A Grateful Heart Is What Fuels Change


For a lot of change making organizations, it can seem like loss and pain are the driving force behind their work. So many nonprofits and NGO’s start because their founder lost someone they love to cancer, to heart disease, to suicide, to war…the list goes on. My own organization, Big Love Little Hearts, is in honor of my sister, who passed away at just 37 days old from an undiagnosed heart defect.

But viewing loss as the impetus of change misses the mark. What really fuels changemakers is gratitude and grace. Being so thankful for the time you had with someone that you’re driven to give the gift of time spent with loved ones to others. Being so thankful for the advantages you’ve had that you want as many people as possible to also have them. Being grateful for your education, the food on your plate, your mentors, the support of others during a hard time….these are the things that truly make the world grow.

Hospitals grow because the people who received excellent care there donate so that others may receive the same. Scholarships are funded by people who are grateful for what education has made possible in their lives. Organizations like Imerman Angels are built by people who are thankful that they had the support they needed while fighting cancer. Organizations like mine are funded by parents who know how lucky they are that their children were born in a country where lifesaving care is abundant.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of changemakers in my years as one, and the common thread among all of them is not a bleeding heart…it’s a grateful heart.

We are all meditating on the things we’re grateful for during Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving what I am most thankful for is simply the act of gratitude, because that’s what is improving and often saving the lives of millions of people all around the world.

If your heart is thankful this week, please consider sharing your love with a grateful photo or gift over at Epic Thanks (an organization whose entire philosophy is that love and gratitude are all that’s needed to change the world).


Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Who's Getting Off First?


by Estrella Rosenberg & Geoff Livingston

If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?

Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.

Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.

Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.

Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?

Competing to be the first to the finish line with the same approach as ten other organizations in your cause space isn’t the right kind of competition either. Wealthy founders and well meaning activists who think they can do it better without any unique theory of change are creating distractions too and just making more choices for donors, often paralyzing them. Yet another voice with nothing new to add creates a longer path to the answer.

The ability to see the problem and a unique answer to it (or a part of it) is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. Innovation means finding better faster ways to provide answers. In essence, this is the Ashoka model of social entrepreneurship where a changemaker seizes on a unique approach to a problem and deploys ambitious actions for wide-scale change.

For these social entrepreneurs, and for forward thinking non-profits, competition means cooperating with other organizations within the same space when they have to because they have their eye on the prize: an answer to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That doesn’t necessarily mean sharing resources, but it does acknowledge that everyone is trying to reach the same end goal. Forming coalitions and cause verticals can have great impact if each organization is working on their own piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, causes should want to end their business by resolving their problem. They shouldn’t want to be the organization who uses social media the most cleverly. They shouldn’t want to be the organization that raised the most money at their annual event. They should want to shudder their doors. Period.

What kind of cause are you? Are you competing to make change or just competing?

(Less Than) Transparent Fundraising: Is This Ever Okay?


Last night on Valentines’s Day, the All Need Love Festival took place in Chicago. Held at the Field Museum it was supported by a PR machine – in less than one month they had built a very strong social media presence, had successfully reached out to and partnered with dozens of media outlets and had worked out a deal with Groupon to help in ticket sales.

I noticed the social media buzz and had seen it mentioned in the Chicago Tribune and The Sun Times. The All Need Love “profile” on foursquare had even sent me a friend request. Still, I didn’t pay too much attention because it fell on my cause community’s awareness day.

Once my work day was done last night I went on their site to figure out what exactly it was. On the bottom of the page along with the logos for the event sponsors and partners I noticed a logo I recognized, SFK: Success for Kids. They used to be named Spirituality For Kids and I had contributed to a project of theirs, Kids Creating Peace, in the past.

Naturally I wondered how they were involved…there was no mention on the home page that a portion of proceeds from this event would benefit a charity, no mention on the information page for tickets and no mention on the purchase page for tickets (priced from $96-$260). The event site has 10 pages and I didn’t notice it anywhere.  I tweeted them to ask, emailed their press contact and called the event hotline. No luck. I checked their facebook page and their tweet stream. Not a single word about it. I went back to the event website and finally found a page that mentioned a portion of proceeds would benefit SFK.

To be honest, at first I thought this was an interesting tactic. SFK was founded in 2001 as a related entity to The Kabbalah Centre. I knew that SFK had been working to make the public perception of the organization less about The Kabbalah Centre because they felt they could raise more money and make bigger impact that way. In January of 2010 they officially reorganized as a separate 501 (c) 3, but the staff, Board of Directors and programs didn’t change in any way and they are still headquartered at the Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre.

It almost seemed smart to market the event to people that weren’t just Kabbalah Centre students. Almost.

I want to say that I have no bias against Kabbalah. I have studied it and as I mentioned, I contributed to SFK in the past. But that’s not true for everyone. There are many orthodox Jews I know who would rather die than support anything related to Kabbalah and more specifically, The Kabbalah Centre. I know a fair amount of people of other faiths who feel the same way (and would about any spiritual practice not their own).

Whether it’s “right” to feel that way is a matter for debate, but what is not up for debate is that religion and our spiritual beliefs are held more sacrosanct than most anything else.

I asked people via twitter how they would feel about buying tickets to an event they weren’t aware was a fundraiser. Not a single person felt positively about this and that was without mention of what kind of charity the fundraiser might be for. What almost everyone said was “what if it was for a cause I didn’t support?”

