Archive - 2016

Date Your Donors
Flint as a Network Problem

Date Your Donors

My friend, Jonah Halper, has a great new book out called, Date Your Donors: How to Attract and Engage a New Generation of Philanthropists. It is a great read that is really helpful in understanding fundraising as relationship building. I asked Jonah a few questions about the book and here my questions and his answers:

What compelled you to write this book?
I wrote this book because as I began honing my fundraising training presentations, a lot of my talks had dating analogies. I felt it was easy for my audience to relate to a metaphor that was more universally experienced. Especially because you can’t possibly know the background and expertise of 300 people in an audience. Dating was something most, if not all, people would have first hand experience. Most importantly, I wanted the book to make fundraising accessible to everyone. You don’t need a Masters degree to get people excited and support your cause. This book also reminds the seasoned professional to build in some new best practices to recognize the need for fostering real relationships with their existing and potential donors.

Hmmm, “dating” your donors sounds a little bit squishy, can you help us understand the essence of it?
It does! Because we humans are squishy! Our attraction to products and people are largely based on our emotions. We like to believe that we are intellectually guided, but that intellect is largely used to take a closer look at things that have already captured our interest. We largely make decisions based on our emotional investment in things, and we use data to reinforce positions we are already likely forming.

Why are so many people afraid of fundraising?
Because most people perceive fundraising as “dialing for dollars”, a sterile solicitation between two people. Just like sex, if there is no substance in the relationship, the act is reduced to only one’s selfish gains. If there is no partnership in fundraising, then your solicitation is commensurate with an ATM withdrawal. Fundraising – and sex – is much more powerful if it’s built on a real connection between two people. To carry this analogy even further, it is much easier to initiate intimacy with someone if there is an existing relationship. Questions like, “when is the right time to ask for money?” is akin to “how do I get this woman to come home with me?” These questions become less relevant when there is a real relationship behind them.

What are the 3 things you wish organizations would stop doing in regards to fundraising?

My biggest pet peeve is the one-night stand of fundraising. When you land the gift, say thank you, and then the next time they hear from you is one year later when it’s time to ask for more money. If this is a partnership, then the relationship STARTS when the gift is made. We need to have a robust plan for investor relations much like any brokerage that keeps their clients in the loop on their investments.

Another peeve of mine is when organizations don’t prioritize the brand and marketing of their cause. Online and offline, if your mission and vision isn’t compelling and beautiful, why would anyone want to advocate on your behalf? Our social lives are so much more tethered online, which means we care very much how we are perceived by friends and colleagues and therefore we will only champion and promote causes that fit the narrative we are making for ourselves. I don’t want to hang out with the socially awkward kids at the party. If your cause isn’t attractive, you aren’t creating the opportunity for people to see the wonderful “personality” behind it.

Seth Godin’s book, Permission Marketing, is marketing canon for anyone selling something. I learned that if you want to build a relationship with a customer, you have to “earn the permission bit by bit” to get their attention, and ultimately make the sale. Just because you are excited about your litany of programs, services and events, doesn’t mean I share that interest. It is the equivalent of walking up to a random man or woman on the street and ask them out on a date without any context. You may get lucky, but it definitely isn’t a reliable way to convert these people into dates…or donors. We need to think about our potential or existing donors and see what kind of interactions we are already having with them, and see how we can increase the dialogue level within that frame of reference. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, are all designed to help you create a two-way channel of dialogue, much like you do face-to-face. If you use it as simply another way to broadcast your “newsworthy” items, your intended audience will feel indifferent at best, or at worst, harassed!

I highly recommend this book for anyone aiming to be successful at fundraising. Buy it, read it, share it!







Flint as a Network Problem

The residents of Flint, MI have been the victims of a state government that chose to save money rather than provide safe drinking water. (here is a good recap.) Certainly, in the moment of decision for the state caretakers of Flint, the choice wasn’t so stark between saving money and providing water tainted with lead, but that, of course, was the result.

But that is just the presenting problem, in the lingo of social workers. Poisoning the residents of Flint wasn’t the intended outcome of the state’s effort to drag the city out of bankruptcy, it was a consequence of decades of policies that left the residents of Flint isolated and disempowered.

Desegregating schools and neighborhoods lost favor over the past forty years. As the idea of moving people around to give them access to safer neighborhoods and better schools fell out of fashion, the resulting resegregation of housing and schools left residents of low-income communities like Flint isolated.

The people of Flint lack the “bridging” power of social networks. This means that they literally can’t be heard outside of their own neighborhoods. Rich neighborhoods get better services than low-income ones because of their social networks. When rich people shout, government officials jump. When poor people shout, it is easy to ignore them because there are generally no ramifications for not listening (unless, of course, you are literally killing them with rusted water, then, eventually, someone will listen.)  Isolated, low-income people have no regular social contact with powerful people. So, instead of bumping into Bill at the club and telling him that the water is brown, a person in Flint sends an email to It is as effective as opening their window and shouting into the wind.

I don’t believe that the policies of elected officials were intentionally created to harm the people of Flint. This doesn’t excuse the inaction after officials learned of the lead poisoning, but I consider that reflective ass-covering and fear for their jobs rather than intentional policy.

Social isolation is a huge barrier for low-income people to overcome. It results in communities being isolated and disempowered. Power means being heard, but you can only be heard if you have access to the right people to listen. Social media help the unheard have a voice, eventually, but as Eli Pariser outlined in his fantastic book, The Filter Bubble, commercialized online networks like Facebook and Twitter, are also isolating people by reinforcing their existing social networks rather than helping them bridge to new ones.   (Here is a link to Eli’s Ted Talk.)

Income inequality is a bad, and historically bad in the United States right now, but social isolation is even worse for the well-being of people. Out of sight, out of mind, so the rich and powerful.


Copyright © 2018 Allison Fine