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.