Hey (Your Name Here), Did You Make “The LIST?”

Some of 2017’s year-end lists are more meaningful than others

Hey, Associated Bank!  Hey, A.C. Buhler Family!  You made The LIST!

Hey, Senator Herb Kohl!  Hey, Rockwell Automation, Patty and John Mueller, and Sheldon and Marianne Lubar!  You made The LIST!

Hey, (insert names of dozens of people you never heard of but would probably like to meet), you made The LIST too!

Did YOU make The List?

We’re talking (of course) about the Partners in Philanthropy (PIP) list published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.  Every fall, each of the chapter’s 325 members has the chance to name two donors to the region-wide list of top philanthropic difference-makers.

The 2017 PIP list was released during AFP’s National Philanthropy Day awards luncheon, where 500 community leaders gathered on November 20 to celebrate the region’s spirit of philanthropy.

The PIP list contains donors big and small, famous and obscure, but they all have one thing in common:  they gave to our community in an inspirational way, and led the way for others.

It will soon be “year-end list” season:  time once again to brace for the “Best Movies of 2017,” “The Year’s Biggest Tech Innovations,” “2017’s Breakthrough Gelato Flavors.”  Some lists are more meaningful than others, aren’t they?

Some lists are also more accessible for you and me.

Want to be on the PIP list next year?  Here’s how:  in the wake of Giving Tuesday, your mailbox is full of solicitations from area nonprofits.  Open a few, write some checks.  You might not make THE List, but I bet the experience will be on YOUR personal list of 2017’s most rewarding moments…

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Take That, La-La Land

As Weather Turns Cool, Milwaukee Philanthropy Heats Up

When you’re from LA, Milwaukee culture can be disorienting.

Ask John Utz.  Days after moving from Southern California, Associated Bank’s executive VP grew suspicious of Milwaukeeans.  “People were being so helpful…I kept trying to figure out what their angle was.  In LA, everyone acts in their best interest; people here do things because it’s the right thing to do.”

Utz’s comment drew affirming nods from several hundred business leaders – attendees at Milwaukee Business Journal’s Corporate Responsibility Breakfast on October 13, where Utz was a panelist on the region’s corporate philanthropy.

“In LA, everyone cares about cars and houses and brands.  You don’t realize how focused you are on ‘keeping up’ until you get off the treadmill.  Here, the competition is ‘Am I a good person?’  When that’s the competition, you naturally want to give back, set a good example, be the best leader you can be.” That culture is why “Milwaukee punches above its weight” in philanthropy, according to fellow panelist Greg Marcus, president and CEO of The Marcus Corp.

Want more on Milwaukee’s “competitive altruism?”  Join hundreds of community leaders at the Hyatt on November 20 for the National Philanthropy Day luncheon hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter (www.afpsewi.org).  The event will honor the area’s most inspiring philanthropists, volunteers and fundraisers – locals who exemplify the region’s giving spirit.

Shortly after Utz’s move, his mother in LA commented, “I don’t see how can you live in such weather!” Utz replied, “I don’t see how you can live in such a materialistic society!”  Sounds like one more solid convert to Midwest values – and the importance of giving back.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Year-End Giving: Going Beyond the Fund-amentals

In a rapidly changing world, nonprofits must seize opportunities.  Grab your chance to be a venture capitalist…!

In your household budget, you set aside funds for the essentials:  mortgage, utilities, groceries, etc.  But quality of life doesn’t end with the basics – it depends on flexible funds that allow you to meet unexpected opportunities, make ends meet, and try new things.

For Milwaukee-area nonprofits, such “quality of life” resources are provided by year-end fundraising appeals.  Before and after Giving Tuesday (November 28), those requests will arrive in your mailbox with increasing regularity.  Here’s why to stop and consider each one.

Many organizations get income from operations – tickets, tuition, medical insurance payments, government contracts.  These pay salaries and keep lights on.  But as with your household budget, nonprofits need more than the basics.  Philanthropy provides the resources that allow organizations to go farther…seize opportunities…bridge gaps…innovate boldly.

The true power of year-end giving is not in the specific projects it supports, but in how it transforms an organization’s “mission confidence.”  When an organization can count on an annual infusion of flexible funds, it becomes an organization that can say “yes” – yes to embracing a faculty member’s new idea, to mounting a daring new play, to opening that community center, to renovating the church vestry.  In short, organizations that receive year-end support can be open to change, confident in their ability to adapt.

In a fast-changing world, you and I count on our nonprofit organizations to be ever more enterprising in building our communities.  They can respond nimbly – but only if we venture capitalists provide the resources.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.


