65: Friendraising: Do You Know The Trust Equation? How To Build Donor Relationships That Last with Louis DIez

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“When you get people together in ways that are participatory, that have a great deal of purpose and kind of repeat over time – that is like a trust-building machine.”

– Louis Diez
Episode #65


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

My guest on this episode of What the Fundraising brings not only deep experience as a successful fundraiser for large cultural and educational institutions, but he’s also changing the conversation with fresh perspectives on both the nonprofit and donor sides of giving. Louis Diez, VP for Community at Almabase & Host at the Donor Participation Project, is sharing with us some of the research and insights that are going to blow your mind.

In the theme of this week’s mini-series, Friendraising, we explore top-of-mind topics such as what it takes to become a trusted partner, how to cultivate the elements of a holistic fundraising campaign, and why it’s important to look at our campaigns through our donors’ eyes. We also take a look at the definition of community and how it applies when it comes to engaging donors in sustained and meaningful ways.

This conversation is peppered with fascinating food for thought, from the changing face of fundraising in a world with ever more diverse platforms for direct giving to the identification of new donor segments and the potential resource they represent. It all starts with establishing that all-important trust equation: Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy = Donor connections that go the distance.

Click here to learn more about upcoming Donor Participation Project events for fundraising professionals who want to move the needle by building better programs and leadership.

There is a lot of overlap in Louis’ recommendation with what I teach inside my Power Partners Formula. Register here for the FREE masterclass to get the full blueprint. You might also be interested in taking my Fundraising Superpower Quiz

Is your nonprofit ready to scale up? Our sponsor DonorPerfect has evolved a powerful platform to get you there. Click here to learn more about how this collaborative all-in-one fundraising hub can help your organization drive results, coordinate development, and foster donor engagement.


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Louis Diez


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Is your nonprofit ready to scale up? Our sponsor DonorPerfect has evolved a powerful platform to get you there. Click here to learn more about how this collaborative all-in-one fundraising hub can help your organization drive results, coordinate development, and foster donor engagement.

All about the Trusted Advisor Equation

Avoiding Overhead Aversion in Charity

Click here to learn more about upcoming Donor Participation Project events for fundraising professionals who want to move the needle by building better programs and leadership.

Get to know Louis:

Louis Diez is a speaker, trainer, and consultant in the areas of fundraising, community-building, and engagement. He currently serves as the VP, Community of Almabase, and hosts the Donor Participation Project. Previously, he was Executive Director of Annual Giving at Muhlenberg College, Director of the Annual Fund and Development Business Operations at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Director of Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS. In these roles, he led teams that created growth in the number of donors and dollars raised through a model he calls the Sustainable Revenue Engine.


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episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Louis Diez. Louis, welcome to What the Fundraising. 

Louis Diez: This is amazing. Thanks so much, Mallory. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you and with everybody that follows you. 

Mallory Erickson: Oh I’m really excited for this conversation. I loved chatting the first time that we met and I love what you’re doing particularly over at the Donor Participation Projects. So I have a feeling we’re going to have a really exciting conversation today. So why don’t we start with just you sharing a little bit about yourself, what brings you to your work today? 

Louis Diez: Oh, my goodness. So what my work is, has recently changed quite a bit I have to say, as excited as ever. I was telling you just before the show started Mallory, we were chatting and I was telling you I don’t really know what to tell people that I do. They tell you at parties oh, and what do you do? And the other day they asked me that and I was like, oh, I’m a fundraiser. But then, I guess I’m a consultant now but I also have this community. But what’s a community? That’s really weird. 

I’m really excited about the way things are happening, where we are in the world, and maybe you agree Mallory, like just the possibilities that social media and communications have made available for every nonprofit and for all of us. I just have a kind of a hard time putting a name on it. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Tell folks a little bit about what your fundraiser journey has looked like. 

