If You Want More Donors, Stop Being So Serious

Make giving fun!”

That’s the great advice offered by Michael Kaiser, Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and President Emeritus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Kaiser has observed:

[Donors] don’t join our family to be whined at…. They join because we’re inspiring and fun.”

As a successful consultant and turn-around expert, Kaiser has proven, time after time, that when you make giving fun, you attract and retain more supporters and greater levels of support.

Despite the soundness of Kaiser’s advice, I’ve talked with a number of fundraising professionals who think their cause is too serious to lend itself to fun. Or, they think they have no opportunity to be fun. Seeing nothing but obstacles to bringing joy to giving, these organizations continue with a stale, serious, institutional approach to fundraising that has left them struggling.

HAMEC logoBy contrast, the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center gets it. A small, Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization, HAMEC operates a tiny museum and offers school-based education programs featuring survivors. In just the past three years alone, HAMEC has presented approximately 1,200 sessions for over 100,000 students.

Like me, you probably never have thought of the words “Holocaust” and “fun” going together. After all, as a result of the Holocaust, six million Jews and five million others were murdered by the Nazis from 1941-45. It was a supremely horrible event perpetrated by a truly evil regime.

Yet, despite the horrors of the Holocaust, HAMEC has successfully, and tastefully, paired “fun” with the pursuit of philanthropic support for Holocaust education.

Chuck Feldman, President of HAMEC, says:

‘Fun’ and ‘Holocaust’ are not put together in the same sentence. But I will tell you, our organization is a very upbeat organization. We are the happiest organization dealing with the most miserable subject of all time, and we’re happy because when our survivors go out to the schools we can see the impact that it has on the students. We can see it right away.”

As HAMEC continues to expand its outreach, it has also sought to acquire the new and increased support that will make that expansion possible. One of the challenges associated with raising money for a Holocaust-related cause is that the subject is dark and not something about which most people would want to think. So, how can a small nonprofit dedicated to Holocaust education engage supporters and potential donors in a meaningful way?

Just one way HAMEC does this is by sharing its upbeat spirit.

Recently, the organization presented its fourth annual Summer Music Festival. On average, the Festival has attracted a couple hundred people of which approximately one-quarter have never had prior contact with the organization.

Festival attendees enjoy a variety of music acts. They also have a chance to meet survivors, and visit vendors offering everything from food to arts and crafts items to books written by survivors.

The Festivals have benefitted HAMEC in a variety of ways including:

  • cultivate existing supporters,
  • educate and cultivate new contacts,
  • raise money,
  • generate significant media coverage.

By creating an upbeat event, HAMEC has made itself accessible. People come to enjoy a good time. While they’re doing that, they have an opportunity to learn about the great work of the organization and how they can get involved.

As Kaiser once told me, nonprofit organizations need a plan for engaging donors in an ongoing, genuine, fun way. Charities are limited only by their creative capacity.

So, stop asking or expecting donors to give until it hurts. Stop being so serious. Instead, let’s inspire people to give until it feels good, brings them joy, and allows them to have fun while doing good. If we do that, people will be more likely to give, give longer, give more, and encourage others to give as well.

I don’t want to hear any excuses. If HAMEC can figure out a way to pair Holocaust education with fun, your charity can inject fun into its engagement efforts as well.

Tell me, what does, or can, your organization do to make giving fun?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?


[Publisher’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that I’m proud to be a board member and longtime supporter of HAMEC. If you want to learn more about this effective, efficient organization and its inspiring programs, please click here.]

3 Responses to “If You Want More Donors, Stop Being So Serious”

  1. Could not agree more! Why would anyone want to be subjected to having their “arm twisted” or being “hit up” (terms I commonly hear folks throw around). “Give until it feels good” works a lot better than “Give until it hurts.” There are numerous psychological studies that show people’s pleasure centers light up (on MRIs) when they even just contemplate giving. We have to retire our tin cups and stop feeling guilty about asking folks to give. Philanthropy is an opportunity for joy. And, you’re absolutely right. If a Holocaust museum can accomplish this, any nonprofit can.

    • Claire, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ll add to your list of obnoxious fundraising words: pitch. We should talk with (not to) prospective donors. We can even present to them. But, we should never pitch them. I’m not sure of the origins of terms like “twist their arm” or “give until it hurts.” I can’t believe anyone ever thought they were smart ideas; I can’t believe people still think that way. If fundraisers think about how they would like to be approached, they would end up doing a better job of approaching others.


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