Don’t Neglect Professional Development

As a fundraising consultant, too often I see organizations that don’t budget enough—or anything—for the professional development of their development professionals. Given that upwards of 75% of advancement budgets fund personnel, it’s strange that we wouldn’t strategize to maximize skills where it matters most.

Leaders: Develop a Plan

Begin by making professional development a top priority. Then budget to make it happen. I know the biggest reason we don’t train our professionals is a perceived lack of funds. Second, professional development seems expensive. But missing the mark here is analogous to buying a house and neglecting to insure it because the mortgage is so high there is nothing left for insurance.

There is a wide world of high quality professional development resources offered by nonprofit and proprietary providers focusing on nearly every professional niche and skill level. Use your skills as a leader to find and use the resources that will allow your shop to excel.

Make the creation of an annual professional development plan an intrinsic part of the annual performance review. And I think you will agree, it would be nice to have a few more carrots in our managerial arsenal.

Professionals: Ask for Education

Development professionals should research the educational and training options that exist and the costs that apply. Not every option requires extensive travel. Some excellent providers, like The Fund Raising School at Indiana University, offer sessions in different cities around the country. Even if you have to travel, it may not be a long distance.

Ask for what you need. Raises can be costly, promotions out of reach in a small shop, but professional development can benefit everyone, every year. Do your research and make the case. Be persuasive. Let your boss know that investing in you now will mean more dollars on the horizon.

Be Strategic About Your Choices

Annual conferences are a no-brainer. They offer an attendee-centered menu that allows a lot of latitude for professionals at different levels on the career ladder. Week-long intensives can be transformational. A fundraising 101 course is essential for people who are new to development.

Intensives on personal cultivation, solicitation, and prospect management are essential to professionals moving up the philanthropic ladder. We need to know how to manage our own psychology to excel in a field that is, as I say in my book, sales transformed by mission.

Successful professionals need theory, education and training. Think about the difference in these terms. Without theory you can’t plan. Without education you can’t apply what you know. Without training you can’t exercise the precise muscle needed to win the day.

Personalize It

Professionals who enter the profession with a graduate degree in philanthropy arrive on the stage with a unique set of opportunities and needs as opposed to someone who transfers into development mid-career from another field. And that law degree doesn’t mean its holder understands fundraising.

If you offer that individual with the law degree theory, education, and training related specifically to planned giving as it exists in the real world, for real people with real needs, desires, and capacity, then you’ve got an appealing package.

Regardless of our origins and starting points, there are many models for success in development. A wide variety of backgrounds can inform the practice and a wide variety of personality types can achieve career success.

But here’s the deal: almost no one arrives at the profession fully formed. Those who think they are beyond benefitting from professional development may be suffering from a blind spot big enough to drive a truck through.

And senior-level professional development can be supremely rewarding. I say this as a past (and future) participant. As you consider the options, think about getting out from behind your computer to engage person-to- person with fellow participants, facilitators, teachers and students. So much of the magic is in peer-to-peer interactions!

So, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell your staff short. Educate and train, educate and train, repeatedly, throughout the arc of every career.

It takes just two things—commitment and belief—to get everyone in your shop onboard and learning.  ▪

[This article originally appeared at February 2018]

Do We Do What We Say We Do? Cognitive bias in the boardroom

A big part of my job as a consultant is discerning the big picture in things. Working with boards, two big picture factors play an outsize role in diminished governance outcomes. The first is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is, you will remember, the tendency to seek out, favor and recall information that confirms existing beliefs. As such, it is a prime component of erratic inductive reasoning.

The second is what I call normative bias. That is a bias to favor the assumption that current and future events will tend to preserve and confirm the status quo. That tomorrow will look like today. That students in the next decade will face the same challenges as students in this decade.

That is, if you can’t see change, it most likely isn’t happening. Or, that the world leans toward stasis rather than change. And this factor is particularly applicable as a component of considering some localized issue at hand where the big picture is easily obscured by the demands of the moment. Think of it as the error of assuming past stock market winners will be future winners. Think of it as viewing any given infrastructure as immutable and not prone to degradation or obsolescence.

Together, these two biases lead good boards astray. They lead board to ignore threats and opportunities in the interest of preserving the status quo. On the face of it there might seem to be nothing wrong with such conservatism of governance. I do not discredit the term “conservatism” here in the least. The role of a governing board is to govern an organization in trust for the greater community in the service of a relatively immutable mission. That is as it should be. Reckless—and feckless—board governance is anathema to the continuity of a needed service.