Louis Diez: So I started, I was in music school, I had no idea what I was going to do. So I got a bunch of internships in New York. I lived in a relative’s basement for a summer. And I fell in love with fundraising. I was with a consulting firm and I was at Lincoln center for a bit, nothing glamorous. I was actually just like moving stands around and serving coffees, but like everybody has a very weird journey to get into fundraising. So I discovered fundraising as a wonderful place that mixes mission with the business part. And if your technical, there’s a technical part, people-oriented part, and I know you’re a coach. I felt like it was like a microcosm, that there’s something for everybody if you’re passionate about it. 

That kind of kicked off a journey. I went into higher ed. I was a fundraiser there. I follow the boss and then I got recruited and then I ended up at Hopkins. And then I was with the Baltimore Symphony for a while. I never really could find my place and honestly because I knew I didn’t want to be just the major gift fundraising. And then lots of shops, especially the larger, more supposedly sophisticated shops. That you become a major gift fundraiser and you eventually you lead a team and eventually you lead the whole place, or lots of people that would like to. And that wasn’t really my thing. I was always in the intersection of community building. I had lots of very good success in bringing people together, getting people that weren’t giving to give. Getting people that were giving modestly, but have the capacity to give a lot more. We raised a lot of money but it wasn’t like your typical fundraiser.

So that has been the path. My most recent place of service was Muellenberg College, which is a college in Eastern Pennsylvania and an amazing community. And I learned so much there from the team and from everybody. We were able to, as a ranking of the schools whose alumni give, we were able to grow that ranking. So that was amazing, especially during the pandemic and the decline of donors everywhere. And that was great. And yeah, and then in the middle of all of that I started that community that I think you and I connected over the Donor Participation Project. So that’s about it. 

Mallory Erickson: I love it. And you highlighted something that I’ve actually been thinking about a lot lately, the way in which we define fundraising. And when I look at the science behind when donors give and how donors give it’s based on so many things that are not in that moment between the fundraiser, like in a major gifts interaction and the donor. It’s based on all these community elements, it’s based on all this other marketing, all these other communications that are happening all year round. 

And I’m just really curious about your thoughts around this. I have been thinking so often that we have this conversation around how we don’t want our fundraisers to be transactional. And yet we define their work in a situation like what you’re talking about as actually just the transaction we’re saying, oh, no, because that work is community building, and that work is in the marketing department, and that work is this other thing. But those are the pieces that when combined make it a transformational experience for the donor. And so what kind of harm are we doing disconnecting all those pieces that I think you were actually, they shouldn’t be connected. And I believe in sitting at the intersection of these two components and I believe in that a lot too.

And I’m just curious what you think even about me saying that or if you agree. 

Louis Diez: Oh, my goodness. I think you’re so right. And in all of that situation you’ve described, we’re glorifying the solicitor and that’s the person who gets to progress in their career and eventually leads the shop. So interesting. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong and there’s a tremendous amount of merit and I’ve done my visits and my proposals and my asks and all of that. It was just that piece that you were just reflecting on the disconnect. I was talking with a colleague the other day and he said, I don’t know if there’s any science behind this, but probably the success of an ask is about 20% in the ask itself. And 80% in the everything else, the stewardship, the community, the trust building, all those comms that people really don’t, what’s the ROI on this? It has an impact. So I think what we’re missing is not so much like super solicitors as strategists.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. And the integration of it. When I hear things like, oh, we’re cutting marketing. I’m like, what does that mean? You’re cutting all these other communications that typically go out to your donor population and you’re expecting your major gift officers to raise the same amount of money when all of a sudden they’re not going to see all of this other stuff all year round. And I agree with you. I often ask them, okay, you’re putting together a major gift campaign. What was happening 10 months ago in terms of your communication with this group of people? I don’t know the science around the percent in the room. But I think you’re right when a donor says yes, it’s because of all of these other pieces. And that was just like the final leg of a marathon, essentially. And that’s really interesting what you said about the glorification part. What do you feel like that’s doing to other folks who are supporting the fundraising engine at these big shops, but not getting the recognition or mobility opportunities? What’s the impact of that? 

