Donor Participation Project Resources

What to Ask When Buying Tech (9/15/2021)

Buying fundraising technology can be confusing. Yet, we all know that the right technology can help you achieve more with fewer resources.

How to approach vendors without getting drowned in neverending demos? How do you compare different products that all seem to be intended for slightly different goals? How can you make sure that you are enabling yourself and your institution to succeed?

For the first time, the Donor Participation Project is convening both sides of the equation, buyers and sellers, for an honest conversation and sharing of best practices that will help all parties do what we’re best at: move the donor participation needle toward a more inclusive and representative donor base.

We’ll be kicking off with a presentation by Julie Knight, Sr. Director, Annual Giving of Philanthropic Giving + Digital Engagement at the University of Miami, followed by an open conversation with the CEOs of the major nonprofit technology providers.

About: The Donor Participation Project (DPP) convenes fundraising professionals who are concerned about the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016). 

We believe this can be solved by changing our fundraising practices and want to learn from peers who are moving the participation needle.

Discuss this Topic and Learn with Your Colleagues During our September 15 Lunch Analysis

  • This event will take place over Zoom.
  • The session will be recorded and accessible post-event for DPP members only.

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Donor Participation Project Resources

Gaming and eSports Fundraising: A New Frontier (7/14/2021)

This session has passed. DPP members can access a video recording, slides, and other materials shared by the presenter. We also hold a small group discussion the week after every presentation for further discussion and networking! Make sure to sign up here to get access.

For this Donor Participation Project session, we’re excited to welcome DPP member Diego Scharifker from USO.

Diego is the Gaming Partnership Manager – Corporate Alliances at USO. There, he has spearheaded their engagement with the online gaming and live streaming community to obtain tremendous fundraising results in support of the USO’s mission.

In this session, Diego will be sharing the nuts and bolts of how he built the gaming and eSports program as well as the fundraising opportunities that his organization capitalized on in corporate and individual philanthropy.

There will be a brief presentation followed by Q&A.

About: The Donor Participation Project (DPP) convenes fundraising professionals who are concerned about the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016). 

We believe this can be solved by changing our fundraising practices and want to learn from peers who are moving the participation needle.

Discuss this Topic and Learn with Diego Scharifker During our July 14 Lunch Analysis

  • This event will take place over Zoom.
  • The session will be recorded and accessible post-event for DPP members only.

Sign Up

Enter your email now to join any of our learning & discussion sessions or access past materials:

Register for Event

We will only use your email for information about the Donor Participation Project and will never share your information with anyone else. Consult our information-sharing practices.


Ask the Pros: #GivingTuesday social media tips?

“We want to get more out of our Facebook and Instagram fundraising efforts for #GivingTuesday. Any tactical tips for standing out in those channels?”

– Head of marketing / comms at a medium-sized Museum in the Northeast

Louis Diez, Principal at

Fundraising on Facebook/Instagram has fantastic potential but also a couple of issues that you and your development shop will need to look into. For some of them, you may need more time than between now (end of November) and Giving Tuesday. 

The ideal way to go about it (which Facebook also prefers) is to set up an in-app fundraiser. Check out the instructions here. This lets people donate to your museum directly inside of Facebook. Facebook has insanely high engagement and people make donations through this medium. In addition, the platform prefers that you keep people inside of their ecosystem so the algorithm prioritizes these posts over posts that, for example, link people out to your giving form on your website. 

Another benefit? Facebook covers the processing fees. 

However, these are the issues I’ve come across in attempting to get set up to accept donations from Facebook fundraisers:  

  • Your page needs to be set up as a nonprofit. Among other requirements, someone from your organization (CEO/CFO) will have to provide their date of birth and social security number. 
  • There are different ways to receive the payments (read about them here). The only one that really works for a professional development operation is to accept Facebook Payments. You need to be able to identify, acknowledge, and build relationships with the people that give to you through Facebook.  