But confirmation bias, especially collective confirmation bias, or groupthink, is endemic to board culture and decision-making. It begins with overbroad notions of collegiality, of knowing “one’s place,” of not rocking the boat; there are so many ways American idioms express the concept—precisely because it is so commonplace.

Confirmation bias tells us that since we serve an organization that does good work, the evidence tells us that we’re doing good work. Statistics are quoted, testimonials are heard, anecdotal evidence is convincing…or…the statics are not germane, the testimonials are pure emotionalism, and the evidence not actually evidence. What we are hearing in such a scenario is confirmation bias at work.

Confirmation bias gets in the way of realizing that we are underserving entire sectors of the community, that we are training for the wrong jobs, that we are not tracking our former enrollees (all too often inaccurate to call them graduates) for outcomes; all of these circumstances are serious business, but in the face of challenging notions, studies show convincingly that confirmation bias is invincible unless countered.

And what of normative bias? Normative bias says that change that happens slowly isn’t happening. Global climate change might be the poster child for this one. But it happens at every intersection of personal and collective experience. Baby boomers are not aging. Suburbs are not growing more diverse. College tuitions are not becoming unaffordable. White collar jobs are not disappearing.

In the rear view mirror, it all seems so obvious. Half of all Americans worked in agriculture in 1890. Forty percent of Americans worked in high quality manufacturing jobs in 1950. So we see titanic forces are obscured in the slowness of their conquest. It happens all around us every day, in nearly every neighborhood, but all to often we don’t know what we’ve got—or don’t have—‘til it’s gone.

When you pair confirmation and normative biases, the errors of inductive reasoning can be compounded to an astonishing degree. We develop an entire sector, let’s say the community college sector, that tells itself and the world that it is the go-to choice for job retraining and access to education for the underserved.

Yet we see that millions of jobs go unfilled every year in regions where un- or underemployed workers are legion and the community college sector has a strong presence.

The educational-industrial complex, to put an ironic twist on it, has not done a good job of providing meaningful retraining for the good jobs that actually exist. Why? Because we so busy doing a good job that we didn’t have room, time, or resources to do the job that needed to be done?

Boards need to ask themselves one question: do we do what we say we do? And they need to demand answers that are backed up by rigorous empirical methods that are as free of cognitive bias as possible.

Do we do what we say we do? That is the question. Let’s start there.


Stick with Mission in Tumultuous Political Times

While current claims that the USA has never been more divided may be a tad hyperbolic—the Viet Nam war era comes to mind—these certainly are polarized times, and they may become more polarized in the months and years ahead. Straddling political divides to support higher education philanthropy is difficult when the political fracture of the day is top of mind for colleagues and community members alike. Your own political feelings may careen from despondent (or triumphant) to angry in the course of a single tweet. That’s the way of the world right now.

My experience tells me that the best policy is to lead with mission in polarized times. And our mission is simple: helping students enrolled in higher education. When impolitic messages are expressed you can pivot with a statement like, My concern is with our students, and one thing I know is they will need more resources, support, and superior education experiences to make it in this world.

We are lucky to have a mission as inclusive as students in higher education because our mission is nearly universally respected by people of all political persuasions. That allows us a little breathing room in divided arenas as long as we keep the focus where it needs to be, on the mission we serve.

I know it can get complicated. I have spent many years of my life in the company of CEOs, wealthy donors, small business owners, and successful professionals. I have heard thousands of directly political assertions that I have had to either sidestep or respond to with well-crafted noncommittal statements of one sort or another. It can wear on a person. Yet, we cannot make assumptions about the political leanings of a prospective or active donor. Money comes in all political stripes.

With board members, we might learn to encourage a little more comity (not comedy, although it bit of levity might help) in awkward times. I have had the experience of working with boards that shared tacit political biases, and I don’t think that’s right. I think the need for board diversity alone argues against that. When I see a board that leans 90% toward an identified political party, that’s a problem.

People give where they feel their contributions make a difference—and they give, and serve, where they feel welcome. In sharply divided political times a board chair or president may need to—rarely, we hope—ask a group to table remarks or a discussion or continue it outside of any institutional context.

