As fundraisers, and especially accidental fundraisers, it’s easy to feel isolated. Sometimes you just need someone to help you grow and tell you, “You can do this.”
Chany and Janet have worked in the nonprofit world for decades, giving them unique perspectives on the current state of fundraising, and what it means to build relationships in a continually changing environment.
Bonus Episode Transcript
Janet: If you provide value to your community so that they become better informed, inspired, motivated to act, then that’s going to help your mission grow.
Kimberly: I’m Kimberly O’Donnell and this is Accidental Fundraiser show from Network for Good, the chairs, radically authentic stories from the trenches as fundraisers and especially accidental fundraiser. It’s easy to feel isolated. Sometimes you just need someone to help you grow and tell you that you can do it.
And that’s why I became a fundraising coach. And it’s also a big reason that this podcast exists. In this episode, I’ve invited Chany Ockert and Janet Cobb to join me as we discuss what it takes to not just survive as a fundraiser, but thrive. Chany and Janet have worked in the nonprofit world for decades, giving them unique perspectives on the current state of fundraising and what it means to build relationships in a continually changing.
As we join the conversation, you’ll hear them share how they got started in fundraising and how they overcame the fear that they experienced early in their careers. Janet, you’ve been working in the nonprofit space, wearing many hats. Can you share a little bit about your nonprofit journey and where you are?
Janet: Yeah, so you’re right. I have been in the nonprofit world for as long as I can remember. And I am certainly an accidental fundraiser because I remember the days when I said I would never ask anyone for money. I used to just say that clearly, but what happened over time was that I was involved in missions.
Was very, very passionate about and realized without the money, there is no mission. And because of my passion and because of my lack of fear around sharing what my passions were, I realized that I could fundraise because I wanted to always amplify the, the mission and how important it was so that people who wanted to support it, people who cared about it,
Kimberly: And what did it feel like when you started?
Janet: I think my biggest fear was that people would think all I ever wanted to do was ask for money. So I realized that the ask was the least important part of it in a sense when I got to the point where the real important part was sharing, the good that is being done, then I felt far more comfortable than when.
I thought, okay, now that I’m an official fundraiser, I have to always ask for money. So once I got over, it’s not about the ask. It’s about the sharing of the good work. Then I felt totally.
Kimberly: How does it feel now you’re a personal fundraising coach with Bonterra and you have your own consultancy, Janet Cobb consulting.
You’re working with many small and medium sized nonprofits. How does it feel instructing these other organizations guiding them, suggesting to them ways to ask for money?
Janet: I love doing that because for one, there are so many different organizations that are doing such good work. It’s getting them to realize it’s about sharing their passion for the mission and recognizing that asking for money isn’t begging, and it’s not bugging people.
Offering an opportunity for them to do good in the world through their dollars. And so it feels really good. Being able to help people who also, you know, got into it because of their passion. Not because they wanted to go out and raise money. I work with very few people who intentionally want. And said I’m going to become a fundraiser.
Right? I work with a lot of people who said, I have something important to do in the world, or there is a problem that needs to be solved or something that needs to be done. I’m the one doing it. So I need to ask for money. So getting them to see they’re simply amplifying their message so that they can find those people.
I love doing that. I think it’s a great opportunity to help people. Who are really making a difference. And if they could just get to see that making that difference involves simply naturally sharing their passion. I had a client the other day say they, they offered me money before I even asked this, which is great.
When you get to that point, then you really have found your people, right? You’ve found your people because they want to give you the money before you make that.
Kimberly: Shaunie can you share how you got started into fundraising and the nonprofits?
Chany: It is absolutely an accidental story as well. So I had planned after college to be a lobbyist, hated that, and worked as a temp for a nonprofit.
We recruited foster and adoptive homes for kids in foster care, fell in love with the whole theory behind nonprofits that we things that no one else will government wolves and businesses. So because we get to really solve larger problems in the community, in our sector, in our society and our world.
That’s the reason why I got into nonprofit. And then into fundraising, I was recruited by an organization to be their fundraiser, even though I didn’t have any experience. My first ask was over fax. The donor had actually asked me, said, I don’t have time, but I want to support the work. Can you fax me the information?
And I did. And then he said, yep, I will support that particular project. And so it’s accidental. That’s not the normal, that’s not the standard, but from there learned all of the principles on both organizations, very much invested in me. And then later on a client actually approached me and asked me to become a consultant.
And so that’s how I got into coaching fundraising coaching. And I’ve done in fundraising coaching for 15 years, which is pretty amazing.
Kimberly: So let’s talk a little bit about the pandemic and fundraising during the pandemic throughout the country, the pandemic was really experienced differently by nonprofits.
What is some of the divides that you saw?
Chany: I certainly saw a divide between rural versus urban. I live in a rural setting and I’ve worked in a rural setting. And so in the clients that I’ve worked with, we definitely saw how much different that was in terms of, for example, volunteers in rural areas, volunteers tend to be older and suddenly they were not able to volunteer the ways that they were.
