4 Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Donations and Multiply Their Impact

Maggie Farrand typifies many nonprofit executives.
She’s happy about the level of donations to Pathfinder International, a Boston-area reproductive-rights nonprofit where she is the senior officer of digital media. But Farrand knows that to keep the contributions coming, she must engage current donors in a meaningful way.
That’s why Farrand attended the 2018 Collaborative, a three-day conference in Boston hosted by Classy, an online fundraising platform for social impact organizations, in June. She joined more than 1,200 attendees who listened to talks, participated in workshops, and connected with other nonprofit leaders and peers. Their goal: to better understand how to increase giving and optimize operations so they can best handle sweeping technology-driven changes, as well as answer the call for more diverse and equitable workplaces. They’re contending with those matters at a time when donor retention is more challenging than ever.
“Eighty-two percent of donors are not coming back after their initial gift,” Classy CEO Scot Chisholm said in the opening keynote address. “We think things will get worse before they get better. More donors are giving on websites where the organization doesn’t have visibility or control over the relationship, and therefore not allowing for any kind of supporter allegiance.” But there’s hope, according to Chisholm: “One-third of donations on Classy are made from mobile devices, and we’re seeing that over 60 percent of mobile traffic to Classy campaigns is coming from social media.” If nonprofits can harness mobile and social, as well as explain their missions with clarity, joy and purpose, then they’ll be able to meet donors where they are, increase engagement and sustain charitable programs, he said.
As fundraisers navigate a changing philanthropic landscape, four defining themes emerged from the sessions and workshops of the 2018 Collaborative that can serve as a helpful guide: cohesion in the nonprofit workplace; diversifying fundraising methods; modernizing with technology; and establishing meaningful relationships with donors.


As Black Lives Matter and other movements shine a spotlight on racial inequality, it’s safe to say many organizations still need to treat all of their employees equally. The conference session “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture” saw four nonprofit executives highlight their efforts to foster equality.
“White folks are having to deal with the issues of racial identity, which for them is a shocking experience but is what people of color have experienced for a long time,” said Chris Cardona, a program officer of philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. “White people don’t have a way to turn it into lessons of experience and empathy.” But Cardona and his fellow panelists offered several suggestions to put employees on equal footing.
For one, it’s particularly valuable for executives, especially white leaders, to be vulnerable, according to Building for Mission CEO Tamika Mason. Vulnerability leads to openness, which leads to a willingness to learn about race, she said. “It empowers an organization,” she added.
Kerrien Suarez, director of Equity in the Center, urged nonprofits to formally recognize the role of employees who are charged with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. “The emotional labor of this work is high,” she said. “The person in this role should be compensated; it requires funding. It’s best to have DEI as a line item in the budget.”
While equity inside the office means organizations must follow rules, dealing with donors outside the office can be trickier, said Brianna Twofoot, the vice president of organizing leadership for Leadership for Educational Equity. Her solution? She won’t let her Mexican-American heritage get in the way of fundraising. “I don’t have time for that problem to be solved,” she said. “I will figure out a way to react to that room, and figure out how to get that money.”
Janelle Coleman, director of the annual fund for St. Francis House, a homeless shelter in Boston, said the discussion panel validated the effort and nuance that’s necessary as her organization starts its DEI efforts. “The world is so divided, so we have to do everything we can to make sure we have an inclusive workplace,” she said.

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From left: Tamika Mason, Brianna Twofoot and Kerrien Suarez spoke about their efforts to operationalize equity in the workplace during a session called “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture.”


With donors able to choose from a slew of philanthropic causes, several conference sessions examined how nonprofits can vary their fundraising efforts to reach all types of donors, including socially responsible corporations and individuals who first want to see proof of good.
Elaine Martyn, vice president of relationship management for the Private Donor Group at Fidelity Charitable, stressed the importance of understanding the circumstances and ways of large donors so that nonprofits can personalize fundraising efforts. She recalled an instance when she had received a $100,000 gift from a donor who was worth $100 million, and Martyn asked the woman why she made her “work so hard” for the donation. “She said, ‘You’re the one organization I want to give this to, but I also want to make sure every gift has an impact.’”
Similarly, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Public Affairs Vice President Larry Jacob recommended that nonprofits perform due diligence when seeking gifts from corporations. Nonprofits need to be clear, he said, about what the donation will do: where it will be earmarked and the intended result. (Disclosure: the Kauffman Foundation is a paid partner of NationSwell.)
Nonprofits should benefit from partnerships with corporations as millennials integrate their personal charitable values into their leadership positions at work, according to Danielle Silber, director of strategic partnerships at the American Civil Liberties Union. These companies want to demonstrate what they stand for, she said, and will work with nonprofits that best align with their goals.
Even though nonprofits work in a crowded field, it is possible to attain year-over-year growth by implementing the right technology, said Stephanie Herron, chief development officer for Shriners Hospitals for Children. A fundraising platform enables both small donations and the occasional large ones. Shriners Hospitals, for instance, has accepted multiple $25,000 credit card donations through Classy, she said. Martyn also urged nonprofit leaders to personally donate to their own organizations, enabling them to see how donors are treated.