In addition, here are some ideas that I’ve used successfully to fundraise through social media: 

  • Set up an email listserv/chat group (GroupMe/WhatsApp/Google Chat) of Social Media Amplifiers. This is a group of volunteers that is committed to supporting your posts on social by commenting/liking/tagging others during the big day. Throughout the day, staff or volunteers can go into this group and post the links of posts that the volunteers should engage with. 
  • Focus on engagement. Prioritize content that asks questions, gets people to tag each other, or is in video form (i.e. do several Facebook Live broadcasts with live fundraising updates). Also, be aware that Facebook Groups tend to have much higher engagement than Facebook Pages. I.e. create a closed group for museum donors. 
  • Do not always link out to your giving page. Posts that link out of the platform tend to not do as well.
  • Do come up with a hashtag for your Giving Tuesday effort.
  • Post much more content than you think is necessary. Further advice on this topic from Gary V here. There is no such thing as content fatigue on social media.
  • If your website has significant traffic, you could benefit from remarketing on Facebook. Also, if you have a sizable email list you can create a custom audience to advertise to. Stay away from Boosts, they are easy to do (and spend $$ on) but seldom have great fundraising results.
  • Finally, consider that email results–especially among your loyal donors–will still be much higher. You simply do not have enough control over who Facebook chooses to show your content to. 

Originally posted at:

Donor Participation Project Resources

Monthly Giving: All or Nothing

Nicole Stern, membership director at WDSE WRPT Public Television joined the Donor Participation Project to share her knowledge of monthly giving fundraising.

Monthly Giving with Nicole Stern, membership director at WDSE WRPT Public Television

What is monthly giving?

Monthly giving, also called sustainer giving or recurring giving, consists of setting up an automatically renewing monthly gift to a nonprofit. It is the equivalent of a subscription.

What are the benefits of monthly giving for nonprofits?

Monthly donors have both a higher retention rate as well as a higher lifetime value. Over time, these two facts compound to create important positive effects on the revenue available to fulfill your mission as well as your donor engagement efforts.

How can I start a monthly giving program?

You must embrace monthly giving as a new of doing business for your annual fund.

Simply adding a checkbox under an existing online form is not enough. You must make it clear in all your outreach efforts (digital, mail, phone) that monthly giving is the default and best way to make a gift to your organization.

Won’t monthly giving preclude me from requesting higher gifts from loyal donors?

On the contrary, monthly donors are especially receptive to upgrade asks as well as to planned giving conversations. An established monthly giving program also frees up resources that you can invest in improved stewardship and more donor engagement.

How hard is it to start a monthly giving program?

These are the areas you need to pay attention to if you want to start a monthly giving program:

  • Executive buy-in. Use the data in the presentation above to make your case. A full re-orientation of your annual fund to monthly giving will require changes in all your operations and in your cash flow.
  • Gift processing. Monthly gifts turn one gift processing transaction into twelve. Fields may need to be added to code the gifts. For example, storing the credit card expiration date in your CRM can help you get ahead of credit card renewals.
  • Digital communications. Your main gift form will need to make it clear that monthly giving is the default and most convenient way to give.
  • Branding the program. Many organizations give a name to their monthly giving program (Sustainer Circle, Evergreen, etc.) to make it clear that this is something special.

Donor Participation Project Resources

Growing Donor Engagement Among Underrepresented Groups

Our second Donor Participation Project meeting was about increasing representation and diversity in our donor populations.

Guided by Patrick Powell, CFRE, MBA, we had a lively conversation and learned a lot.

You can read and contribute to the session notes in this Google Doc.

Additional insights:

There was a common preconception in the industry: “It is going to take you so much longer to get a gift from a non-white donor.”

As soon as I made it my intention to build relationships with Black donors, in that same year I raised close to $250k from 2-3 donors.

It was about: 1) Getting in front of them to let them know that they were important to the institution, regardless of race or color, and that we recognize that they are making an impact and are making a difference as graduates; 2) Letting them know that we want to connect them and get them involved in whatever way is important to them; and 3) Asking them how do they want to put their stamp on an institution where, if they didn’t feel connected, we have a whole group of students who we don’t want to go through the same experience. Tell them, “You have the ability to change that.”

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    Dealing with Conflict

    Situations of conflict with our donors and community members can lead to positive outcomes as long as appropriate conflict resolution skills are utilized. And yet, fundraisers and nonprofit organizations tend to avoid them.

    As an experienced fundraiser once told me:

    I’ll take a strong reaction, even if it is negative, over apathy any day.

    Major Gifts Fundraiser

    Lead with Active Listening and Empathy

    Who are the experts in de-escalating highly agitated situations and lead them to constructive and safe outcomes? Even if your community members are probably not going to be physically violent, the techniques and research generated by the FBI can be helpful.