But foundation executive directors and development officers may sometimes need to respond to unprofessional remarks by stifling themselves in the interest of promoting overarching philanthropic goals. I am not talking about hate speech, overtly offensive racist or misogynist remarks here. Those need to be documented and reported to the proper institutional authorities, because they directly threaten the mission of the institution. Thankfully, those comments as heard in a professional context are rare in my experience.

In these highly charged times it can be excruciating to stifle oneself. It isn’t like we learned the fine points of rational discourse only to suffer the slings and arrows of brutish politics in silence. But work is work. We are paid to cultivate gifts to the institution to further its mission, and that must be our higher calling, at least for the 10 hours a day we are on duty.

Off duty, especially in a small town, can also be a minefield. And while we do not take the vows of political chastity journalists must adhere to, high profile political engagement carries its own career risks. That is not fair, but there it is.

It is assumed that development professionals will work with donors of divergent political views. Some of those will be strident. We need to lead with mission at all times in the face of charged political emotion. The more we can promote the comity of big-tent philanthropy, the better chance we have of preventing push from coming to shove in our professional lives. But sometimes it arrives anyway. Perhaps that is a topic for another day, one that comes under the header of crisis management.

In the meantime, we may be in for heightened political tensions for the long haul, so setting positive, well-framed precedents right now is imperative. And leading with mission is never a bad thing. It is a proud tradition; one that can serve to unify divided communities in difficult times. I wish my fellow practitioners the very best in that endeavor.




“Comity,” according to Merriam-Webster

  • 1
a : friendly social atmosphere :  social harmony <group activities promoting comity> <bipartisan comity in the Senate>
b :  a loose widespread community based on common social institutions <the comity of civilization>

  • 2
: avoidance of proselytizing members of another religious denomination


“Stand for your mission,” is an image belonging to Check it out.

“Working Class Colleges” Lead the Way in Educating for Upward Mobility

New York Times opinion writer David Leonhardt’s article, “America’s Great Working Class Colleges” is a must-read for people who care about higher education in America. It concerns a recent study of the ability of colleges to launch students from the bottom fifth of American earners into the top three-fifths, a pro-forma measure of upward mobility toward the middle class.

The findings: less selective institutions such as City University of New York do a better job of helping graduates move up the economic ladder than do selective and elite institutions.

It includes the astonishing finding that “the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.”

Leonhardt asserts that deep declines in state support for working class colleges cuts at the heart of their ability to outperform, even as they beat better-funded institutions at a core element of their missions. That is, they provide the most help to the students who need it most.

Why can’t America’s more selective universities and colleges replicate the success of so-called working class colleges in launching graduates into the middle class? And why aren’t more community colleges taking on the challenge in a more focused manner?

So-called “working class colleges” offer more learning supports including “freshman experience” programs that reinforce how to learn, cohort identification and persistence. The “elites” stick closer to the sink-or-swim model. Open access allows many more students who are only marginally qualified to succeed access to college, yet these institutions still outperform the “majors.” It comes down, I believe, to a comprehensive program of financial supports, cohort supports, evening classes, faculty commitment to teaching and a learning-centered posture on the part of these colleges.

In a moment when the nation considers infrastructure as a potential spending priority, I would argue that this type of educational infrastructure should become a public investment priority. And for those who complain about rising tuition, how about correlating that to declining state support for higher ed?

As to the role of community colleges in student outcomes, while they generally do a laudable job, on par with the great working class colleges, in serving their least affluent students, they persist too often in viewing students as à la carte consumers, and do not take sufficient responsibility for student outcomes.

It’s not that hard to survey student intentions at the outset, and for those students who identify their goal as to use the community college as a primary provider for their first two (or more) years and then matriculate for the final two (or more) years it will take to earn their four-year degree, these colleges need to first track outcomes during the two years those students are on campus and beyond to learn what works. That is to say, they should use the longitudinal methodology of The Equality of Opportunity Project’s study in measuring their effectiveness.

Increasingly, two-year colleges are recognizing and responding to the challenge, but unless they can make their own case based on objective data, they will not be competitive in making the case for reversing much of their own declining state support.

If we want to avoid the creation of a permanent two-track society—the effects of which are becoming strikingly apparent at this very moment—we had better get in gear for education-based upward mobility again. Better funding colleges like City College, the University of Texas at El Paso and California State Los Angeles would be great way to start.

