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Unique Tips for Fundraising Professionals, Live From the 2021 Collaborative: Virtual Sessions

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Published June 10, 2021 Reading Time: 7 minutes

Our 2021 virtual nonprofit conference, the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions, opened with a conversation around trading perfectionism for an opportunity to show up as our authentic selves.

It was a natural transition into the four-day global conference that engaged over 50 speakers to craft timely sessions and fundraising tips for the sector. We did a lot of planning to make this event come to life but the moments we couldn’t have planned or perfected made the experience one to remember. 

The authentic conversation between more than 7,000 worldwide attendees and industry experts sparked real-time fundraising advice to address unique nonprofit priorities.

Our sessions are available to watch at your convenience in full, but here’s a list of our favorite moments and fundraising tips from the live event.

Register to Experience the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions

Unique Fundraising Tips From the Collaborative

Explore these takeaways by key topics covered at our nonprofit conference.


Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and Marshall Plan for Moms, kicked us off with a fireside chat. Classy lead test engineer Ayumi Gillespie joined her to discuss why it’s time to throw the societal pursuit of perfection out the door.

Fundraising Tip: Build a Practice of Imperfection

Reshma shared how she took a leap of faith to become the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress. She was unafraid to admit she wasn’t sure exactly what she was doing.  Reshma shared that she lost the race (badly). When she shared that the failure didn’t break her, the attendee chat lit up. It was the failure that freed Reshma from trying to be perfect and led her to a career centered around making a difference.

Nonprofit leaders can lean into bravery to counteract perfectionism. It’s possible to maintain a drive for excellence and build a practice of imperfection at the same time. Achieving the greater mission remains the goal, but it’s important to always try. Lean into your passions without fear, and remember that you don’t need to be an expert to create something amazing.


Jen Shang, co-founder and co-director of the Philanthropy Institute and the world’s first PhD in Philanthropy; Una Osili, Associate Dean for Research & International Programs at the Lilly School of Philanthropy; and Erin Gore, the VP of Development at World Central Kitchen, shared their predictions on the future of the sector. 

This panel discussion featured new thoughts on how the pandemic’s economic and social ripple effects are still unfolding and what’s next for philanthropy.

Fundraising Tip: Listen to Donors to Tap Into Their Kindness

Jen shared that “caring,” “kind,” and “compassionate” were the most frequent responses when psychologists asked donors to describe themselves in a study. Nonprofits can remind donors of these traits within themselves to increase their likelihood of giving and volunteering.

The key is to understand how your organization allows people to experience their kindness uniquely. The first step to understanding donors is to listen to what drives them.

Employ communication tools to grasp just how your donors explain their connection to the community you’re serving in their own words. Then simply grow your message around that language.

A great example was given to attendees after the session, using a higher education organization. Say that organization described its beneficiaries as “young people.” Their supporters may refer to those same beneficiaries as “our children” or “the future of our country”. Just by switching up a few words in their communication, that organization could make a more meaningful impact in their communications.

For data to support your future-forward fundraising strategy, be sure to download your free copy of The State of Modern Philanthropy 2021 report.

Download Your Free Report


Rod McCowan, the founder of Accelerance Group International, led a session that shared the keys to accelerating leadership development, performance, and impact. The discussion centered on how leaders can navigate the challenges that come with expectations for game-changing results amid heavily constrained operating environments.

Fundraising Tip: Differentiate Yourself Through a Growth Mindset

Rod gave seven tips that any leader can benefit from and made a strong case for nonprofit leaders to deliver differentiated value. In other words, are you providing lasting value in your position that stands out among hundreds of others that may be qualified for the same role? He explained that it’s all about a growth mindset. 

People who have a growth mindset believe that how good they are today does not determine how good they will be tomorrow. They know that how good they will be tomorrow depends on how honest they are with themselves today around where they can improve”.

Constantly ask yourself what it would take to have a smile in your heart or feel entirely at peace with your reputation at the end of a project, your tenure, or your career. Being a complete leader and professional is about a willingness to identify gaps and engage in a process to close them, grow, and develop into stronger leaders.

classy virtual sessions

One of the many sessions spotlighting the impact of recurring giving led to even more conversation when it ended. Our attendees had the opportunity to ask Kathryn Baccash of To Write Love On Her Arms about making a recurring giving program stand out from other campaigns.

Fundraising Tip: Make Your Recurring Donors Feel Like a Community

To Write Love On Her Arms didn’t wait to employ a recurring giving program. Instead, they launched with the basics in place, then continued to outline expansion for the future from there (we loved the continued theme from Reshma’s advice earlier in the day of just getting started).