    The Behavior Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit. This model offers five steps to get other people to see your point of view and change their behavior.

    You can read the full paper here:

    From Stanford’s Game Design Thinking blog

    Behavioral Change Stairway Model

    1. Active Listening: Truly listen and make the other party aware that you’re listening.
    2. Empathy: Understand their position not only intellectually, but also emotionally. What are they feeling?
    3. Rapport: One the other party starts to feel that you understand them. Trust starts to build here.
    4. Influence: At this point, you can start to work on problem-solving with them. They may listen to your recommended course of action.
    5. Behavioral Change: They act.

    Common Errors

    Typically, people try to start directly with #4 (Influence) and expect #5 (Behavioral Change) to happen. This often leads to failure.

    Going into a conflict-laden conversation saying “these are the reasons why your position is wrong” is unlikely to cause any behavioral change because human beings are primarily emotional.

    Pretending that most people are completely rational will, more often than not, make your conversation fail.

    Active Listening Techniques

    General tips from Eric Barker’s blog:

    1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
    2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
    3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
    4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

    Additional techniques used by FBI negotiators:

    1. Ask open-ended questions
      You don’t want yes-no answers, you want them to open up.
    1. Effective pauses
      Pausing is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional.
    1. Minimal encouragers
      Brief statements to let the person know you’re listening and to keep them talking.
    1. Mirroring
      Repeating the last word or phrase the person said to show you’re listening and engaged. Yes, it’s that simple — just repeat the last word or two:
    1. Paraphrasing
      Repeating what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. This powerfully shows you really do understand and aren’t merely parroting.
    1. Emotional labeling
      Give their feelings a name. It shows you’re identifying with how they feel. Don’t comment on the validity of the feelings — they could be totally crazy — but show them you understand.

    Donor Conflict Resources

    Never Split the Difference, book by Chris Voss

    Vecchi, Gregory M. “Conflict & crisis communication: a methodology for influencing and persuading behavioral change.” Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2009, p. 34+. Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.

    Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J., 2005. Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution. Aggression and Violent Behavior10(5), pp.533-551.

    Donor Participation Project Resources

    Donor Participation Project Kickoff: How We Gather Report

    Angie Thurston of Sacred Design joined a group of fundraisers as part of the Donor Participation Project to discuss the implications of the How We Gather report for nonprofit engagement and donor participation.

    The document below summarizes the main points discussed:

    • The sector also needs a reliable way to know what is working well in the areas of donor engagement. In the current pandemic environment, especially in the area of digital engagement.
    • Angie shared a great thought:

    People come for [the workout/artistic self-expression/having dinner with like-minded individuals/something else] but they stay for the community.

    • Donor participation as it is sometimes defined can become a superficial numbers game. A deeper definition of authentic donor engagement is seen as necessary.
    • It is important that there is wide representation among donor constituencies. The current trend toward fewer donors making larger gifts feels undemocratic.

    Q: What are the common threads among the organizations in your report that have been able to grow large communities?

    “Community” is a word that is frequently used in an empty way, but we its true that we found a hunger for authentic community. This is different from something like “networking,” which can be valuable in its own right.

    Q: Larger, more established nonprofits include a broad variety of interests under their umbrella. How can we connect with and leverage those communities?

    In larger nonprofits, like universities, communities develop organically around different issues. Sometimes these communities have a separate identity from the main organization. How do we have those communities embrace the values of the “mothership”?

    Angie: This reminds me of There are thousands of communities made possible by this platform but its members identify with each other not with Some suggestions:

    Q: How do we message the values of the organization, especially to sub-communities that have their own values?

    Angie: Messaging about values depends on the extent to which the “real thing” is happening. Naming “values” is more effective if they match what is already going on. Otherwise, they come across as empty.

    People should testify to the values of their community, based on their experience.

    This connection between what is really happening and the official “values” can break down as organizations scale and grow. Some organizations are so reliant on the founder for these values that they fall apart when he or she is not there. We’ve all been guilty of this: “Developing Leaders for the 21st Century” sounds empty.

    The statement of values is less important than the lived experience.

    Among Millenials, there is a noticeable search for community, accountability, and an authentic voice. Communities must engage their constituents to be active, be purposeful, and demonstrate value to their members.

