The State of Us: 8 Takeaways From the 2019 Collaborative
In 2012, Classy created the Collaborative in an effort to bring nonprofit professionals together to share ideas, discuss strategies, and renew inspiration for their mission. To date, the event has grown into an experience unlike anything else in the social sector.
Last week, we wrapped up our sixth Collaborative event where attendees participated in three days of sessions, workshops, fireside chats, keynotes, and conversations—all relevant to the larger goal of how we can work more efficiently and make a greater, collective social impact.
In the spirit of the event’s very name, we want to share a few top takeaways that came out of collaborative conversations. Below are eight important topics discussed among social impact leaders at this year’s Collaborative.
1. Nonprofit Employees Are Happy, but See Room for Improvement
During the opening keynote, The State of Us, Classy’s senior vice president of marketing, Soraya Alexander, announced Classy’s first-ever report examining nonprofit professional’s perspectives on their roles, experiences at their organization, and hopes for the future within the modern nonprofit landscape.
One of the most reassuring findings from the report, World-Changing Work: The Modern Nonprofit Professional’s Experience, is that the vast majority (84%) of nonprofit professionals say they are satisfied in their current role and aligned with leadership. This number is even higher for those who work closely with fundraising, with 92% saying they are satisfied in their current roles.
This is an encouraging pulse check on the industry and even more so when compared to the results from a recent study by The Conference Board which reported that across all industries, 51% of American workers say they are satisfied in their roles.
And while levels of satisfaction are high, nonprofit employees still recognize the need for improvement and list overhead costs, donor retention, and employee wages as the top three areas for concern at their organizations. When asked what the individual respondent personally believes the top concerns should be, the answers only differed slightly:
Since the goal of this report was to help spark conversations across the sector, we wanted to encourage these discussions in person too. One way we did this was by comparing the survey results to the sentiment of Collaborative attendees. So, we polled nonprofit attendees at the event with some of the same questions in advance of revealing the survey results to the room.
When asked how satisfied they are and if they felt aligned with leadership, 81% of Collaborative attendees said that they’re both satisfied in their current role and aligned with leadership, lining up closely with the 84% in the national survey.
Another way we sparked conversation was through an interactive wall where attendees could share their own responses to prompts from the report. Some chose to share their name and organization while others remained anonymous. Here are a few of the powerful responses:
What’s the Most Rewarding Aspect of Your Job?
Seeing first-gen college students become amazing young professionals and even better people!
When one of our applicants becomes a homeowner.
When underprivileged teens finally knows someone believes in them.
Not just providing a service but solving a significant problem through systems change.
What Is Your Greatest Source of Inspiration?
Ali Stroker—first wheelchair user to win a Tony and the legacy of Christopher Reeve.
Seeing the joy of our students empowered with quality education.
2. It’s More Important Than Ever to Diversify
From fundraising strategy to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, a big theme we saw throughout the Collaborative was that the organizations who see the most success are the ones that prioritize diversity in all aspects of their organization.
Fundraising Strategy Diversification
There are many conversations going on in the fundraising space with unclear implications. Things like the tax law changes, donor advised funds (DAFs), and social media fundraising tools. But with these uncertainties comes the opportunity to diversify fundraising portfolios in order to mitigate risk and protect the success of your organization.
At the Collaborative we heard about many organizations leveraging new opportunities to expand their reach, attract more donors, and streamline their efforts to retain supporters.
One such way organizations are diversifying their fundraising is by partnering with for-profit corporations. While the concept of corporate sponsorship isn’t a new one—the way in which for-profit and nonprofits are working together continues to evolve in exciting ways.
Scot Chisholm, Classy CEO and co-founder, remarked on this as well during the event’s opening keynote, sharing that—”The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 40% of millennials felt that the goal of business should be to improve the world. So you are seeing more and more corporations taking philanthropy more seriously, with strategies that span well beyond the traditional CSR or cause marketing programs of old.”
For example, we listened to Disney Petit, head of Civic Labs at Postmates, share her story of creating Postmates’ social responsibility arm—Civic Labs. Disney talked about how many businesses are looking to their employees to determine how to get involved in social impact, whether they are polling to understand which causes employees want to support or looking for support in building products that enable the company to leverage their existing business model for social good.
