How Do You Raise Money During a Global Pandemic?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 7th, 2020.

The reality of our, and I do mean our, situation in a global pandemic is hitting hard. It is hitting so hard, on so many fronts, that if you are anything like me, you’re oscillating between moments of wanting to retreat and hide in the crevices of deep trenches, and moments of wanting to throw yourself out onto the battlefield, weapons in hand. It should not be a surprise to regular readers that images of Wonder Woman striding across No Man’s Land often come to mind (see my multiple articles on Wonder Woman).

So what battle are we fighting? And what are the weapons being used? I usually don’t like any kind of war analogies, but it feels appropriate at a time when millions of people have lost their jobs, have had to close their businesses, are being told to stay home and shelter in place, wash their hands, and practice social-distancing. The war is against a virus, COVID-19, and its weapons are isolation, economic devastation (on so many levels), disconnection, and of course, actual sickness and death. That is our reality right now, and it feels right that with every conversation, email, and point of connection, we have to acknowledge that this is our shared reality. We must humbly come together with great acknowledgment of these circumstances, and… life must go on. Work must go on. Creating must go on. Art must go on. Innovation must go on. Taking care of people in need must go on. And for all of that to GO ON, we must continue to ask for and provide financial resources; giving, spending, and investing.

So how on earth do we do that? How do we talk about money in times like these? And for the primary purpose of this article, how do we continue to ask for charitable financial support for organizations that are providing direct and meaningful solutions to the most pressing needs surrounding COVID-19, as well as for those that are not? And we must note that for a financial transaction to occur, we need two sides. Money must move from somewhere to somewhere. So yes, this article is about asking, but it is also about how we might act on the receiving side of that ask. 

One again, I am turning to my go-to person when it comes to talking about fundraising, Kathy LeMay. Kathy has been a resource champion for social change work for over two decades. I interviewed her in 2016 for a piece titled, “If You Know How to Ask for Money You Will Have a Job for Life“, and again in 2019 for a piece titled, “How Not to Run Out of Money.” I recommend reading them both, especially the how to not run of money piece, which is so relevant for so many non-profits, and for profits companies, right now. Kathy has been an advisor and friend to me for decades, and she is who I turn to with questions like these. 

JZ: Where to start? This seems to be the question that precedes every question right now. So where do we start? No matter what the conversation is ultimately about right now, where do we start?

KLM: I think we start each conversation with radical listening. In this pandemic world, when we ask one another, “How are you holding up?”, the very best thing we can do is listen, really listen, with the aim of understanding that person’s experience. While we’re all going through the same reality, we are experiencing it differently. Listen and learn not to respond. Don’t interrupt. Don’t share a similar story. Don’t try to fix or tell the person it will be all right. Simply listen. If we’re quiet for long enough, we will hear things we didn’t expect, and that can shift our thinking and perspective. 

JZ: You have been a fundraiser in times of tragedy, and in some ways, isn’t that the constant for many development professionals? To raise money to save lives? So what is different now? 

KLM: This is such a great and important question. In most cases, fundraisers themselves aren’t experiencing the mission they’re raising money for, such as Syrian refugees or children who have been trafficked. You immerse yourself in the work. You learn from your colleagues. You might even make a site visit to see the work first-hand. You feel deeply connected to the issue. You take it to heart. You take it home with you. But in most cases, you yourself are not experiencing the tragedy.

COVID-19 is impacting every corner of the globe and seemingly people from all walks of life. You may be tasked with raising money for a hospital or a food bank, and at the same time wondering if you are infected or have a family member who has tested positive. You’re thinking about the health and future of the people you serve, and about you and your family’s health and future. Some fundraisers have had this experience, for example people with AIDS raising money to help find a cure, and cancer survivors providing care to those just diagnosed. But never before have we seen so many people affected by one shared experience.

Fundraising leaders are thinking about the people they serve, their own lives, and their family, and they are asking if their organization will be able to keep its doors open for the short-term and the long-haul. This is a unique convergence that is happening at a significant scale. 

JZ: Indeed Kathy. I am calling it a “what about me, and a what about we?” time. There is such a convergence of the personal and the professional. It is not business as usual. Nor should it be.

JZ: Given this convergence of their own their lives, their organizations, and the people they serve, what’s a roadmap they could follow? 

KLM: I think now is a moment for fundraising leadership to revisit its primary purpose: Building relationships to advance shared values and missions. For right now, leave this question behind: How are we going to make budget? It’s not the right question. The right question is this: How can I make meaningful connections?

