlio blog! We are happy to have you here and offer our readers some valuable tips on how to raise money better.
We were curious – why is your blog tagline “Philanthropy, Not Fundraising”? Does this refer to a particular vision you have about fundraising?
Claire Axelrad: I urge nonprofits to move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”).
I look towards a future when nonprofits will ask not what donors can do for them, but what they can do for their donors. When nonprofits will recognize that donors don’t serve them; they serve donors.
The job of nonprofits is to help people experience the joy of giving. It is through social benefit organizations that donors will achieve their most meaningful work. When donors are a central part of your nonprofit’s mission, you will have embraced the true meaning of philanthropy as love of humankind. For my full vision of “Philanthropy, Not Fundraising” I encourage folks to read Philanthropy, Not Fundraising: I Have a Dream.
Fundlio: Why are so many nonprofits “stuck like hamsters on a wheel”, like you’ve put it in your blog’s bio section? What prevents nonprofit leaders from focusing on a success vision? (I have a feeling that some of our readers may find themselves in this situation.)
CA: Leaders get stuck because they fear failure. They fear taking risks. They think it’s “safe” to do what they’ve always done, ignoring the fact that it’s no longer working. Fear breeds caution and a certain tunnel vision. Folks begin to see only a few feet (or months) ahead of themselves. They make short-sighted decisions that yield unfortunate long-term consequences.
In this tunneled implementation mode, people get stuck on process; not vision. All too often, organizations run by folks who self-identify as “professionals” (e.g. board members who work in law, medicine, finance, real estate and technology) have the tendency to drain all the emotion out of their cause. They focus on how services are delivered rather than why they originally were compelled (usually by emotion, not reason) to head in this direction.
Leaders must re-engage with their passions. They must go back to the future and find what started them on this path before they lost their way. They must lead from their heart. If they find their heart is no longer in it, they must make way for someone else to get the organization unstuck.
Fundlio: One of the consequences of being stuck in a status quo is fundraiser dissatisfaction. What else causes fundraisers to quit their jobs?
CA: Lack of respect is a big reason. I constantly hear fundraisers say “no one listens to me.” And I experienced that personally when I worked in the trenches. Board members, with no experience in fundraising, would come in and tell me how to do my job.
Executive directors have to protect and support their staff. Fundraisers report that lack of help from chief executives, boards, and other staff members is a big reason for their discontent (The Chronicle, January 17, 2013). Likewise, the fact that many nonprofit leaders don’t understand what it takes to be an effective development leader (The Chronicle, March 18, 2012) creates significant frustration. Too often development directors are shoved in a corner and told: “go raise money.” Sorry, this doesn’t work. It’s a recipe for frequent fundraiser turnover.
Fundlio: The need for rewards is an important aspect for donors as well. What should nonprofit leaders know about the human drives behind giving for charity?
CA: There’s a lot the development field can learn from psychology. I’m a believer in Maslow’s “Theory of Human Motivation” where he breaks needs for human development and contentment down into steps that form a pyramid. Maslow suggests the basic human needs such as food, shelter, and sleep are required before you can pursue higher needs such as security, love and belonging, esteem and the need for self-actualization. I believe it’s the job of nonprofits to reward donors by meeting these higher-level needs. Giving, sadly, is not always its own reward. Donors may give out of guilt, fear, peer pressure (which doesn’t feel so good). Some give to be praised (meets esteem need, but only if you praise them). Some give to be accepted by peers (meets love & belonging need, but only if you offer opportunities to connect and feel loved)… and so forth. Donors, like all human beings, are on a continual quest for meaning. It’s the existential search to be all that one can be. To feel self-actualized. This feeling is very powerful – and we human beings naturally seek it out. It’s one of reasons why even very poor give outsized proportions of their income to charity. A commitment to making your donors happy should really be your end goal with cultivation and stewardship — because if donors are happy they’ll give again!
Fundlio: What can you tell us about your new Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook? What are the main aspects covered in this piece of work?
CA: The average nonprofit in the U.S. is losing 103 donors for every 100 they acquire. This is part of the “hamster wheel” experience of going round and round but never gaining any ground. In fact, nonprofits are losing ground! Which is why putting in place a thoughtful, strategic donor retention plan – and instilling a culture of gratitude throughout the entire organization – is an imperative.
I believe nonprofits should prioritize retention over everything else. It’s much more cost-effective to retain a donor than find a new one. And it’s not that hard to do – so it hurts me that so many nonprofits do such a poor job.
My 6-volume Playbook takes folks step-by-step through the process of keeping and upgrading more supporters by becoming truly donor-centered. It’s not just theory, but a lot of practice. I did this for 30+ years overseeing development programs large and small. I know what works and what doesn’t. And I know how to overcome resistance to doing this importance work. I share everything I’ve learned.