And so that meant that a lot of direct human service types of work wasn’t able to be carried out in the same. Another piece is people felt so isolated. Oftentimes fundraising events were the community activity. It was how you socialized in the community. And so not having those fundraising events really started to break and damage some of the relationships that some nonprofits had with some other donors.
And they’ve had to rebuild those relationships.
Janet: Janet, what did. I think the rural urban is certainly an issue. I also think you mentioned the, you know, human services, social services, that direct services versus indirect services was a big difference. Some people could very easily. Sort of shift to phone calls and zoom for what they do, but other people still needed to figure out how to provide their services while not being able to be in personal contact.
A lot of the arts organizations were deeply impacted across the country, whether rural or urban, but some of them I found. Found new ways to interact with their potential audiences using technology that they’ve now adopted and plan to continue to use moving forward. So that’s a good thing. The other difference I saw was between standing organizations and very early stage organizations because longstanding organizations, most of them had pretty solid donor base.
So just adjusting to being able to say, Hey, we’re not providing services right now, but we want to be here. When this is all over, will you stick with us was one way someone who had a strong donor base could continue to message, but for the newer organizations that were still trying to acquire their donor bases, that became a very difficult situation. I had one organization I was working with that literally opened about three months before COVID hit and then they had to totally shut down. They couldn’t provide any services. So how do you ask.
Chany: And it took some creativity. So one of the clients that I was coaching through this, they were an arts council.
And so what they did is they reached out to donors. They told the donors, Hey, we would love to support the artists. Will you give us funds so that we can give grants to artists and that the artists can produce works during this time. But that takes creativity to think of that as a fundraising initiative.
Kimberly: One of the things that we heard a lot during the start of the pandemic was I don’t feel like I’m the type of organization that should be asking for funds right now, because I, you know, my organization is not a direct service organization and we as coaches, we’re all encouraging all of those organizations to continue fundraising do not take your foot off the gas with that because the donors can make that decision as to.
They want to support. And I’ve heard that again. Now with the war in the Ukraine, I’ve heard organizations say, you know what, we, we don’t really want to do a spring appeal because we don’t want to draw attention away from the funds that can be raised for the Ukraine, or I just feel like there’s a conflict there.
Shawnee and Janet, are you hearing the same things and how are you instructing your nonprofit organizations or your client?
Chany: I always say to all my clients do not make a decision for the donor. It’s the donor’s choice, not your choice. It’s the donors decision and what we saw. And this is actually a huge lesson that we learned from the pandemic is that donors don’t just see the funds that they have as a limit.
Amount that they can give, they want to grow that pie and swell of what they’re able to give. And so oftentimes they may give in different ways that they want to be generous. And so during this time where we’re saying with the war on Ukraine is we’re seeing if they don’t have extra funds to. Looking for creative ways to give, if they do have extra funds to give, they want to give them.
And so they want to support the charities that they’ve cared about for years and they want to give extra to help what’s happening in Ukraine.
Janet: I’ve heard several clients say, oh, but should I really be fundraising? And I’m like, yes, there is this sense that what I call a scarcity mindset. Right. I’m sure you’ve heard the term before.
There is a lot of generosity in this world and in this country, and yes, we want to help the people who need to survive. You know, the survival funds are critical in the Ukraine, in, in the United States, in our backyard. But a lot of us believe that thriving is important too. So they don’t just want to help people who have the, the means, want to also have.
People to thrive, right? Not, not just survive. So I spend a lot of time trying to help the organizations that are not survival mode services, but thrival services, you know, abundant services to, to understand. Again, they’re just looking for people who care about the same thing, who understand that just because we’re already surviving doesn’t mean that we don’t need the things in this world that make life more inspiring and beautiful.
So if we can shift from that scarcity, that the pie is very limited. And if a donor gives to one thing, they can’t give to another, we’ve just got to undo that money.
Chany: And I’ve been following the Ukrainian government, social media. And one of the things just to speak to this is they don’t just talk about the survival needs.
They’re actually posting photos or images of some of the artists and the work that they’re producing through this. And that shows that yes, we need to survive, but we need to thrive. And so if the Ukrainian government is also saying, we need to thrive as a community, then. Our organizations that we’re working with also need to think of the ways that the donors can help their organizations, their favorite organizations to thrive.
Let’s talk a
Kimberly: little bit about returning to pre COVID fundraising activities, in-person events and other things that organizations are doing, where they want to go back to that. But the world has changed and fundraising has changed. Can you share with our listeners some of the implications and challenges that exist with returning to those prior fundraising activity?
Janet: One of the big challenges right now with the we’re still sort of in the pandemic, but everybody wants to be finished with the pandemic sort of situation is really knowing how to address that mixture in your community. I encourage my clients to. Cap into get the pulse of their community. What do their community members want to experience?