As a consultant in the field of philanthropic funding for higher education, I know that the great class divide is actually deepened by the tendency that donors have to give to high-prestige institutions. That reality increases the demand on the elites to do much better in raising the bar on educating the nation’s poorest students.

10 Things Colleges Need to Know About Alumni Relations

Think of alumni relations as a close cousin of fundraising. Two-year colleges often have under-resourced, rudimentary programs that lack the focus of their four-year counterparts. And if your fundraising program is under-resourced, it’s hard to invest much in alumni relations. But invest we should. And we should remember that alumni relations is a separate cost center from development, one that should not be reflected in your cost-of-fundraising reports like the IRS form 990 or your audit.

Here are some reasons to invest in alumni relations:

  1.  Alumni are a resource of the educational mission of the college.  Their relation to the institution comprises interactions that transcend the fundraising program.
  1.  The college needs to offer multiple, coordinated entry points for interactions with alumni, coordinated by a specialist reporting to the VP of Advancement.
  1. The college needs to promote interaction with the alumni so that they remain informed about the educational activities of the college and can serve as ambassadors of the college in ways that benefit enrollment management, career placement, and other core activities of the college even before we see their cultivation as a future resource of the fundraising program.
  1. Alumni often want to maintain a relationship with the college directly via their academic department, as with professors, or coaches, and don’t want to be perceived primarily as donor prospects. I believe this is particularly true for alumni in their 20s and 30s.
  1. Young alumni as a group cost the fundraising program money to stay in touch with them during the twenty-year period it takes for them to become significant donors.  A balanced, professional alumni relations program will undertake that challenge based on a rationale that is more encompassing than the Annual Fund dollar value of each class of alumni.
  1. Tracking contact information for alumni often exceeds the data management capacity of a fundraising office, requiring significant integration with the data management capacities of the college. This is the most intractable issue facing community colleges today because the effort is under-resourced and not seen as an institutional priority. Even so, much more can be done by most colleges to keep track of alumni, including mailing to them at least twice a year and using NCOA protocols.
  1. A primary way to remain in touch with alumni is a college magazine, backed up by a strong online program for alumni contact.  The editorial content of these reflects the entire college and therefore must be managed to reflect the interests of the college, while at the same time viewing editorial through the lens of Alumni relations and development.
  1.  With younger alumni, their relationship to the college may benefit the college in ways that pertain more closely to marketing than fundraising.
  1. Alumni benefit the college directly by:
  • Providing expert advice and guidance to the university’s leadership
  • Providing case study material, guest lectures, equipment or similar to enhance teaching
  • Supporting student recruitment
  • Providing careers advice, mentoring, placements, internships to students
  • Acting as positive role models to current students

[Source for #9 (condensed):]

These activities reflect the degree to which the alumni relations program must be managed by the college to provide systemic, comprehensive management of the aggregate and individual relationships with alumni to benefit the college as a whole.

  1.  Colleges often provide services or benefits to alumni, both tangible and intangible, that reflect interactions with the entire college, including athletics, academics, placement, and advancement.  An advisory team that reflects the life and values of the college should assist in oversight of these benefits.

Conclusion:  it’s never too soon to invest in alumni relations.

Not All Actions Are Equal: From High Touch to Low in Donor Cultivation

We don’t just count the number of actions in assessing our cultivation record; we look at the quality of the interactions themselves. More is not always better—highly personal contacts are. As useful as email is, for example, it is a third-tier form of cultivation. Here is how I rank cultivation actions:

High Touch – Most Valued

  • Solicitation in-person
  • Meeting (not including board committee meetings)
  • Visited contact
  • Breakfast/Lunch
  • Campus tour
  • Conversation

Medium Touch – Valued

  • Dropped by
  • Proposal
  • Phone call
  • Personal letter (even a personal acknowledgment letter)
  • Note

Low Touch – Less Valued

  • Email
  • Left message
  • Fax

Therefore, a visit trumps a phone call, which, in turn, trumps an email.

“They Are Wonderful People, They Just Don’t Do Anything!”

The slightly tongue-in-cheek title of my presentation at the 2015 CASE Conference for Community College Advancement was “They Are Wonderful People, They Just Don’t Do Anything: Dealing expertly with passive, uninspired, underperforming, worn-out, and sometimes fossilized boards.”