Emancipation from itemization? So long, charitable conversation

Appearing in Milwaukee Business Journal, 9/22/17

As my wife will readily tell you, I hate to give up something of value — even if I seldom use it.  (Hey, my Betamax could still make a comeback, right?).

Financial advisors:  are you like me?  Because you might soon lose something of potential value – though data indicate you’re not using it anyway.

If Paul Ryan’s tax reform blueprint doubles or triples the standard deduction, studies suggest only 5 percent of taxpayers would continue to itemize their returns.  Without itemizing, they couldn’t claim deductions for charitable contributions.

If the tax advantage of giving dries up, here’s what you personally lose:  your opportunity to use philanthropic conversations to deepen client relationships.

Data says advisors don’t maximize this opportunity.  More than 98 percent of high net worth individuals contribute, and do so because they’re passionate about causes.  Charity’s tax advantages provide a natural entre to draw your client out about their passions – the kind of conversation that cements business relationships.

Surveys say high net worth individuals want those conversations and are more likely to choose advisors interested in their philanthropy.  Yet those surveyed report that advisors initiate a mere 17 percent of philanthropic conversations, then stick mostly to the technical aspects.

Sigh. The tax deduction has great potential value for you and your business. Will you care if it’s boxed with my Betamax?

When a neglected valuable is threatened, it’s human nature to either rationalize its loss or rediscover its value.  Your clients hope you take the latter approach – and your  business will prosper for it.

Backward and in heels: the professionalization of fundraising

Putting business rigor in philanthropy – and my brother-in-law in his place

Publication in Milwaukee Business Journal, August 11, 2017


Increased competition…savvier customers…corporate consolidation.  These realities drive constant adaptation by business professionals.

We feel your pain, business-brethren:  those of us in the fundraising profession are buffeted by similar forces.  Over here, a growing universe of nonprofits competes for limited funds.  Donors are harder to reach, ask probing questions, expect specific impacts.  Like you, we’re faced with ever-higher demands to produce – except our “sales quotas” come without a tangible product to “sell” (the equivalent of being Ginger, mirroring Fred’s every move, only backwards and in heels.  Not that we’re complaining).

I have an EQ-challenged brother-in-law (don’t we all?) whose most recent display of cluelessness was about professional fundraising. He revealed his dated, Mad Men-ish idea of it all:  genteel fundraisers rising late, making a tee time with good-old-boys, dancing at black ties and hobnobbing with blue hairs, being showered with funds from corporations and foundations.

Sounds more like a party than a profession.

Fundraising qualifies as a profession; it’s a discipline that requires a substantial body of knowledge, a repertoire of skills and continuing education to stay current.  These days, fundraising competence is certified, ethics codified, best practices verified.  It’s serious business, because there’s too much at stake.

Penelope Burk, one of the accelerators of our field’s professionalization, is visiting Milwaukee soon.  In 2003, she sparked a revolution of sorts with her research on donor attrition.  Analyzing thousands of donor relationships, she documented something that will sound familiar to salespeople everywhere:  it’s easier to keep a donor than to get one.  Her book “Donor-Centered Fundraising” launched a statistically-supported fundraising rigor that has transformed how fundraisers spend their time ever since.

Burk is just one of the national-level speakers who will further professionalize our region’s fundraisers during Fundraising Day Wisconsin, an educational conference presented August 17 in Pewaukee by the Southeastern Wisconsin and Madison chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (note:  professionals!).  At this event, dozens of fundraisers, nonprofit executives, and volunteer board members (and very few brothers-in-law) will hone their fundraising craft.

Hope to see you there (I’ll be the guy dancing backward).

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal; Doug Diefenbach writes on behalf of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Donor-advised funds: on-ramp to philanthropy’s superhighway

Donor-advised funds are accelerating – but some nonprofits are stuck in the slow lane

Published in Milwaukee Business Journal, July 14, 2017

Annual investment in donor-advised funds grew from $9 billion in 2010 to $22 billion in 2015, according to the National Philanthropic Trust.  A doubling of giving by would-be philanthropists sounds like a good thing. So why aren’t nonprofits more excited about it?

To create a donor-advised fund, donors contribute to a personal fund held by a financial institution like Fidelity Charitable, a community foundation like Greater Milwaukee Foundation, or other nonprofit.  Donors earn an immediate tax deduction, then direct funds to favorite charities over time.  Easy and tax-advantageous, DAFs are the fastest-growing charitable giving vehicle.