Extending the conversation about diversifying, Box.org Executive Director Bryan Breckenridge said nonprofits should look differently at their relationships with the people behind technology. For instance, fundraising leaders should learn the names of their organization’s top three technology vendors so they can approach them about opportunities, he told attendees.
Katie Bisbee, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of partnerships at DonorsChoose.org, agreed, saying tech vendors have a “huge megaphone” that can easily amplify a nonprofit’s work and mission. Don’t be shy to ask the vendor to participate in a case study; the vendor can promote its technology and the nonprofit can illustrate its efficiency through the platform, she added.
And don’t be afraid to compare strategies with other nonprofits, Bisbee said. DonorsChoose.org benefits from her sharing data and success stories with organizations such as GlobalGiving, Kiva and Charity: Water, and she consults with 20 other nonprofits.
One such example of information sharing came at the Collaborative, when Jim Carter III and Hamse Warfa revealed their successes with the nascent technology blockchain. Carter, co-founder and vice president of engineering for Giving Assistant, recounted how a week after he established a bitcoin account for the education nonprofit Pencils for Promise, he was overcome with joy when learning the organization had received a $1 million bitcoin-only donation from an anonymous donor. His coding work for four other organizations has helped them collectively receive $4.2 million from the same donor.
“This isn’t a replacement for other payment methods,” Carter said. “I’m not saying ‘stop accepting credit cards.’ That would be ludicrous.” But by accepting cryptocurrency, nonprofits open the doors to a new world of donors who use only that form of money, he said.
Warfa, co-founder and executive vice president of BanQu, detailed how blockchain can empower farmers around the world by giving them an immutable financial transaction history that will improve their chances of securing microloans. On that same front, charitable organizations can take advantage of blockchain by having all of the data points — financial, health and education — of a refugee on one platform, instead of relying on several.

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Accepting cryptocurrency can increase a nonprofit’s donations, said Jim Carter III (center, with Sarah Sloat, left, and Hamse Warfa) during a session on the power of blockchain technology.


Technology, however, will have little effect if nonprofits can’t tell a convincing story about their work. Several Collaborative speakers espoused the power of storytelling, reminding attendees that a social media platform and marketing are only as good as the stories behind them.
Tyler Riewer, the brand content lead at Charity: Water, travels the world to hear — and later tell — the stories of the people who benefit from his organization’s work. He recommends that other nonprofit storytellers “create a sense of relatability” in their outreach to donors. The way that an organization solves a problem can “seem so far away” to donors, but if they see how the problem affects them, they will make that personal connection, he said.
A story also has to be authentic, according to Derek Hubbard, an external communications specialist at Southwest Airlines. “You have to tell stories from the heart,” he said. “It has to be true to who you are. People can see right through stories if they’re not authentic.”
Carilu Dietrich, chief marketing officer of Classy, said nonprofits often struggle with telling stories about people facing obstacles because they’re unsure if those details will make potential donors uncomfortable. But by taking an incremental approach — from detailing the obstacle, to relaying the potential for hope, to outlining the actual path forward — nonprofits will have a compelling story to tell, she said.
Nonprofits also have the ability to test campaigns by creating different story angles and sending them to different audiences, Dietrich said. Ultimately, donors have to believe they can add a chapter to an organization’s story, she said. “Make people feel as if they can do something.”

This article was paid by and produced in collaboration with Classy. Through the power of its fundraising platform, Classy serves customers who are tackling the world’s greatest challenges. Classy also hosts the annual Collaborative conference, a three-day immersive experience where today’s changemakers come together to co-create the future of social entrepreneurship.