And not just assume that how I have experienced COVID and how I relate to, you know, the protocols and things aren’t necessarily how the larger stakeholder group relates to COVID. So not to be afraid of. To ask and also to be sure that we are not letting go of things that were very helpful in drawing a larger crowd, geographically being more accessible to people who had more concerns about the COVID protocols.
Right. We want to make sure that we don’t sort of throw out the baby with the bath. And identify the things that really worked and did well for our community. Even as the COVID protocols might be lifting and things might be changing.
Kimberly: Would you recommend to an organization that they stop leveraging virtual fundraising and virtual.
Janet: No, absolutely not because there are lots of reasons why virtual works even prior to COVID, you know, if people were having outdoor events, you always have a plan B, right. Because if you have an outdoor event and it rains, then you know, what’s that going to do to your event? So I think a virtual component, it shouldn’t be a plan B it should be a.
8.2 or whatever, right? Like there’s always a reason to make your program or your fundraiser more accessible. It’s a, both and not an either or so if you can include a virtual component to your fundraiser, then absolutely let’s keep doing that. And even with technology these days, I think a lot of nonprofits think of fundraisers as events.
And what we’ve done at Bonterra for a long time is show that fundraising can happen without an event. So if fundraising can happen without an event and you’re having an event, why not combine those two and make it hybrid where, where you have the best of both.
Kimberly: So we’ve talked a little bit about virtual events and I want to step into virtual relationship building. What are some of the things that an organization can do to really ramp up their virtual interaction beyond those events?
Chany: One thing is, is leveraging the new technology that we have with videos. One-on-one videos are very powerful. And one of the things that we sometimes hear from nonprofits is, oh, our donors.
Won’t like. And what I try to remind my coaching clients of is that most donors love to get videos from their grandchildren or their children. They love seeing those personalized personable videos. And that’s a great example, how that. We have lived to a video based relationship anyways. And so for the nonprofit to leverage videos in how they’re building their relationship is an important next step.
Janet has a great idea of how she had encouraged one of her non-profits to actually reach out by video in the cultivation and relationship
Janet: There’s a recommended filter within network for good software. That that is, you know, In danger of lapsing in the next 30 days is so one of my clients, we worked up a situation where he pulled that report regularly.
And he would pick up the phone to try and call donors. And if they did not answer, instead of leaving a voice message, he hung up the phone and sent a personal video to that donor. And he said the results were amazing that people really responded to it and enjoyed getting those, those personal messages because he could use their name.
They knew it. Wasn’t sort of a prerecorded fabricated. Mass market approach, but a very personal approach. And it was more personable than a, than a voice message because they could see the expression and just made a big difference for that organization.
Chany: Another example of what nonprofits can do to leverage that video aspect or that virtual aspect of relationship building is oftentimes donors don’t have the time to come and do a tour or come and see a new facility or come see a new art installation.
What I’ve encouraged. Some of my clients to do is to go to those locations, do a group video. Show, whatever the mission is in the background. And so that the donor can feel like they’re going on a virtual tour. And so one of my clients, they have outdoor sculptures. And so the client goes out to the Alto sculptures and gives a little bit of a stewardship message.
They say, thank you to the donor, but then they also share a little bit of the story behind the sculpture itself. Another organization. Built a new playground. And so they actually videoed kids enjoying that playground with of course permissions. And they also participated in some of the fun activities with the kids and they videoed all of that.
And we then texted out that video to donors just as a group, that message. And so many donors texted back of. Wow. I’m so glad you sent that because they felt like they were actually. When
Kimberly: you look out three years, five years, and you think about the future of fundraising for a small nonprofit that you’re working with today, what will they have done to grow?
So thinking five years down the road with small nonprofits who oftentimes have limited capacity, there are two ways that I see the biggest areas of growth. One is that they have developed their subscription giving program and that people who are committed and passionate about their work will be giving on a monthly basis because they’re so committed and those nonprofits can rely on those donors.
the other way is that there will be more use of video that will help nonprofits really show the mission better. Nonprofit fundraising has always been about telling the story and video is one of the best ways to tell a story and it will be easier, uh, for nonprofits, small nonprofits, to tell the story through video,
Janet: the more a nonprofit focuses on how they are thinking and showing appreciation to their donors.
And cultivating a culture of gratitude throughout their organization. I think that has a tremendous impact on moving that organization forward. And the second thing is what Shawnee’s is talking about with storyteller. How are you relating and engaging with your donor base in between your appeals or your solicitations?
It’s how are you reporting impact? How are you sharing inspiration and you know, how are you educating if someone cares about your cause or your mission area, they want to know more, not less. They want to hear from you more, not less. If I care about world hunger, give me everything there is that, you know, because you’re the experts because you’re working in the field or whatever your cause area is, if you provide value to your community so that they become better informed, inspire.
Motivated to act, then that’s going to help your mission grow.
Kimberly: Yes, you can. I’m Kimberly. See you next time on accidental fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.