Welcome to Fundraising Update. This week, we dig into one development team’s efforts to take the emphasis off money in evaluating success. Plus, a survey of wealthy donors, Ramadan giving, and a $1 billion dollar fundraising campaign.

I’m Eden Stiffman, senior editor at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, please write me at eden.stiffman@philanthropy.com.

How Do You Measure Love?

This fundraising story is not like the others.

In an interview for the top fundraising job at the Oregon Food Bank, C. Nathan Harris was asked if he had ever developed an innovative approach to fundraising work. His answer: putting less emphasis on financial goals for fundraisers as a measure of success and more on human-focused measures like relationships with supporters.

Jokingly, he described his philosophy using a lyric from the Broadway musical hit Rent: “How do you measure a year? What about love?”

His answer must have left an impression. Harris got the job.

At the time, the approach was largely theoretical. But Harris and his development team are now working to apply it.

The experiment has multiple goals: to make fundraising a more just profession, to build more authentic relationships with donors and the broader community, to help the public understand the root causes of hunger — and to take action to fight it. It borrows ideas and language from social-justice organizers, much of which might seem foreign to many fundraisers. The wholesale reimagining of what development can be is very much a work in progress, but the organization hopes the new approach will advance its mission and improve the giving experience for donors and fundraisers alike.

“Together we are going to create something different that is rooted in philanthropy’s true meaning, a love for humankind, and is rooted in equity,” says Harris.

Yes, fundraisers are still responsible for raising money. Harris still reports to his board’s finance and audit committee on a regular basis, and his team still reports monthly on progress toward financial goals. “We’re not abandoning the idea of financial goals,” he says. “At the end of the day, we still have to hold ourselves accountable as effective stewards of the resources we need to fulfill the food bank’s mission.” But fundraisers will not be evaluated based on the money they bring in.

Over time, Harris and his team hope to be able to track things like whether a supporter volunteers, contributes to other organizations united in the fight to end hunger, or engages in advocacy for a more just food system — all defined by the team as indicators of love and equity. These factors also guide prospect management and will ultimately change the composition of fundraisers’ portfolios.

Leaders are working to develop tools that allow them to track other indicators of donor engagement and staff satisfaction. That pivot requires the food bank to provide more opportunities for individuals and organizations to learn, grow, and engage in action and connect with the cause — with gifts seen as just one of many ways individuals show their “love” of the cause.

Measuring love is a squishy proposition. Food-bank leaders say it’s an experiment they’re building as they go. But they say their North Star is the organization’s values, not cash.

Fixing What’s Broken

The problems that the food bank’s approach seeks to address will not surprise anyone working in fundraising.

“An orientation to financial outcomes in which we value the financial contribution of the donor more than the integrity and well-being of our staff creates the conditions for high turnover,” Harris says. Fundraisers who face sexual harassment or racism, particularly from donors, may hesitate to report it, worried it could have a negative impact on their careers and ability to close future gifts. Fundraisers also feel they’re being held accountable to financial goals when they don’t ultimately have control over whether donors decide to give.

Case in point: the pandemic.

While fundraisers worked themselves into the ground to connect with donors and acknowledge gifts, last year’s record high revenues may have had more to do with donors’ concern about the Covid economic crisis than specific actions taken by fundraisers. Still, fundraisers may feel pressure to continue to bring in high levels of support even in an environment in which donors are less inclined or able to give. That can lead to burnout.

In addition, the field’s laser focus on raising more money means that some donors — particular those from lower-income backgrounds and communities of color — often receive less attention from development staff.

While some of the food bank’s new practices are works in progress, other changes happened quickly. The development department was renamed the Community Philanthropy team to honor fundraising ideas and principles that recognize the interconnectedness between the organization’s staff as a whole and the communities it serves.

Most fundraisers received new titles — many felt the common title of “officer” evoked police and military imagery. Gift officers are now called “developers.” Several additional staff members were hired, and the team was restructured so that fundraisers now manage fewer donors.

Barb Young, a veteran fundraiser, has been at the Oregon Food Bank for a decade and works directly with major donors. When Harris joined the team, Young says she was supportive of his vision in theory but was skeptical about how it would pan out in practice.

“My philosophy has always been to build authentic relationships with donors,” Young says. And that hasn’t changed.

Early on, she wondered how an organization that relies on fundraising success to maintain its substantial operations would ultimately put less emphasis on money as a measurement of success.

When she served as a development director at previous organizations, the buck stopped with her to report to the board and make sure the nonprofit was meeting its operating goals. It’s been challenging to leave monetary goals behind, or at least to give them less weight, she says. “It’s so ingrained in you as a fundraiser that you’ve got this number to hit,” she says. “The biggest change is being able to let that go.”

But over time, she’s found the changes to be liberating, she says. She went from managing a portfolio of around 220 donors to close to 150. “It really opens up the ability to take the time necessary to really cultivate and nurture meaningful relationships,” she says. “It encourages risk taking that we may not have felt comfortable with before.”

