Debra Steinbuch — How You Help
10 Lessons for Successful Modern Philanthropy
This post was first published in the Cincinnati Business Courier Dec. 1, 2016.
Recently we finished a new fundraising project at the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati that used the model of a “giving circle”— a small group of major donors — to fund innovative projects in Cincinnati. These donors pooled their resources, and we then took applications from people looking for funding for high-impact projects that enrich community life or solve societal issues. The “giving circle” of donors then decided together which projects to fund.
Here is what we discovered:
1. Your chairs matter – people give to people. It matters who’s asking and how they ask. It’s important to have leaders in place who appreciate and understand the larger vision and mission of your organization, and who can identify and recruit like-minded people to join you.
2. Setting is important. Tremendous time went into discussing the details and format for giving circle meetings, which facilitated open and honest discussions and learning opportunities. Details like location, food, beverages, technology and lighting may seem trivial, but it’s all part of creating an environment where meaningful giving and participation can thrive.
3. What’s in it for the donor? Donors are volunteering their time — time away from family, friends, business and other personal interests. When you create an engagement opportunity, you have to think about why someone would want to join in your effort. Those motivators vary from person to person — everything from their values, to a desire to grow, even a need for recognition. Whatever the reasons are, it’s important to make sure that what you have to offer speaks to your audience.
4. Values-oriented giving is powerful giving. We had several discussions with our giving circle members about what matters to them and these conversations were very powerful. We created space for relationships to grow and experiences to reflect values. Some of our participants took home readings and activities to do with their children.
5. Involvement and generosity go hand in hand. Engagement is key. The more involved donors are in the process, knowing about the needs and feeling the impact — the more they’ll want to give. Connection and confirmation that their efforts make a difference is what drives people to give. People are willing to be more generous if they are held accountable.
6. Families love to give together. While the giving circle members originally started out as a group of individuals, by the end of the process, almost everyone was participating with their spouse and/or adult children. Having deep philanthropic discussions and involvement with family with can be very powerful.
7. Outside endorsements matter. In fundraising projects like this, stakeholders want to know that there are resources to ensure success. We were able to launch our giving circle because we partnered with Amplifier, a worldwide network of giving circles inspired by Jewish values, which provided us with support and enhanced the credibility of our project. We’ve since been highlighted at national conferences and in national publications — recognition that increases the initiative’s visibility.
8. Donors look to the experts (that’s you!). Our participants counted on us to have the answers. While the funding decisions were ultimately theirs, our donors looked to us as a trusted advisers.
9. If you get it right, it’s contagious. People are your best advocates, and great experiences can go a long way. Our donors are telling their friends about this and have asked to participate again. Given early excitement around the program and the awardees’ accomplishments so far, we are now planning for a second year.
10. Keep things fun. It’s important to make sure that the experience is fun for your donors. Enjoy this exploration together — it’s easy for your donors to see how you feel about the project. Passion and energy are contagious.