None of us can predict the future. We don’t know when this pandemic will end. We don’t know the full impact on the US and global economies. What we do know is that many of us are feeling fearful, anxious, unsettled, and worried. For your organization’s donors, this is where your leadership is needed. You can’t control this pandemic, but you can reach out to your supporters and make meaningful connections.

Write to five long-term supporters today. Let them know you and the organization are thinking of them and their families. Thank them for having been there for your organization when you needed them. Let them know you are here for them now. 

Send a video message from your organization’s Executive Director. Invite the Director to be open, heartfelt, and caring. I can’t tell you the number of emails and videos I’ve gotten in the month since this pandemic became real for the United States. The messages that have stayed with me are the ones that are steady, measured, caring, and very clearly about making a meaningful connection.

You likely got into fundraising because you are relationship-driven. You don’t thrive off of transactional relationships. You are at your best personally and professionally when you can create meaningful, values-driven connections. This is a moment to return to this.

JZ: Is there a point in your fundraising history that you can liken to this moment?

KLM: I would say the HIV/AIDS crisis in United States in the early 1990s and the war in Bosnia in early to mid-1990s. At that time, HIV/AIDS wasn’t yet a global epidemic, and the war in Bosnia was isolated to the Balkans. In this way, neither is similar in scope to this pandemic. But there are striking similarities.

The women I worked with in Bosnia had to figure out how to keep their families and communities going when thousands were dying every day. They had no idea when the siege would end. They needed financial support to keep going, but weren’t sure where it would come from. They were scared for their neighbors, for children who had been left without parents, and they were scared for their own lives and their families’ lives. They were exhausted and traumatized. They wanted to go back to life as they knew it, and yet would say that they knew nothing would ever be the same again.

And I suppose you could say something very similar about the people who had been diagnosed with AIDS. Trying to figure out how to keep going knowing you didn’t have much time left. Those in high-risk communities wondered if they would be the next person to test positive. Wondering if the spread of the disease would end. Wondering if you were infected or if you had unknowingly infected someone else. Hoping and working for a vaccine and a cure. Being isolated from society. The people I knew with AIDS were courageous and terrified. They talked about life before AIDS, and they knew nothing would ever be the same again.

I was very graciously and lovingly let into those worlds. I had no idea what I could offer, or even what I should be offering. So I listened. I spent days, weeks, and months listening. It’s when and where I learned the power of radical listening. I couldn’t save anyone’s life. I met and worked with women in Bosnia I would never see again. I buried friends who died of AIDS. I couldn’t end the war or the AIDS epidemic. But what I could do was listen. And then with permission, share those stories with caring, compassionate donors who wanted to make a difference. And I would listen to how donors felt about wars and disease, their own experience, their grandparents’ experiences. What I experienced most was the power of empathy to transform lives. Donors empathized and then they gave generously. And that giving mattered. It made a difference. And it will make a difference with COVID-19. 

JZ: I recently heard from a professional fundraiser that he thinks 10 – 20% of non-profits will close this year, including institutions of higher education. If you do the math, that seems possible. Meaning, if charitable giving is pretty much a constant percentage of GDP, and GDP contracts by that amount, then it will be the inevitable outcome. What do you think?

KLM: There was a piece by David Streitfield in the March 27, 2020 issue of the New York Times, where it was shared that non-profits that are thinly capitalized, or don’t have a diverse source of revenue streams, may struggle to be able to keep their doors open. As the article rightly summarized, this is the cruel reality of this pandemic, in that revenue may be less available for some non-profits while demand is skyrocketing.

I do think we’ll see non-profits that will have to close their doors. I expect there will be a merging of organizations with similar missions, and organizations coming together under one roof to share space, leadership, and resources. I think you’ll see non-profits get more creative than ever before. I don’t think that the sector will stand by and let people fall through the cracks. The sector is too values-driven to let that happen on a large scale. I anticipate we’ll see innovation in our sector, and a new level of creativity to respond to a rapidly changing landscape.

JZ: What advice are you giving professional fundraisers right now? What should they be paying attention to?  

KLM: First and foremost, I’d say something that I wouldn’t have said prior to 2019: Take unbelievably good care of yourself. I didn’t. After 25 years in social change fundraising, I, for a host of reasons, lost my way. I’d lost my sense of who I was. I didn’t know how to wave a white flag and ask for help. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t at the top of my game. Instead of slowing down, I sped up. I tried to do more. I failed. In that failing, I let people down. I’ll spend the next few years of my life trying to right those mistakes.