In keeping with this lighter take on a serious subject I took an informal poll of the audience, asking which of seven paradigms of dysfunction most afflicted their foundation boards. The options were:

  1. They grandstand
  2. They are asleep
  3. They have a commander-in-chief chair
  4. They have warring factions
  5. Fundraising terrifies them
  6. Change is evil
  7. They don’t do anything

And the winner was… Fundraising terrifies them! And it’s a small wonder, I think, given that community college board members often don’t really know much about what is required of a board member when they agree to serve. They mostly have a vague notion about taking on a volunteer community involvement assignment that includes some meetings and attending a gala.

And that, largely, is our fault. The role of the community college foundation board is to secure resources in support the mission of the college. Yes, they govern as a board, but advancement—securing resources—is not governance per se. They need to know the ropes. In order to avoid semi-futile attempts to cat-herd a reluctant board toward functionality, it helps to foster individual comprehension of what it takes to be an effective board member. That is, they need to know what they are in for before they ever join your board.

You can’t just throw people on the board and hope it works out. And while the board has self-determining governing functions, it is the responsibility of the chief development officer and the college president to exert influence in collaboration with the foundation board leadership to constantly improve the effectiveness of the board.

As a corollary to that notion, you cannot leave a foundation board to its own devices. They need professional direction to direct their efforts to secure resources. They need to know that their primary role will be that of ambassador. That is to say, they will be asked to represent the mission of the college directly and personally to individuals in their sphere of influence who control community and personal resources. They need to understand that they will be armed with stories of student achievement, perseverance, and success. They will know a little something about the challenges, hopes, aspirations, and goals of the college.

So, again, what is the primary role of a college foundation board member? Ambassador to the community for a cause. That’s simple enough.

In the world of advancement, ambassadors cultivate donor prospects. This is often difficult for uninitiated board members because they fear that cultivation might damage their standing with peers, business associates, and friends. The notion of ambassadorship helps to clarify the boundaries and parameters of this endeavor. Ambassadors look outward. They open doors. They bring influential people together with the president, where it is the job of the president to articulate the mission and activities of the college with passion and authority.

We need to anticipate that board members who do not receive a comprehensive orientation to the role they are being asked to fulfill will be terrified of fundraising. We need to address that fear with a coherent set of relationship and messaging “cue cards” to imbue their interactions with their own sense of comfort and ownership.

Ambassadors must look outward, that much we know. And while I am happy to have a board member who is uncomfortable with cultivation if he or she is a major donor—because such leadership by example is priceless—we need to get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats, when it comes to advancement.

So if you find your board is terrified of fundraising, consider a formal initiative to address the root causes, and begin with recruiting the right people and giving them the gift of formal orientation to the role of ambassador. That should prove to be a good start on a neverending journey.


When “Educating” is the Same as Propaganda

This originally appeared on Steve Klingaman’s Open Salon blog.

A 2011 report that the IRS sent letters warning of possible gift tax liabilities to big donors to 501(c)4 nonprofit social welfare organizations shines a bit of light on a much-abused segment of the nonprofit world. Social welfare organizations have become the recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars in recent election cycles, and all indications are that this is just a drop in the bucket.

The New York Times reported on May 12, 2011 that the IRS sent letters to five donors to 501(c)4s informing them that their contributions may be subject to gift taxes because the groups were political in nature. The tax rate is hefty — 35 percent.

Traditional charities, known as 501(c)3s, are eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts. In exchange, they are enjoined from substantial political participation, and the participation to which they are entitled must be reported to the IRS. Social welfare organizations on the other hand are entitled to spend money to influence legislation related to their missions. They are, however, enjoined from supporting or opposing specific candidates. It is this area that has turned increasingly cloudy in the post-Citizens United, anything-goes era.

In a time in which billionaires like David H. Koch may donate millions to Americans for Prosperity to influence political races, the issue increasingly matters. What’s more, these contributions may be made anonymously, so, for example, corporations can effectively launder their political contributions through (c)4s without risking alienating their customers.

But are (c)4s being abused in a wholesale manner? If you look at the IRS rulebook for (c)4s, the answer appears to be yes, at least if one adheres to the historically accepted definition of the term “social welfare.” Here’s how the IRS restricts the political involvement of this class of nonprofits:

Seeking legislation germane to the organization’s programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes. Thus, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status…. In addition, a section 501(c)(4) organization that engages in lobbying may be required to either provide notice to its members regarding the percentage of dues paid that are applicable to lobbying activities or pay a proxy tax. For more information, see Lobbying Issues.