Yet some nonprofits look sideways at DAFs.  There are no requirements for how much donors must disburse annually, so some in the sector fear that DAFs become parking lots for funds invested in the name of charity.  They would prefer more direct relationships with their donors, rather than through an intermediary.

But Andy Hibel encourages a different view.  He’s founder of The Advise Us Fund, a nonprofit that helps fellow charities manage the processes of donor-advised and planned giving. “Charities may not like feeling a step removed from donors, but donor-advised funds encourage donors to make the leap from giving cash to giving assets. As donors add dimension to their giving, they tend to give more.  These funds become the on-ramp to true major giving.”

Fidelity’s experience suggests Hibel is right.  Compared to similar donors who don’t use a DAF, Fidelity Charitable donors are much more likely to give $10,000 or more a year and to give to six or more charities.  They are three times more likely to give appreciated assets.

Local trends confirm that the funds are not just tax shelters.  Tim Larson, Vice President of Philanthropic Services at Greater Milwaukee Foundation, says about one-third of the 1,300 funds at the Foundation are donor-advised funds, and those donors alone have given $111 million over the last five years. On average, 70% of them make grants in any one year; some of the others are accumulating funds with a larger gift in mind.  “The reason for such strong grant making is because we proactively educate donors about community needs and encourage them to give,” says Larson. “We live in a community that is very generous.”

Nancy Seidl Nelson, president of the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, says the stakes are high.  “Nationally, $40-$140 trillion will pass between generations in the next 50 years; up to one-third of that will come to nonprofits through DAFs and other planned giving vehicles.”

Hibel is confident that donor-centric nonprofits will embrace donor-advised funds.  “DAFs are a channel that makes giving easy.  But philanthropy is still fundamentally about nonprofits building relationships with those who want to do good.”

On Philanthropy is a monthly column in the Milwaukee Business Journal, contributed on behalf of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

“Congradulate” Them on Building a Better World

I recently attended my niece’s graduation.  You’ve been there:  thousands of grads fidgeting beneath mortar boards, waiting for their big moment, in a ceremony that seems to last a lifetime.

We listened to commencement speeches inspiring new grads to make the world a better place.  It struck me that as the grads transition to their new “reality” (first jobs, summer vacations, or — gulp — moving back in with the parents) those messages may soon seem distant and not very actionable.  Unless…

Unless those grads stop to consider all the hometown nonprofits already hard at work toward those “better world” goals.

Here’s how it works:  in his recent commencement speech at Harvard, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called on grads to build a better future – one where affordable childcare lets parents continue working, where preventive healthcare saves costs and keeps people healthy, where prison reform gives low-level offenders a second chance, where continuous education helps people stay employable as they age.

Lofty ideas?  Far away and out of reach?  Only if “right next door” is out of reach.  Local nonprofits like Neighborhood House and Wisconsin Early Childhood Association are making employment possible for hardworking parents.  Children’s Hospital, MLK Heritage Health Center, Aurora Health Care and others are working hard to improve community health and prevent hospitalizations.  Clean Slate Milwaukee is just one of the nonprofits providing fresh starts for young adults haunted by misdemeanor records.  Organizations ranging from local universities to Next Door Milwaukee to Goodwill Industries all help area adults reach for new futures.

Every one of these nonprofit organizations thrives on charitable gifts and volunteerism.  So while your grad is still starry-eyed, point out that it’s easy to take action on that inspiring valedictory message:  just contribute time or treasure to a local nonprofit.  Or maybe even start a career at one.

In fact, here’s an idea:  as a graduation present, why not make a donation in your grad’s honor?  Maybe that will spark a charitable giving habit for them.

That’s a “commencement” that would last a lifetime…in a good way.

For the Milwaukee Business Journal
June 12, 2017

Combo Campaigns Crowdsource Community

Appearing in Milwaukee Business Journal, May 12, 2017

Every nonprofit raises funds to pursue its mission.  And then there are those nonprofits for which fundraising is the mission.

The impact of these organizations goes far beyond the charitable funds they channel to area nonprofits.  Because they are so high-profile, intermediaries like United Way, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF), Community Shares, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Cream City Foundation, and others constantly build our community’s awareness of charitable giving in general.

Think about it.  When you hear about UPAF’s latest successful campaign, your underlying takeaway is “Wow, Milwaukeeans really support the arts.”  Seeing giving as trendy greatly increases the chance you’ll join in — with your own gift to UPAF, to one of its performing arts organizations, or indeed any nonprofit.

