Hungry, humble and hopeful – an ode to the fundraisers of 2020

Contributed by Melissa Irish, PRG Managing Associate

Most of us, especially those over 35, became fundraisers by accident. We may have worked for human rights causes in college marching in the streets with signs of protest, served abroad in third world countries administering basic health care, or led inner city youth on outdoor adventures to share our love of nature. By some strange and unplanned twist of fate, we realized that we could harness our passions for good and raise the necessary resources to help them thrive! Asking for money didn’t scare us, we loved working in teams and didn’t mind the pressure of an impossible goal. Rather we thrived on it. We got a dizzy thrill when hitting our targets, we liked networking and throwing parties. A fundraiser was born.

And what would we do without fundraisers? The fuel for our fires would wane, the resources needed to fight the good fight would go untapped and the abundance of wealth in the world would not be channeled for the greater good. In short, our collective dreams and vision for a better world would have no lift.

It is because of this, our final article of the year is an ode to development professionals, a special breed of smart, scrappy, lightening quick heroes. This year in particular, our courageous fundraising leaders faced unprecedented challenges and stood tirelessly to meet them. The world literally crashed around them, their organizations were thrown into disarray and the need for the missions became ever more essential or worse, put on the back burner while the attention of donors shifted to fight the pandemic.

Development teams and fundraisers had to figure out how to stay relevant, continue to be the consummate cheerleader, define and disseminate the ever-changing messages of their organizations as they responded to the awful realities of 2020. They had to reach out and listen to their donors, paying (virtual) pastoral visits again and again, absorbing supporters’ concerns and heart aches. They pivoted, pivoted and pivoted again, feeling like a twirling ballerina on steroids planning for virtual events, online major donor meetings, and ways to keep their staff motivated, productive and focused. This often while becoming full-time parents and teachers.

So THANK YOU to the hundreds of thousands of fundraising soldiers, the hungry, humble and hopeful warriors who kept our beloved institutions open for business- our homeless shelters, food banks, museums, schools, health care clinics, legal aid organizations and more – and provided the fuel to keep the fires of justice burning.

For this we applaud you, we are forever grateful to serve you at PRG and look forward to walking by your side in 2021 to make sense of this all, ruminate on lessons learned, and say good riddance to what we hope to never have to do again.

Fundraisers are amazing.

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

DEI – What is the Measure?

Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

Contributed by Amira (Mira) Barger, MBA,CVA,CFRE, PRG Associate – Philanthropy & DEI 

“In the years I have been here, nice has not translated into upward mobility, pay equity, or new opportunities.”

We are the “nice” sector. Nice nonprofits, made up of nice people, doing nice things and putting nice into the world. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but “nice” simply isn’t enough. It doesn’t move us towards the change we need. There is no accountability in nice. It is not the measure.

Incremental change is nice. It is gentle and slow. But incremental change by nice people, no matter how well-intentioned, will not overcome the deliberate harm and exclusion wrought on the communities that we as a sector exist to serve – and even the harm being done within our own organizations. I am saddened, though not surprised, by the number of conversations that I have had of late regarding experiences that people are having where nice is not getting the job done. A few examples from my network across the nonprofit sector:

  • My boss is nice and says nice things about me. But…In the years I have been here, nice has not translated into upward mobility, pay equity, or new opportunities.
  • My advocacy group has fought for the rights of Black residents in our city and encountered opposition from nice folks who deem our efforts to be futile and divisive. They did not shout or call names, because we are a nice city. But…nice has not translated into safety for Black residents, a seat on city council, or opportunity to be in “the room where it happens”.
  • I had a nice board member ask how I managed to make my way into my current role. They were nice in their tone and mannerisms, nice enough to not stir a reaction from others in the room who heard it. But…nice has not translated into action from our board on crafted DEI programs, intentional understanding of the communities we serve, or any ounce of belief that someone young, gifted and Black could have actually earned their way.