4 Ways Towns Can Have Fourth of July Fireworks on a Tight Budget

Fireworks are as much of a Fourth of July necessity as the American flag and hot dogs on the grill. But some communities may be left with darker skies this weekend due to budget cuts.
That’s because, as America climbs out of a deep economic recession, some local governments have tightened spending — squeezing out public events like fireworks displays.
Michigan City, Ind., is one of dozens of small towns forced to halt the holiday celebration in the past. Mayor Ron Meer explained to ABC57, it was a matter of priorities, including “a Vietnam veterans memorial on the lakefront that needs refurbishing and I have [a] Michigan City lighthouse that needs structural repair and a paint job.”
It’s true, light shows come at no small price. Fireworks shows start at as much as $10,000 for smaller towns. And in some cases fireworks can cost around $1,000 a minute, according to Pam Lemmerman, vice president of the River District Alliance in Fort Meyers, Florida.
But the economic boost towns get from patrons, supporters say, is worth the cost. Julie Heckman, the executive director for the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) argues with fireworks shows leads to more visitors, which leads to more money. In fact, the APA finds that revenue made from display fireworks at commercial shows has steadily increased from $141 million in 1998 to $328 million in 2012, according to USA Today.
Kaboom Town in Addison, Texas racks up $2.5 million in restaurant revenue while Columbus, Ohio’s Red White & Boom adds an estimated $11 million to the city’s economy. Delgrosso’s Amusement Park in the small town of Tipton, Pennsylvania sees more than 20,000 people for its annual fireworks show while an additional 30,000 onlookers surround the area outside. Typically, the park brings in around 5,000 patrons on a regular day.
But instead of fighting the cuts, more communities have sparked ideas to brighten up the holiday with alternative methods to pay for the Independence Day staple, the National Journal reports. So instead of losing out on an important community event next year, here’s a few ways to keep around the American classic:
Seek outside sponsorship:
Over the past few years corporate sponsorship and private donation have become a main source of restoring brighter skies for a proper Fourth of July celebration. Elyria, Ohio eliminated fireworks in 2008, but the city provided help this year by adding a PayPal link to its website and adding a message in utility bills about how to donate. With the help of corporate and private contributions, city officials were able to raise $48,000 for the show, according to USA Today.
Other instances of corporations coming to the aid of the pyrotechnics: Pizza Hut sponsored a show for families at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam military base near Honolulu this year while several corporations including Microsoft and Amazon saved the annual display in Seattle last year.
Fundraise through nonprofits or local events:
Aside from seeking funding from private companies, communities can fundraise through simple measures like donation jars or charging parking fees. Community organizers or groups can also pool efforts to collect through local businesses, outside of storefronts or at local schools.
Partner with nearby towns:
Smaller towns can band together to form a larger event to save on spending and expand funding possibilities. Outside Chicago several towns in the northwest suburbs created the Northwest Fourth-Fest. Elgin, a participating town, reduced spending from $65,000 to $22,000 in 2012 by joining the new collaborative festival.
Enter a national contest:
National contests have also served as a means to obtain funding to put on the holiday blitz. Destination America’s Red, White & You contest selects two grand prize winning towns and three People’s Choice winners to receive $4,000 to go towards a show. Liberty Mutual launched a similar campaign in 2010 called Bring Back the 4th, awarding 10 communities throughout the country.
“I really do hope that communities that are cash-strapped and struggling think creatively to bring these shows back to their community,” Heckman said. “What other holiday does the community really come together, regardless of religion and regardless of political beliefs? Everybody wants to celebrate the Fourth of July. If the skies are dark, it has a huge impact on the community.”
MORE: It Takes a Village: Crowdfunding Neighborhood Improvement