Louis Diez: So that’s totally why we create the Donor Participation Project, all those, like I call them donor operations people. In for-profit firms, they would be the revenue operations, or the marketing operations teams, or the sales operations teams. There was definitely a feeling and a need for, we’re not appreciated, we need to support each other. And also we’ve discovered that there are incredible careers that are happening even right now in people that are in fundraising development advancement, whatever you want to call it, that are out of the mold. The Orchestra conductor who went on to be the executive director of an art center, who is now a technology consultant. 

All types of really people are designing their careers in very different ways. I find that kind of cool but I have to say the situation isn’t easy on anybody. So think of our proverbial, very kind of road warrior, major guest-focused career. What you just described, let’s cut marketing. What that means for them is that they’re going to show up at the doorsteps of people who don’t really know or trust the organization. So that means that’s going to push back their cultivation work for as long as it takes to build that trust with all the pressure that we all know that we have. So it definitely has an impact but it’s harder to measure, right, the impact of those things. Like remember when everybody said, oh, let’s stop doing physical mailings because we’ll do emails. No, that didn’t work either.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. And this is something I appreciate because I feel like I see the Donor Participation Project stepping into the space with a lot of nuance and with a lot of curiosity around certain things and certain conversations, which is so important. And so how do you think about for folks who are we want to do a better job around donor participation? We want to do a better job around integrating these different elements, understanding the ways in which they relate to each other. What’s some of your advice around how they can even enter that exploration as an organization? 

Louis Diez: That’s a really good question because the topic itself is super complex potentially. And there’s a cheap way to do it which is not the way that we hopefully stand for it. You could start saying I’m going to start selling widgets and $1 out of each widget is a donation and then, bam, the number goes up. But if you want to do it with quality it actually includes participation. So the feeling of people participating in, not just throwing a dollar at you, which is what eventually is going to help you attract the type of people that stay with you. Which those are the types of people who, like you’ll probably say, end up wanting to make major gifts, legacy guests et cetera. And that’s the way that everything comes together. 

So one way to think about this is from the trust perspective. If usually trust is required right before making a gift, if somebody is making a gift without trust then it’s probably the type of gift that’s going to be very hard to retain. Okay, there’s an emergency now and now everybody gives, but they don’t really know your organization or feel connected. So those gifts are always harder to retain, not to say that they’re not needed or they’re not good in their moment and they serve their function. 

And what types of things improve trust? And I did a whole lot of research, and actually community-building group decisions are among the best possible ways to increase the trust. Things that don’t work are things like ads, your typical, marketing, your one-way comms, where this is about us. And we’re great and look at all our needs, et cetera.

But when you get people to give in ways that are participatory that have a very clear purpose and that kind of repeat over time, that is like a trust-building machine. And then you still need to ask people and I think that’s an approach that’s much more holistic. So yes, it’s complex because there are lots of different ways to go about it. But I think the path, whatever it is, in that direction. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah okay. Can we unpack trust a little bit together? When people are trusting an organization, in the way that you’re defining it here, what does that mean they believe about the organization?

Louis Diez: That’s a really good question. And I was looking into it for a while and in fact, I’m researching it for a post that I’m writing. So there’s lots of different pieces to trust. McKinsey has a really good model because they actually were very purposeful. So McKinsey is a huge consulting firm. I don’t know how much they bill every year globally, some atrocious number of billions of dollars. And they were very intentional about building trust because they thought probably rightfully that trust is the basis of their work, their consultants, people need to trust them. 

And they actually put it into a formula and the trust equation from McKinsey starts with credibility. So are you good at your work? So are nonprofits, is the nonprofit equipped to actually solve the problem? Do you have the experts? I would say a lot of the traditional nonprofits, hospitals and universities, don’t have that problem. People still think that they’re credible, although that’s being questioned. And people do question the science and the medicine and that whole thing. 

Number two, reliability. Okay, if you say you’re going to do something, do they believe that you’re going to do it? I would say here, I know lots of nonprofits that struggle. Just calls that come in and never get answered, or get answered very late. Announcements that the annual report will go out next month and that never happens, things like that. So reliability and I feel like not enough nonprofit leaders are thinking about it from that perspective, that trustworthy. 