A standout recurring giving program is about building a community that recurring donors feel like they belong to. Speak to these supporters differently than any other donors.  Segment communications and acknowledge the value recurring donors offer to your organization by going the extra mile. 

Beyond that, see where you can create exclusive perks of your recurring giving program. Not every perk needs to be monetary either. A special video message just for recurring donors or early access to new content can be just as impactful. 

Every time you contact recurring donors, reference the fact that they are in your community. That small reminder will help you reinforce their role in the greater picture of your mission.

The Ultimate Guide to Recurring Giving offers many tips to continue your learning outside of these sessions. Download yours to keep your strategy evolving.

Get The Ultimate Guide to Recurring Giving

classy virtual sessions

One of our most moving sessions was led by the mother-son duo of Cheryl Colleluori, president of the HEADstrong Foundation, and Chief Development Officer Pat Colleluori.

They talked to us about their successes and lessons learned from the multiple virtual campaigns the HEADstrong Foundation brought to life in 2020. Cheryl and Pat also showed their authenticity and passion around what kept them motivated to fulfill their mission, and honor a close family tie to cancer.

Fundraising Tip: Deliver a Personal Experience 

Six weeks before the HEADstrong Foundation’s highest-grossing and most-sponsored gala of the year, nonessential businesses were ordered to shut down due to COVID-19. That forced quick pivots to a year’s worth of virtual event planning. 

Pat and Cheryl kept their top priority amidst all the shifts, which ultimately led to a successful event. HEADstrong always pours their heart and soul into every detail. They didn’t stray away from that passion in an online environment through their Classy virtual event.

Nonprofits can turn to sponsors and attendees and ask them to stand by their side. Keep the integrity behind your events with a quality production that makes people feel connected regardless of where they’re tuning in from. By taking every detail into account and focusing on engagement, your events can be successful anywhere.

Our Virtual Event Toolkit shares fundraising tips used by nonprofits like HEADstrong to engage communities with high-quality events online. See where it may help you with a future virtual or hybrid event.

Grab Your Virtual Event Toolkit


We know volunteers are the heart and soul of the social sector, even after the global pandemic completely changed the way people interact with nonprofits. 

Geng Wang, CEO and co-founder of Civic Champs, sat down with Lori Shinton, president and CEO at Hands On Nashville; Aled Hollingworth, Boston’s development director of buildOn; and Kevin Sims, national director of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The panel discussed how to engage, retain, and translate volunteers of all categories into donors—mainly through moments of pivotal change.

Fundraising Tip: Lead With Mission to Convert Volunteers Into Donors

You never know when a volunteer will be your next prominent donor”.

That’s one piece of advice that stuck with us as our panelists explained how to increase volunteer support and convert them to donors. 

Eliminate barriers that exist out of fear when it comes to your volunteers. They may believe they need to have the financial resources to support becoming an impactful donor, but our panelists showed us that nonprofits have the opportunity to break that down.

Show your volunteers and corporate supporters that their impact already exists. Even if they can tap into a new network of supporters on your behalf, they’re making a big difference. Connect with volunteers on social media, understand the skills they can offer outside of financial gifts, and build long-term advocates through your recurring giving program.

classy virtual sessions

Attendees lit up when Francesco Ambrogetti, supporter engagement lead at UNICEF, dove into the neuroscience behind the emotions that drive people to give. Based on recent findings of neuroscience and examples of donor affinity worldwide, Francesco explained how supporter engagement and loyalty are linked to the memorable experiences we create. 

Fundraising Tip: Become a Memorable Experience for Donors

Francesco shared that we need to move away from looking at donors with a transactional mindset and instead move toward an experiential perspective. The way to do that is through human-to-human, authentic, and unscripted experiences. 

He gave us all a great example of this by asking nonprofit leaders to see where they can connect their cause to a donors’ big life event or celebration. By reaching out on a donor’s birthday, you become a memorable part of their lives on an emotional level that drives impactful action. It’s those personal interactions that not only get donors to give but to continue to give.

Experience the Full Collaborative: Virtual Sessions

All you have to do is register to jump into recordings of each session. Watch the inspirational moments and fundraising tips you missed for free, when it’s convenient for you.

Register for Free Access to Session Recordings

We hope to see you at our 2022 event.

Don't Miss the Rest of the 2021 Collaborative

Don't Miss the Rest of the 2021 Collaborative

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