Donor Power Award

Call for nominations: Donor Power Award

It's been nearly 18 months since we here at the Donor Power Fortress of Charity awarded the coveted Donor Power Award. In fact in all history, the "Deepy" has been conferred on only four organizations:


That's just not right! My apologies.

We should recognizing the donor-focused heroes in our industry and encouraging the best work.

So if you know of an organization that deserves a Donor Power Award, tell me about. Either in the comments here or by email: jbrooks [at] merkleinc [dot] com.

Nominate any nonprofits you know that are pioneering new and better ways to empower their donors. Tell me about dynamite fundraising programs that get it.

There's no cash. Some publicity -- appearing in this highly prestigious blog. But lots of pride and bragging rights.

The judging is subjective, even eccentric. On the other hand, there's no pain-inducing nomination process or rip-off entry fees. Just tell me what you know and give me a link.

If I get nominations, I'll give out awards. I mean it this time. Let's see what's out there!

Fundraising takes one more step into the 20th century

DeepyA coveted Donor Power Award goes to GlobalGiving, an organization that connects donors with specific poverty-fighting projects around the world.

GlobalGiving is one of a growing group of nonprofits that are charting the future of fundraising by putting power in the hands of donors by using the Web (two others especially worth noting are Kiva and

But that's not why GlobalGiving gets this Deepy Award. No, they've gone beyond: They now offer a fundraising guarantee.

This milestone was announced by GlobalGiving CEO Dennis Whittle at PhilanTopic (among other places) at Guaranteed. Period.

Here's GlobalGiving's rationale for offering a guarantee:

We ... believe that donors deserve to be treated at least as well as consumers. After all, they are trying to help improve the world with their dollars. They have the right to know how their money is being used -- and to redirect that money to a different purpose if they are not satisfied.

It's not quite the iron-clad, unconditional money-back guarantee I'd hope for -- the donor can only redirect her giving to a different GlobalGiving project, and the guarantee is only good up to $10,000 per donor, per year -- but it's a step in the right direction. It's about time we started seeing donors as deserving respect they routinely command from common retailers. And the chance to hold charities directly accountable to use their gifts wisely.

Offering a guarantee doesn't just have marketing value. Whittle correctly identifies another benefit to the organization:

A guarantee could compel us to put front and center questions of how to amplify the impact of our work, hold ourselves accountable to our partners, and ensure donor trust. Each and every day.

What's the risk to GlobalGiving? It's negligible. In the retail world -- where elaborate, conditionless guarantees (even double your money back) are normal -- guarantees are found to increase sales, and are so seldom invoked by customers that they only improve the bottom line. The occasional abuser can be dealt with as an individual.

So the question is: Who else is brave and smart enough to offer a guarantee?

(See also Nonprofit guarantee: I dare ya!)

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Help donors get more involved

Go read Jim Hussey's column in this month's Fundraising Success, Do You Just Love Me for My Money?. It's about expecting more than donations from your donors:

You must make your donor a partner in your mission. The donor must understand that she is an integral part of your organization, not just a dollar sign. If you can find legitimate ways for your donors to participate in your mission, you will be rewarded with greater donor loyalty, better retention and higher levels of financial support.

If you look at your donors and see a bunch of ATMs, you're going to treat them as such. And when you do that, you're going to find they become pretty unsatisfactory ATMs; they'll give you less than you need, complain a lot, and disappear quickly.

When it comes to fundraising, it's not about money. Even when it's about money, it's still not about money. It's about changing the world in your specific way. Money is just a super-fungible tool, which is why it's so important. If you keep changing the world as your primary goal, you'll start engaging donors on more levels.

And here's the amazing secret: When asked to do more than give money, they also give more money.

Jim mentions petitions, surveys, and donor-recruiting-donor campaigns -- all of them great ways to deepen donor involvement. Here are some more things you can ask donors to do:

  • Hands-on volunteering.
  • Site visits. Even if your sites are half-way around the world.
  • Online viral campaigns where you ask your donors to spread the word about something important.
  • Prayer if you're a religious organization.

Give it a try. I think you'll be pleased with the results.

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Donor Power Award: Donors Choose empowers donors

A rarely bestowed Donor Power Award to Donors Choose, an organization with a very descriptive name that puts all the power in donors' hands.

