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Growing from 0 to 10,000 Contacts with Massachusetts Review

When the economic crash of 2008 threatened the financial stability of the Massachusetts Review, Emily Wojcik, now Managing Editor, knew their success depended on fundraising. The problem? In 50 years as a nonprofit, they had never done any fundraising. Massachusetts Review is a literary magazine founded by UMass professors in 1959 intended to encompass great art and share timely public affairs.

In this episode, Emily joins to share insights into the inner workings of Massachusetts Review and the unique challenges she faces as an editor, journalist, and of course, fundraiser. Listen in to hear a donor story that blew her away.


  • Push past fear and just ask, ask, ask
  • Make your communication personal
  • Build campaigns that touch people where they are

If you’re interested in learning more about some of the themes discussed on today’s episode, consider checking our eGuide on how to create a major gifts program and our blog post about what amazing things can happen when you start segmenting your donors.

Episode Transcript

Emily: I mean, what I love about small nonprofits is every single dollar goes directly back to the nonprofit.

Kimberly: Isn’t that the truth? I’m Kimberly O’Donnell and this is Accidental Fundraiser, a show from Network for Good. That shares radically authentic stories from the trenches. Massachusetts Review is a literary magazine founded by the university of Massachusetts professors in 1959, with the intent to encompass great art and to share the public affairs of the time.

It’s a nonprofit organization publishing work from all over the world and they have a focus on sharing work that is more engaged with the world than when. What’s interesting here is that Massachusetts review is a long established organization and they weren’t really deeply focused on fundraising until they brought in a managing editor eight years ago, who began to diversify their base and.

has over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. So while she’s our first accidental fundraiser, it’s not her first venture into our world. She joins the show, sharing some insights on the inner workings of Massachusetts review and the unique challenges that she faces as editor journalist, and of course, a fundraiser for a small non.

But what does she think of a role as what we would call the chief everything officer that CEO let’s start there and make sure that you stick around as she shares a donor story that blew her and me away.

Emily: I think the way that I often think of it, the metaphor that I often think of is, is that the magazine is like a boat and we have the executive editor and the senior editors who, who handle fiction non-fiction art and poetry and translation. They’re sort of steering the boat. And my job is to ensure that the.

Has the fuel to keep going. So I’m, I’m actually less often up on the top deck and I’m more often down below frantically shoveling coal into, into the burners to make sure that we keep moving forward. I handle all of the Dave stuff. I am the assistant. And all of the day-to-day stuff, all of the contact with the writers.

And then we do a lot of the sort of behind the scenes business, such as the fundraising, such as the legal issues, um, basically all of this social media and, and marketing communications. So my job I think is, is mostly to oversee the inner workings of the magazine and make sure that whatever the vision is that this hop editors have, we’re actually able to create.

Kimberly: So you’ve had many years working at nonprofit organizations and fundraising. When you hear the word fundraising, what resonates for you? When I first heard the phrase, when I first starting out, it was terrifying.

Emily: The prospect of, you know, asking people for money and begging people for money. And you work in a situation where you’re dependent on people supporting you. And that really shifted over the last 20 years that has really shifted. And I think it’s partly because at Paris, Paris, I had a boss who told me, look, you’re not begging for money.

Right. You’re giving people an opportunity to participate in something that they will. And that I think has really stuck with me. And that has become kind of my guiding star when it comes to fundraising is you’re not saying to somebody, oh my God, I need 20 bucks. You’re saying, look, you love poetry. You love art.

You love literature. Here’s this really easy way to make sure that it continues. And all it takes is, you know, 10 bucks. Twenty-five bucks 50 bucks and you’ve made a difference. Do you know your name goes in the magazine? It goes on the website. I mean, I can tell you exactly where every dollar goes and how it matches up to everything that we spent. And I think that’s really satisfying. And I think having that in my back pocket means that I can go to a small dinner or a big dinner and. This is a thing that I know you care about. Don’t you want people to know that you care about this.

