Author - Allison Fine

Date Your Donors
Flint as a Network Problem
More Thoughts on Matterness for Associations
How Matterness Feels
Medical Malmeasurement
Amazing Grace Sung With Us Rather Than At Us
What’s Next for the Ford Foundation?
It’s Official: The Millennials are Here!

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.


More Thoughts on Matterness for Associations

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 7.38.26 PMEarlier this year, I had a terrific opportunity to share my thoughts about Matterness with associations on a webinar hosted by Wild Apricot. (You can watch the full recording of the webinar here. Go ahead, it was great fun!)

We had lots of participants in the webinar really digging in deep exploring ways to strengthen their relationships with their members. I was delighted to work closely with Wild Apricot (they’re terrific!) and to get to know their members better.

I have been reflecting a bit on what I shared in the webinar and what I have learned since in my new consultancy, Matterness Consulting (naturally!) in partnership with Debra Askanase.

On the webinar, I shared the basic outlines of Matterness with the hundreds of attendees. We talked about how it can be challenging to look at their efforts through the eyes of their members, why it’s critically important to work with their members through back-and-forth conversations not broadcasting at them, and, finally, the opportunity to find places to experiment with a new approach in the new year.

In just a few months of our practice we have already learned an amazing amount.

Here are the three key things that we are learning in our deep engagements with organizations:

  1. Matterness is at the heart of donor and member retention. We all know that it is far less expensive to retain current supporters than find new ones, and yet organizations routinely lose customers/donors/members at an alarming rate. Matterness is about remaking the relationship between people and institutions, and our consulting work is beginning to demonstrate that by doing so, organizations increase their retention rates.
  2. A little Matterness goes a long way. Everyone is frantically busy, but it is that very busyness, the intense focus on process and to-dos, that too often pushes stakeholders away. When you ask people when have they felt like they matter, like we did on the Wild Apricot webinar, are very small, fundamentally human recognition. A thank you call. A quick and personal response to a question or problem. A connection made to other people and resources. And this is where the board can come in. There are wonderful opportunities to engage board members as your Matterness ambassadors. Ask them to call members and thank them for their participation. Have them host lunches at their offices for local members. Encourage them to participate in efforts online to highlight the work of individual members. Whether you are a tiny organization or one with thousands of members,   you can reach more people by recognizing that the responsibility for making people feel like they matter rests with the board as well as the staff.
  3. Need to shift the leadership lens. Even though acts of Matterness can be small, even these efforts require a culture shift for a lot of organizations because it requires a shift in focus away from what the organization does and towards how members feel. Everything the organization does has to be focused on whether and how we are making members known, heard and empowered. The only way to ensure that organization maintain this focus is to measure it on a regular basis. We measure what we value, and there we have to measure how effective we are in making our members feel known, heard and empowered.

We are just beginning to understand the causality between making people feel known and retention rates. We are in the process of developing a Matterness assessment tool to start to develop measures for understanding and improving Matterness over time. (And would love any thoughts any of you have about that.) I look forward to again sharing what we are learning in a few months!

In the meantime, you know, just in case you missed the plug above, feel free to watch Wild Apricot webinar and learn the key principles of Matterness!

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How Matterness Feels

I was asked a very interesting question last week at an event. The facilitator asked me, “What does it look like when Matterness has taken hold?”

I stopped for a minute. I am accustomed to tactical questions about Matterness. How do we create programs conversationally? Where should we talk to people? What happens if we get criticized in public?

But this was different, it wasn’t “how do we do this” but “what happens when we get there?”

I stopped and thought for a second. I decided the question wasn’t quite right (the purview of being the interviewee!) It isn’t about what it looks like when Matterness is in place, but what it feels like that is important.

Efforts with an abundance of Matterness will have a different kind of energy that those that are continuously working at people. It will feel lighter and easier. The energy will be multi-directional, meaning that the organizer doesn’t have to come up with all of the ideas and resources. You will feel simultaneously more generous and more forgiving because all of your efforts are based on the idea that people are good and smart and of good will. The energy you used to spend worrying about people “gaming” the system or cheating or not fulfilling their obligations will be replaced by a deeper understanding of who your people are, what motivates them, and why they are engaged with you.

