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Tools for Change Agents In A New Organizational World

Tools for Change Agents In A New Organizational World

As an Economist magazine puts it. “Trust can be defined as the expectation that other people or organizations will act in ways that are fair to you.”*

We find ourselves in a time when Americans simply don’t trust organizations, businesses or even each other. According to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago last year, only 32% of respondents feel that “most people can be trusted” down from 44% in 1976. When interpersonal trust breaks down, citizens lose faith in the many institutions that allow democracy to function. So what does this drastic loss of trust mean for nonprofits?

The first noticeable consequence is the decrease in political participation and involvement – especially through the traditional structures like political parties. Instead of contributing time and money to political parties more and more people are supporting advocacy organizations that work to advance the specific causes those individuals are most passionate about. As citizens continue to lose trust in two-party government and its attendant infrastructure, they will turn to citizen run nonprofit organizations for leadership and guidance. Instead of counting on institutions, such as regulatory agencies and the courts, for redress, the electorate will splinter off into factions unaffiliated with the political parties so that those groups can work on real solutions to their grievances.

This is what grassroots organizations are all about, crafting real solutions to real problems while avoiding the sluggish, creaking party apparatus altogether. And these aren’t your grandparents’ church groups; these are sophisticated organizations that aim to spread their message and implement their agenda using cutting-edge data analytics to personalize content and micro-target sympathetic audiences.

Like the fearless wildcatters searching for oil in the Arctic, and the creative programmer who architects a paradigm-shifting social network, the leaders of these next generation, leading-edge advocacy organizations are visionaries. We call them social entrepreneurs because they create cultural wealth and social opportunity.

But as with the entrepreneurs of the for-profit variety, social CEOs need resources and strategic guidance to their organizations and grow their brands. And that is where we come in. Grass Root Communication has a suite of services – as well as our very own nonprofit incubator – that can assist any organization in crafting its engagement content, growing its support base and increasing its influence.

For example. Our Data Lab specializes in gleaming strategic insights from your house list as well as injecting additional demographic and psychographic information into the list and using it to target more prospects. Our Word Science department uses those same data patterns to identify different segments and to write captivating, persuasive appeals for each one of those sub-groups. And our Brand Factory can cultivate your organizations brand, transforming it from obscurity to visibility.

Whatever your cause, whatever your agenda, GRC has all the tools a social enterprise needs to develop its vision and perfect its outreach.


*(August 12th, 2017 pg. 53 )

Building Diversity Friendly Campaigns

Eden Stiffman, a contributor to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, has written an eye-opening article about how to reach out to more ethnically diverse donors. According to the article by Eden Stiffman, “6 steps to Attracting More Diverse Donors,” the current donor population is over-representative of Caucasians at the expense of other racial groups when compared to the US population as a whole.

One piece of advice Stiffman offers is for the non-profits to re-evaluate the tenor and content of their donor communications. For example, the stories told by organizations should be “culturally appropriate” and “welcoming” to people of other races and religions. Be wary of culturally offensive stereotypes that might accidentally show up in your organization’s marketing materials.

This is especially true of images, many of which depict people of color as the needy beneficiaries and only white people as staff members, board members, donors and CEOS. Featuring more diverse staff and organization leaders could go a long way in conveying to donors that there is serious commitment to diversity in place. And producing newsletter content in multiple languages may be appropriate depending on the ethnic breakdown of your organization’s donor base.

As always, examining the composition of this donor base is the first place to start when determining how to execute your strategy to attract diverse donors. And the best way to assess the demographics of the support base is to perform a high- level donor analysis (which we can do for you right now!)

Eden Stiffman, the contributor, also suggests getting a second opinion regarding how your organization’s message is perceived.

Sometimes it’s helpful to bring in someone from outside the organization to provide a new perspective,”, he notes.

Please feel free to contact us if you need that new perspective.
Our campaign experts would be delighted to take a second look at your donor engagement approach!


See article: ”6 steps to Attracting More Diverse Donors” by Eden Stiffman; the Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Martyrdom Effect – Recognizing Donors Sacrifice

The martyrdom effect refers to the tendency of donors “to prefer forms of giving that involve significant sacrifice and effort, such as running marathons or taking the ice- bucket challenge.” (see Wall Street Journal article mentioned below). It helps explain why many donors prefer volunteering for a charity instead of donating money – in their minds, the former activity seems more noble and requires more effort on their part. They view themselves as being on the front lines, right in the middle of the action compared to just scribbling a check which seems lazy. Passionate donors want to invest blood, sweat and tears into the causes they believe in, even though a cash donation would go much farther in achieving the organizations goals.