Don’t you want to put your mark on this and make a difference in some way. And so that’s now how I think of fundraising is giving people an opportunity to do something that they may not have thought of. Otherwise.

Kimberly: Do you still have any fear around it? Oh, total. where do you have that little bit of fear now? Like what does it lie with?

Emily: I haven’t a bit with, with bigger donors, because of course you’re asking for more money though. Again, what I’ve learned is that if someone is in a position where they can give you more money, they’re often not as frightened of money as, as you might be. And I think I, you know, and just the initial, you know, the initial.

Courage to make the ask in the first place. Just, you know, a lot of fundraising is not entirely cold calling, you know, we have their names and addresses for a reason, but often, you know, you’re reaching out to somebody for the first time in, in that capacity. And I think it can be, it can be a little bit.

Intimidating just to kind of take that deep breath and say, it’s like going off the high dive, like take a deep breath and take that step. And you know, you know that there’s water beneath you. You know, you’re not going to splat, but it is. It’s a little tricky. And I think the other thing that I was told a long, long time ago that has been really helpful is the very worst thing someone can tell you is.

Which puts you where you currently are. And I think that’s a really important thing to remember. I think we build up in our heads that someone’s going to hate us and they’re going to yell at us and they’re going to find us and shame us on social media or whatever. And it’s like, no, no, no, no. If you go to someone you say, would you like to give $10 to master view?

The worst thing they’ll say is no. And you say, okay, thank you. And I’ll try again next year.

Kimberly: Do you have any stories of really amazing, uh, gifts that were given to you through a call or just a surprise, a surprise donor that really kind of knocked you over. And it all came from overcoming that fear and really just stepping off

Emily: that hide.

Yeah. Actually last year. So my husband works at a university and we went on an alumni trip where he was, he was part of their fundraising team, essentially. He was working to cultivate alumni and I ended up chatting with a man who was the spouse of. One of the alums and he says to me, you know, what do you need? What, what kind of money are we talking? What would you need to endow your position into endow? And I was like, uh, I don’t know, probably a couple million dollars, which is so far beyond our fundraising goals. And he was like, okay, how do we get you there?

And he was very enthusiastic and, and it was lovely to chat with him, but, you know, we were kind of kicking around what was possible, long story short. I ended up staying in touch with him briefly over email and phone calls, trying to get some pick his brain about fundraising. And then a month or two later, we received a check from them for $2,500, which is a very large amount for us.

And I went to deposit it at an ATM. Not a good idea. And the ATM eight? No, no. And I thought, oh my God, this is a fast time donor. And

Kimberly: he’s

Emily: given, he’s given us an incredible amount of money for us and the ATM just ate it. And so I put it in the client bank ended up making it good. I think they just didn’t feel like it was enough money to fight over as they ended up refunding it to us.

Never did seem to find the. Six months later, we got a second check from the guy for the same amount of money, because he wrote in the note, it looks like you lost my first check. So I want, so he ended up giving us entirely by accident twice what he intended. And thankfully he only got charged the one, but it was, it was kind of remarkable.

It was just one of those things where the bank and the donor and everything was working in our favor, which never happened. He was, he was a good man to have. That’s a great

Kimberly: story and kind of a great segue last year was so challenging given the pandemic.

How did that affect your fundraising? Particularly from individual. You know,

Emily: it was interesting because the bulk of our donors are our small gift donors. you know, they’re mostly in the arts, they’re mostly writers and poets themselves. And you may not know this, but writers and poets don’t actually make a lot of money in general.

You have, you know, the Stephen Kings and then there’s literally everybody else. And so, you know, so we’re, we’re often dealing with donations of $50, a hundred dollars, which we’re incredibly grateful for. And with, with COVID. probably a third of our donors were hit really, really hard. You know, a lot of these people are freelance or self-employed or struggling.

And, you know, there was a real kind of readjustment in terms of who we re reached out to. We did our initial ask with our usual suspects, but, but also beginning to kind of investigate other opportunities. And then the other side of it was that odd paradox of COVID where, you know, main street did really hard and struggled really, really hard where as wall street did great.