You are one person in a very big world with a whole host of challenges. Be as good to yourself as I know you are to the people in your world; to your clients, to your donors. Go gently. Go slowly. Don’t speed up like I did. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Spoiler alert, you’ll end up being not very much to anyone.

So be gentle with yourself. Reconnect with your values. Talk to your colleagues. Share what you’re experiencing. Ask for help. When the world says, “We’re in this together”, they mean you too.

JZ: I want to flip the conversation, or perhaps broaden it. We all have time, talents, and treasure to give. In your book, The Generosity Plan, you talk about creating a plan for our generosity. How should all of us be doing that right now? 

KLM: My advice is actually not very different than what I shared in the Generosity PlanMake generosity a daily part of your life, and make it your own. You don’t have to do what others are doing to make a difference. You only have to do what you feel called to do. Do the thing that makes you wonder, “Am I up for this?” Chances are the answer is yes. Try something new. Pick up the phone and call a non-profit to ask if they need volunteers. If they say no, try another organization.

I don’t think that generosity is a one time event or a certain sized check. I think true generosity is giving until you feel a deeper connection to the world than you did before. When you feel that feeling, you’ll know you’re living your definition of a generosity plan.

JZ: In my work, I talk about our financial resources being used to spend (buying the products and services we need, such as housing, food, education, and health care, and those we want (all the extras)), to give (to charitable organizations, friends, family, and others) and to invest (savings, capital markets products, and companies as a direct investor). Of course, we all have varying degrees of resources to do any of these. But I also think we all have assumptions and there are social norms around how and why we use our money around those three buckets. Now, during this crisis, I am seeing people using their money differently. For example, people are buying gift certificates in record amounts for their local restaurants and shops, even though they are closed, to help those businesses stay afloat. It also seems, anecdotally, that people are giving more money to organizations that provide basic services such as food right now. Talk about how you think we should think about these buckets? 

KLM: I would say this is a time to contribute to the collective good AND to support what is calling to you. Giving to funds for nurses, hospitals, soup kitchens, and/or all front line workers, is in my opinion essential. Give what you can. If you can’t give money, that’s ok. Send emails to the local hospitals thanking them for their extraordinary service. Have your children record videos thanking front line workers and share them far and wide. In short, give locally.

At the same time, give where you are called. Give to the arts because our souls need to be fed. Give to your local restaurants because they are people’s livelihoods and they keep our community connected. Give a gift to your postal carriers. Don’t fall prey to “giving shame”, where the dominant narrative tells you where to give and what to give. Now is the time to listen to what calls to you. We need all sectors of society to be resilient and healthy. Each place you give matters. Each place makes a difference.

Jacki’s note: I will be writing a lot more about this question I just asked Kathy above and will be using it as a frame to interview others. Stay tuned. 

It is hard to find a way to end the questions, as there is so much to talk about, so let’s not end it! Post your comments and questions. Kathy and I will review them and respond via a second article, or better yet, a podcast! Stay tuned…

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Find Kathy on LinkedIn by clicking here.

Find me on LinkedIn here, and on my website jackizehner.com. Once published I cross-post all articles on my blog.

This pretty darn adorable photo, if I do say so myself, is from the fall of 2019 at the Sundance Resort.

#GivingTuesday – My FIVE NGOs for 2016

giving-tuesdayPublished on LinkedIn Influencers on November 29th, 2016

Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would also add Food Hangover Saturday and Airport Dash Sunday to that list. All in all it’s a busy weekend. Between the travelling, eating, shopping, and family fun times, it can be easy to forget that the true purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday is to give thanks. There are many ways to give thanks, but one way in particular that we are able to give thanks is financially on Giving Tuesday.

Now in its fifth year, Giving Tuesday is a worldwide movement founded in 2012 by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, which aims to amplify year end giving and philanthropy. Much like Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, Giving Tuesday marks the start of the holiday charitable season, and since its founding in 2012, this movement has spread to over 71 countries around the world. In 2015, over a million gifts were made online, raising over $115 million for charitable causes, and #GivingTuesday registered 114 billion impressions on Twitter alone. That is an incredible impact in a short period of time. That is the power of campaigns, which as a philanthropy geek I think a lot about.

