Monday, May 28, 2007

An Easy Way to be a Philanthropist

What is your definition of a "philanthropist?" Do you conjure up thoughts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, billionairres committed to changing healthcare and poverty global-wide? Do you think of men like Rockefeller or Carnegie, industrialists who made so much money that it still goes to work today? How about the wife of McDonald's legend Ray Kroc who left millions upon millions in her estate to benefit education and other charities?

Do you ever think of the plumber who lives across the street? How about your mailman? Your hairdresser? Yourself?

WordNet defines "philanthropist" as someone who makes charitable donations intentended to increase human well-being. The American Heritage Dictionary has a similar definition: The effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations. Note: Neither definition describes how much one has to give to be considered a philanthropist. My favorite description is "the love of humankind in general."

Anyone can be a philanthropist. It simply means you give to help others, primarily because it is the right thing to do.

I was recently watching a news show and it profiled an innovative charitable organization that is nearly entirely web-based called that allows teachers to post needed items for their classrooms. In an era of substantial educational budget cuts, many teachers are in need of equipment and educational resources for their classrooms. This is particularly true in poverty-stricken areas, inner cities, and areas hit by disasters such as school districts in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The items posted are for things any philanthropically-minded person could support on any budget. Donors can search for projects to support based on geographic region, subject, special needs, amount needed for funding, or type of program. Donors can donate any amount that can fully fund a program or partially support a program. When doing a search, one can see what percentage is needed to complete a grant request.

The theory is simple: Teachers Ask. Donors Choose. Students Learn.

There are hundreds of requests to browse through. And making a donation to support an interesting project does not require a major gift. This is an extremely easy way for someone to make an online tax-deductible gift that can truly make a difference, even if the gift is small. Many of the projects can be fully funded with a donation for less than $200. Any project can be funded in part by donating $10 or $20.

Be on the lookout for a thank you note and a photo from the children you supported. Teachers are encouraged to communicate the results with donors of how your gift was put to use.

Have kids? Consider introducing them to the idea of charitable giving by having them select a project to fund with their allowance once a month. Make a gift to support these programs in honor or memory of someone. Want a creative way to recognize a special teacher? Donate to a project in that teacher's name. is one of the easiest ways I've seen for someone to make a gift in an amount comfortable for themself but have the opportunity to target it to a special program. Many charities would prefer unrestricted gifts, so if giving for a specific purpose to help children with their education is something of value, check out the website. Better yet, play around and actually make a donation. Not only will you feel good about your gift, you may be inspired by the creativity American teachers are demonstrating in an effort to help this country's most challenged students become interested and engaged in their learning. To date, nearly $13 million has been donated to 568,670 students just through

If you are building your own charitable giving website, give some thought to:
  • Posting specific needs
  • Allowing donors to restrict their gift to fund a specific project
  • Allowing donors to make full or partial donations
  • Display how much is needed to fully complete a project (take the % one step further and use a flash-based gauge to visually demonstrate progress)
  • Browse projects
  • Set up a gift registry so people may select projects they want to fund and friends can make a gift to support those favorite projects
  • Establish a giving blog that allows donors to spread your charity's message to their own personal readers
  • Make online giving simple with easy to follow steps
  • Make it personal; have the beneficiaries write personal thank you notes
  • Offer your donors a widget to download from your website; You can send updates via the widget to show how much money has been raised, send gift giving reminders, share a great story and keep people in touch with your message and organization
  • Allow your donors to interact with you and help spread your message virally
  • Create a MySpace page where donors committed to your organization can have your organization as a friend
  • Provide donors with items (i.e. your logo with a key message, wallpaper, etc.) that they can copy the coding for their own MySpace page

There are endless ways you can create opportunities to interact with your donors and constituents. Find your favorite charities online and look at what they do to keep you engaged. Then look for ways your own organization can replicate the concepts. Be innovative and creative. Try to make charitable giving something fun for people of all means to become philanthropists and help humankind.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What Every Foundation Needs

I should make that headline a recurring title. Or a book someday. Today's recommendation comes from a little known item that the Stelter Company provides. If you don't have this on your website as a planned giving tool, shame on you. This is a fantastic utility...and I get no residual benefits for promoting it!

At one point, I was interviewing with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A wonderful organization that provides incredible services for critically ill children. It is hard not to become fascinated by the work they do. And believe me, their development officers love that about the organization and they have a website that makes giving simple. But they take it one step further. They make planned giving simple. How?

The Make-A-Wish Foundation allows donors to build their own planned gift right on the website using a very easy to follow interactive decision tree. It is likely built on something like PG Calc and is a service that Stelter provides. It walks donors through a series of easy to understand questions and literally builds the best planned giving option for them based on the answers. How great would it be for a donor to build this gift and then print it off and have it ready to be used. Instant planned giving opportunity that takes about 15 minutes or less.

The Build Your Own Planned Gift while powered and supported by Stelter, is designed to look like the remainder of your organization's website. No link to another site, no confusing questions, no hard language to figure out. I saw it as the Turbo Tax of planned giving. So easy (and actually pretty interesting) to use.

A little extra benefit...any tool like this can be measured and tracked. From the backend, staff can see who visited this section and used the tool. They can see where a donor completed the process or stopped midway. In either case, that is the perfect opportunity for a development officer to pick up phone and find out what questions the donor had and how you could count on them to join your prestigious planned giving site.

I will give the Make-A-Wish Foundation a flunking grade because I used the tool and stopped right before signing the dotted line. No one followed up with me. In fact, I even called them to ask some questions and still no one ever bothered to follow up with me. Guess what organization missed out on the chance to be included in my will?

Here's where I would emphasize my usual point: Just because you have an interactive website and great technology does not mean you skip the fundamentals of fundraising. Fundraising will always depend on personal relationships. Planned giving officers need to do their job and not rely on tools to do it for them. Tools simply help with the engagement process and opens a door for further conversation. Don't cheat the process!

All that being said, this is a great tool to educate donors, introduce concepts, provide a non-threatening and easy to use utility, use the tracking functions to learn about the behavior of your prospects, and take another positive step in building relationships and ultimately securing valuable resources for your future.

To learn more about the Gift Planning Tools, check out

To build a dynamic website and use the most cutting edge information and technology, contact Mediasauce at or 317-218-0500.