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax under section 527(f). For further information regarding political and lobbying activities of section 501(c) organizations, see Election Year IssuesPolitical Campaign and Lobbying Activities of IRC 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) Organizations, and Revenue Ruling 2004-6.

Lobbying is okay, thus the lack of a tax deductibility of the gift. But things get murkier in the second paragraph: “The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” Political advertising that opposes candidates for public office is routinely cloaked in a thin layer of issue-related language while the primary intent of the messaging is clearly apparent — the defeat of a particular candidate, or group of candidates. This type of guerrilla messaging is very much the primary purpose of most political (c)4s. If the goal is to take back the Senate, the tactic is to defeat a number of “particular candidates.”

The IRS intent regarding the missions of (c)4s is pretty clear. IRS rules state:

To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).

One example of such a mission offered by IRS rules is an organization that operates for the benefit of a class of rental tenants. Nonetheless, terms like “common good” and “general welfare of the people” are pretty broad, and it’s easy to see how they form the loophole through which broad political participation has been masked by such generalities.

Here’s what it comes down to: “We promote the general good by advocating a moratorium on ever raising taxes again, and by implicitly attacking any party that would raise them. And we do it by educating the public.” That’s pretty much how political and ideological (c)4s operate.

All of their political messaging is characterized as education. I have reviewed (c)4 tax returns of politically inspired groups; this is how they tend to characterize their spending. So what is the difference between educating and advocacy or, more to the point, propaganda? That is what the IRS should determine with sufficient clarity to define actual practice in the field.

A grassroots (c)4 group that attempts to improve living conditions for a broad class of renters by occasionally participating in the legislative process, introducing model legislation and lobbying for specific bills, is a far cry from the political machines (c)4s have become. If promoting social welfare is to be synonymous with pure politics, then let’s change IRS regulations to say so.

The brouhaha over gift tax applicability to (c)4 gifts will either be settled in tax court or by legislation. It is a virtually a foregone conclusion that aggressive IRS actions toward (c)4 donors will result in Congress passing an exception to the rule that would allow big gifts to circumvent any tax liabilities. So much for the extra revenue IRS agents were apparently eying. But the larger question about political abuses of the structure of nonprofit social welfare organizations is one that should be scrutinized if this part of nonprofit law and practice is to have any ethical moorings in the political process.

[This article has been edited for brevity by the author since original publication.]


What Philanthropy Can Learn from Kickstarter

My daughter, actress and singer Lenne Klingaman, is on the home stretch of a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund her debut album.

Lenne's Kickstarter cover image

Small fish in a very big pond: Lenne’s Kickstarter cover image

It occurred to me from the moment we discussed the campaign (full disclosure: I am a co-producer), that it is similar, and radically dissimilar from a philanthropy-based campaign—so much so that I wasn’t even sure what I had to offer Lenne in this endeavor. And that was all to the good, because this was Lenne’s baby and she took full responsibility for its success or failure. The experience, still in progress with seven exciting days to go, serves to reinforce some precepts of development, and to upend others. So what were a few of these takeaways?

People give to people with a dream: So why do people give to fund other people’s passion projects? To be a part of a quest, I think. To identify and live, not vicariously, but in solidarity with people who dare to step out from conveyor-belt jobs and buck seemingly overwhelming economic odds to make something big happen in their professional or artistic lives. The product is the outcome, but the process, the journey, is almost the bigger draw. It’s a dream thing.

Confronting the odds draws support: Kickstarter has an ingenious system of requiring a goal, and if backers do not sign on in sufficient numbers, none of the credit card pledges can be redeemed. And it’s all very public. The potential for humiliation is there. There is even a Kickstarter analytics site that minces no words in its algorithmic judgments. For artists whose networks are composed of other artists, those are daunting terms. It forces people to think long and hard about their goals. It creates a real drama with nuanced developments in the early phase, the mid-campaign “flats”, and the dramatic run-up to the end, where Lenne is right now. That drama draws interest, and interest draws support.

Youth is a huge draw: As I witness the age difference between some of the larger donors and Lenne, I conclude that youth draws support. It’s a way to give something back and identify with earlier dreams and dramas of one’s life. Let’s keep in mind that for people living by their art, or working in certain types of jobs to support their art, this is real money. So backers, donors, investors—a bit of all three really—are making a difference that magnifies the impact of their gifts—and that is no small thing.