Here are some steps we can each take to work towards our organizations being more than nice – and truly accountable. I’ve borrowed some phases commonly used in design-thinking to help create a framework for us to think through and serve as guide posts:

5 Tips on How to Create Accountability

  1. Start with preparation As a leadership team, utilize experts in the field of DEI and Anti-racism (they are not the same!) to chart a path that reflects the goals and priorities of your organization. Put together measurable steps that address DEI as you move toward your goals.
  2. Discover In collaboration with your employees, your board, your partners – and with those you serve! – look at your organization from different perspectives to gather insights and seek out opportunity areas for growth.
  3. Define – Agree to a problem statement as a collective of stakeholders, and then work to organize your priorities. Which matters most? Which should we act on first? What is feasible short-term vs long-term? The goal here is to develop a clear direction that frames the fundamental challenges and opportunities and highlights intersections.
  4. Develop – Now that you’ve identified your priorities, conceptualize a solution, develop a prototype of that solution, and then test and retest continuously. DEI and Anti-racism are practices – things you do daily, over-and-over. Accept that trial and error is a necessary part of the process. It helps us to improve and refine ideas to make sure we are actually addressing the issues at hand and are moving forward to create the radical change we need.
  5. Deliver — As you move through this process we are working towards a resulting plan that will be finalized, produced, and launched. The plan should have clear milestones, objectives and checkpoints that keep stakeholders aware of consequences, accountable to progress and radical change.

It’s true, our sector is a nice place to work, with nice people, and we want to take steps to make sure that everyone is able to enjoy what it has to offer. Through being intentional in action and held accountable by one another, we can build a sector that ensures an equity-centric approach to our work and reflects the priority of our sector – to move and act in service to those communities most impacted by the systemic inequities in our nation.

We have the opportunity to be an example of what a sector that takes anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously can look like, and can be a leader in saying and showing that “nice” is not good enough.

Read our previous two blog posts (So What?) (4 Key Questions to Ask) in this three-part series on anti-racism and DEI in the nonprofit sector.

Your homework:

Action Changes Things (ACT) written on set stickers with clip hanging on a rope on black background.

DEI – So what?

Contributed by Amira (Mira) Barger, MBA,CVA,CFRE,  PRG Associate Consultant – Philanthropy & DEI 

Making nonprofit commitments and crafting ongoing actions towards diversity, equity and inclusion.

“When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework—besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people—is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful. I am expected to come closer to the racists. Be nicer to them. Coddle them.”
Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness


It feels too quiet and back to normal (whatever “normal” is supposed to mean right now). It’s been exactly 88 days since May 25th, 2020. On that day, the world received a wake-up call to racial injustice as many watched the murder of George Floyd. The video circulated in the midst of conversations already being had regarding the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and suddenly America became acutely aware of the pain and outrage that many of us (Black people, Indigenous people, People of Color = BIPOC) have shouldered for lifetimes – our lived experience. Because the sad realization is, George Floyd is one of many. The question becomes – so what?

  • So what? You posted the words “Black Lives Matter” and other heartfelt messages.
  • So what? Your board members matched employees’ donations to orgs fighting racism.
  • So what? You held a town hall to discuss racial injustice.
  • So what? You even hired a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant and/or staff role.


With all due respect: So what?


Not with an indifferent or dismissive tone, but, rather, so, what NOW? One might argue that it is even more vital for us (the nonprofit sector) to find the answers to this question. Many of our organizations exist by virtue of the failed systems, policies, practices, behaviors, and beliefs that disproportionately impact BIPOC. The nonprofit sector serves to fill the gap for communities left behind – for those marginalized, underrepresented, and vulnerable due to the racism and upheld inequities rampant in our culture.

The last time I had your attention (Part 1 in this series), I noted that performance art was not welcome in the fight against racial injustice. There are no Emmys, Oscars, or Tony awards handed out around here. I provided you with a series of questions that nonprofit organizations must be asking of themselves and the sector as a whole. Inquisition, of course, must then be coupled with active listening and followed by ongoing commitment to change. A long-held truth of individual and institutional behavior is – you change what you measure, and you measure what you incentivize.

African businesswoman manager give whiteboard presentation at office meeting, female business coach presenter point on flip chart explain corporate strategy training diverse team at company workshop

If you as a leader, a board member, staff member, donor, or volunteer are ready to take sustained action, a prudent starting place looks like this:

  • Listening Tour
    • Take this time to conduct structured individual or small group conversations with all staff. Use the concerns, needs, and information you gather to guide how you update or build your DEI strategy.
    • The history of racism in this country must inform our strategy. Commit to listening and learning from anti-racism educators. Then work with those educators to formalize anti-racism as part of your training. From top to bottom, in staff onboarding, volunteer orientation, and even board member recruitment, anti-racism must permeate the entire culture of the organization.
  • Specific Commitments
    • Share your data. What does the gender, race/ethnicity, seniority representation look like within your organization? Don’t be shy or hide it in a corner on a dusty old desk. Pull the data and share it with all stakeholders. Then communicate the ways you will immediately work to address the deficiencies.
    • Increase BIPOC representation on your Board of Directors, your Executive Leadership, and at ALL talent levels. Representation at every opportunity matters and focusing on your glaring gaps will help to gain momentum toward sustained efforts in service to equity.
  • Accountability Body
    • Sharing your data is one step towards accountability. It provides measurable proof of your commitment to impacting the equity challenges found across the nonprofit sector as a whole. It will take our collective action to dismantle the broken systems and reconstruct them in a way that reflects our promise to change moving forward.
    • Where we place our investments will tell the world what we value. Provide your DEI and ERG groups with people resources, financial resources, and access to every level of leadership and power. No table, seat, or decision is off limits to them – if you are serious.

The truth is that the path towards justice and equity for all is messy and requires consistent dedication. In due diligence you’ll set a plan, read a book, have a meeting, and vote(!). More than anything else, we need you to dig deep, stand tall, and stay ready for a fight – because we cannot simply hope for niceness to drive racism away. It is too deeply embedded. We have to demand it as if our own lives were at stake, calling out to our mothers as we gasp for our last breath.


So…what NOW?


Your homework until next time:

Read: Managing Unconscious Bias

Read: Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture

Watch: Verna Myer Ted Talk

Watch the New York Times 1619 Project:

Take this free test from Harvard University and learn more about your personal levels of unconscious bias: Implicit Association Test




Fundraising planning


We, at Partnership Resources Group, have talked with countless organizations over the last several months. There is widespread concern about how to maintain the quality of your services, meet the needs of your clients and communicate effectively with your donors, all while keeping your fundraising work moving forward.

By sharing what PRG learned, we hope these 10 Elements for Fundraising Planning will help to spark your imagination and give you ideas for a fundraising plan in the face of uncertainty.

Download our e-book version of 10 Elements of Fundraising Planning 2020-21 or read on…

1. Revised Case For Support (So Much has Changed)


Case Statement image

How you are staying connected to your mission and your clients is essential.

  • What have you done to pivot programs and staff during the crisis and how has that impacted your budget?
  • What are your current priority services, how have they changed (or not)? Always tie programs and services to human (client, patient) impact.
  • If you’re not a front-line service provider how do your programs fill in the gaps in your clients’ lives (e.g., parks for exercise and mental health; children’s museum offering virtual activities to support home-bound kids; etc.)? Your mission is still relevant.

What are your plans for re-opening and what will that look like—less staff, re-activating volunteers, some staff still working remotely, new ways to provide services?

Remember that your donors invested in you because they supported your mission and believed that you would fulfill that mission. Tell them why they should re-invest in you now. What will you need in financial support as you re-position the agency in the post-pandemic time?

Keep in mind that the need for your services in these times may be clear and more-self-evident than ever, but you must revise your Case to link those services to the critical need for funding. As always, the Case should inspire and motivate the reader to take action.


2. Fundraising Forecasts with Multiple Scenarios (Best to Worst Case)



Now is a crucial time to plan for a series of fundraising scenarios – at least 3, best case to worse case. Hopefully, new or renewed donors who have given to an organization’s COVID response can be part of next year’s giving picture.

There’s a useful tool that has been created by the Nonprofit Finance Fund to help with your forecast and a video that explains how to use it.


3. Focus On Stewardship (Across All Organizational Lines)



Stewardship word cloud image with hi-res rendered artwork that could be used for any graphic design.

During the ’08 recession PRG observed many donors who could not afford to continue to support all of their charities and had to curtail their giving to some. Your objective, with all of your stewardship moves is to keep your organization on your donors’ short lists. And the way to ensure that continued engagement is through frequent, personalized communication focused on how you change lives.

  • Every one of your donors deserves appropriate acknowledgment, recognition and engagement, but by segmenting your donors you can prioritize and target your stewardship efforts and use your time and organizational resources wisely.
  • PRG recommends the ‘Portfolio’ approach to involving your Board in stewardship. By assigning each of your Board members a portfolio of donors now, you’ll extend your stewardship reach exponentially. And with many donors sheltering with time on their hands, this is a unique opportunity to tell your story and reinforce the importance of their continuing investment.


4. Update And Organize Your Data



A silver lining to sheltering-in-place, away from the office day to day may be newly found time to take a look at and reorganize your donor data. As we know, well-managed donor information is the backbone of any sound Development program.