Read more about how the Oregon Food Bank’s community philanthropy team is working to measure “love.”

Hear From You

What’s your reaction to this approach? What questions do you have? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Need to Know

90 %

— Share of wealthy households that donated to charity last year

Amid the crush of the pandemic last year, the share of affluent households — those with a net worth of $1 million or more or an annual income of $200,000 or more — that gave to charity held steady at 90 percent, according to a new study from Bank of America and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

My colleague Dan Parks covered the report, which found that of those donors, 21 percent made cash or in-kind donations specifically in response to the pandemic, according to the survey. In terms of overall giving, not just pandemic related, 86 percent of affluent Americans maintained or increased their giving last year. Looking ahead, 74 percent of affluent donors do not expect their philanthropic behavior to change as a result of the pandemic, while 20 percent expect to direct more giving to specific causes.

Plus:

  • Too many affluent people decide how much to give based on their income, not their wealth, writes Alan Cantor, who provides strategy and fundraising consulting services to nonprofits, in a newopinioncolumn. Charity officials can help them change that mind-set — and enable them to reap the joy that comes from making a far more significant difference. It’s especially important in a moment when the rich are richer than ever before.

    Cantor cites the example of a generous 1 percenter friend who typically gives away about a third of her adjusted gross income, which tends to be about $400,000. But in looking at the fuller picture of her wealth, she was worth $18 million at the end of 2020, up from her $17 million net worth at the start of the year. By that measure, her $140,000 in annual giving represented far less than 1 percent of her wealth. So she jettisoned her old framework, and she has now decided to give an amount equivalent to 2.5 percent of her assets every year. Cantor writes, “A great many people with means can indeed afford to give more if they come to view their wealth in the right perspective.

  • When the pandemic started, many organizations grappled with how to approach their major campaigns. Most opted to press ahead with their plans, though some timelines, fundraising priorities, and cultivation techniques have evolved. And organizations continue to announce eye-popping campaign goals as the fog of the pandemic lifts. The Christian humanitarian charity World Vision publicly launched a $1 billion capital campaign last weekend. The Every Last One campaign, the group’s largest-ever fund drive, aims to meet its ambitious goal by 2023 to help 60 million people around the world lift themselves out of poverty.

    It’s not a coincidence that World Vision is publicly launching this drive now as the pandemic still looms large, said Mercy Novak, director of the campaign. “Infection rates might be going down, but the long-term effects of Covid will be with us for a while.” Last year was an exceptional fundraising year for World Vision, which raised more than $1.2 billion in 2020. The charity’s pandemic emergency response is part of this campaign so much of the money raised last year counts toward the goal.

    Planning for the campaign began back in October 2015. World Vision had just completed its For Every Child campaign, which raised more than $500 million, and fundraisers asked donors how they would feel about another major drive so close on its heels. The results so far provide an answer: As of March, the organization had raised $773 million toward the $1 billion goal.

  • For giving circles that focus on American Muslims, Ramadan is a time when they collect donations, expand their membership, and aid charities. As Muslims marked the end of Ramadan last week with a celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the American Muslim Community Foundation, which experts say is the only foundation hosting giving circles that focus onAmerican Muslims, reached a new record. The group distributed nearly $1.3 million, the most it has ever raised during Ramadan, to more than 150 charities, writes reporter Haleluya Hadero, who covers philanthropy for the Associated Press, which is in partnership with the Chronicle to expand coverage of the nonprofit world.

    Muhi Khwaja, the co-founder of the foundation, notes it saw a bump in donations this year because more families joined giving circles that it hosts or opened donor-advised funds. Khwaja told my colleague Emily Haynes that the growth in this year’s giving was partly the result of several large gifts of stock. In addition, three families started cryptocurrency DAFs with the community foundation during Ramadan. We’ll be digging deeper into crypto philanthropy in future weeks.

Tips & Tools

What We’re Reading

Public media stations that have relaunched their door-to-door canvassing drives are attracting more monthly donors and higher contributions. The average new monthly gift is up 10 percent, to $14.12; revenue per shift has climbed by 21 percent; and conversations with residents are up by 19 percent for four stations that have restarted these drives. Canvassers for WQED in Pittsburgh are securing 89 percent more revenue and 78 percent more monthly gifts per shift than before the pandemic. “All the metrics have been spiking,” Lilli Mosco, the station’s vice president for development and membership, said. “I think that has to do with people using our services more because they’ve been sequestered in their homes.” (Current)

Plus:

  • Did a University of Toronto Donor Block the Hiring of a Scholar for Her Writing on Palestine? (New Yorker)
  • India’s Strict Rules on Foreign Aid Snarl Covid Donations (New York Times)
  • Charitable donations are a form of influence-peddling. And they should be stopped (Los Angeles Times)
  • Johnny Depp Wants Court to Make ACLU Show How Much His Ex-Wife Amber Heard Donated (Daily Beast)