That’s why these intermediary fundraising organizations act as “force multipliers” for philanthropy – they don’t just float specific boats, they create that proverbial rising tide that every community thrives on.

A combined giving organization like UPAF provides a one-stop, efficient way to contribute to the performing arts,” says Deanna Tillisch, UPAF’s president and CEO.  “And because we’ve earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating, we provide donors the added peace of mind that their dollars will be used effectively.”

Every year, annual campaigns like United Way’s or UPAF’s sustain the health of human service and arts organizations.  Some donors also take the long view.  “Greater Milwaukee Foundation and other community foundations provide donors a place to invest to address pressing issues now and in the future.  Both legacy gifts and fund investments that let donors see the results of their generosity during their lifetime are vital to a strong community,” says Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

When people know that thousands of their peers find giving rewarding, it’s not just good for nonprofits.  High-profile philanthropy builds everyone’s sense of Milwaukee as a caring community – the kind of place we all want to live, work and invest in.

How Nonprofit Board Members Can Bring Their Best

If you are one of the hundreds of Milwaukee-area business leaders who advance causes close to your heart by serving on the board of a local nonprofit, a recent discussion at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ education luncheon might help you maximize your role as ambassadors to the community and ultimately drive more visibility to your organizations.

Julia McGuire and Melissa Berliner of consulting firm Campbell & Company described several board fundraiser personas that when harnessed appropriately can bring a ton of value to an organization. Any of these sound familiar?

“Avoidance Amy” board members have great intentions about contacting donor prospects but discover reasons not to follow through:  they don’t want to bother people, feel others are better suited, or question the timing.  These board members will do well to remember that nine-tenths of the job is just explaining why they’re believers. The support will come.

“Negative Ned”-types tend to criticize the plan and its chance of success, suppressing the enthusiasm of others.  These individuals often have valuable insights and could maximize success by offering critiques as process-improving suggestions.

For “Financial Felicity” board members, fundraising is mainly math (“To raise our $50,000, we just need 50 donors to give a thousand each…or maybe a thousand donors to give $50 each…”).  We all must remember that fundraising is the art of getting each donor to give the gift that’s right for them.

With the best of intentions, “Rogue Robs” solicit donors impulsively or make similar no-turning-back moves.  At times, this can spoil strategies carefully designed to maximize a gift.  Rob’s energy is a strong asset – as long as it’s channeled within the system.  Fundraising is a team sport!

At the core of each persona is something that nonprofits treasure – Amy’s willingness, Ned’s critical thinking, Felicity’s systematic approach, Rob’s self-starting fearlessness.  Every personality type brings tremendous value to an organization. And your organization’s fundraising team is humbled by the time and dedication you provide.

Written for the April 7 Milwaukee Business Journal

Tax reformers versus the “sole” of philanthropy

I just took my old work shoes to the resale shop.  Yeah, I could have chucked them in the back of my closet.  But I knew somebody out there would want them, and I knew I’d get a receipt for a little tax deduction.  I wouldn’t save a lot — but, hey, every little bit helps, right?

If the charitable deduction can influence what I do with my old shoes, do you think it makes a difference to people who give away millions?  You bet.  Of the $265 billion Americans gave away in 2015, more than 80 percent came from taxpayers taking charitable deductions.

Has anyone told the nation’s lawmakers?

We did, on February 16.  On that day, dozens of representatives from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the national Charitable Giving Coalition descended on Washington.  They met with legislators to blunt proposed tax reforms that would threaten the charitable deduction.

In the recent election, Americans voted to reduce the size of government; the administration dutifully plans to cut spending on social programs.  The presumption is that economic growth will encourage citizens and corporations to fill that gap with charitable gifts.  Maybe that logic works – but not if you simultaneously reduce donors’ giving incentive by ending the charitable deduction.

Fundraisers and funders alike agree.  Nancy Seidl Nelson, president of AFP’s Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter, says, “While making a difference in the community is the biggest driver for giving, tax incentives are important to contributors.  Nonprofit executives need to communicate to our representatives about our donors’ interests.”

Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, adds, “Philanthropy comes from the heart, and giving at any level requires sound financial decision making. Preserving the charitable deduction encourages prudent investment with community benefit — and it also signals at the highest level of government that personal and corporate generosity is valued and respected.”

Let’s keep the charitable deduction.  It’s been in place for 100 years.  It’s helped make America’s nonprofit sector the envy of the world.

Not only that, it made my closet cleaner – and the envy of my shoe-hoarding wife.

Written for March 10 Milwaukee Business Journal