Correlation Between Grade Grubbing and Successful Major Gift Fundraising

We’ve all heard the term Grade Grubbing, or Grade Lawyering, or even worse – Grade Begging. I must confess, I was a Grade Grubber. I mentioned this to my colleagues at FUNDING matters last month. The focus of the discussion was about major gift fundraisers or fundraising volunteers. I mentioned that these individuals need to be able to assess donor situations on many different levels and perspectives in order to make an initial approach. This brought me to the realization that, sometimes when it comes to explaining fundraising principles like donor engagement, it works better to draw on personal experience not necessarily related to fundraising. You might be asking yourself to which past experiences am I referring. As you can tell by the title of this blog entry, it is my time spent though the primary, secondary and postsecondary education system.

Grade Grubbing is often looked at in a negative context by fellow students and especially by faculty and administration – but it shouldn’t be. Our education system isn’t just about writing essays and tests, it is also about getting along with people. I always felt that I could do a little bit better by approaching my teachers or professors after I had received a mark on a paper or test.

So this is Grade Grubbing 101: After receiving a mark, I would carefully review my work and find areas where I could increase it. The rule of thumb was that if the mark was anywhere between a failure or I clearly did not demonstrate effort on my part, I would not grade grub.

A fundraiser should follow a similar rule. If they don’t put the effort and strategy into a proper presentation to a prospective donor, they should not even approach the prospect. Lack of proper research and due diligence is often why donors agree to lesser amounts.

My on-going efforts to engage in conversations have served me well both as a student and as a fundraiser. As a fundraiser, this skill translated into a considerable amount of money for various causes. As a student, the personal connections with my teachers benefited me the most. What helped me forge those connections was the fact that I showed up to class and I submitted my work on time. The key point is that I was consistent and took every opportunity to advance my cause. Surprisingly I actually liked doing this, and I know that it created a good rapport with my grade reviewers.

When it comes to fundraising, persistent contact over time encourages the donor to consider increasing their donation to a major or transformational level. Never in my experience has a donor immediately agreed to give the full sum of the ask. There is a very nuanced dialogue that takes place. It may involve different approaches, views and strategies to get to a place where the donor is completely satisfied and comfortable, which in the long run helps an organization achieve its objectives.

If you like this blog share it with others. Or better still, share your own experience that shaped your personal approach to philanthropic conversations.

– Bill

I Hate Wearing Rubber Boots

I was driving home yesterday and saw a man walking up the street wearing a t-shirt that read “I HATE WEARING RUBBER BOOTS” while he was wearing rubber boots. Charities and the people who work in fundraising metaphorically face a similar situation. Instead they are wearing t-shirts with a slogan “I HATE ASKING FOR MONEY”.

In our industry we are still pushing envelopes into people’s mailboxes, reaching out through social media, organizing galas and walk-a-thons and other events that only have modest success in raising money. All of these approaches are high in cost and low in ROI, when considering how much an organization must pay for their staff time and the elements of a direct mail piece or a gala or other event.

It seems like fundraisers gravitate towards having events but hate asking for money. I have also heard from many in the industry that  they hate fundraising events but do them anyway.  What fundraisers don’t seem to like is getting in front of donors and selling their case by using the opportunities to educate the donors on how they benefit by using taxable assets when donating to charities.

The relationship between donors and fundraisers needs to be one that is long term in order to be truly effective, and there needs to be better communication between charities and donors.

Often only big institutions such as teaching hospitals and world class universities have tapped into sophisticated approaches which discuss strategic philanthropy as part of selling their case. Most other charities are still planning their next walks or galas. At some point board members should figure out that the return on the investment in staff time and cost associated with these types of “fundraising” activities generate a very high fundraising cost and a low ROI.

Financial service companies and wealth management firms already educate individuals about philanthropic planning. However, their approach is strictly to preserve assets for their clients by minimizing taxation. This is something charities have been shying away from over the years. Only recently have they become more interested in speaking to their constituents about estate planning.

Charities need to develop methods to facilitate conversations with individuals about funding which incorporate education which will show them the benefit in their philanthropy.  This should be a wake up call to all board members and fundraisers to become educated in the best ways to engage with their donors in order to give them the biggest bang for their buck when donating.

More resources should be invested in training and technology to assist fundraisers to be better at what they do and then their metaphorical t-shirt slogan can be “I LIKE ASKING FOR MONEY!”

– Bill

Estate Planning As A Part of Strategic Philanthropic Giving

Estate planning can be your unique selling proposition to encourage philanthropy. When you look at individuals who are significant donors to charities, many of them have already written wills and established financial plans. This type of planning allows them to support their favourite causes by following their strategic philanthropic plan.

Strategic philanthropy usually takes place between family members, financial advisors, tax and legal planners. Just as important as retirement planning, a philanthropic plan can be drafted in tandem with the development of an estate and financial plan to include charitable giving in the present and in the future.

Recently, Imagine Canada made recommendations in their Personal Philanthropy Project. The aim of the study was to look into philanthropy among affluent donors.  The key recommendations within the Imagine Canada report highlights four areas for action. I will address one of the recommended action items – the development of a giving calculator which enables individuals to understand the best ways to give. The other three action items have been applied by charities over the years to increase giving to major gift campaigns with consistent levels of donor engagement such as “predetermined giving tiers” and “peer influence”. Unfortunately, these actions bring success, usually occurring in larger organizations with well trained volunteers and senior staff helping to guide the process.  What happens in the small to medium sized charitable organizations, how can they compete? The great equalizer is education through illustration of different donation scenarios.

I classify the majority of charity donors as “transactional donors”.  The word “transactional” refers to charitable giving in the form or cash, check or credit card. This is typically in the comfort zone for most donors.

