Inspired Fundraising Summit

So, What’s Ahead?

In the flurry of daily deadlines, we seldom take the opportunity to step back for a look ahead. Where’s the industry going? What are we doing to make sure our organization is prepared?

The 4th Annual Inspired Fundraising Summit at Avila University offered regional fundraising professionals an opportunity to do just that. Sponsored by the Hartsook Institute for Fundraising and presented in partnership with NonProfit Connect and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the afternoon forum offered three distinct lenses from which to peer into the future.

Professor Jen Shang, Ph.D. led off with the broadest and most far-reaching perspective, a challenge to consider what might be new in “philanthropic projects, tools and organizational designs” over the next 25 years. “Self-sacrifice is not sustainable,” she quipped in assessing some current (and older) models of giving.

Dr. Shang presented recently completed research, Insights into the Future of Philanthropic Innovation, in which the focus on 25 leading/successful philanthropists established that the self was not sacrificed, but grew through helping others. Building on that initial research, Dr. Shang presented her case for the need for philanthropic literacy – “one’s ability to experience, express, and grow love for mankind, sustainably based on knowledge and ‘good thinking.” It’s an enticing concept, and worth downloading the report to dig a little deeper!

Lest the crowd float away into the esoteric, Roger Craver, Agitator and pioneer direct response fundraiser, was on hand to bring them back to reality. In his presentation, "Don’t Eat the Poinsettia,” he emphasized the need to move from myth-based to evidence-based practices.

Rather than rely on “rules of thumb,” (mail more, make more; a 2-for-1 match beats a 1-for-1; etc.) he encouraged attendees to challenge their own thinking and practices in a considered and measurable way. “Maintaining status quo is the highest risk habit an organization can undertake,” he cautioned. 

The final session was a panel of local philanthropists, as has grown to be the tradition at the Inspired Fundraising Summit. Lamar Hunt, Jr., Founder of Loretto Foundation, and Kent Sunderland, President of The Sunderland Foundation, responded to a broad range of questions about why they give and why they don’t. 

There were a number of worthwhile insights – “It’s still a relationship business.” “Doing your homework” (preparation) and “personal follow-up” still make a difference in how funding happens now. But it was also fascinating to listen to their perspectives on how these family foundations are changing as the next generations move into major giving decisions.

So, what's ahead for you? More importantly, what are you doing to prepare?

Straight Talk Is Simply Inspirational

I’ve heard a number of panels at fundraising events, but will confess I didn’t know what to expect from one entitled “Women in Philanthropy.”

Moderator Jeane Hamilton Olofson set the stage perfectly in her introductory remarks by announcing the group would share “personal reasons we invest in other organizations.” Emphasis mine; that’s not a combination you hear every day.

The description was spot on. The advice from these leading Kansas City funders was honest, heartfelt and sincere. It was also persistently practical and a great reminder of some of the “little” realities we sometimes forget in this delicate dance called fundraising. 

Briefly, why do these decision-makers (who happen to also be women) invest in causes?

  1. Mission, first and foremost. “Something resonated,” or “things I’m passionate about” or “the culture, the compassion, the vision.”
  2. Impact was a close second. “Feel good is okay, but if it doesn’t change a life, I’m not interested.” “Transformational giving.
  3. Alignment with the business is important and often overlooked. “I appreciate when they talk about my interests, and how their cause aligns with that.” We look for “symbiotic relationships” or “how it ties to what we do.”
  4. How outcomes are assessed is also often overlooked, and a potentially deadly oversight. “If they aren’t prepared to talk measurement,” or “What were you trying to do? If you didn’t make your goal, why not?”
  5. Imagination. “What can you ask for besides just money?” (Country Club Bank offers space in high traffic locations for community gardens to sell their produce. Sprint offers employee expertise as a resource, sometimes even for weeks at a time.) 
  6. Flexibility. There were a couple of horror stories told, of advice ignored because “that’s just not the way we’ve done it” or gifts proffered and refused because they didn't meet narrowly defined campaign parameters.

My sense is that the decision to invest doesn't rest solely on any one of these considerations. But overlooking - or not being prepared to address – any one of them may well lead to a decision to pass.

At least for these panelists, which included:
• Debby Ballard, President & Executive Director, Sprint Foundation
• Jean Brandmeyer, Community Volunteer
• Jean Buchanan, Vice Chairman of the Board, Unified Life Insurance Company
• Mary Thompson O'Connor, Executive Vice President, Country Club Bank

In my mind, the organizers of the 2015 Inspired Fundraising Summit - the Hartsook Institute for fundraising at Avila University, in partnership with Nonprofit Connect and the MidAmerica Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – have set a new standard for expectations of next year’s event.

If you skipped this year's event - or especially if you skipped out before the closing session - you may have done yourself a disservice.