That is why this situation is not okay. People want to know what their money is supporting and they want to agree to that first.

Did the event organizers lie? No. But their transparency was less than admirable. I found some people who went to the event and asked them if they knew it was a fundraiser when they purchased the tickets, and then asked how transparent it was that a portion of proceeds would benefit SFK once they were at the event. Most people did not know it was a fundraiser. Many people just assumed it benefited The Field Museum if it had any beneficiary at all.

Then I asked people how the event was marketed to them…and that’s how I found out that some of the tickets had been sold outside of the event website through Groupon. The Groupon page for this event is even less than transparent than the All Need Love website! It simply says “portion of proceeds goes to charity”.

This really surprised me. By not posting which charity it benefits Groupon is aiding the event organizers in keeping this information as quiet as possible. That Groupon doesn’t seem to have a policy in place when it comes to charitable events is problematic, and considering the amount of negative press they’ve gotten lately it’s also not prudent.

Again, no one involved with this event  is lying but they’re not telling the whole truth either. Do they have a legal obligation to? No. But that doesn’t make it ethical. Because the charity the event supported is so closely tied to a spiritual belief system I find it especially unethical.

I don’t think it’s ever okay to gain support for a cause through deception cloaked in omission. What about you? Would you ever do this at your organization?



The Hall of Shame: Fundraising Failures

Fundraising Hall of Shame


Last night Marc Pitman posted a blog inside 501 Mission Place about testing our assumptions. In it he included a link to one of the best resources I’ve ever seen for development officers or anyone involved in fundraising at a non-profit.

Marc asked this question: “As a donor to charity, what do we nonprofits do that REALLY annoys the tar out of you?”


The responses make up what should be required reading for every non-profit. These are mistakes that are avoidable and in many cases are common sense. Marc’s original blog inside 501 Mission Place coupled with some of these responses inspired a post I’ll share on Monday about whether we’re winning the battle but losing the war in fundraising. Until then, I wanted to share one of  the more striking answers:


From Susan Smith – Marc: My answers are not unlike many you’ve received already, but I’m glad you asked!

1. Assumptions that since I gave to a similarly-missioned npo, I will give to another or 20 others just like it. I had my reasons for giving to the one – don’t assume that I give indiscriminately. You’re “like missions” are not all alike, not by a long-shot.

2. Phone calls that sound like they are coming from a boiler room. Don’t call me and ask for money – ever. I do not give based on phone calls, not even to students who call from my alma mater. My giving isn’t like ordering from LL Bean. I don’t give based on one call a year.

3. Don’t make your only contact with me a call or a letter asking for money. If you can’t be bothered to tell me what you do with the money or to contact me when you don’t want anything, then don’t contact me at all.

4. Don’t send me stuff. I don’t need or want stuff. I will probably die before I can use all the notepads, address labels and tiny calendars I receive.

5. Don’t send me generic anything – solicitation letters, acknowledgements for contributions (!), brochures, newsletters or annual reports addressed to “To Our Friends At”. If you can’t be bothered to find out my name, then don’t waste your money sending me anything.

6. Don’t send me a “Dear Friend” letter with “Dear Friend” crossed out and my first name written in. I don’t find that conducive to wanting to give you anything, especially if I am already a donor. Send a letter – personal – to me.

7. Don’t send a solicitation letter that thanks me generically for past gifts. Let me know you did your homework and know who I am and what I gave you last year.

8. If I’ve told you I cannot make a gift this year, say “thank you”, wish me a good evening and get off the phone. Don’t keep trying to get me to say yes. I won’t.

9. Don’t keep mailing me the same letter over and over. I didn’t respond to it. Receiving it a 2nd or 3rd time with no new information will not snare my interest or my gift.

10. if you’re going to write a personal note on my letter, then write something more meaningful than “Hope you’ll give” or something equally inane. Show/tell me something that I may not know and that addresses why you need MY gift.

11. Big news flash: I know you are only calling/sending me a letter because I live in a desireable zip code. My zip code qualifies me for nothing other than paying my mortgage every month. It has no magic connection to your mission. If you’re spending money to buy lists based on zip codes, purchasing preferences and whether or not I subscribe to the New Yorker or Martha Stewart Living, you’re wasting your time, my time and your money. My income/education/demographic are predictors of nothing that likely has anything to do with your mission or purpose.


Take off your industry hat for a moment and think about your own experience as a donor. What turns you off?

I used to be a major supporter of Lyric Opera. I had two full-series box seat subscriptions, attended gala fundraisers and made a hefty annual gift for several seasons. When my divorce began my box seats were one of the luxuries I had to say goodbye to. When I didn’t early-renew like I normally do I was bombarded with phone calls. After explaining that my financial situation had changed but that I would still purchase individual seats when they became available to non-subscribers I thought the  phone calls would stop.

Not so. They continued to a level I consider harassing. My mailbox was also filled with solicitation letters and materials from Lyric on a weekly basis. This finally irritated me so much that I asked them to remove me from their database. I love the opera. I love the Lyric! But…I haven’t made an annual gift, gone to an event or purchased seats at a single showing since.

Do you have your own examples for the Fundraising Hall of Shame? Post them in the comments!

I can’t encourage you to read the full list of answers Marc received enough – they’re invaluable insight!