Yet as Rick Dunham, the chair of the Giving USA Foundation, pointed out in the opening keynote, corporate giving only represents 5% of total contributions. So while it’s important to explore different avenues to supplement general donations—the key is to explore several different avenues.
Different fundraising revenue streams might include strategies like recurring giving programs, do-it-yourself fundraising (for example, allowing your supporters to fundraise on your behalf for their birthday), social media fundraising, and peer-to-peer fundraising events. By offering myriad ways to donate to your cause, you’re empowering donors to choose how they want to show their support which makes them more likely to give.
In addition to diversifying your strategy and channels, several speakers discussed how critical it is for nonprofits to take action toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
Gender equity consultant Lindsey Lathrop led a panel on uncovering the root of the gender pay gap in nonprofit work, including how nonprofits can take steps toward closing the gender pay gap and empowering the women who make up 75% of the nonprofit workforce.
Panelists Jessica Nordhaus, director of strategy and partnerships at Change the Story VT and Evelyn Murphy, founder and president of The WAGE Project, discussed the current existence of gender inequity in the nonprofit industry both in terms of career clustering (a concentration of one gender in a field) and job-to-job inequities where women and men are paid differently for performing the same job.
We also learned how thinking like a designer can help nonprofits create the most effective and empathetic solutions to the challenges they tackle. Carrie Sawyer, manager of inclusion and diversity at Qualcomm shared with attendees how she implements design thinking in her approach to lead a corporate environment to be diverse and inclusive.
As identified in our 2019 Giving Trends post, the sector is doubling down on integrations with emerging channels like social media fundraising, live streaming, and gaming platforms. And while mentions of social media fundraising were everywhere during our three days in Boston, there were a few moments that stood out from the pack.
For one, Classy CEO and co-founder Scot Chisholm revealed that Classy is partnering with Facebook to create an integration for Classy customers.
The integration will give fundraisers a single tool to grow their donations, and will give nonprofits a consolidated and intuitive way to analyze fundraising across digital channels.
To dig further into Facebook Fundraising’s growing impact on the industry, Barrett Frankel, senior manager of Classy’s customer success management team hosted Wednesday’s closing panel with Carly Samuelson, peer-to-peer program manager at Heifer International, Jessica Murphy, director of marketing and communications at LIVESTRONG, and Kendra Sinclair, strategic partner manager at Facebook.
The panelists discussed the incredible potential of Facebook Fundraising, but also acknowledged gaps when it comes to supporter management and data.
Kendra, of Facebook, addressed data challenges early in the panel, saying that Facebook is hyper-aware that a lack of data is an issue for nonprofits who utilize Facebook Fundraising. She said that Facebook is making strides in that arena by aligning with partners like Classy to create more robust experiences that enable nonprofits to combine the reach of Facebook with Classy’s holistic visualization of peer-to-peer fundraising data.
Additionally, the panel expanded on how, through Facebook, nonprofits can also engage with supporters by truly meeting them where they are—so even though there may be limitations, organizations like Heifer International and LIVESTRONG are strategically leveraging Facebook to tap into the power of their digital communities, recognizing that while they may not be able to nurture all of the new donors that come in, they’re adding new dollars to their revenue stream that they otherwise would not have received.
4. Recurring Giving Is No Longer a Nice-to-Have—It’s a Must-Have
People everywhere are opting to pay for monthly services, like Netflix and Spotify, as the subscription models explode across industries. This rise of the subscription economy has started to permeate charitable giving through the concept of recurring giving, and it was a hot topic across the Collaborative.
How Organizations Are Excelling at Recurring Giving
In the session, How to Level Up Your Recurring Giving Program, Classy’s managing editor Elizabeth Pun spoke with two leaders that manage robust recurring giving programs at their organizations—Tracee Henneke, the development manager of sustainability at Mobile Loaves & Fishes, and Angie Moore, the chief individual fundraising officer at CARE.
Both organizations discussed the importance of technology when it comes to scaling their recurring programs, while still providing personalized experiences. For example, by having an option to start a recurring subscription immediately visible on their fundraising pages, both organizations are able to drive more conversions and enlist new recurring supporters.