And so our bigger donors actually stepped up in some really amazing ways and it was really. Heartening to see, you know, so we, we were losing some small donors and we were getting lots of like, oh, I’m so sorry, next year, next year. And I was like, of course, like, we’re not gonna, we really don’t want our poets and writers to, to suffer just to support us.

and then at the same time, we, we get some of the, our bigger donors. Thankfully like literature, but are in say banking or real estate, you know, who came up and doubled their gifts or, you know, gave, gave more than they had in the past. And I think that was partly because of COVID and partly because, you know, we’d had to cancel a lot of events and we were, we started doing a lot online.

Emily: We just. We really doubled down on providing content since we couldn’t provide one-on-one opportunities. And I think that combination of providing a lot of online content and a lot of material along with really kind of refocusing who we were talking to and who we were asking, helped us get through.

Kimberly: Were you successful? did you hit your fundraising goals, exceed them and how are you doing this year?

Emily: Yeah, last year we did, we exceeded our fundraising goals and we were in a, we were in a unique place. because, you know, nonprofits run the gamut and in a weird way.

We’re lucky because bulk of what we produce. Is predicated on distance. So we produce a magazine that we mail out to people, and we produce content that we publish online. And, you know, we weren’t able to do some readings, but we were able to do them online and virtually. And so we were able to keep the content level up.

And I think that.  You know, people played, they stepped up. And so we ended up, we, we brought in more than we anticipated. We were able to keep everyone on the payroll.

We were able to keep paying the artists and writers the way that we do

Kimberly: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the brass tacks around fundraising. How many appeals do you typically send out?

Emily: That’s a complicated question actually, because we do, um, online appeals and we do paper appeals. We do a paper mailing.

And the reason for that is that a large, a large number of our donors are older. And we’ve found just through our own research and through lots and lots of online research that you can find that older people prefer getting a mail appeal. And we have not seen a resistance to that.

So we typically send out about 2000 mailed appeals, and then I’d say online, we send that, uh, between eight and 10,000 and then we have also of course, an online giving page through network for good, that links to our webpage. It’s kind of, it’s a multi-pronged approach.

And the tricky thing for us is finding that sweet spot between. The mailed appeals, which are exhausting and take a long time and the email appeals, which are not.

And so it is, it’s a balancing act. We, we basically throw everything we’ve got at the wall and just try to see what sticks, I should say when I,

when I came in the magazine, didn’t actually have a fundraising plan in place.

Mr was funded in large part by the five colleges that were around and in 2008, that became less and less trustworthy. and it got to the point where the magazine was really nervous and really faltering. And when I came on, I, you know, I think the first thing I said to the outgoing managing editor was okay, so where’s your, where’s your fundraising?

With where’s your contact list. And he looked at me and he was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I thought, oh, oh dear. Okay. So we have a 60, 62 year history, but only an eight year history of fundraising. So it’s, it’s been kind of, we’re coming at it as many different ways as we can.

can you share what you did to kind of kick that off? And, and what your, you know, lessons learned have been around prospecting for new donors over the years.

Emily: So again, it was, I mean, everything, everything is multi-pronged, but yeah. So in that case, in that respect, it was, um, you know, immediately sort of jumping into this needs to be a priority. I came in in November of 2013. So I came in pretty late in the year and the thinking was maybe we’ll spend the rest of that fiscal year kind of getting situated and we’ll be well positioned for an

Annual appeal. So what that meant was we did a couple of readings and a couple of events, and it was suddenly putting out mailing lists for people to sign up for, went to a couple of book conferences and put out the list there as well. And just, you know, really a lot of. Really ground level gathering of information.

And then going back through the mastheads going back through contact lists from the magazine for anything we had, where, where we had addresses or, um, some indication that somebody had been involved in some way, and we just started. Writing to people. We just started sending out little appeals and emails and just introducing ourselves, you know, it was tricky.