Matterness is about giving more than you take – and that feels great!


Medical Malmeasurement

Credit Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Credit Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Malmeasurement is my word for when organizations use the wrong measures. I’ve written about it before, for instance, here.

The crux of the idea is that by using the wrong measures, organizations automatically get off track because the results are meaningless.

Last week I was talking to a doctor, an internist. She said that her practice, like most around the country, have stopped doing rounds at hospitals. They are kept abreast of their patience progress by hospitals, but have separate realms.

I was horrified by this. Your internist is your regular doctor, the one who actually knows you as a healthy person, and may have years of experience treating you. And they are not primarily involved in your care when you are hospitalized.

“Does it work?” I asked her.

“It works great,” she said, “We all have access to the same information and the specialists do what they do best.”

And then she continued.

“Of course, the patients hate it.”

Ah, now we’ve moved from malmeasurement to matterness (and, yes, I do like making up words!)

The reason for the change in who cares for patients in hospitals is explained in a blog post by a doctor. He writes, “…primary care physicals can maintain a busy outpatient practice without the burden of having to round on patients while they are admitted.”

We patients are seen as a “burden.” Hmm, funny way to create a health care system. In a revolving door health care industry, I imagine that there are people who ambivalent about seeing an internist with whom they may not feel any connection.

But for other people, like me, who take a great deal of care in choosing their physicians, and want desperately to think that they have built a relationship with someone who has seen them in a paper gown year after year, the idea that any doctor will do just won’t do.

We patients matter. translations Doctors and hospitals that want to pretend that streamlining and efficiency are the best measures to use for health care are simply wrong. The first and primary measure that should be used is: do patients feel cared for in our system?


Amazing Grace Sung With Us Rather Than At Us

I hope you didn’t miss the extraordinary eulogy the President gave a few weeks ago in the wake of the abhorrent massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, SC. Nine people were killed while in Bible study class with only hatred as a flimsy rationale by the shooter, Dylan Roof.

The eulogy was both personal and profoundly universal, with the president talking about the power of Grace, of basking in the glory of a power larger than ourselves that enables to forgive and provide solace to others. And, as you well know, he sang the historic hymn of Amazing Grace, as proud as it was imperfect. Here, watch (better, watch the whole speech):

Donovan X. Ramsey wrote a thoughtful essay about the President’s eulogy entitled, “President Obama: Talk to Black America Not At Us.” Ramsey captures the feeling that many people had watching the speech that this was the President we have been waiting for. Not the timid one, or the Professor in Chief, or the worn down president with a small “p” who never really wanted a battle with the opposing party. This was the one that we have seen in such brief moments; in mid-2007 when he invited people to shape his campaign with him rather than just write checks like the second campaign. This was the hope: that we would all participate equally, passionately in shaping this presidency.

Unfortunately, more often, the President and his team hid behind closed doors, wrote code for a disasterous health care site done by bureaucrats when an army of open-source coders stood ready to help. Backed down from open town hall meetings with pro-marijuana activists refused to be overlooked.

Part of what made this eulogy so powerful was how infrequently we have seen this President. The one who is with us, a part of us, not working and talking at us. This is also the essence of leading with a Matterness lens. No one is waiting out there for some leader to give them marching orders. chinese to hmong We are ready, willing and able to jump to action, when we are asked to participate in meaningful ways.

Ah, well, the Obama years are almost over. Maybe, someday, we’ll get a leader who stops working at us.


What’s Next for the Ford Foundation?

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.39.17 AMThe title of this post is the title of a post written by Darren Walker announcing the future direction of the Ford Foundation. It is a very compelling, exciting and clarion vision. The one area that really caught my attention was the commitment he makes to anchor organizations.

He writes, “…we have decided to invest in organizations as partners—and to give them the kind of trust, flexibility, and additional supports they need to do their best work. As incubators for both individuals and ideas, organizations are essential to developing a robust ecosystem of actors addressing inequality around the world.”