Segmenting your donor information is critical, especially now. Consider the inputs necessary to properly segment, then finding the right patterns – giving longevity, increases or decreases, method of contacts, stewardship moves, a donor’s social network. Use your imagination!


5. Promoting Multiple Giving Vehicles (planned/sustaining/matching gifts)


Some donors who have committed a Planned Gift may not be donors to the Annual Fund. Part of the stewardship process with these donors is to ‘cross-sell’ them on the importance and value of making an annual donation.

The best prospects for a Planned Gift may be found among your donors (at all levels) who have given regularly, year after year; who began giving many years ago; or who elected to periodically increase the amount of their gift. For these donors, the strongest argument to consider a Planned Gift may be the opportunity to maintain their charitable support after they’ve passed on—for perpetuity.

Donors may support your mission and be impressed with the work you’ve done during the pandemic. They’d like to make a significant donation but are uneasy about their finances. A sustaining gift may be the best way to meet their objectives, and to help you. For example: they wanted to contribute $200. but feel, realistically they can only afford $100 right now. But by committing to $100 now and $100 a year for the next 3 years, their net gift is $400. They are proud to have doubled what they were hoping to contribute and you can count that $100 in your annual budget projections. With the right stewardship and an improving economy, you may-well inspire them to double or triple that amount.

The many donor studies we’ve done over the years indicate that the impact of a matching gift will inspire a donor to give, or to give more, about fifty percent of the time. In other words, offering a match will motivate about 1 out of every 2 donors. Factors that often increase the impact of a match include:

  • The timing of the match.
  • A match to close the final portion of a capital campaign or your fiscal year will frequently generate more response.
  • The identity of the donor. A match offered by a well-known and respected leader of your agency will likely spark more donations than a match by a wealthy community member.
  • The size of the match can be a factor; a two-for-one match acts as a stronger incentive than a dollar-for-dollar option.


6. Events (Is there Sufficient ROI and What is the Model?)

 Check out PRG’s Event  a checklist for agencies considering converting in-person events to a virtual platform as well as links to experts who can assist with the conversion.



7. Appeals (Purpose and Cadence)


As we emerge from the pandemic, many agencies are struggling financially and may be reaching out to their donors more frequently than normal. This, coupled with the usual saturation of year-end appeals beginning in early November, suggests several strategies for those planning direct appeals for the balance of 2020.


Typically, most nonprofits have not considered the summer vacation months to be a good time to send out appeals. No one knows when travel may be possible again or even when domestic airline travel may be considered safe. For that reason, and the fact that many donors may still be spending more time at home, at least into the Fall, special appeals between June and October might be particularly effective this year. There is no reason to hesitate. Research during the first 10 weeks of the pandemic clearly indicates that current donors are giving—many at higher levels than normally.

Connect conversationally

Make your appeal a conversation with each donor about someone you serve, someone who is depending on you to be there for them. These days we are inundated by appeals for money, stats about the coronavirus and details about sheltering; what your donors want to hear are stories about real people that will be helped with their gift, maybe someone like them who has suddenly lost a job, health insurance and child care and is living in frightening and completely unexpected circumstances.

Segment your message to your audience

For your major investors or those donors who have been with you for years—treat them as confidants. Help them FEEL what it’s like to be serving your clients with remote staff and uncertain revenues. For those giving just below your major donor level, invite them to give to a specific fund that will elevate them into your Major Donor Club. And for those who have recently lapsed (12-36 mos.) invite them back into ‘the family’ at a time when you need everyone on-board to help those in need.


8. Digital Strategy (Even if You Don’t Have On, Yet!)



Now is the time to advance your digital prowess and presence on social media – more and more that’s where donors, regardless of generation, are spending their time. Is your donation page optimized for mobile? Are you making every effort to gather and curate email addresses of every donor and stakeholder? Is your Facebook page current and are your organization’s fans promoting you on their pages?

DNL Omni Media has put together clear 7-Steps to Creating a Nonprofit Digital Strategy – it’s a great place to start!


9. Build Resiliency Through Fiscal Reserves

Every disaster reminds us that the agencies that have created a Reserve Fund—usually through the proceeds of an active Planned Gifts program, have a far-greater margin of survival than those who don’t. Because of the likely depth and length of the recession created by this pandemic, the value of having a reserve will become even more dramatic.