For me, giving is a year round endeavor, and it is impossible to add up the hours I spend thinking about, analyzing, and deciding which organizations will receive not only my financial support, but my time and talent as well. There once was a time when I would write a large number of small checks, something I later heard someone call the ‘spray and pray’ approach. You spray a little money around a lot of places and pray it makes a difference. Today, the buzz word is ‘strategic’ philanthropy, which is fine, but a better term for what I do personally is values based, thoughtful, philanthropy. Of course I want positive impact, but I have also come to see that there is impact you can measure, and impact you can judge. For me, aligning with the vision of the organization, understanding their methodology for creating positive change, and getting to know and believe in their senior leaders is what matters most.

It should come as no surprise that the list of organizations that I choose to support have a focus on women and girls. On my recent philanthropic movement building tour in Australia, I was often asked why that focus? The answer could be an article in and of itself, and certainly has been the subject of many of my 700+ blog posts over the years, but for now I will simplify it here. I am female, and both because of personal experiences around inequities, and my extensive research around much needed gender based strategies, that is what I choose to do. Of course, everyone should choose what issue area or demographic matters most to them. And if you can’t really answer the question of what matters most to you, ask yourself this question: “If you were to wave a magic wand and change anything in the world, what would that be?” That is the question my brilliant friend Kathy LeMay asks in her book The Generosity Plan as the question to start your giving plan.

So if you were wondering what organizations are on my list this year, here are just five examples.

Culture Reframed – Founded by internationally renowned scholar and activist Dr. Gail Dines, Culture Reframed is the first health promotion effort to recognize and address pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age. With the advent of the Internet and the unprecedented access it provides to pornography around the world, we are only now beginning to understand the implications of the pervasiveness of pornography and a hypersexualized culture. A growing body of scientific research is showing that pornography is addictive, promotes sexual violence, and is harming the sexual development of both men and women. Today, 35% of all Internet downloads is pornographic material, and porn sites get more traffic every month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. As Dr. Dines states, “The pornographers are laying waste an entire generation of boys, and when you lay waste a generation of boys you lay waste a generation of girls”, meaning that this is an issue that effects us all. Please check out Dr. Dines’ TEDxTalk “Growing Up in a Pornified Culture” and please support this important organization.

EROC (End Rape on Campus) – This organization works to end campus sexual violence through direct support for survivors and their communities; prevention through education; and policy reform at the campus, local, state, and federal levels. Founded in 2013, EROC has worked with survivors of campus sexual assault to hold educational institutions accountable and advocate for the end of sexual violence on university and college campuses. Three of the co-founders, Annie Clark, Andrea Pino, and Sofie Karasek, were featured in the documentary film The Hunting Ground, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (disclosure: I was an Executive Producer of this film), and since then EROC has worked tirelessly to ensure that survivors across the United States are believed, trusted, and supported. You can watch The Hunting Ground on Netflix, and please donate to EROC today.

Girl Up – As the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, Girl Up engages girls to take action. Led by a community of nearly half a million passionate advocates raising awareness and funds, Girl Up’s efforts help the hardest to reach girls living in places where it is hardest to be a girl. This is an organization for girls by girls, and places a particular emphasis on leadership development training for young women around the world. This past year I have been fortunate to see this organization’s work firsthand, as my daughter was selected to be a Girl Up Teen Advisor, and I am so proud of the work she and her fellow Teen Advisors are doing to promote the welfare and development of young girls around the world. This is an incredibly worthy organization deserving of your giving dollars both today and year round.

Global Fund for Women – A global champion for the human rights of women and girls, the Global Fund for Women uses its powerful networks to find, fund, and amplify the courageous work of women who are building social movements and challenging the status quo. By shining a spotlight on critical issues, this organization rallies communities of advocates who take action and invest money to empower women. Their fearless leader is Musimbi Kanyoro, or as my children have been invited to call her, Aunt Musimbi. Musimbi is one of ten children, African born, has two doctorates, speaks multiple languages, has an extensive background in human rights, and is all around amazing. As part of Giving Tuesday, all donations made today will be matched dollar for dollar, so I strongly encourage you to donate today.

Tostan – Founded in 1991 by the incomparable Molly Melching, Tostan works to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights and to ensure that every person—woman, man, girl, and boy—is able to live a life of dignity. Over the past 24 years, Tostan’s original concepts have developed into a leading model for community-led change — a model that is now implemented in 22 languages across six African countries and is supported at the international, national, and grassroots levels. Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation has stated that after spending a day with Molly in the communities served by Tostan, “I have not thought the same way about the work I do at the Gates Foundation since that day.” Tostan is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, and in honour of this occasion, they have launched their Breakthrough Generation Program, which aims to bring Tostan’s programs to another 150 communities in West Africa over the next couple of years. Please donate and help the breakthrough generation today.