The third factor that McKinsey developed in their model is intimacy. How many shared values do we have? Do I dress and look like you? And that’s why consultants if they’re consulting for the construction industry will look like they belong there. And to some extent fundraisers too, if you’re gonna do sports fundraising, you’re not going to wear your bow tie. So that intimacy, like talk, do I look like I share your values, et cetera, et cetera. Again lots of potential, I can see how that could be problematic and we have our equity and diversity is sure known.

And finally self-orientation, that goes in the opposite direction of everything else. So the other things, the more you have the better, right? The more credible you are, the more reliable you are, the more intimacy, whatever. However you describe that you have better. But self-orientation is like, how much do you care about yourself versus caring about the other person? If you go to a doctor, you presume that they care about you. You know that there are a priest or somebody so that their orientation is hopefully about your needs. If they’re self-oriented, you don’t trust them as much because you think, oh, the doctor probably wants to bill more hours. So that’s why, to get another surgery. And that’s why they’re doing this versus because of a need I really have. So those are the pieces of trust. I have to say it’s a work in progress as you just saw. I actually had it open in a tab, but it’s interesting, no? 

Mallory Erickson: Really interesting. And it brings up this piece I have been thinking a lot about the sort of donor-centric, community-centric conversation. And I rely a lot of my practice on the science of human behavior, the psychology both of the donor and the fundraiser and research, like that is incredibly important and meaningful.

And I hear you say that piece around self-orientation. And I can imagine that some people would say, oh, but if you have it be too much about the donor, then there you are being donor-centric again and heroizing them and leaning into some of the white savior narratives. I happen to believe that there’s a way like when you say that to me, what I hear is that actually the problem that we see more than anything, in my opinion, is the nonprofit talking about itself. And just talking about itself through the lens of everything that it knows and everything it cares about. And oftentimes actually completely excluding even the community it’s supporting in those communications. It’s self is the nonprofit itself. And that the communications doesn’t help anyone feel seen or included. And that it’s not about making the donor the savior but that there’s a way to communicate that includes the donor’s lens that helps communicate from the perspective of the donor. That’s a human-centric way of fundraising that is taking into account this very real and important research and doing it in a community-based and inclusive and equitable and just way. I believe there’s something in the middle. And I’m curious, how you feel about that conversation.

Louis Diez: Okay. I’m no expert in any of this and I’m fumbling around as much as anyone. So I just want to give that caveat. 

Mallory Erickson: Yes. Me too.

Louis Diez: Exactly. Self-orientation, I think you’re totally on the money with nonprofits usually focused on their own needs. I’m also a big believer in actually listening to our donors. And what do donors very often say, you only want me for my money. And I’ve been inside the nonprofit. I know how unfair that felt. And it’s no, we talked to you a lot of times besides about other things, besides asking you. But there’s the perception and there may be something in what we do that strengthens that. I tend to believe that most people are good and want the best thing not only for themselves but for others.

You know to some extent it’s not just saying like it’s all about you. That other person has lots of dimensions to their personality, right? So they may have a selfish dimension and that’s where that white saviorism and those horrible donors come to mind. But in most people, there’s a stronger element that they want what’s best for their community. And that’s the orientation that we want to appeal to. So we’re saying, look, you care about this issue. You care about the streets of our neighborhood. And I think that’s what the self versus the other person’s orientation falls. People are complex, there’s lots to them. 

I think also that maybe sometimes nonprofits do things that bring up the worst in the donor, pandering behaviors. So I don’t think it’s black and white, I think we also draw a little bit from the other person. And I think that a lot of this community building and the sense that I’ve come to understand that I don’t know that it’s exactly the same as in the community-centric movement tends to mitigate those bad things, tends to emphasize what the group needs and things like that. I don’t know. It’s very nuanced and it’s a hard conversation.

Mallory Erickson: I know, but you know what I really appreciate you going there because I think the reality is that the most meaningful and effective and ultimately the path forward that’s going to help us accomplish the goals that nonprofits are trying to accomplish, is going to require some new. And it’s going to require some uncomfortable conversations and it’s going to require us to talk about things and say, hey, what about this? Does this cause harm? Or how does this feel for our donors? I think that when we try to stay in just a place of comfort fundraising, then we’re doing status quo fundraising. We’re not going to actually get better, be more innovative, engage our donors differently without some level of discomfort. Because that’s just what happens from trying something new.