To continue engaging these valuable supporters after they sign on as a recurring donor, CARE has an onboarding strategy that continuously educates these donors about their impact, which is crucial for the organization to continue serving its communities in the wake of disasters or humanitarian crises. And even if a donor wants to cancel their recurring gift for financial reasons, CARE always tries to get the donor to downgrade first rather than cancel the gift completely, which helps them retain donors.
Given that Classy’s data finds recurring donors tend to have lower median household incomes, this is a smart strategy in appealing to the way many donors prefer to give.
What’s Next in Recurring Giving
In The State of Modern Philanthropy 2018, we learned that a recurring donor is over five times more valuable than a one-time donor, but this finding was just the tip of the iceberg when surfacing how valuable these supporters are. The State of Modern Philanthropy 2019 also found that of one-time donors who then becoming recurring givers, 25% give another one-time gift on top of their still-active subscription plan, signifying this cohort’s extreme engagement and dedication to the cause.
Though the value of recurring donors is starting to become widely known, nonprofits aren’t quite fostering them strategically just yet. As we learned in Scot Chisholm’s opening keynote, a study completed by NextAfter and Salesforce called The Nonprofit Recurring Giving Benchmark found that:
- Only 14% of organizations prompted one-time donors to upgrade to a recurring gift
- 47% of organizations made no attempt at all to retain a recurring donation after a credit card was canceled
- And 38% of organizations made no customizations to their email strategy for recurring donors.
There’s a huge opportunity for nonprofits to cultivate these donors instead of not prioritizing them.
We also learned that recurring donors that started as one-time donors tend to sign up for their subscription plans 214 days after their first donation—which is 4.5 months sooner than the typical donor would otherwise give again. This suggests an opportunity for organizations to encourage their one-time donors to sign up as recurring donors much sooner in the stewardship process.
In fact, Classy customer Feed My Starving Children sees a much smaller window for their first-time donors to become recurring–just 117 days. They said that the way they convert one-time donors intro recurring donors is by sharing the impact of that donor’s recurring gift up front and over time.
They also personalize the giving experience for each supporter and offer unique opportunities for recurring donors to become closer to the cause by becoming volunteers, which has resulted in at least 66% of their donors also being volunteers.
The biggest takeaway at the Collaborative on the subject of recurring giving was that a successful recurring giving program requires special care. Organizations committed to attracting and retaining recurring givers through multiple touchpoints, custom communications, and exclusive benefits will be the ones who make the largest leap forward in the years to come.
5. Giving Tuesday Is Bigger Than Ever, but There’s Still Room to Grow Impact
Giving Tuesday 2018 was a record-setting day with more than $400 million raised online through 3.6 million gifts. This powerful pillar of the giving season was talked about often at the Collaborative, but one specific reminder we heard everyone driving home was that we aren’t finished yet.
In fact, a recent Classy survey found that 62% of consumers don’t know what Giving Tuesday is. So, there is still plenty of room to grow the day’s impact through year-round planning, early communication, and campaign optimization based on the learnings from previous years .
Jamie McDonald, chief strategy officer at #GivingTuesday, and Woodrow Rosenbaum, data and insights lead at #GivingTuesday, shared some of the leadership and data lessons they’ve learned over the years as they’ve seen Giving Tuesday grow into the global phenomenon that it is today. One of the main takeaways from the session was the opportunity for nonprofit professionals to lean into experimentation.
Given the large sample size of donors on Giving Tuesday, the day is a great time to test your messaging, channels, marketing approaches, and stewardship strategies. Woodrow also supported this with a statistic that Classy’s own data science team has written about: donors acquired on Giving Tuesday are more likely to engage in different campaigns over the next year than donors acquired via other events.
Woodrow also talked about how younger donors believe giving is a responsibility. They have trust in nonprofits and believe in the services they provide. The hurdle is that they don’t yet have large amounts of money to share, and they aren’t as proactive in giving. You need to go out and meet them.
For more hands-on advice, we saw two workshops that respectively focused on how to successfully leverage Giving Tuesday as a year-round effort and how to level up your existing campaign.