There are so many more organizations I am proud to support and champion, including the two I write the biggest checks to, Women Moving Millions and The Sundance Institute, but that would have felt a little too self serving as I hold volunteer leadership roles in both. That said, #lovethem.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Happy Giving Tuesday everyone!

Why Do You Give?

Jacki and HelenAs published on LinkedIn Influencers on September 23rd, 2016.

This past Saturday morning, in a room full of over 100 amazing, thoughtful, passionate, and committed women, and a few incredible men, something magical happened. It was so special and so moving, I will now refer to my work as before September 17, 2016 and after. I wrote the following article on little sleep, very little sleep, and thought long and hard about whether to post it here on LinkedIn. My rational self was tempted not to (too personal, too long, too story driven, too something…), but instead I am sharing it as is; long and deeply personal.

So be warned, the estimated reading time is 10 to 15 minutes. Maybe more. (Don’t you love it when they do that on the top of posts?) But if you are interested in the topic of GIVING, interested in the story of my involvement with Women Moving Millions, interested in philanthropic engagement, and/or work for a non-profit organization in some way, I hope you will find it worth your time.

The Backstory 

First, let me set the context. For the past 6 years I have worked full-time as a volunteer to help move Women Moving Millions (WMM), an organization that started as a campaign to encourage women to make million dollar gifts to women’s funds, into a community of philanthropists committed to mobilizing unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls. I am what I now call a Career Philanthropist, meaning I am someone who takes on, like she would a job and a career, the work of giving their time, treasure, and talent in service of a philanthropic mission or purpose, but for no pay. Some people are lucky enough to be able to do that, and I am one of them, and because of my work with WMM, I have the privilege of knowing many, many more. Over sixty of them were present with me at the 2016 WMM Annual Summit, which took place in San Francisco this past Thursday through Saturday.

On the way to the airport on Sunday night with a new and fellow board member, I shared the story, a very long story, of why and how I became involved with WMM, and how this past weekend marked a turning point for me as both a leader of the organization, and as a philanthropist more generally. I shared the why and how of co-founder Helen LaKelly Hunt (pictured with me above), who conceived and executed the initial campaign, handed me the baton in 2011, then from me to our first Executive Director, and how yet again we transitioned this past year. I stepped down from my role as founding President, making way for the fantastic Ann Lovell to take on that role, at the same time that we welcomed our second Executive Director, Courtney Harvey. (#loveher)

Over the past weekend I realized we had successfully transitioned from having a leader of an organization, to having a leader-full organization. By that I mean that there are many of us now; staff, board, members, etc. who help the organization move forward in a big way. We have untraditional and cool titles like Chief Engagement Officer (mine) and Chief Philanthropy Officer (Jess), which marks a willingness to be creative in how we keep passionate people engaged. Being leader-full means you have many who do the work, many who champion the work, and many who pay for it. They may be the same many, or a different many. To me, that is the way it should be, and it is now what I will predominately look for when I decide to become involved with an organization.

The Hard Parts

The years between the start of my major involvement with WMM in 2009 and this past weekend have at times been very tough. There were times when I could be found curled up in a ball crying, knots in my stomach, mad at myself for what I had gotten myself into as a volunteer. Usually that kind of pain was felt when something relational happened. I wish I could say that working in the women’s movement is always pie and ice cream, but no. In fairness, this is not just about the other. I have not always shown up as my best self, and I am so grateful that I now feel surrounded by women who will hold me accountable for being so. We all make mistakes, and mistakes with authentic apologies and a promise to do better should always be forgiven. At least the first time or two anyway. And to be clear, the VAST, VAST, VAST majority of people I have had the privilege of working with are incredible, values-driven individuals, and that is why, when the other does show up, it is so stark and can cut so deep.

I also feared business model failure. I feared that what started as something so beautiful, as a campaign, would fade on my watch. (See recently published Makers conversation on failure) What we were doing, and what I was leading, was a start-up, and you can jump to the thousands of articles here on LinkedIn talking about the challenges you are likely to face in starting an organization, for-profit or non-profit. We faced many of them, which my 14 years at Goldman Sachs as a trader did not really prepare me for. The model around what we were building did not exist, but, thankfully, we had a team of people that truly were in it together.