We saw, in the ’08 recession that nonprofits who had invested their reserves solely or substantially in a traditional Endowment Fund were unable to access the principal in that Fund at a time when they needed money to maintain services and keep their doors open. Some donors, for various reasons, will still insist that their Planned Gift be invested through an Endowment. It’s wise to offer those donors the option of an Endowment Fund, but for donors who want the organization to have maximum flexibility in using their gift during times of crisis, a Board Designated Reserve Fund (BDRF) should be a second option. In fact, since 2008 many donors, especially younger folks, insist that their gift be deposited in a BDRF. Of course, a BDRF must be governed by Board policies that clearly define how, and under what circumstances, the principal may be used.

While fiscal reserves are almost-always funded with the proceeds of Planned Gifts (most often testamentary gifts), an agency could elect, by Board policy and for a limited period to deposit a small percentage of each, undesignated donation into the Reserve Fund. This approach will help to ‘prime’ the Reserve Fund until money from ‘fulfilled’ testamentary gifts begin to arrive in a predictable amount.


10. Opportunities for Synergy Beyond Your Organizational Borders

Let’s face it, the pandemic and the recession demand more working together to tackle unprecedented problems. There are countless examples of mission-aligned organizations joining forces to respond to the crisis. If you’re one of those, make that part of your story. If you’re not, look for opportunities to collaborate and start that discussion. Donors expect that their gifts will be used to maximum efficiency.

While we simply can’t know what the post-COVID era will bring, we do know that the community fabric will change and with it, a change to our nonprofit agency fabric. Those organizations that are closely linked to others in their sectors are more likely to adapt to the “new normals” and successfully compete for funds.

Download our e-book version of 10 Elements of Fundraising Planning 2020-21

DEI – 4 Key Questions to Ask

Contributed by Amira (Mira) Barger, MBA,CVA,CFRE,  PRG Associate Consultant – Philanthropy & DEI 

The questions organizations can be asking themselves right now to advance their own commitment and actions to diversity, equity and inclusion.

In the wake of recent and ongoing protest across the nation, many nonprofit organizations are seeking ways to address racial injustice. Time has been focused on posting statements on social media, rapid-fire dialing to the closest available implicit bias trainer, and hours spent at book clubs trying to digest the most recent anti-racism book. While taking these steps is admirable, they are only effective when enacted as part of a larger and deeply intentional strategy. Organizations have a responsibility to do more than make performative statements. Though we may be able to buy public goodwill for the time being, trust is earned through a sustained, long-term body of work.

The path towards true justice and equity for all is ongoing, but it begins with asking questions. What are those things that we as individuals and institutions need to unlearn, relearn, and repattern? How do we as nonprofit organizations best serve not only our employees, but also those community members entrusted to our care, in tangible, identifiable ways? Inquisition, of course, must be coupled by active listening and commitment to change. And, in order to get started (RIGHT NOW!), here are a series of questions nonprofit organizations must be asking themselves:

  1. What is the goal you seek?Explore why becoming anti-racist is vital to you (individually/organizationally) as the first step. This will be the driving force that will help to sustain momentum when the public fanfare dies down. We must continuously keep working towards change, and understanding your ‘why’ is vital.
  2. What is the current reality for your staff and neighbors/clients?Equity is all about meeting people where they are, providing for their specific and unique needs. How are we showing up for those most impacted by the decisions we make? This moves us toward ensuring they are not only in the room, but are represented at the table and have a voice in decision-making.
  3. What are the options for you to create lasting change?Based on your organization’s mission and population served, what lane you will occupy may vary. For some, it is an effort to ensure that language is equitable – for example saying “the unhoused” vs “the homeless”. For others it is re-tooling programs so that community engagement is included as a part of implementation. This will take more time, but creates more equitable outcomes.
  4. How will you wrap up this exploration?As you ask yourself these questions, making sure your goals are measurable will keep you accountable. Know your staff and the population you serve, and make sure they are they represented. Does your organization have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taskforce? It should.






Fundraising opportunities

Understanding Corporate Philanthropy

Contributed by Cindy Morton, PRG Associate

We often hear from our clients about their desire to expand corporate support for their organizations. They point to the fact that, after all, the economy has been strong for years since the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. And it’s been particularly robust here in the Bay Area, home to mega-tech companies, as well as major banks, retailers and others.

So, they ask, why are we not getting more support from the corporate community?

