When you give an "edgy" name to a workshop on a topic that does not tend to enthuse, attendees arrive with high hopes for something "a little different." Jonah Halper did not disappoint with his highly engaging and informative nonprofit fundraising workshop named "Date Your Donors."
Around two dozen participants from nonprofits across Israel and beyond gathered at the Schusterman Foundation’s Jerusalem headquarters on July 5 to learn Jonah’s tricks of the fundraising trade. For me, the real quality test of this five-hour workshop was how I felt deep into hour five…Was I desperate to get out of that beautifully air-conditioned conference room into the scorching Jerusalem heat outside? Or was I so engrossed in the workshop that I forgot—even for just a few dizzying seconds—to be excited about the ROI Summit party later that evening?
Perhaps forgetting about an ROI party is taking things a little far, but let us just say that I made sure to accost Jonah at multiple points during the said party to acquire yet more nuggets of his fundraising wisdom. Yup, Jonah pulled it off. After a five-hour fundraising workshop, I wanted to talk more fundraising with him.
But enough waxing lyrical, let me now get on to some substance by relaying one (just one from many) of my key “Date Your Donors” takeaways…
Concise Intro Pitch
"Concise intro pitch" is the heading I jotted down for the section of the workshop that Jonah somewhat more jargonistically entitled, "How to make your prospects feel invested in your cause." (By the way, personally important tangent, I refuse to propagate the term "elevator pitch." Anyone who is only willing to give you 30-60 seconds of their time does not deserve your time.)
Jonah advised us to begin pitching our organisation by very clearly and concisely stating its mission—in a single sentence. As it turns out, I usually do that pretty well already at the NGO that I run, the Palestinian Internship Program (PIP):
The Palestinian Internship Program provides top Palestinian university graduates with high-level internships at leading Israel-based companies, especially in the world of high-tech and innovation.
With the mission clear, one should then explain the organisation’s vision. What will it grow to be in the future, and what significant change will it bring about (provided funding is secured from your interlocutor)? Okay, this I have not been doing enough at PIP. Rather, from sentence two, I usually start getting bogged down in explaining the logistics of how Palestinians enter Israel, or the things PIP does for company HR departments to facilitate their participation.
No, no, no, Jonah told us. Do not get bogged down in the "granular details." I particularly remember Jonah using the word "granular" at least twice. The word scratched away at the inside of my head and I promised myself that, henceforth, I would cease to stumble upon granular pitfalls and subject myself and PIP to their grains and other pains.
So, PIP in terms of visions rather than grains:
PIP aims to greatly expand the number of internships and help ever more of its graduates use the experience and skills that they have gained through the program to contribute to building a thriving Palestinian high-tech and innovation sector.
And then to the final part of the pitch: the granular details. Just kidding. (Jonah, I owe your heart back the beat it undoubtedly just skipped.) The final part of the pitch is…real life examples of how the organisation has begun to realise its vision.
Jonah recounted how a non-profit summer camp for terminally ill children would open its pitch to donors with the story of one of its campers, a child suffering from cancer, who went back home and asked his parents if it would be possible for him to be buried near the camp. The camp’s staff did not even go into its mission or vision; and donors were certainly not loaded with details of who runs it, lists of activities where it is, how the camp arranges transport, and so on. A single emotive story sufficed for them to be captivated and, in turn, hold strong, positive feelings towards the camp.
While the camp example probably had all but the most stone-hearted convinced, for good measure Jonah added that academic studies of non-profit donations have consistently backed his approach: when prospective donors are solicited about the same organisation and provided either with data or emotive stories, the latter invariably generates higher donations.
It struck me that, when talking about the Palestinian Internship Program, I rarely recount our tangible success stories—how, for example, PIP takes highly talented Palestinian software engineering graduates out of unemployment and unskilled labour in the West Bank, and gives them the chance of a lifetime in a multinational company’s R&D centre or successful start-up:
One of PIP’s interns came to us unemployed despite having graduated in software engineering from her local university near Ramallah. Through PIP, she interned at Intel in Israel and, after two years’ experience there, she is now studying on a Fulbright scholarship in the USA. Another, from Nablus, could not find a job in the West Bank after obtaining an MSc in software engineering in Germany. PIP arranged her internship at the Petach Tikva R&D centre of Thomson Reuters, the multinational mass media corporation. Following her experience there, she got a position at a growing IT company in Ramallah.
And PIP has dozens more stories like this – stories that this workshop helped me to understand the importance of putting centre stage.
Date Your Donors also covered numerous other topics of importance for any NGO: identifying and diversifying funding sources, giving societies versus Kickstarter campaigns, improving relationships with donors, the role of the Board of Directors, donor databases, and much more. For key takeaways on those, you will have to take the workshop yourself. I highly recommend you do!
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.