Thoreau and fund raising

Henry_David_ThoreauCast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.  – Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience.

If democracy requires the whole influence of citizens – and it has never needed it more than it does today — a non profit organization requires the whole engagement of its supporters.

What does whole engagement mean?  Of course there is the usual checklist of ways a donor could help an organization: giving money, introducing her friends, soliciting corporate gifts from her employer, adding the organization to her estate plans, volunteering, and so forth.

But in a donor-centric universe – have you noticed that is where we live? – whole engagement means that she is giving what she is able and willing to give at this time, when asked appropriately.

How do you know whether you are inviting the whole engagement of your donors?  Here is a simple test.  If, when you are talking to your donors, do you listen in order to respond, or do you listen to your donors in order to understand?    

Each of your supporters is, to quote Thoreau again, a majority of one, worthy of your inquisitive attention.

Small organizations / big gifts

SMALL ORGANIZATION/BIG GIFT.  It does happen.  If it has happened to you, please share here – and check out the Jump Start Contest at

money_falling_from_skyOn November 15 in 2002, at Poetry Magazine’s 90th anniversary dinner celebration, Ruth Lilly’s $100 million pledge was announced.  The Poetry Foundation pre-Lilly was a modest magazine publisher with a staff of four and $1.3 million budget.

If it does your heart good in this sober financial climate to imagine a gift of 77 times your operating budget, enjoy a blissful moment of dreaming about your own Miracle Gift Day.

If you know who that person is, make a goal of spending an hour with him or her in the next six weeks without asking for a gift.  Talk about your dreams for the organization in 5-10 years.  Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  And ask if you can come back for another conversation in six months as your plans crystallize.

Sometimes, good things happen to good people. If your organization has benefited from big gifts, please share the story.  And be sure to enter the Jump Start Contest, Prizes include a $2,500 cash prize, recognition in the fund raising press, and free board training. Details at