We’re also, we’re lucky because we’re, like I said, we have these five colleges and, you know, individuals who teach in the five colleges don’t necessarily know about us or, or care much about us, but it does mean that we have access to. Contact list through the colleges where we can say, you know, I can tell an intern, okay.

I’d like you to go on to the English department for all five colleges, and I want you to pull every single name. And I want you to find every single contact that you can, and we’ll just send it to the college address. We don’t even have to worry about their home addresses, but it was, it was basically, you know, where can we find information?

Where can we find this. It took a while. It did take a while to do that, but mostly it’s the kind of thing that I had to sit down with a lot of interns and say, I know, um, cause you know, our interns are all 19 and 20 years old and they’re used to being able to call something up on their phone and it’s right there and they’d be like, okay, great.

Where do I go? And I was like, there’s nowhere to go. You just got to start. And, and we did. And so, yeah. So now we’ve got, like I said, about 10,000 contacts, give or take. Woo.

Kimberly: Let’s celebrate that for a minute. That’s fantastic. You went from zero to 10,000.10 thousands of great size list to have because it’s manageable.

Right? And you use some really creative approaches through going to events, putting a list out, Hey, sign up for our newsletter. Hey, you know, sign up for this.

And those are all just great ways to get after building that list. Because if you don’t have a list, you’ve got a big problem. You’ve got to be able to start from somewhere to find.

So if you were to give anybody advice as they were getting started with that in today’s world, where you do have all those multi-channel approaches and you have social and there’s video, where would you recommend that someone start.

Emily: One of the most helpful things we did was we incorporated one of those popups. Like if someone is on our website for more than five seconds, it pops up. And as I joined the mailing list, every week we get 10 or 15 new contacts through that. Social media, for sure. They’re really helpful to have in terms of spreading the word. And so we definitely have really tried to bulk up our social media presence. And then the third thing is, you know, go to your board of directors and. I need a list of 20 people that you think want to hear from me, want to hear from the magazine, want to hear from the nonprofit, because those are going to be the base of people who hopefully can connect you to, to people who might be bigger donors, or might be able to be more help on the ground.

And I think you’ve got to do all three. I think, you know, you can’t just have a web presence. You can’t just have a social media presence. You have to also go to your board of directors and say, I know you feel weird about this, but you really like us and you joined us. So you got to figure probably some of your friends will too.

Can we talk for a minute about fundraising technology?

What tools do you use to fundraise it? How does it all work for you?

Emily: The thing that’s really important for us. And I think it’s true of a lot of non-profits is, we have two salary staff members and everyone else is either contract or volunteer.

Most of our senior editors are volunteers. Which is fantastic in that, you know, that they’re doing it because they love you, but it can, it can be really tricky when you need, when you, when you sit there and you say, well, I need someone to help me address 2000 envelopes and everyone kind of starts whistling and walking away.

And so one of the things that we really like about number for good, and one of the things that was made really clear to us last year, I ended up essentially just using Excel document because, um, the management system was so frustrating is that everything is, is in one place. And it’s the kind of thing that two people can handle doing at the same time, as we’re doing all of the marketing, all of the pre-publication and all of the author contacts and all of that, all of the day-to-day stuff.

And so what’s been really helpful for us. Having one place where we can collect addresses, but also have a giving page have more than one giving page have more than one mode of, of giving. So, you know, we’re really going to be trying out the text to give this year just kind of working these multiple angles, which when you don’t have a, a company that provides them all in one place, it just becomes very overwhelming, very quickly.

Kimberly: As you think about 20, 22 and you know, maybe even the year beyond what kinds of fundraising tools or technology are you excited to get into and think will really resonate with your contact?