For content writers and communications directors, the takeaway from this is clear – craft messages in such a way that acknowledge the donor’s sacrifice in earning to give and emphasize that the donor is as much a part of the organization’s team as the official staff members. An excellent demonstration of how this is done can be seen in a year-end Doctors Without Borders fundraising campaign letter.

The letter, written on behalf of Executive Director Jason Cone, illustrates very powerful ways in which the donor’s financial contributions earned her a spot on the team.

“This year, you were with us conducting war surgery on the front line in Yemen, feeding starving children in northern Nigeria, rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and fighting yellow fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Obviously, the donor wasn’t literally present for any of the aforementioned assignments, but Mr. Cone’s words still make it seem like the donor is part of the adventure. He continues:

“When disaster struck, you helped our medical teams bring a measure of hope – one patient at a time – to millions of people.”

“The Doctors Without Borders interventions you make possible, have an immediate impact on the communities where we work.”

This intimate sense of inclusion isn’t lost by emphasizing how critical a donor’s monetary gifts are to the nonprofit’s operations:

“…You give us the freedom to spend your dollars wherever they are needed most.”

“…Your support gives our teams the flexibility to act quickly in scenarios where acting fast means saving more lives.”

“Your generosity and commitment this year meant that we didn’t have to choose between vaccinating hundreds of thousands of people against yellow fever… taking part in the world’s largest oral cholera vaccination campaign… or striving to protect over 200,000 children… from deadly childhood diseases.”

This last excerpt is especially powerful because it highlights for the donor how the heroic and highly skilled medical team would be forced to make some very difficult ethical choices without her financial support. The specter of choosing between two patients would paralyze even the most skilled physician.

It is true that DWB is sort of an odd test subject to use in examining how the martyrdom effect can be harnessed to write persuasive copy because no ordinary donor could elect to volunteer her time instead of writing a check to DWB – the work performed by the org’s staff is simply too dangerous and requires considerable training and expertise.  But still, DWB does a good job letting its supporters tag along for the ride figuratively and, in a way, allows ordinary people to live vicariously through their medical staff. Who doesn’t want to be part of an international life-saving expedition?

So even though DWB doesn’t have a problem with donors trying to volunteer their time instead of their earnings, the writers still do a fantastic job tapping into their donors’ inner martyr to maximize their support and passion for the cause of defending non-privileged lives. It is not only the feeling of being valued that is nurtured, it is also the notion of camaraderie that transforms enthusiasm into life-saving dollars.

Editor’s note “We have emphasized the wisdom of incorporating the pronoun “You” in donor communications. The martyrdom effect now helps us understand why the word “you” resonates so strongly with the donor’s psyche.


Persuasive Copy Using The Principle of Reciprocity

Jennifer Shang a professor of philanthropic psychology, has identified nine specific motivations that compel people to give. These moral adjectives are the criteria that individuals use to define themselves in the context of their generosity. One such moral adjective is ‘fair’ – that is, people want to think of themselves as being fair and will therefore give in accordance with this value. A self appraisal of fairness, meanwhile, will drive donors and members to contribute generously if they feel that a person, cause, or organization has been generous towards them. This is the principle of reciprocity.

Achieving reciprocity is challenging however, because your org must first do something meaningful for your supporter. This is relatively straightforward for associations which produce tangible benefits for their members, but for non-profit the task is less obvious. Here’s an example by legendary fundraising copywriter Tom Ahern, excerpted from a letter written on behalf of the Sharp HealthCare Foundation.

Dear Reader,

You came to our hospital as a patient, in need of help. Thank you for that profound act of trust.

Now we come to you, humbly, to ask for your help in turn. The cause for excellent health care, here in the community, needs you. Will you consider becoming its champion… by making a gift?

Aside from its elegance and simplicity, this piece of copy is persuasive precisely because it reminds the donor of the org’s support during her time of need while simultaneously revealing the org’s own vulnerability and dependence on the donor.  This is the emotional mechanism by which Sharp Healthcare evokes a sense of trust and motivates the donor to respond magnanimously in a manner that is not at all transactional. Results have been very positive, the fundraising letter has drawn gifts from roughly 35000 supporters over the span of a decade – with some individual contributions reaching $20,000.