Dakota Bierly, director of development at Luke’s Wings, led an engaging workshop on how taking small, strategic actions throughout the year helped Luke’s Wings more than double their Giving Tuesday totals year over year.
We also heard from Danielle Hupp, senior associate director of special giving initiatives at Kent State University, who shared how they grew their Giving Tuesday campaign from $2,000 to $1.2 million in just five years. Danielle shared what she called “the five ingredients to the Giving Tuesday secret sauce,” which included incentive-based crowdfunding, innovative matching gifts, making your tech stack work for you, and sophisticated marketing strategies.
6. We’re Still Asking: “How Do We Continue to Raise More Money?”
No nonprofit conference would be complete without content around everyone’s main goal: raising more money for your mission. Whether focused on marketing, fundraising, or tech and data, each session was curated to provide information and best practices that help nonprofits efficiently raise money so that they can continue to run programs and provide solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges.
Several sessions revolved around what it takes to achieve fundraising and marketing success and pointed to strategies that can have a powerful impact on your donations, like overhauling your messaging, leveraging Google Ad Grants, and appealing to Gen Z.
Rod Arnold, CEO and founder of Leading Good and the former COO of charity: water, has been helping nonprofits optimize their marketing and fundraising efforts for the better part of two decades. In his workshop, he shared the five shared attributes of nonprofits who are successful at marketing and fundraising:
- Clear messages that touch on problems, solutions, and impact
- A website that conveys emotion and includes a concise headline, clearly explains the problem that you’re solving, the simplified solution your nonprofit uses, and a strong call to action
- An organizational model that prioritizes donor acquisition
- Deep engagement with supporters through stories, thank you notes, and successful fundraiser highlights
- A campaign that hits the elements of a successful “product,” which is great packaging, fair price, clear benefit, and impact
Rod also urged everyone to evoke emotion for your cause but to avoid the negative emotions. Focus on the gratitude that beneficiaries feel, or the joy that can be felt from the impact of a donation.
Utilizing Google Ad Grants
Another way that nonprofits can expand their reach is by successfully leveraging paid search ads. Hitting the sweet spot when it comes to return on investment on paid ad campaigns is a challenge for any business, but the stakes are even higher for nonprofits when every dollar can make a difference for your mission.
To explore the most cost-effective ad initiatives, several experts discussed how nonprofits can make the most of Google Ad Grants. Classy’s director of business development Charlie Anderson sat down with Michelle Hurtado, the Global Head of Google Ad Grants; Cameron Ripley, CEO and founder of Community Boost Consulting; Calvin Stowell, chief growth officer at The Trevor Project; and Nadia Lee, fundraising and marketing director at The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
These powerhouse panelists discussed the importance of tracking your website’s performance and user behavior with Google Analytics in order to find out what your supporters are searching for, then leveraging that data to provide the best user experience for anyone who lands on your page.
Cameron Ripley talked about how his team utilizes conversion goal tracking with Classy customers. Through Google Analytics, his team helps nonprofits see the number of donations and donation revenue that come from the individual keywords donors search for before landing on your page.
All of these notes ladder up to the power of Google Ad Grants and the impact that $10,000 a month to use for search ads can have on a nonprofit’s reach and overall giving, especially when it’s properly optimized according to your user behavior data.
Appealing to Generation Z
“Gen Z-ers” are set to be the most entrepreneurial and diverse generation yet, and this year is the beginning of this generation entering the workforce. One question marketers across all sectors love to ask is, “How do we appeal to Gen Z?” The “philanthroteen” generation is being described as the most socially-conscious generation yet, but instead of just talking about them, we wanted to hear directly from them.
We invited four teen advisors from Girl Up, an organization that provides leadership development training and resources to empower young women, to take the stage alongside Julie Wilig, senior director of the organization. They shared candid insights into what they look for in an organization’s branding, where you can reach them on social media, and what makes them join a cause as a volunteer or donor.
We learned Gen Z is driven by integrity and values, and they expect that from others. Julie kicked off the panel with a stat from Her Gen Z World, a recent Girl Up report, that found that 66% of Gen Z girls say they support companies that match their values and beliefs, and 38% would be willing to boycott brands that don’t support those beliefs.
