Asking For Help During Turbulent Times

By Audrey Levitin and Tom Watson

For so many of us working in the social sector, these are very difficult days. The news is uniformly grim, intolerance and outright bigotry are daily drumbeats, the trendlines seem bad, and the threat of authoritarian politics here in our own country hangs over the next year like a storm cloud on the public horizon. The trauma is real, and our brains are wired to seek shelter, to get away from the danger, to withdraw from the confrontation. Yet, our work remains – and so do the people we are all trying to help.

As consultants working with nonprofit organizations and the professionals leading them, we see the kind of numbness and paralysis that this can lead to. It is easy to feel dispirited and you may be concerned that your mission is not pressing or timely enough. It’s not one of the “breaking news” big headlines in this current and depressing cycle.

Yet, in our view, your mission matters more now than ever. Indeed, difficult times demand that you stand for your mission, your results and especially the people who count on your advocacy, services, or programs. And while it might sound trite, your daily achievements –  whether in international relief, human rights, or the direct services work of people helping people – are needed now more than ever.

And that’s why you need to feel empowered to ask for money. Because building stronger organizations through professional development and communications is both an empathetic and logical response to the current era of trauma and stress.

For us, pursuing a fairer justice system, helping young people in the South Bronx, strengthening the potential for peace in areas of conflict, and supporting refugees are just a few of the causes that can still make us spring out of bed in the morning, eager to collaborate with nonprofit leaders who are committed to making a difference. While we also worry about the gathering storm clouds, we have noticed that simple action – working hard each day, building organizations, writing grant proposals, advising executive directors and board members, building strategic plans, writing case documents – has a noticeable effect on our outlook. As does volunteer work and staying engaged in our own communities.

There’s a basis for this in science. Last January, Ohio State University released a major study that revealed that “people suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety may help heal themselves by doing good deeds for others.”

Co-author Jennifer Cheavens, professor of psychology at Ohio State, wrote in The Journal of Positive Psychology:

“We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that. Doing nice things for people and focusing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.”

Which brings us to this time of year. We’re in the middle of the annual campaign season. The annual appeal is a time of community, a time to remind people that they are involved in something important, something that matters. So here’s our CauseWired remedy: despite what is happening in the world, feeding people, freeing people, housing and educating people, remains essential life saving work and your supporters want to hear from you!    

It is a time for storytelling and inspiration. One of our clients provides educational programming to women who as a first step need to earn their high school diplomas. Many of the participants succeed and go on to an associates degree, a four year diploma and finally a good job and upward mobility. The sense of accomplishment and the actual benefits for the women, their families and their communities, are truly transformative and bring joy and hope to donors whose generosity makes those outcomes possible. 

The end of the year giving season is also the culmination of the year-long work of the executive, development and communications teams – demonstrating that the phone calls, reporting, meetings, webinars and the events lead to the end of year gift. 

It is our experience that those who give at the end of the year are the most dedicated supporters and will not let you down. There is an unspoken commitment, particularly major donors, to provide the sustaining support that they know is needed, especially when other issues compete for attention. 

Trust the donor community you have created. Difficult times are also a time when people remember how important it is to do good. It is comforting to know that during tragedy and trauma, the ritual of the end of year giving remains a source of stability and an expression of community.

And trust us, you will feel better.

Matching Gift Campaigns: Gimmick or Brilliant Strategy?

By Audrey Levitin 

We are all familiar with the urgent need for funds that simply require just one more $25 contribution to save the country. These appeals are ignored or tolerated, and leave me wondering, “does this actually work with anyone?”

AudreyDigital fundraising has emerged as an essential funding stream that leaves people with many questions including the degree to which some of the tactics used are effective. A client recently asked me: “Is a matching gift real or is it just a marketing tool?”

That is a great question! Matching gifts need to be both. Here’s why.

We spoke to Matt Kelley, Founder and Principal of Humansize Communications: “Despite the tactic being overused and abused by some organizations and political campaigns, matching gift opportunities continue to be effective for many, many organizations. Almost every A/B test I’ve ever run with a client showed a match offer outperforming a non-match and plenty of studies support this finding.”

The research center J-Pal noted in one of their recent studies that simply letting people know that a match is available considerably increases the revenue per solicitation by nineteen percent. 

Who among us doesn’t want to increase giving likelihood by 19 percent? 

So how to approach a successful matching gift program? I am going to give some advice that may seem counterintuitive. A matching gift should be approached very formally rather than with the casual verbal understanding that is often used. It should be in writing – like any grant agreement with a stipulation that the matching funds should not be released until the match is met.

“Why, Audrey, why?!” you may well be exclaiming. On the surface, this may seem to make your job more difficult. Just let them give the money no matter what. Why make it more complicated? Why make the match harder to achieve?

In fact it’s the opposite. Formal agreements strengthen relationships by providing a shared sense of moving the mission forward. They create seriousness of purpose that we – as donors, all (although at varying levels) – can easily pick up on. We sense when something is real.

Development is hardest when the staff goes it alone. This structure provides accountability that satisfies donor concerns about authenticity, and answers the question “is this just a marketing tool?”

With matching gifts that question is frankly, always just beneath the surface – and if not addressed  can undermine donor trust. The formality of an agreement also creates buy-in from your Board of Directors and Development Committee and your lead donor, creating a dynamic where everyone is involved in making the goal. Shared responsibility yields great results! 

A formal matching gifts program will raise more money by having greater donor engagement, engender trust in its validity, and most of all build stronger lasting relationships which are the anchor of all successful development programs. 

Want to talk it over? Drop me a line – – always happy to schmooze development with a colleague.