Emily: I think the texting, we have two interns who are, um, You know, adorable 20 year old college students, the idea of, of having them make videos, which they’re excited about. And just basically being able to engage with our donors a bit more, the first five or six years, it was really about creating a list and getting people used to the magazine, coming to them and saying, Hey, we would love for you to donate money. But now that we’re in a place where we can kind of take a step back and think about a longer term the kind of things that I’m curious about is, attracting younger donors, attracting younger people to us,

if COVID did nothing else, it made people aware of the fact that things they love, aren’t always free and aren’t always gonna be there forever.

And, you know, beginning to tap into those people and say, you know, Tell us what’s important to you. Tell us what we can do to get you interested and excited about joining us and using the tools there to kind of reach them where they live.

Kimberly: If you were to give just one sentence or a couple of words to sort of give a piece of advice or sort of wrap up what we talked about today, what would it be?

don’t write anybody off. don’t assume that they’re either too young or, or their donation is too small to matter, but also don’t assume that because they’re not coming. To you from wherever you expect them to come from that they’re not interested.

Emily: I’ve been really surprised by who I’ve been able to meet and who I’ve been able to, to talk with and who has ultimately come through. anyone who knows literary magazines knows the story of Ruth Lilly and poetry magazine and read fluidly with the air to the Lilly pharmaceutical.

And she’s apparently submitted work to poetry magazine for decades and was never ever published. And when she died, she left them a hundred million dollars and completely out of the blue for them. And you know, it completely changed what the poetry foundation is. It created the poetry foundation.

Anyone could be that person. Right. And whatever capacity they’re able to do, it’s like, you don’t want to write anybody off. Right. It’s like if somebody, somebody shows you any sort of interest at all, I just kind of lean into that and just say, okay, yeah, let’s let’s have a conversation. If it goes nowhere, it goes nowhere.

At least we had a nice conversation. But maybe next month you’ll send me 10 bucks and I’ll become one of those 10 people that you give to him.

Kimberly: Emily gave us some interesting insight into how they’re navigating the current state of our sector and what major gifts look like to them. Emily spoke about the number of small but meaningful gifts that are often made to the Massachusetts. I speak to so many organizations fueled by these small annual fund gifts.

And it really leads to the question of what a major gift looks like to small to mid-sized charities markets smarts 2019 major gift benchmarks study found that most charities in their service. Saw a major gift as one that fell within the thousand to $2,999 range. And they also found that the point for all of those surveyed both small and large charities found that that mid-range point was 5,000 to $999.

So what I see with. Is that there are so many organizations, many small to medium-sized ones who are all in the same range for those major gifts. And when I talk to charities, sometimes they might have a $500 as a major gift, but most start at a thousand and move up. And that’s what the survey found too.

So I asked you. Dear accidental fundraiser. What’s your major gift threshold. And when was the last time that you evaluated your major gift strategy and then set in place a plan to increase the number of major gift donors and upgraded some of those awesome loyal. Major gift donors that you have while I love, love, love annual fund donors.

And I truly appreciate the value and impact that they each make on your organization. By giving the 10, the 25, the hundred dollar gifts major donors can move the needle for small to mid-sized nonprofit. So the coach at me is just wondering, what’s holding you back from growing your base of major donors.

Is it that you just don’t have a strategy in place? Is it that you’re afraid of asking for a larger gift from an established major gift donor? Is it that you. Ah, you just hate asking for gifts because those are all fear oriented approaches. And if you don’t have a strategy, it’s going to be much harder longterm to grow that base of really meaningful donors and to show them the impact that they can make on your organization and make through your organization to the cause that you and they care about.

So strategy is key. And as we step into 2022, You can put one into place. You have this, you’ve got this, you can do it. And maybe 20, 22 is your year to move that needle. So to wrap up the episode, what are the five things that you need to take? Let’s go through them real quick. One push past fear, and just ask, ask, ask for gifts

to segment donors for more personal communications, three develop multi-channel integrated campaigns that touch people where, where they are not just where we are for build a list from nothing.

You can develop an approach to really acquire new support. And then five create a strategy to increase the number of major donors. Yes, you can do this. I’m Kimberly. See you next time on accidental fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.

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