Posted by: Don Linnen | 18 November 2009

Less is More?

The year end nears. For those of us in development, it’s the final push to get those moving letters and compelling proposals to people and foundations still perceived to have deep pockets. While I’m asking for amounts from $5,000 to $20,000 and much more – there are fundraisers that are doing just fine at $25 a pop.

Mr. Obama did pretty well at that before he became President. There’s an excellent report from PBP Executive Reports that looks at the lessons from the Obama campaign. Over time he grew his e-mail list from 90 thousand addresses to 13 million and attracted nearly 4 million donors. The average donation according to some reports was just over $100.

Amazing numbers! Yet there are three contradictory articles in the latest Chronicle of Philanthropy.

One report states that Social Networks Produce Dismal Results. Caroline Preston reports that out of 250 nonprofits surveyed, 74% said they had raised less than $100. Few of them could determine how many volunteers or how much money they had actually raised through their forays into social networking.

Another by Ben Gose Urges Charities and Donors to Focus on Small Gifts. Gose reports that Wendy Smith’s new book, Give a Little, reminds us all how the little gifts can really add up. Individuals gave $229 billion dollars in 2007. For some context, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave just $2 billion the same year. Smith contends most of those donors are from households earning less than $100,000 per year.

Finally, Sean Stannard-Stockton writes an excellent article on tactical philanthropy using Twitter. He makes a great point that Twitter is THE new forum for discussing philanthropy. It far outstrips traditional media among young readers. All those young readers are the ones making small donations – for now. What will they give as they get older??

More significantly, Stannard-Stockton states: “…philanthropy is no longer a topic of discussion reserved for the ultrawealthy, nonprofit executives, or academic researchers. As with any topic that goes mainstream, many insiders will complain that the subject is too nuanced for the masses to understand.

But the people and organizations that can figure out how to speak authentically about philanthropy to a mainstream voice — without dumbing down the subject or talking over the heads of the newly formed crowds — will dominate the discussions about the nonprofit world in the coming months and years.”

My $12.96 GoodSearch contribution this year isn’t much. Some nonprofits turn up their noses at the pennies per search concept. Some don’t. They are getting checks of over $1,000 this month. The pennies add up.

Heaven is in the details. Details are often very small. But they always make a difference.

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