Here's what Donors Choose does: They raise money for teachers in public schools to enrich their work with their students. Not in a big, national way, but at the classroom level. Teachers make pitches for projects they need funded. Donors connect with projects they like and fund them.

Many of the proposals are pretty raw -- very real, direct from real teachers. No marketing BS here. The funds needed for projects vary from under $200 to a few thousand dollars. A donor of average means can fully fund a project. Or give whatever they want to partially fund a project.

(An organization with a similar fundraising model is Kiva, discussed here.)

Another very cool and donor-honoring feature: Donors Choose is totally open about their overhead costs, which are 15% on top of the cost of the proposed projects. Donors can choose not to pay for overhead. According to the website, 90% of donors elect to include overhead costs with their gift.

When you give, the feedback is excellent: an email right away. An email from the teacher whose project you've helped a while later. And, reportedly, letters from the kids after that. It's just a stream of feel-good stuff!

Is it any surprise Donors Choose is growing -- fast?

Visit this interesting organization. Check out how it works. Fund a project and get a first-hand donor experience. This is the Donor Power Revolution in action!

Previous Donor Power Award winner: Smile Train.

Thanks to dot-org for the tip.

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Treat donors as shareholders (it's what they are!)

DeepyA coveted "Deepy" (Donor Power Award) for Direct Relief International for empowering donors in a cool way: Inviting donors to headquarters to see how things work behind the scenes. Read about it in the New York Times: Charity Invites Donors to 'Kick the Tires' and Squeeze the Cash Register (it's in the archives; you need a subscription to read the full article).

For the last four years, Direct Relief, which provides donated medicine and medical supplies to communities around the world, has held a "shareholders' meeting" for contributors to demonstrate its accountability and to burnish its relationship with its donors.

One donor ... says he likes the meeting because it is informative and different from the typical interaction he [has] with other charities.

Many nonprofits have discovered the power of giving donors "tours" of their work. Direct Relief is taking this to the next level, not just showing off their work, but focusing on their accountability to donors.

Not every donor wants that level of involvement and information. In fact, most don't. But you unleash two different forces if you institute a program like this: First, those donors who want high involvement and get it will likely boost their giving, stay with you longer, and get involved in other ways -- like volunteering, advocating, recruiting, and more. Second, merely offering it will inspire every donor who's invited -- even those who don't take you up on it.

We here at the Donor Power Fortress of Charity tip our hats to Direct Relief for practicing Donor Power.

(Thanks to Trent Stamp's Take for the tip.)

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Finally -- a nonprofit guarantee!

This makes me smile. The Smile Train, an organization that does corrective surgery on children with cleft palate in the developing world, has stepped out and offered donors a money-back guarantee. I first saw it in this newspaper print ad:

Here's how the guarantee is described:

"Send us a donation of any amount, and we'll use 100% of it to help children born with clefts in developing countries. The free cleft surgery we provide for poor children who can't afford it, costs as little as $250 per surgery, and takes as little as 45 minutes. We'll show you how we used your donation to give a desperate child not just a new smile -- but a new life. If you're not smiling too, we'll send you your money back."

(Emphasis added because it's so wonderful.)

As far as I know, this is indeed the first use of an up-front guarantee in fundraising. And for that, the Donor Power Blog is happy to award The Smile Train with the first ever Donor Power Award (soon to be called a Deepy) for donor-respecting innovation in service to a nonprofit.

Now that someone's done it, you can do it too. Maybe you want to wait a few months a see if The Smile Train flies off the rails as a result of this risky maneuver. But they won't. They'll prosper, and more kids while get the surgery they need. Now it's your turn.

(More about the nonprofit guarantee at Nonprofit guarantee: I dare ya!)

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What is this blog all about?

If you're serious about raising money from donors, you need to get serious about donors. More than ever before, donors are insisting that you share power with them, not treating them like passive ATMs. This blog is about the ways you can do that -- and the rewards that await you and your donors when you do.

About the Blogger

DonorPower Blog is penned by Merkle's Power Blogging Team, led by Greg Fox, our senior vice president of strategy. Working with Greg is a police line-up of guest "artists", fundraising pros all, who like to pose as blogatorialists when the sun goes down. You can reach this blog, and any of our regular contributors, at
donorpowerblog [at] merkleinc [dot] com. See this blog's policies.

A great partner for the nonprofit that wants to get donor-powered and grow revenue like crazy!
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