There is a lot packed into this paragraph. The first is the commitment to organizations over people. This notion is repeated several times in Darren’s post, his mantra is institutions, individuals, and ideas. Institutions first, always. Of course, this makes sense as a traditional grantmaking institution, Ford gives grants to institutions, so they had better be good ones. But I do wonder if there is an understanding within Ford of the changing role of organizations as platforms for connecting people to one another and engaging networks of people in problem solving rather than in the traditional fortresses that Ford has invested in?

And how will these organizations be “partners” with the foundation? One of my most memorable experiences with my program officer from the Packard Foundation when I received my first grant from them. I had just started Innovation Network. “I am so excited to be your partner!” I shouted to my program officer (in the way that only twenty-somethings can do.) She took a deep breath and said, “I’m not your partner, I’m your funder.”

She wanted to make the boundaries of our relationship very clear. We would never be equals, she told me, it was not possible, because of the inherent power differential between check writers and check receivers. And she was right. They invested very generously, for three years, and then they were done, and I was left to scramble and find someone else to pick up the tab (that is the definition of nonprofit sustainability, by the way, finding the next donor/funder to write a check.)

The history of foundations as “partners” with their grantees is a road littered with the corpses of good intentions gone bad. Darren specifically emphasizes that he wants his institution to distinguish between making a grant successful versus making an grantee successful. And yet, it has very rarely been done.

Why? Because it requires grantees to be willing to share real problems and foundations willing to accept them. Unless Darren changes the DNA of the foundation, where learning is rewarded even if it looks like failure, it will not be possible for program officers to accept bad news from grantees. Therefore, they won’t get bad news.

I am delighted that Ford wants to invest heavily, and with general operating support, in essential organizations. Hurrah! But the biggest questions remain. Who defines effectiveness and sustainability? What will learning look like and what will Ford’s tolerance be for hearing what they traditionally have thought of as bad news?

And here’s my big, big question: Exactly what kinds of organizations are Ford aiming to sustain? Not what do these organizations do, but how do they operate? Will the foundation continue to invest in fortresses, as their history suggests, or are they going to push towards more networked models that will make these institutions more porous, more engaged with their own communities, shaped more like social networks than stand alone hierarchies.

Ford does not have a history of helping to support more networked organizations, but there is an enormous opportunity for them to take the lead in doing so now. My fingers are crossed that they will!


It’s Official: The Millennials are Here!

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 12.42.40 PMAccording to a Pew study, the Millennials are finally here, making up a majority of employees. According to the Pew Center, Millennials now make up 53.5% of all workers, compared to 52.7% for Gen Xers and 44.6% for Boomers.

Pew also released a study on attitudes by Millennials (people born after 1980) about work, institutions, religion, politics…well, about life in general. For those of us who have been terribly interested in this enormous generation of digital natives for a while (see my report about Millennials here for the Case Foundation) there isn’t anything new here about their attitudes. They have always been wary of institutions and fiercely independent politically, religiously and philanthropically.

Part of what has makes the discussion of Millennials challenging is trying to distinguish between their unique characteristics and the fact that they are young people. But there are data here that are beginning to harden the picture of how these young people will behave in the future. For instance, the fact that this is the most racially mixed generation makes Millennials much more open to work relationships and friendships with people from different cultural backgrounds (Hurrah, we can stop fighting old fights!) And the fact that they have enormous student debt and came of age during a financial meltdown makes them poorer and more cautious financially than Gen X.

So, now that they are finally here, what changes? What happens to organizations when people inside of these institutions are fundamentally opposed to institutions? What changes the most: the people or the institutions?

I think that last of institutional loyalty, to political parties, causes or employers, is going to have the greatest impact on how we live and work together. It will make politics much more volatile. When the majority of voters are independents, they will vote for people and not parties, causing a constant flipping of legislative bodies between parties. It means that causes like breast cancer will continue to draw a lot of attention, but that donations will largely happen as impulse gives for a campaign that catches someone attention online.

I think this is great. It will require all institutions to work hard to, well, make people feel like they matter!



Copyright © 2019 Allison Fine