Meanwhile, a giving calculator can benefit the following groups: 1) the individual donor and their families; 2) the individual’s advisors (tax planner, financial advisor and legal advisor); 3) the charity and its leadership team because it can illustrate the best ways to give from assets that are highly taxable. To name a few, assets such as stocks, mutual funds, and registered investments are good vehicles that provide the donor with the maximum tax relief of assets with taxable capital gains. The integrated approach of estate planning, guided by the demonstrations in the giving calculator, will result in a larger philanthropic donation.

Check out our very own giving calculator, Giftabulator®, for the best ways to give by visiting

– Bill

FUNDING matters – 20 Years of Success

Last month was a great one for me. I noticed a number of individuals who liked or congratulated me on Linkedin and Facebook in celebration of FUNDING matters Inc.’s 20th anniversary and it reminded me of how far along I’ve come since its inception.

I would like to give you an idea of what running FUNDING matters Inc. has taught me.

I am no different than any other person who has been given the opportunity to be a part of societal change.  Ever since I started working with charities, the biggest fear continues to be not meeting the expectations and results of organizations I serve.

The challenge each client has is unique. Therefore, we have to customize our solutions.

The key is being able to think outside of the box and use the 20 years’ worth of experience to move in the right direction. Often what people think is a good solution for a charity is not necessary the best option. For example, you might think that an individual gives to a charity because the person likes the initiatives that the charity represents. Of course, the initiative is of utmost importance, but donors will not agree to give before they fully understand their own financial situation. The fact of the matter is that 70% of individuals do not have an estate plan, which is why the discussion about the ramifications of their donations must happen early in the discussion. For me, that is always a topic I raise the first time I meet with a potential donor.

Because of this, in the 20 years since I started FUNDING matters Inc. I have become a better strategist for charities, their boards, their executives, and countless families and individuals with whom we interacted with regarding their philanthropy.

In many cases I give full marks to the organizations who allowed us to build our uniques strategies with and for them. Without their leap of faith in us, it would not have been possible to know if our ideas were achievable. I look forward to 20 more years of helping charities and the fundraising that is to come.

– Bill

Financial Wellness is the Cure for Philanthropy

We are all familiar with the phrase healthy, wealthy and wise. I wake up each day as do many of you thankful for our health and the opportunities ahead. We know that there are many factors which affect how we feel about ourselves, some of these factors which are out of our control and others we can do something about. Exercise, eating well, spending time with friends and family are all important activities. They also ground us and de-stress our daily lives.

One of the areas which most of us fail to address are decisions which can lead to financial success or failure. At various stages in our lives we have dealt with financing for a home, a new addition to the family, the needs of a growing family with school or aging parents. For many this consumes a great deal of their day and their lives. These factors can weigh very heavily on one’s health and normal daily activity.

For many over the age of 50 years of age, 60% do not have a current estate plan. This is a significant indicator that financial planning may not be current or in order for many of these individuals.

According to Manulfe’s Financial Wellness Index, 40% of respondents indicated they were financially unwell. Areas of concern expressed in the Study indicated they worried about debt (82%), not saving for retirement (60%) and stressed due to their financial position (67%).

This poses a very major challenge for the charitable sector. Philanthropic success for the charitable sector depends on financially well donors. That is why working with financial, tax and legal advisors for charities is essential. Charities can play a vital role in helping to initiative the discussion with their members and their advisors as financial wellness can lead to effective philanthropy. In the absence of professional advisors involvement in their clients philanthropy either in giving now or giving later the likelihood of a current donation or estate gift is remote.

Granted the number of individuals who are surveyed if they would leave an estate gift to charity is significantly higher than what is received from individuals estates (4%). The mindset of the donor can only be activated by education and illustration in what might be the ideal scenario for any such philanthropic giving.

This is a critical time for charities as they work hard at meeting budgets and building a sustainable model for their operations. If charities are to continue to do their good work, they will need to be better aligned with the understanding that they too are partners in the health and financial wellness of their donors.

Find out more at with FUNDING matters Inc. and our GiftabulatorNOW software.

– Bill

The Most Important (and Earliest) Fundraising Lesson

My earliest fundraising lesson began in 7th grade when my teacher asked the class, “Do you want basketball hoops or not?”  The answer was easy but getting there was hard.

My school did not have a gym. The closest thing it had to one was a basement. What some kids took for granted at other schools, my school learned to do without until we were given an opportunity to change all of that.

The big question was if we wanted basketball hoops, how were we to raise the money to buy them?

Fortunately, because of  our teacher’s encouragement and a parent who was willing to donate a piece of art, we had the means to hold a fundraising raffle. Quick math told us how many tickets needed to be sold in order to have enough to buy the hoops.

And so the process began.  We had to determine how quickly we had to sell these raffle tickets and who will buy them.  It was clear that my immediate clients would be my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Then who else was the obvious question.

Door to door knocking was the next step. Before I set out for ongoing disappointment and rejection, I knew that I had to have a good pitch. I needed one that was not selfish but compelling. It needed to answer why I am at a stranger’s door asking them to buy a raffle ticket for a painting, who I represent, and what the money is for. I learned that not everyone is there to support my project and not take it personally – early lesson for a 13 year old.

This approach is the one that I have used many times in my life and for every campaign I have undertaken .

The end result of the basketball hoops fundraising was a success due to our persistence. Without our active desire to make it happen, it never would have taken place.

You too have the opportunity to influence change and go after your own “basketball hoops.” It is with the same desire and convincing pitch, that our campaigns either win or lose.  Each of our organizations are worthy, important and deserve the funding they request.  It all comes down to our intense commitment to pursue our organizational and personal goals and objectives.

– Bill