And then there was the time committment. When I was interviewed for an article at our annual Summit this past weekend, I realized that I can’t remember more than a couple of times over the past 6 years that I travelled away from my family, often for days on end, on a trip that was not for the goal of promoting the mission of, or trying to secure much needed resources for WMM. To this day, when I am home, I am often on the phone. “Always on the phone”, or “always on my computer”, I would sometimes hear from my kids, and it hurt. I felt torn and guilty, as working people and especially working mothers often do. I missed birthdays and parent-teacher meetings and had friends and family telling me that they were not my priority. I don’t think it was until this past Saturday that I fully knew it was worth all the tough choices. But I am getting ahead of myself. During those especially challenging years, I would tell my kids that even though mommy does not ‘have to work for money’ she ‘has to work’. I hope I taught them that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to choose what they can do with their time, and if you do, you have an extra special obligation to choose wisely.

I was also lucky, am lucky, to have a very supportive husband, who also serves abundantly, but he does it close to home. He never once told me to quit, even though at times I begged him too. While I was at a yet another conference or board meeting, he was home making sure our kids were well cared for. He is an outstanding husband and father.

Now, if you have read some of the dozens of nasty comments that Gwenyth Paltrow got when she wrote “I Walked Away from A Career Where People Kissed My Ass”, in which she talks about her journey to build her company, you will know that when privileged people talk about things they do that are hard, it is often followed by negative comments. They are told that “they don’t know hard”, and my personal favorite, “ I just rolled my eyes back so far back in my head I could see my brain.” If you are feeling this now and are tempted to write the same, I respectfully invite you to block my content from ever crossing your LinkedIn path again. At the end of the day, we only know our own story, and since I am sharing mine here, the story goes… at times it was, for me, really hard.

The Fun Parts

But there has also been so much joy. We tell our kids, or at least I do, that almost everything that is worthwhile doing is hard. And for all the hours spent under a cloud of fear or uncertainty or stress, there were multiple more hours spent in the powerful sunlight. For the journey I have been on, to help lead WMM to where it is today – a powerful global community of 259 people, each of whom have given a million or more to organizations of their choice that work to advance women and girls – was not one done alone. Every step of the way, there were women right there with me on a volunteer basis, and, of course, on a staff basis as well, who shared the vision and did the work to make that vision come alive. So many of my best friends on the planet today are people who share my vision for creating a more just, equitable, and gender-balanced word, and I would never have met them without WMM.

The Impact

I also see the impact. When I was starting my journey in philanthropy, I longed for a place to go that would help me figure out how I could give of my resources for the greatest positive outcomes. I knew my passion was around women’s advancement and empowerment, but which organizations did the best work? Who were the non-profit leaders that I needed to know and learn from? The questions were endless, and there were no efficient and/or effective mechanisms to get them answered – at least not 10 years ago.

Over the past decade, donor communities and funding groups of all kinds have exploded, as well they should have. As supported by behavioral research and common sense, when people give as part of a community, they have greater impact, they give MORE, and they report a higher level of satisfaction with their giving. The story untold by current philanthropic research, which we are about to undertake with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, is how much BOLDER women become when they are part of a community, a supportive community, of people who share their values, hold them accountable, and, frankly, have their back.

Of course, there is the impact of the dollars mobilized, the leaders supported, and the visions actualized, but this article is long enough as it is, so this part will have to wait.

Jump To This Past Weekend

WMM slideAnyone who has planned an event, especially a 4-day event for hundreds of people who have paid a lot to have an experience, knows what it takes. In fact, as our amazing Executive Director, Courtney Harvey, pointed out in her opening remarks: in a recent survey, “The only jobs ranked more stressful than an event coordinator were enlisted military personnel, fire fighter, airline pilot, and police officer.”

For us, our 2016 WMM Annual Summit included a number of events, starting with a full day workshop on Women + Money + Impact which I had the pleasure of curating and moderating. Then, on to our opening night ALL IN FOR HER celebration for nearly 300 people, featuring filmmaker Tiffany Shlain and Rosie Rios, former Treasurer of the United States of America, and ending with a powerful performance by the San Francisco Girls Choir. Starting Friday, we had two full days of talks, panels, and workshops, which included a keynote from Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a musical performance by Afghan rapper and activist Sonita Alizadeh, a panel of experts speaking to the refugee crisis, and so, so, so much more. (See #WMMSummit on twitter for highlights.) Our moderator was the brilliant Lisa Witter who just founded the company Apolitical, which you must check out. It was our mighty WMM team that did almost all the heavy lifting, but, as the former leader, I still felt like I was carrying much of the weight. This was the first year where I was not both President and Chief Engagement Officer, and even though I knew that there were now many people taking on the responsibility of moving us forward, I had not truly seen it play out in front of my own eyes until this past weekend.