First, we need to be clear about what corporate philanthropy is and how it fits into the overall picture of giving. We find a surprising level of misunderstanding leading to often unrealistic expectations. According to Giving USA, corporate giving represents just 5% of all philanthropic support (compared to 68% from individuals and 18% from foundations). Based on this data, it’s easy to see where the greatest opportunities are for increasing your fundraising. Yet, connecting with the business community is still an important element of a successful and diversified fundraising strategy both for its proceeds and for expanding any nonprofit’s network.

So, what steps can you take to attract corporate support?

Start first by understanding why a company creates a giving program at all. Most corporate philanthropy is part of a company’s overall business strategy. It can enhance profitability by creating a positive image while doing good. It’s a win-win.

Studies show that giving can also help companies attract and retain employees by supporting their philanthropic interests with matching funds and time off for volunteering. These are relatively low-cost ways to compete in a very tight Bay Area labor market. And, of course, many company leaders are simply people who, like everyone else, hold dear any number of charitable causes.

Philanthropy vs. Sponsorships?

In addition to understanding the motives of business owners and executives, it’s important to distinguish between corporate philanthropy and corporate sponsorships, to further guide you in working the best channel to secure funds.

  • Corporate Philanthropy: These funds are typically driven by a corporate foundation, employee-directed gifts, and/or matching gifts. Typically, this type of support is most powerful (and can be the most generous) when alignment exists between the mission of a company combined with its overall business strategy and your nonprofit organization.

Employees themselves are an access point for a nonprofit and the connection is greatly improved when there is a champion inside the company. A recent survey showed that 71% of surveyed employees say it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering. Pro-bono services and/or in-kind support can also provide real value to a nonprofit.

Some regional examples include:

Wells Fargo Bank (consistently ranked in the Top 10 leaders Bay Area corporate giving) (a new leader in corporate philanthropy)

Chevron (long-time Bay Area corporate philanthropic presence)

  • Corporate Sponsorship: This funding reflects a “business arrangement” from business and marketing divisions of a company where a business receives tangible benefits as well as visibility, e.g., event tickets, co-branding, naming opportunities, or event hosting.

Sponsorships can also be a pathway to expanding a relationship, towards a goal of broader philanthropic support. Keep in mind, this is essentially a marketing opportunity for the company. If you get that in-person meeting with a potential sponsor, remember to share what your organization has to offer, not only in terms of the tangible benefits mentioned. Be prepared to tell them how many consumers you touch within your community and how their support for your nonprofit positions them as a good corporate citizen. Corporate sponsorships may evolve into corporate sponsor partnership programs with diligent stewardship.

Examples of regional organizations with significant corporate sponsor partnership programs:

San Francisco Symphony –

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank –

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco –

Bank of Marin –

Remember, this summary represents general trends, and each community is unique. Like any donor, companies require on-going stewardship. In fact, while engaging corporate leadership is critical, giving is increasingly driven by employees and their volunteer involvement. Once these relationships are established, businesses often continue investing in an organization, providing sustainable, on-going support.

Corporate Philanthropy by the Numbers

  • Americans gave $427.71 billion in 2018. This reflects a 0.7% increase from 2017.
  • Corporate giving in 2018 increased to $20.05 billion—a 5.4% increase from 2017.
  • Foundation giving in 2018 increased to $75.86 billion—a 7.3% increase from 2017.
  • In 2018, the largest source of charitable giving came from:

Individuals at $292.09 billion, or 68% of total giving;

Foundations ($75.86 billion/18%);

Bequests ($39.71 billion/9%);

Corporations ($20.05 billion/5%).



So, What Are Giving Circles?

Giving Circles – A Funding Source Often
Overlooked by Nonprofits

Contributed by Serena M. D’Arcy-Fisher and Michael Howe, PRG Associates 

Today’s giving circles are built on traditions dating back over a hundred years, as mutual aid societies and other forms of giving in support of communities. In the United States, giving circles were initially composed of women; there are some indications that they are growing more diverse in terms of race, age and gender, but women continue to make up the majority of founders and members. The major feature of giving circles is that charitably minded individuals with limited funds can pool their funds with other donors and experience far greater impact.


According to a 2017 Collective Giving Research Group study, “Giving circles and other forms of collective giving (GCs) are changing the face of community philanthropy across the United States. From small groups of friends meeting over drinks to large organizations with their own nonprofit status and staff, GCs have grown significantly in visibility and popularity over the last 20+ years. Often started by donors, they are widely understood to be a highly flexible, democratic, do-it-yourself vehicle for giving, and previous research has illuminated the positive impact that participation has on the giving and civic engagement of donors. “Today, there are more than 1,600 giving circles and giving circle chapters in the U.S. …Since inception, it is estimated that giving circles have channeled an impressive $1.29 billion into communities.”

