I was just putting the finishing touches on my forthcoming book “Learn from My Experiences” when the phone rang. It was my grandson Donny. A call from a grandchild usually means supporting a school fundraising project. That’s fine; I welcome it. Sure enough…
Donny: “Hi Sabba. How are you?”
Me: “I’m good. What’s up?”
Donny: “I was wondering if you could help me with a school project.”
Me: “Sure. What can I do for you?”
Donny: My class is raising money for the school.”
Me: (“Ok. Here it comes.”)
Donny: “Can you post my school’s project on your social media?”
Wow! This wasn’t an ordinary ask. What Donny was asking was whether I could be an “influencer” for his school’s matching gift campaign. He wasn’t asking me outright for a donation (which he knew I was going to make anyway). He was beyond that. What he really sought was my willingness to spread the word about his school’s matching gift campaign, influencing others to give. He wanted to use my social media as a conduit to spread the word. Donny’s high school had only 24 hours in which to raise $100,000, and the way to cast a larger net and catch more fish was to contact me, among others, to persuade a larger group of donors to give through our social media contacts.
The way this and similar campaigns work is simply as follows. The nonprofit has a limited amount of time to reach its pre-set financial goal (in this case $100,000). The amount of time is usually between 24-36 hours during which a full court press is made to reach out to donors via phone calls, online approaches and even through personal visits which, if resulting in gifts, are recorded online.
To set the stage the nonprofit must have three critical audiences with which it interacts: (1) Influencers; (2) Matchers; and (3) Donors. The influencers encompass a larger number of individuals it can influence to participate in the campaign; the matchers, often major philanthropists, actually commit to sizable sums of money that will match what donors contribute; and, of course, there are donors who contribute during this exciting, albeit time-limited campaign. And everyone can monitor the dynamic progress online as the red thermometer mercury rises during the heat of this dynamic campaign.
But truth be told, this matching gift campaign is not the purpose of my column. What Donny’s call really triggered was a far more important aspect of fundraising—the involvement of young leadership. They are our future and it is this topic that merits attention.
Allow me to digress and introduce the name Arnold van Gennep, a folklorist and ethnographer of French-German-Dutch extraction. He was perhaps best known for studying rites of passage in various cultures. Van Gennep developed a great insight called “liminality,” which has perfect applicability here. Dictionary.com defines liminality as a state of transition between one stage and the next, especially between major stages in one’s life or during a rite of passage.
An example of a liminal space might be a stairwell which by itself is empty but serves as a necessary passageway from one floor to the next. Another example is an airport lobby which serves as a way to get from one airport terminal to another. Liminal spaces are just conduits to another location, but they are critical to get from one point to the next.
I view young leadership as the living and breathing liminal space between the nonprofit’s present and its future potential. As a rule, volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization. Young leadership falls into this category and for a nonprofit to blossom, it cannot just rely on baby boomers. Millennials who will follow will offer their own challenges. The next generation up at bat is the high schooler who is going through his/her own rites of passage—in the liminal state of transition to young leadership, becoming critical to the essential growth of the nonprofit.
The time to plant fertile seeds is now. The poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson is quoted as saying, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” Nurturing this group through fundraisers like matching gift campaigns is exactly the type of encouragement they need as their fertile minds become educated in the ways of charitable giving.
By the way, when Donny’s campaign ended, he proclaimed with great pride and a sense of personal accomplishment that his class had raised $21,000 towards their campaign. If we can fertilize that enthusiasm, nonprofits will surely prosper.
Way to go, Donny!
Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]