Of course, in the above example, the org was already well positioned to capitalize on the reciprocity effect by virtue of its work in the healthcare field and its contact with numerous patients. Reciprocity seems to work best with nonprofits that provide a service available to ordinary citizens and not just those in need. For example, historical societies that strive to preserve works of art could ask supporters who appreciate such art to consider the benefits already accrued to them (via the enjoyment of the preserved pieces) and to give accordingly. Communications directors should emphasize the specific service already performed on behalf of the donor and then skilfully request the donor to place a value on those benefits. In doing so, supporters will acknowledge the non-profit’s important role in their individual lives and will give back accordingly – thereby reinforcing their sense of duty and symbiosis that is vital to the health of every organization.

And in case you were wondering, the other eight moral adjectives are: kind, compassionate, helpful, caring, friendly, generous, honest and hard working. In the future we’ll explore how these qualities can be beautifully woven into the tapestry of fundraising communication.

Editor’s note:     As we’ve discussed in past issues, the use of the pronoun ‘you’ is indispensible with regard to your donor communications. In the Sharp Healthcare example presented above, note how the word ‘you’ appears in every sentence.


Tom Ahern, Sharp Healthcare Letter

A new Trend In Donor Finance: The Individual Giving Account

A new financial vehicle for giving has emerged among tax-conscious Philanthropists. It’s called the Individual Giving Account and it allows Donors to immediately harvest the tax benefit of donation deductions while stashing away assets earmarked for contribution at a later time. Think of it as an IRA set up to handle a donor’s philanthropic ‘investments’. Writing about the visible proliferation of these new accounts, Wall Street Journal Contributor Laura Saunders provides an excellent example of how they work:

Say Mary usually gives away about $15,000 a year, and she has stock valued at $45,000 that she acquired for $10,000 and has held for more than a year.  She’s worried both that the stock will drop and that tax changes next year could lower her deduction’s value.

Rather than writing checks to her favourite causes this year,  Mary contributes the stock to a donor advised fund.  She gets a deductions for the full $45,000 for 2016 and bypasses capital-gains tax on the stock’s growth.

Then the sponsor (such as [Charles] Schwab) immediately sells Mary’s stock, tax-free, and funds her giving account with the $45,000.  If she wants to give,  Say, $3000 to a qualified non-profit such as her church or college, she asks the sponsor to make a grant, and it typically does, taking care of all paperwork, meanwhile, the remainder is invested as she directs in a menu of mutual funds, awaiting her decisions about whom to give to and how much.

The result, Mary has made a tax-efficient donation of stock and gotten a full deduction this year, no matter what happens to the market or the tax code next year, meanwhile, she doesn’t have to parcel out three years’ worth of donations until she wants to (see Wall Street Journal article mentioned below)

Non-profit directors are right to conclude that anticipated changes to the tax-code enormously influence the giving behavior of donors in the upper crust.  Proposals by the new Republican administration to curtail the value of charitable deductions – either by directly limiting the allowed deductible amount, or by reducing the tax rate itself have driven charitable actors to open swaths of IGAs, also known as donor- advised funds.  The number of people with giving accounts now exceeds 270,000 and during the five year time period ending in 2015, annual contributions to the accounts doubled to $224 billion from $10.4 billion according to data from the National Philanthropic Trust.  As noted in the above example, the accounts and the various stocks and bonds contained within them are managed by a third party such as Fidelity, Vanguard, or Charles Schwab.

Given that these new-fangled accounts are exploding in popularity and have become an alternative to private foundations for the wealthy non-profit directors would be wise to target some of their holders through their fundraising efforts. An important caveat with regard to? donor-advised funds is that once money is deposited, it cannot be withdrawn.  That means that these donors have a different source? of mindset than ordinary retail donors who must choose where to?  dip into their checking or savings account in order to make a gift.  Well-heeled philanthropists who possess well-funded giving accounts have already made the decision to contribute a certain amount and so the only question left is where the donation will go.  Quite likely, they will be receptive to a number of causes and non-profits.  At Vanguard in 2015. 29% of grants went to educational causes, 21% to human services, 13% to religious groups, and only 1% to historical causes.

Non-profits would do well to study up on this new preferred philanthropic financial structure for the affluent. If nothing else, directors could educate their own donors about the flexibility and tax efficiency of the new and exciting Individual Giving Account.



Charity Accounts: Holiday Must – Have by Laura Saunders, The Wall Street Journal, December 24-25, 2016