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AFP 2018 International Fundraising Conference (New Orleans, La.)

April 15 - 17, 2018

AFP International Conference 2018

Lessons Learned from a Chamberlain Scholar

by Melissa Baffa


We need to prepare for the Millennial onslaught. Start thinking about online fundraising, payment options like VenMo, crowdfunding, live streaming fundraising tied to gaming, music, and overall silliness. Millennial attitudes toward philanthropy are highly donor-centric and highly hands-on. Even though they don't have a lot of money yet, they will!

The Millenial generation is huge. Together, Millennials and Gen Z equals about half of the US population. They are digital natives and early adopters, with a very short attention span of about 8-12 seconds. Social interaction, especially of the digital variety, is hugely influential on their behavior. Women drive the philanthropy in the household in a lot of ways.


Diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion in especially relevant in light of the #MeToo movement. Capital "D" diversity is not a buzz word approach or a checking off of certain boxes. Diversity needs to occur at all levels, including and especially the board.

Fundraising needs to be donor-centric. Countless tests and studies prove this point time and time again. Make your stories have a big “donor-shaped hole” in them that highlight how the donor helps complete the picture. Don’t talk about yourself and your accomplishments and what a great job you’re doing (I know, this is tricky because you have an urge to prove that you are competent). Instead, talk about the needs you are serving, and don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Separate out your reporting from your asking. The caveat here is that this is true of appeals to individuals – when you are approaching foundations, they DO want to hear about your successes and see that you are competent and prepared to steward their investment in you wisely.


Have detailed, well-considered gift acceptance policies in place, and refer to them extensively when working on major gifts. Consider all possibilities, and try to get all the right people to the table when crafting them. Watch out for those who want to give, but whose motives are truly self-serving and could get your organization into hot water. Watch out for terms that could restrict your organization far into the future and hamper its ability to serve its mission. Don't allow "forever" agreements to be made, especially if there is not a hefty endowment to help provide for overhead costs.


Disasters: Preparation, Response, and Silver Linings. Since New Orleans suffered so greatly from the "Three Disasters" of Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it provided a perfect opportunity to bring together local nonprofit professionals to talk about how the disasters affected their operations. Additionally, one panel discussion included a woman whose nature preserve had been greatly affected by the Sonoma-area wildfires in 2017, making her experience quite relatable to what we are going through now as a region. I attended one workshop specifically about fundraising in the wake of disasters, as well as a second workshop about the environment that leaned heavily on these local disasters as a part of the panel discussion.

Below are some tidbits:

  • Locally, we are probably in the closing stages of individual giving toward the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide (this phase should run about 6 months). The next area of focus for nonprofits after individual giving dries up should be foundations, including national foundations if applicable. Even if those foundations are not poised to support us now, engaging them opens the door and may influence their future giving priorities. Turn funding into challenge grants when possible to increase impact, especially in the early stages when individual giving is running high.
  • If your disaster plans need to be updated or put together, do it now. This includes any communications and PR for various disasters, as well as plans for backing up digital files and getting them to the right people (or having print-outs of key information available for key staff). Now is also the time to make sure that the internal chain of command is clear for staff members, so that they can be nimble in the case of a disaster. (Example, what kind of deals can I make on behalf of the museum in a crisis, especially if the CEO is unreachable?). Have a well-written and well-researched case for support ready to go - this is really tough to put together while you are applying for emergency funding, the power's out and your staff are displaced. Organizations should have a disaster philanthropy strategy already mapped out in advance - it should include the names and contact information for national media, and names and contact info of partners your organization works with. Make sure the CEO/ED has a copy, and that the board has proided input. Make sure your plans are flexible - chances are, the disaster you plan for is not the one that will happen.
  • Disaster donors give out of emotion, so how do you keep them engaged once that emotion has passed? Ramp up your communications and get donors engaged in your mission to keep them involved long term. Be sure to clearly demonstrate the impact of their giving so that donors will continue to be emotionally invested in your work. Be highly aware of your language as you raise funds so you don't restrict yourself down the road once the crisis has resolved. Also, be prepared with vehicles for giving that do not restrict the organization (for example, a zoo had a "save oiled turtles" campaign live on their website and now has a lot of "extra" money sitting in an account waiting for the next oil spill because funds are restricted to turtles. The money was desperately needed for other efforts, such as birds recovery, long-term programs and overhead expenses).
  • The FBI has a disaster academy to help organizations prepare for disaster ahead of time. There is a site called the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook to help organizations prepare for and survive and thrive during and after disasters. Check it out at:
  • After a disaster, it's time to hit the pause button on other plans and do an analysis of where you’re at  - be an organizational development strategist - and  decide what your most basic and pressing needs are . The fact is, some regular events or programs need to be ditched for good strategy that first year after a disaster (and in fact, this may be a good opportunity to finally drive the stake in the heart of that thing you have "always done" that is not working for you anymore).
  • Sometimes disasters bring intractable problems to light and give you the opportunity to think about completely changing things up and doing them differently in a community. For example, big issues like housing and transportation are suddenly available for re-envisioning because the magnitude of the devastation means there is an opportunity to re-build from the foundation.


Click here to view Lessons Learned from Pattie Mullins, Chamberlain Scholar.