Fundlio: Storytelling is a growing trend in both business and charity. Have you used this technique throughout your fundraising career? What’s the recipe for a success nonprofit story?
CA: Nothing communicates verbally as quickly and effectively as a story. Our brains are wired to receive stories. It’s the exact opposite of what we do with statistics. With the latter, we put up our dukes ready to refute the data. With the former, we identify with the characters and plot and enter into the story. We become enrapt.
The recipe for success? A character we can connect with + trials the protagonist must overcome + ways the struggles can be overcome… with the help of the hero! The hero, of course, is the donor.
Fundlio: In today’s digital age, it’s obvious that nonprofits cannot communicate like they did a decade ago. Has this made things simpler or more complicated for nonprofit leaders?
CA: In my view it’s more complicated. Where we used to have just one or two communications channels that everyone used, now we have many which only some use. It’s hard work to be in all the places your target audiences may be. The upside is that we have the potential, through digital media, to reach out to people we’d never have been able to reach in the past.
Fundlio: Can you summarize in a few sentences an online strategy model that nonprofits can use?
CA: First and foremost, make building relationships your mantra. The huge advantage of online marketing is that it is by nature “social” and “inbound.” Rather than simply broadcasting stuff about yourself (“outbound”), seek and respond to constituent feedback. Show folks they matter to you for more than just money.
Create calls to action that make it meaningful and fun to interact with you.
- Begin with your website content.
- Add a blog that can link to some of this content.
- Build your email list and use email. While social media can be great for raising your profile, most consumers still respond better to offers made in an email.
- Figure out which social networks your constituents use most; use social media as a tool to warm up your audiences, with email coming in to close the deal.
- Create consistent branding that you use across all channels so that messages reinforce one another.
Fundlio: You provide coaching and consulting services to nonprofit professionals. We were wondering if your clients require advice on online fundraising and what challenges they deal with when it comes to collecting funds online.
CA: Most folks, especially in small to medium-sized nonprofits, require online fundraising advice – either to get started or to do what they’re doing more effectively. Challenges include:
- Getting fundraising and marketing staffs working as a team so messaging appears consistent, focused and coordinated; not confusing or working at cross purposes.
- Using online tools to streamline the process so online fundraising isn’t so complicated it barely gets done, or only one person can implement it.
- Making e-appeals attention grabbing with great subject lines, subheads, visuals, reader-friendly text, emotion and urgency.
- Making appeals and donation pages mobile friendly.
- Making it easy for folks to give with spiffed up donation buttons, landing pages, user-friendly donation forms and so forth.
- Making it pleasant for folks to give with killer thank you landing pages, friendly auto-responder thank you’s and ability to share.
- Making it easy to measure and replicate success by tracking where donations come from, areas of greatest interest, top influencers and so forth.
Fundlio: How can you integrate the need to build donor relationships with online fundraising? Is donor cultivation a must only when you aim for major gifts?
CA: Donor cultivation is a must for every single donor – at least if you want repeat gifts!
Fundraising has always been about building relationships with people who are, or will be, ready, willing and able to give. Increasingly, nonprofits are leveraging technology to build relationships with potential supporters.
Never forget that social media began as a “social” network. It’s an act of attraction. It’s invitational. It asks who’s interested? Who wants to participate? This means you should be chit-chatting; not lecturing. You should be exchanging information, not broadcasting. The days of outbound one-way marketing are long gone. Nonprofits must learn the art of gently “pulling” engagement from people by listening to them; then offering content that’s relevant and useful.
Fundlio: Thank you for taking part in this interview! Do you have a final word for our readers, or an extra tip to uplift their year-end fundraising plans?
CA: Take advantage of the upside of the digital revolution. As long as you’re working hard to create broader awareness and connect with folks across multiple channels, you may as well work smart! Today that means using the power of the internet and social media to give your messaging a rocket boost!
Enlist ambassadors and influencers to help spread your messages and share your fundraising calls to action peer to peer. One of the easiest ways your board, staff, donors and volunteers can help you is simply by sharing your message with their networks. You can make this easy by preparing e-mails; setting up Facebook cause pages or prepared tweets; empowering them to host their own fundraising pages (your database or CRM may enable this); and including share buttons everywhere.
And by all means, look at platforms like Fundlio to help you manage all aspects of your online fundraising. When you make it manageable, you’ll do it. And in this day and age, if you don’t do it you’re going to be missing a huge boat.
Claire is offering “The Power of Thank You” course in May:
“How and when you say “thank you” can make or break your entire fundraising program. The importance of Thank You is sorely underappreciated, and nonprofits who excel at this will have a competitive advantage. Gratitude that’s authentic, prompt and personal kick starts the donor relationship, makes donors happy, shows they can trust you and sets you up to get the next gift!”
You can register for the course until the end of April here.