Lenne makes her case on on video in Nashville.

Lenne makes her case on video in Nashville.

Tell a personal story, and tell it with video: It amazing what you can do with an iPhone video camera these days. Lenne composed a narrative about going to Nashville to mix the album, and took the viewer on an adventure. The story was immediate, personal, and it was a real adventure. It was palpable. Her words, her inflections, her delight, the way she talked with her hands, were all immediate, compelling “pulls” in the narrative arc. I think we too often forget in philanthropy that the immediacy, the direct authenticity, of real people talking and being is what elicits empathetic action. Not organization-speak. And maybe, in the future, video is the only way to go. Direct mail, email—they pale in comparison. But what we say and how we do it, that is the crux of the issue. We perhaps should never again need to watch a stiff executive director bore us with the benefits of the new [Fill-in-theBlank] center.

Make the benefits personal: People who give a dollar maybe get a single song download, people who give more get an autographed record…vinyl! People who give even more get their name on the CD. People who more than that, for artists who tour, like Willie Porter, who raised $60,000 on a Kickstarter campaign, enter a raffle with very impressive odds to win a house concert by the artist. The Kickstarter artist thanks many, many donors in strikingly imaginative ways.

People know they’re making a difference: Small, discrete projects with identifiable goals make everyone a hero in the end. It’s not like giving to an amorphous Annual Fund goal, or even a graduating class goal. In Kickstarter’s universe the project doesn’t happen if you don’t give. It’s that immediate and direct—it’s cause and effect. I think in development we sometimes pull out last year’s script, rewrite a few paragraphs, and say please give to the scholarship fund. There’s no real there there. There is no tangible cause and effect. Perhaps we need to sponsor particular educations. Thinking more directly about the real end effect of donations is a powerful tool, and bureaucratic exhortations are no substitute for a compelling mission—in this case a personal mission.

Kickstarter cuts out the middleman—you: Many of these projects—and they are not crowdfunded, they are funded by individuals—are exactly the type that arts, technology, or innovation grants could fund—but don’t. Those grants require a brand name and mind-numbing applications for largesse that pales in comparison with what Willie Porter raises on his own and with no red tape. These dreams people come up with are mission-based in every sense of the word. And in Kickstarter’s logic, donor fatigue doesn’t exist. People give to projects—and yes, clearly, people—in which they believe. So it’s different than philanthropy—for the love of humankind—it’s personal, giving to an actual person, or band maybe. That’s different, yes. But the fundamental pitch is: if you want to see this promising project become a reality, you have to give. And it’s true, it’s not hype. And that’s not so far from the roots of philanthropy. The fact is, it’s a quiet revolution in the quest for inspiring donors to give of themselves for initiatives that matter; and I wonder, are we paying attention, not to new principles exactly, though that is to some extent true, but to direct applications of universal principles, aided by new technology, and grounded in our deepest, direct, person-to-person social impulses?

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The Perils of a Staff-Driven Advancement Program

The classic public higher ed advancement model is built on the triad of the college president, the foundation board, and the professional development staff. If the triad is in place and functioning well, do everything you can to maintain its effectiveness. If it is not in place, do everything to can to support the formation of the triad.

Without the president and board onboard you have a staff-driven program, and with a staff-driven program you limit your revenue to 50% of potential. You can do a lot of things right, and effectively, and still have a staff-driven program. You may have a strong Annual Fund and grants program, but you will have a weak major gifts program.

When you limit your revenue to 50% of potential you become irrelevant. That is, you cease to matter in the power dynamic of the college. You won’t receive an adequate budget or sufficient attention to get the job done. If advancement isn’t an engine, it’s a caboose. If advancement is the caboose, it will fail.

When I refer to the engine, I mean the resource engine, that term Jim Collins talks about. The major gifts program is more potent resource engine of the development program, as compared to the Annual Fund, and, it goes without saying, special events. Yet the Annual Fund must be well established for the major gifts program to launch. So there is hope for anyone running a staff-driven program raising most of the annual revenue from the Annual Fund. You just have to shift the dynamics of the advancement triad to put the president front and center and the foundation board firmly—and actively—behind you.

I wrote about engaging the president in my last blog entry. As to engaging the foundation board, you might refer to Tip #19 in my book: “Members of effective boards actively support the fundraising activities of the Annual Fund and make it a priority for personal involvement.”

After that, major gifts!