Here are a few of the responses from the teen advisor panelists:
What can brands do to “get it right” when it comes to appealing to Gen Z?
Gen Z can see when a brand is being dishonest or [disingenuous]. It’s important to hold yourself accountable and admit when you make mistakes.
How can nonprofits reach and resonate with Gen Z?
The best way to get a message across is through social media. I spend about half of my time on Instagram. I’d be more likely to engage with an organization if I see them in action through their social media.
But appealing to Gen Z isn’t always different than speaking to donors of older generations. Several of the panelists mentioned common nonprofit marketing strategies as a way to win their donation, such as the importance of seeing tangible impact and receiving direct guidance on how they can support your organization. They also mention that having branded swag is great, but not just because they want free stuff—they love it because it allows them to start conversations with others and be stewards of the cause.
7. It’s Time to Revolutionize How We Think About Nonprofit Marketing
In the workshop The Nonprofit Marketing Revolution: Make These 10 Commitments and Change Your Nonprofit Forever, Alyssa Conrardy, president and co-founder of Prosper Strategies, kicked off her session with this new definition of nonprofit marketing:
“Nonprofit marketing comprises the activities, touch points, and messages that motivate stakeholders to take actions that advance a nonprofit’s mission and drive social change.”
This empowering workshop encouraged attendees to not simply think of marketing as overhead or a siloed department, but as a critical tool your entire organization needs to own in order to drive mission impact. She shared 10 commitments that she believes all nonprofits should make to further acknowledge that when leveraged properly by nonprofits, marketing is capable of changing the world. A few of her inspiring commitments include:
“We will develop a strong brand image and identity in alignment with our mission and values.”
“We will recognize that to advance our mission we must build trust, and that to build trust, there must be consistency between how we see ourselves internally, how we act, and how we represent ourselves externally.”
“We will develop a marketing plan that aligns with our strategic plan and recognize that marketing can impact every single one of our strategic goals.”
Nonprofit storytelling remains a pillar of effective nonprofit strategy because sharing stories allows you to reach, connect, and steward your supporters while maintaining the emotional connection that drew them to your organization in the first place. With so many organizations leveraging storytelling in their marketing, we dug into a few ways that your organization can stand out from the rest.
In his session, comedic financial speaker Colin Ryan showed attendees how the building blocks of comedy can be leveraged in storytelling to engage and empower donors and amplify a nonprofit’s impact. Colin shared comedy trade secrets about how to collect a relatable moment and successfully share it in five STEPS:
- Save: Capture any funny and relatable moment. If people are laughing—write it down.
- Test: Retell that story to gain feedback. When did I lose you? If I lost you, how do I get you back? The feedback allows you to pivot your messaging and gives you an opportunity to build confidence in telling the story.
- Edit: Boil it down to the shortest form possible. Tell us a scene rather than the whole story because it gets to the point quicker.
- Practice: Sometimes we focus on content and wording more than being present and 100% in the moment of telling the story. Practice gives you comfort and confidence.
- Share: How many stages can you share this on? Your website, social media, newsletters, and emails are places are opportunities to share this moment.
Colin expressed the importance of following those STEPS and also shared how to use “humor” when nonprofits are facing situations that don’t have an obvious comedic thread.
According to Colin, the reason humor lands is because it’s relatable, and people form a connection with the story or joke being told. If a nonprofit is trying to relate to their audience in a lighthearted way, they can lean on their surroundings to connect with people. Do you have a unique workplace location (a couch in the basement)? Have you had one epic fail of a fundraising event (3 people showed up)? Colin recommends sharing those moments with your supporters through the lens of: “We put up with these challenges because the people we serve put up with so much more. This is why we do what we do.”
Take Advantage of User-Generated Content
As an industry, we’re already leaning on user-generated content. Every time a social share directs traffic to your campaign page or a loyal supporter advocates on your behalf, you’re leveraging a user-generated tactic without even realizing it.
This is a great start, but to truly tap into the power of your community, you need to learn how to do this with strategic intent, so we asked Huan Song, digital channels manager at All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response to teach us “How to Plan a User-Generated Content Campaign That Turns Your Supporters Into Marketers.”