So with that history and context, let me take you to Saturday morning. After the workshop (amazing!), the opening night (best ever!), a full day of incredible speakers, and a dine around town where we were able to just spend time talking, Saturday was our time to share with the attendees both what we had accomplished and where we were taking Women Moving Millions. Included in that was not only what we were currently doing to serve our existing community of members programmatically, but an announcement around our efforts to incubate the idea of a $1 billion dollar campaign for women and girls. Our other big announcement was our intention to develop what we think is the first ever holistic leadership (leader-full) development curriculum for women. This curriculum would be both curated and created around four pillars: 1) voice and influence, 2) philanthropic strategies, 3) self-awareness and self care, and 4) financial engagement with a focus on impact and gender lens investing. All of this news was enthusiastically received! And all of this, of course, requires resources, big resources, to make happen.

The Ask

Then, it was time for ‘the ask.’ Me again? That was the first thing that popped into my mind when I was asked to do ‘the ask’ a few days earlier by our Executive Director. Conscious of how much time I was going to be on stage over the few days I questioned, “Are you sure someone else doesn’t want to do it? Or should do it?” The answer was no.

lineLet’s take a minute right here. Isn’t it almost always no? Tell me, and be honest, if your favorite non-profit picked you to stand up in front of a room full of people, most of whom have likely already paid something significant to be there, and ask them to give, would you jump at the chance or run for the bathroom? I thought so, and you would not be alone. The bathroom line would be long indeed. (see left)

However, of course I said yes, and yet, as I sat down to prepare all the different sets of remarks I had to give over the course of the Summit, this one I just could not write. One, I did not have time, but two, I did not know how to say, in just a few minutes, all of the reasons why I give my time, treasure, and talent to WMM, and especially in a way I had not said before. Moments before I was about to walk onto our beautiful stage, I felt like I did right before my TEDxWomen talk in 2012. I thought I was going to vomit, and I could not find any words. None. Zero. I was in a full out panic.

Just then, as I was standing in the back of the room with my bucket, one of my best friends and fund raising gurus, Kathy LeMay, someone who I had witnessed doing many such asks and brilliantly so, walked by. I grabbed her. “Kathy, help me, I am about to go up to do the ask, and I have no idea what to say. One quick tip please,” I pleaded. Her response? “How much do you want to raise?” I did not have an answer. I didn’t know. She withheld the desire to say out loud WTF? But I knew that was what she was thinking. As an expert, she knew you had to walk on with an intention. “Well, it’s Women Moving Millions so ask for a million from the collective membership.” Up came the vomit, but I swallowed it down. “OK”, I said, and she sent me off with a, “You go girl!” It was time to walk on.

Matt and AllieSo I walked on. I am quite sure that one of the most stressful and vulnerable things you can do is to stand up in front of a group of people and ask them to commit to giving money. Especially when you are asking them to give to something that you care about so deeply, so personally, and so completely. Then I saw all of the beautiful faces looking up at me, including those of my two children who had come to the Summit for the very first time as volunteers (pictured left), and I relaxed into the amazing positive energy in the room. I don’t even remember what I said, and it likely does not even really matter, because it was the why I said it that mattered. I spoke from the heart, pure heart, and for that, no notes are ever required.

question markI shared my WHY. I shared my WHY of Women Moving Millions. My WHY of holding and moving forward a vision for ending gender inequality in my lifetime through philanthropic movement building, and, in particular, through investment in women’s engagement and leadership. My WHY for creating a place and a community where women, and like valued men, could come to learn, to share, to challenge themselves, and to become the best donors and partners they could possibly be. My WHY of how they could then take all that knowledge, that passion, that sense of belonging, and that commitment to their NGO partner organizations, to their foundations, to their local communities, and into their spheres of influence. It is called going ALL IN FOR HER, and if you want to see this mapped out in a beautiful visual, download the book.