Author John Green and his Nerdfighters Work for a Friendly Online Atmosphere

The Fault in Our Stars topped the New York Times bestseller list, is a major hit in theaters, and most likely, left all of us who read or saw the gut-wrenching tale reeling in emotional turmoil.
The man behind all of this success, though, has done much more for the teenagers and the world than just filling them with dreams of Augustus Waters and uncontrollable crying.
John Green is the author of the popular young adult novel, but he is also a member of Nerdfighters — a millions strong online movement making a difference in the world.
Nerdfighters reside in an online realm called “Nerdfighteria” complete with their own language. Their mission, though simple, is powerful: they intend to fight the “world suck” with “awesome.” Armed with technology, Nerdfighters create videos and post them mainly on YouTube — covering issues such as anti-bullying as well as raising money for charities.
Through their Foundation to Decrease World Suck, the Nerdfighters arrange annual fundraisers through their Project 4 Awesome. What’s that? It’s a competition where money is raised and donated to organizations around the world that promote awesome in the world. Their motto — “DFTBA: Don’t Forget to be Awesome” — is a positive message, and one that they definitely have not forgotten.
The 2013 Project 4 Awesome took place in December over YouTube, raising an astonishing $850,000 in just two short days for multiple charities, including Doctors Without Borders, Books for Africa, Water.org and Women for Women, among others.
Nerdfighteria is not just a place to raise money; it is also a safe Internet environment for teenagers. Cyberbullying cases consistently dominate news headlines, but this group is working to combat this trend. Members are given the chance to join a nondiscriminatory group that values membership and individuality.
It all began in 2007, when John and his brother, Hank Green, started their own YouTube series called Vlogbrothers where the two brothersdiscussed all sorts of topics — although most were nerdy and geeky in some fashion. They quickly garnered a following, but only after John mistakenly called the arcade game Aero Fighters, Nerdfighters, did the name and movement take off.
How then, did the man behind Nerdfighters come to write The Fault in Our Stars? It all began with one of the initial Nerdfighters, a girl named Esther Earl. Earl was an avid YouTube video blogger, posting videos about funny topics and also her experience with thyroid cancer. She was brave and did not let cancer define her, much like Hazel Grace Lancaster in John’s book. Earl lost her battle in 2010 at the age of 16, becoming the book’s inspiration.
Green’s relationship with Earl and his other Nerdfighters show the positive change that can come through empathy and community. Everyone needs to belong, and it is time for the Internet, a tool that is supposed to connect us, to finally fulfill its purpose.
With all of Green’s positive work, we can almost forgive him for the depressing ending of his book.
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This Special-Needs Teen Gave Herself and Her Favorite Charity the Birthday Gift of a Lifetime

Gabi Ury of Boulder, Colorado had it rough from the very beginning.
She was born with VATER Syndrome, a condition that causes a cluster of birth defects in the vertebrae, anus, trachea, esophagus and kidneys. Since birth, Ury has endured 14 surgeries to correct the effects of the syndrome, which left her with missing vertebrae and calf muscles. But her peppy spirit has remained intact despite all the time she’s spent in the hospital, and when she turned 16 on April 17, she wanted to give herself an incredible birthday present by attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest-held plank by a female.
Gabi has tried to break records before by constructing the longest hopscotch course and trying to put the most-ever socks on one foot. She fell short both times, but then she figured out she was a plank prodigy during tryouts for the volleyball at the Dawson School in Lafayette. She couldn’t run a mile with the other volleyball hopefuls, so volleyball coach Holly Novak suggested she spend the time performing an equally grueling exercise: planking, in which a person assumes a push-up position and holds it while resting on the forearms. The first time she tried, Gabi held a plank for 12 minutes. “I was astonished the first time she did it,” Novak told Kate Gibson of the Denver Post. “I have to give all the credit to Gabi on this. I have supplied some workouts, but she has really gone after the record.”
Twelve minutes was only the beginning for Gabi. She began practicing holding a plank for 40 minutes or more. “Boredom is a problem and distraction helps a lot,” Gabi told Gibson. She planks while watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ reading a book, and enjoying the company of her dog. She was aiming to break the record for a 40 minute, 1 second plank held by Boise’s Eva Bulzomi, and to raise money for Children’s Hospital Colorado while doing so.
Gabi made her attempt on April 19 at the East Boulder Rec center, and as you can see in this video, she held the plank for an incredible one hour and 20 minutes. Now she just needs to wait for the people at Guinness to verify her accomplishment. In the process, she has raised more than $17,000 for Children’s Hospital. Now that’s what we call a sweet sixteen year old.
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9 Year Old Raises Money For Her Own Disorder

Malina Woodbury suffers from Neurofibromatosis Type 1, a genetic disorder that impairs her ability to gain full range of motion in one of her legs. But the precocious little girl doesn’t want anyone else to have to deal with this disease in the future, so at the tender age of 9, she’s already working to find a cure. Malina creates earrings for sale and donates half of the proceeds to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Not only has she raised over $1,800 in the first five months, she’s also helped brainstorm other ideas to raise awareness and funds for the disease.