We feel it is important to note that the research only tapped a small pool of examples to examine diversity and the topic is one we’ll explore in more detail in a later blog. For now, suffice to say  one giving circle that launched around 2006, as 100+ Women Who Care sparked the 100 Who Care Alliance in support of all the “various 100 Women Who Care, 100 Men Who Care, 100 People Who Care, 100 Businesses Who Care, and 100 Kids Who Care groups. There are currently more than 650 chapters making a huge impact in local communities throughout the world.”

1) How Do Giving Circles Work?

Currently Giving Circles bring philanthropically and socially minded individuals together to create a collective philanthropy.  The organizing structures can vary. One example is where the donors in a giving circle collectively oversee both the collection of funds, decide on the funding goals and also the criteria for grantmaking to the distribution of funds. Another variation is where a supporting organization like a community foundation provides the support to giving circle donors. This support covers the collection of funds, the funding goals and criteria for grantmaking to the distribution of funds.


2) Interested in Finding a Giving Circle or Seeking Funds?
Start with an on-line search for Giving Circles, narrowing the search by selecting a specific state or county, or even a grantmaking focus. Check out the website of the giving circle you are interested in for details on how to join the circle, and/or their grant making process. Also check out your local community foundation’s website and then search for “giving circles,” or “committee-advised funds.”

Typically giving circles are their own independent/free-standing grant making foundations, as in the examples below. You can find more information on some of these organizations in the addendum. They are also linked to the organizations’ webpages.

Contact your local Community Foundation. Community foundations are often helpful in establishing giving circles and frequently sponsor giving circles in support of their donor members’ philanthropic goals. Following are links to Bay Area Community Foundations.

Likewise, some regional associations of grant makers often incubate giving circles. As an example, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers conducted a national scan of giving circles and shared giving, then in 2005 produced Giving Together – A Guidebook to Giving Circles (PDF download) and in 2008, A Handbook for Giving Circles Hosts (PDF download).


3) What Do Giving Circles Fund?

Some giving circle members decide on the projects they wish to fund through a democratic voting system.  Other circles may have been founded to support specific funding areas and priorities within these areas (e.g. universities, juvenile justice). Funding priorities can change from year to year or be a permanent focus of the giving circle.


Examples of Giving Circles

100 Women Charitable Foundation in Los Altos actively encourages women’s participation in philanthropy to make a viable difference in the local community. Purely volunteer, they distribute 100% of the funds raised to vetted nonprofits, relying on a grant evaluation process backed by a membership vote. Their stated areas of interest include nonprofits serving in the fields of Health and Wellness, Education and Family.

Mentioned above, the Latino Community Foundation’s giving circle network is comprised of 21 Giving Circles across the state of California with new ones emerging each year.  A large number are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their guidelines are more stringent than some, with a required minimum yearly donation of $1,000 (or $85 monthly). Each Giving Circle collectively chooses its funding priority and where the funds will be allocated, with guidance from LCF staff working closely with each Giving Circle to identify Latino-led organizations that align with their identified priority areas of interest.

This is the first in a three-part series exploring giving circles. Be sure to sign-up on our mailing list so you’ll be the first to know when they post.


What Major Donors Really Want After Making Big $ Bets

At Partnership Resources Group, we’ve spent most of our time over that last 25+ years helping boards and nonprofit leaders achieve their fundraising goals. We work directly with talented and committed CEOs, Development Directors, Development staff, Board members and volunteers who, together, are the backbone of any successful campaign. Perhaps our greatest joys, however, come from getting to know donors across Northern California and the values that drive their generosity.

We’ve pondered how these very donors felt once their gifts were made and the campaigns were over.

  • What motivated them to dig so deep?
  • Why did some give not only their money but precious time to help lead and solicit others?
  • What frustrated them?
  • What uplifted them?
  • How did they feel when all was said and done?

It seemed to us that these were terribly important questions and wondered what these donors and campaign leaders would say if asked.

We self-commissioned a study to explore these questions.

We saw an opportunity to just do it when we were asked to teach an AFP Master Class on the “Post-Campaign Let Down” last spring. A survey was sent to 21 individuals who made contributions of $50,000 or greater and those who had chaired campaigns of $5 million or more. They came from a wide geographical spectrum – San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and Alameda counties. This was not a scientific sample, simply our selection of folks we admired and had gotten to know.