    Angie: What we found striking is that lot of people (especially Millenials) are looking for deep community. But they are hesitant to talk about it in those terms (there is still a stigma for “loneliness”). People are wary of hyperbole. What they find appealing is “come play live music for one hour.” In other words, they want to hear the unexagerated reality of what the offering is.

    Messaging should come from this lense. What are you actually doing? In real-life terms? Why have you made the decision to do that? Corporate messaging has exploited the word community and other concepts so much that people are hungry for a sense of reality.


    Khadija Hill
    James Barnard
    Hawken Brackett
    Franklin Guerrero
    Cathy Dodge-Miller
    Patrick Powell
    Ivan Alekhin
    Angel Terol
    Joanna Schofield
    Sierra Rosen
    Tilghman Moyer
    Patrick Powell
    Michael Spicer
    Rebekkah Brown
    Louis Diez


    Should we have suggested donation amounts?

    Question from a reader:

    This discussion came up, and I was hoping you may be able to direct me to some resources I can share with her to make the internal case for ask amounts in appeals. Thanks for anything you can pass along!

    I have a difficult time convincing that specific ask amounts work. Am I completely off base?

    Including a suggested ask amount is considered a fundraising best practice. As such, it’s included in the fundraising letter checklist.

    There is scientific research that shows that including a suggested donation amount gets more people to give. They also tend to give the amount you suggest.


    Edwards, J. T., & List, J. A. (2014). Toward an understanding of why suggestions work in charitable fundraising: Theory and evidence from a natural field experiment. Journal of Public Economics114, 1-13.

    Goswami, I., & Urminsky, O. (2016). When should the ask be a nudge? The effect of default amounts on charitable donations. Journal of Marketing Research53(5), 829-846.

    Reiley, D., & Samek, A. (2017). Round giving: A field experiment on suggested charitable donation amounts in public television. University of Southern California working paper.

    Donor Participation Project Resources

    How to Grow Giving Participation

    I recently shared a list of US higher ed institutions with a high growth rate. Specifically, alumni giving participation growth between 2009 and 2019.

    My team and I have been interviewing the top 10 in the nation. This varied list includes Ellon University, Villanova University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Princeton University. Here is what we’re learning:

    Donor growth is (one of) the VPs personal priorities

    Growing organizations have the unit in charge of growing this metric (typically “Annual Giving” or “Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement”) reporting directly to them.

    They act like “community incubators”

    A “community incubator” is a term I created to describe organizations that are constantly generating different engagement opportunities for their donor base. “It’s a volume business,” one of the growing org VPs shared with us.

    None of the schools told us that they had just grown and grown their existing engagement opportunities (i.e. reunion program, alumni board) to reach their ambitious growth goals.

    Instead, they told us that they were constantly innovating and finding new segments and designing engagement opportunities for these constituencies: primary care physicians, alumni business owner marketplace, athletics-focused groups, the list goes on and on.

    They do not shy away from transactional exchanges

    All the growing schools embraced the fact that, at times, people will just “give to get.”

    What they get can vary from access (“dinner with the president”) to simple incentives and promo items in the public radio-style, or simply satisfaction (“the 100th gift will unlock $10,000 to a specific program!”). Often, this is done to promote first, second, and third gifts.

    Intensive use of incentives, challenges, and matches are an integral part of all of these programs.

    They make recurring gifts easy and emphasize this way of giving wherever possible

    They all have robust offerings and streamlined systems for monthly giving and multi-year pledges that you can make online, on the phone, or by mail.

    They experiment and change their org chart based on priorities and team strengths

    If they’re convinced that annual giving and engagement are two parts of the same coin, they will put them together in the same department. If they believe that a certain area needs more attention, they will have it report directly to the VP. If they believe that this is no longer the case, they will change the org chart again.

    Stagnation and rigidity are not part of the vocabulary at any of these organizations.


    Emotion-Based Fundraising May Not Work In the Long Run

    This article is not about fundraising and yet it answers some good fundraising questions.

    An article on on why behaviors based on emotions do not last.

    Why giving days and other giving events work and why they sometimes struggle to retain the new donors they generate.

    Why the design of your gift form (online or paper) is more important than you think.

    Why we should think about defaulting to monthly giving.

    Why we should consider the global effect on fundraising capacity of our decisions, not just how many dollars the next letter will raise.

    Recommended read.