This workshop provided attendees with actionable ways to leverage word-of-mouth marketing, which according to our survey results, 74% of nonprofits rely on as a marketing channel, second only to social media.
Sharing a range of visual and written content created by All Hands and Hearts volunteers, Huan also talked about how crucial it is to engage your supporters with emotional, impactful stories, but that when an organization wants to protect the privacy of their beneficiaries, a great way to demonstrate impact is through the volunteers who witness the impact firsthand.
Demonstrating Impact Immediately
Julia Campbell shared the power of visuals and leveraging straightforward stories on social media in her workshop, When Every Second Counts: Capturing Your Audience’s Attention With Visual Stories. The founder of J Campbell Social Marketing used a three-part framework of digital and visual storytelling techniques to show attendees how to not only increase awareness on social media, but to turn that interest into action.
The exercise Julia asked everyone to complete: write a six-word story to demonstrate the power of concise, emotive storytelling. These “short stories” exemplified a nonprofit’s ability to make strategic choices in their quest to incite action—when they have less space for copy due to social media parameters.
There were many moments over our three days in Boston that left us with tear-stained cheeks and renewed inspiration, and it all started at the end of day one. Bert Jacobs, chief executive optimist and co-founder of Life is Good, and Steve Gross, chief playmaker and founder of Life is Good Kids Foundation, had the audience both rolling with laughter and reaching for tissues in their keynote, where they shared the business and personal experiences that brought them to where they are today. The powerful duo shared lessons of pragmatic optimism, the importance of love, the fundamental need to be optimistic, and how powerful optimism can be in the healing process.
“You’re not one in a million, you’re an only.
And on the last day of the Collaborative, we heard from two incredibly courageous, resilient, and inspirational people who shared how their personal experiences with physical and mental hardships led to the post-traumatic growth that has inspired each of them to become more invested in living a socially conscious, thoughtful life.
Rick Ridgeway, VP of public engagement at Patagonia, left the crowd in awe as he detailed the arduous, 68-day journey where he was the first American to summit K2, considered the hardest of the world’s high-altitude mountains to climb. Rick shared how difficult it was when he lost loved ones on climbs and expeditions and how that drove him forward to do as much as he could to have a significant impact on the world through his role at Patagonia.
Danielle McLaughlin, governance director at UC San Diego Health and elite adaptive athlete, shared how Challenged Athletes Foundation changed her life by providing a specialized prosthetic leg that allowed her to return to her life as an athlete, after she survived a rare cancer that led to amputation during her teen years. After spending years trying to fit in during college, Danielle started her first fundraiser and saw the impact she could have by sharing her story. She left the room buzzing as she ended with this powerful message to the nonprofit community: “My life is full of possibilities because of people like you.”
Doing Good Should Feel Good
Disrupting the status quo has been a rallying cry for Classy since we started as fundraisers who simply wanted an easier way to raise money for a good cause. This resolve still rings true for us today, and it’s why we make it a priority to explore emerging channels, lean into difficult conversations, and facilitate opportunities for passionate changemakers to continue to learn and grow.
The 2019 Collaborative was truly exceptional and if you attended, we hope you walked away with fresh ideas, new connections, and feeling inspired. If you weren’t able to attend this year, we hope that this recap provides you with some new insights—and that you can join us next year.
For all the attendees who requested to see the opening video again, and for those who want to see what the hype was about, check out the video below.
Editor’s Note: The 2020 Collaborative looked a little different. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted our approach and hosted our first-ever virtual event, the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions, from June 9 to 12. The virtual event was completely free to attendand now you can access all of the recordings from the event as well as 20 bonus sessions in our Extended Sessions library.
We’re bringing back our virtual event for 2021, so get ready to hear from industry experts on how to navigate the current fundraising landscape, lead your team during these unprecedented times, reassess your operational practices, and more. You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with speakers and peers through virtual networking opportunities.
 Data from Classy sourced consumer survey; some results featured in the published report Why America Gives. Classy surveyed 1,000 individuals 18 years and older in the U.S. from Nov. 7 to 16, 2018. The survey was fielded using the Qualtrics Insight Platform, and panel was sourced from Fulcrum by Lucid.
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