Yes, this story is about Women Moving Millions, but I could have easily been up there sharing my WHY for The Sundance InstituteTostanThe Global Fund For WomenThe Representation ProjectThe Media and Social Change Initiative, Culture ReframedGirl Up, and the many other organizations that are in my giving portfolio (sorry if yours was not named). In fact, sign me up; I will do it for them too if asked! When you think about it, shouldn’t there be a long line of people ready to do it? If you are writing a check to an organization, or giving a lot of your time to an organization, and are not able to explain why you are doing it, maybe it is time to sit down with a set of values cards and figure that out. Or, if it is your fear of public speaking that is holding you back, then find a program or a group of friends who will help you get over it. The only way to get over a fear of public speaking and public asking is to just do it.

Then, what happened can only be described as magical. One by one, women, and one man, took the microphone and shared what they could pledge in support of this work, but most importantly, WHY they were doing it. I have never seen anything like it. Never. And, I think, neither had anyone else in the room. Not only did so many of our members stand up but so did potential members, NGO leaders, speakers, our own WMM employees, and corporate partners who gave out of their own pockets. Thankfully, one of our team members was recording it, because I was somewhere floating above the room wondering what the heck was happening, while at the same time I was trying to take it all in. It went on for a long time. There was no rush to speak, but in fact, quite the opposite. At times there were many seconds of silence.

When it was over, so many people had shared WHY they were pledging and what they were pledging, which included, at times, a willingness to serve on a committee and/or a financial gift. Each commitment was equally valued; each one came with a story, often a deeply personal one. Together we raised over $2 million for our work, much of it in multi-year commitments, and our biggest gift was a $250,000 bequest of a life insurance policy. I invite that woman, you know who you are, to share your story of WHY in a future post, if you would like to. Words are not enough, but thank you. In case you are wondering if this was a big step up from the prior year, the answer is: OH MY GOSH, YES! Multiple times over.

And although, of course, the financial piece was incredible, what was truly beyond measurement were the stories that people shared as to why they were making a pledge. The stories were priceless. Yes, there was support for our mission and for the new programs, but above all else, the WHY related to the sense of community that people felt – the passion, the commitment, the shared values, and the hope that together, we could, we would, make a positive difference in the lives of women and girls here and around the world. The words “if not us, who? if not now, when?” were certainly in the room, even though they may not have been spoken.

All of us give. All of us give of our time, treasure, energy, and talent in some way for the good of others. We do that every day in our homes, in our places of work, perhaps even in line at a grocery store. Yet, when we think of giving, we generally think of what we give to non-profit organizations, and that is, of course, GREAT! What we give to, and/or how we give it, should be the outcome of WHY we give, and I invite you to think about your WHY for the organization(s) or causes you care about most. When you give that story the space and intention to surface, and then you share it, imagine what impact that might have. Imagine what untapped philanthropic capacity might be unleashed, within you, and within those to whom you share your story.

An Important Side Bar (before I close)

I am not sure if the role of Executive Director or Chief Development Officer made many lists of the most stressful jobs, but they should. There are 1.5 million non-profits in this country alone, each trying to attract their piece of the $360 billion (US) annually that is given charitably. Increasingly, we, the donors to these organizations, put the pressure of raising the money they need to do the work on them, and that is not right. It is not the way this is supposed to work, and it needs to change.

I googled how much NGOs spend on fund raising and I found this. I have heard numbers at the low end at 10%, and at the high end at 30%. So, let’s do the math together. We, Americans in this case, collectively give somewhere between $35 billion and $100 billion annually, to pay for our non-profit organizations to raise somewhere between $250 and $360 billion. If all of us got better at knowing our WHYs and sharing our WHYs, and we were able to make fundraising even 10% more effective in so doing, that would be $3.5 to $10 billion more that could go to the WHAT and the HOW.

To fund raising professionals, thank you! Thank you for the work you do every day to make such a difference in the lives of so many. 

Wrapping It Up

Let me take you back to where I started this article, which I know was a very long time ago now. The reason my world shifted was that, while I always knew that the storytelling of WHY we choose to support the organizations we do was important, I had never seen it in action in the way I did on Saturday. Yes, I was lucky enough for it to be for an organization that I have given the past 6 years of my life to, but it could be for every non-profit organization. And, for that matter, a heck of a lot of social and for-profit businesses as well. It was also the feeling, the knowing, that the organization I helped to build was not only an important one in my life but in the lives of many, many others. It was all worth it.

Every non-profit organization has people who believe in its mission, or, by definition, it would not exist. This is a call to action for you, as a donor to an organization or someone whose job it is to raise resources for an organization, to tap into the power of WHY. Believe me when I say: when you do, magical things can happen.

magic wand