Sixteen people (76%!) responded to a lengthy survey.

They represented all kinds of campaigns – capital, endowment, special projects and even debt retirement. Some just checked questionnaire boxes, others wrote extensive narratives. All were simply grateful to have been asked.

Their feedback was fascinating, and the highlights are worth sharing, starting with common myths:


  1. “Our donors are burnt out.” 75% of respondents (12 of 16) have continued making significant financial contributions beyond their campaign gifts. One donor actually made a post-campaign planned gift in an amount that will generate the equivalent of their campaign contribution each year! Forever.

“For people who were pledging, do something special to recognize the completion of their pledge. Nobody has ever done that for me. They just sent a final bill and then a standard thank you letter. It was like I was forgotten once I paid my pledge.”


  1. “Our leaders have done all that they will do.” Not so. Only 3 respondents said they would never lead a fundraising effort again. More than half shared a deep sense of satisfaction and would consider an ongoing leadership role. We were struck by those who said they would commit to serving a “similar mission elsewhere.” To us, this suggests that any single campaign benefits a broader ecosystem of like organizations who can draw experienced leaders and donors from other campaigns. At least some high-level contributors are thinking this way. Maybe we all should re-evaluate the “turf” assumption toward the common good of organizations in our broader mission spaces.

“My wife and I are concerned and always looking for ways to get our (adult) children involved. It was hard to do that while I was leading a campaign even though they knew what I was involved with. I think having them in to see what our campaign created would have been a great idea and another way to pass our philanthropic ‘torch.’”


  1. “We know how our donors and leaders feel about us.” Really? Only 2 respondents said that they or the organization conducted a post-campaign evaluation, formally or even informally. They all got thanked and some got plaques. But nearly 90% never came together with agency leaders to reflect, feedback and evaluate. Imagine the learning lost that is so easily captured with a single, well-conceived roundtable session or a series of one-on-one’s with campaign leaders, major donors and smaller contributors. This is the essence of stewardship.

“There was a dereliction of duty by the organization’s Board. A few of us not on the Board were the main drivers behind this campaign and almost never a word from the Board.”


  1. “We’ve pretty much saturated our donor market with information and opportunities for involvement.” Think again. Two-thirds of those surveyed wished there was more and ongoing communication about the impact of the campaign and one’s gift on the lives of those served. Nine respondents suggested that donors be invited to volunteer in non-financial ways. Two said that they would have gladly added a year or two to their multi-year pledge if they’d been asked. These responses surprised us, too, but are indicators that the boundaries in communication and stewardship are broader than one might think.

We did a great session with new clients of the organization that came right out of our campaign. This was a highlight for me.”


  1. “Our donors know how much we appreciate them.” Not always. Besides, who doesn’t want to feel their efforts are meaningful, rather than being taken for granted?

We didn’t do a very good job of educating donors beyond the needs of the endowment – we were too focused on the numbers. I learned later that some key donors felt they were totally lost in the shuffle and may have given more if we were paying attention.”

How can you benefit from what we learned?

Don’t let the end of your campaign end relationships. Plan for a reflection phase of your campaign that focuses on engaging and stewarding lead donors and volunteers into the future. Remember, they made big bets on your ability to make a difference in the world. Many of them are waiting for a gesture, some sign that what they gave in time and treasure will have an impact, and they are jazzed.

So, pour one more cup of coffee, get revved up and reach out!

News Flash

Elliot Levin is participating in the AFP Golden Gate Chapter’s Spring Forum. As the Development World Turns–Vu Le On the Evolution of the Field

Other panelists include Amira Barger, MBA, CVA, CFRE and Beverly Estrellas Mislang

These development professionals will touch on topics like how we incorporate equity, diversity, and inclusion into our work. Or, how to raise money and generate support while avoiding the savior complex and remain authentic partners with our donors?  Are we up to the task of starting difficult conversations such as ones about wealth and income disparity?

This forum promises to be provocative and thought provoking.

When: Monday, April 29, 2019 from 3:00-5:30PM | Reception following 5:30-6:30

Where: David Brower Center Goldman Theater @ 2150 Allston Way in Berkeley 94704

Transportation & Parking: 1 block from downtown Berkeley BART | Allston Garage @ 2016 Allston Way – Earns 2.5 CFRE Credits