The piece you said that I just really want to double click on for folks who are listening to this, is that piece around that when you’re rooted in alignment around your values and what you’re trying to do, it doesn’t actually have to be you-centric or me-centric, it’s us centric. And what we’re saying is we know you care about blank. We care about that too. And so it actually gets to be in that gray space that it’s not about us, and it’s not about you. It’s not that white savior harmful behavior. And we’re not just like being in our own little bubble like we’re nonprofit we need this, you have money. We don’t have money, can you give us some of your money? It’s we actually want to have the same thing.

But I honestly, I fundraised like that for a long time. That was how I was taught to fundraise basically was asking board members to open their Rolodex. Who do you know who has money, try to make the case around why you deserve some of that money. And that was it. And feel super uncomfortable in the process but never talked about it. And never really tapping into, wow actually, because I believe what you believe about humans, that so many people actually want the same thing. They might not know how to create that same thing. They might not know the path to that, how they can participate in that, what it looks like to feel like they belong in that community. Are they going to feel safe in that community? But it doesn’t mean they don’t want what you want.

Louis Diez: Yeah, no. And putting ourselves in the feet of others. What you just said resonated with me, they don’t know if they’re going to feel wanted or welcomed in that community. I think that applies to everybody even our high-net-worth individual donors. So yeah, I really like how you framed it of coming at it more from like a partnership perspective which I think sets a very different power dynamic. And maybe the pandemic helped with that because we were like in people’s kitchens.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I agree.

Louis Diez: Versus the superpower thing where you go into somebody’s boardroom and they sit you at the very end and you have to make your case. And I was just like feeling the shivers because I’ve been there too. 

So I have another topic for you. 

Mallory Erickson: Give it to me. 

Louis Diez: Okay, in the following the line of these like slightly controversial topics, overhead. Let me say a little bit of background and hopefully people have a way of getting back to you or me and sharing their thoughts. But that’s another space where I feel like there’s an opportunity for a more nuanced conversation around that. And I’ve really been on both sides of the equation.

People are very firm in their ideas. But there seems to be some studies where telling people that if you solicit people and you tell them that overhead is paid for by somebody else, you raised a lot more money. And I was always surprised by these studies. And I can send you a link afterward, Mallory. And it was like double. So like you raised not only double the amount of dollars, but double the amount of donors. Versus saying you’re going to use money for a match or using that you’re going to use it as seed money.

So immediately where people come at this as well, we have to educate. And I want to approach this like more of a conversation starter, but this is another place where people are like very no, we have to educate. I’m not even going to think it through, we’re just never going to do that. And to me, in an industry that is essentially declining by the number of donors. I feel like we need to have those hard conversations and is there a way to educate and also get a similar message out? In general, there are studies that show that when donors are asked to give to an organization with high overhead versus low overhead, they give less to the low overhead organization because they think they’re getting smarter.

So it’s confusing. What does that mean? Like they like overhead, but they don’t want to pay for it. So then what does that mean? What does that mean for our major donors who essentially often get an overhead-free experience? Like they get to make a restricted gift and that 100% of that goes to the cause, but then we ask our more modest donors to support the overhead. Is that fair? I see lots of angles to it. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I really appreciate this conversation. I certainly feel like I’m probably one of the people who’s come out pretty strong in support of certain elements of donor education. Although I would say that I tend to talk a lot about the major donor conversation around it, what to say in the room with that donor. Because I actually feel like that’s the biggest opportunity to really shift understanding of overhead and the narrative around, what I think what you were saying before around pandering to donors. I think we don’t often in those major donor conversations, but just open up a conversation around the impact of what even that overhead is that we’re talking about. And we don’t create those more nuanced conversations and I feel pretty strongly that’s a place for really dynamic and interactive education around it. 

I also think the other piece is, you and I have very different fundraising experiences. Like you’ve worked in these big shops with big overhead. I’ve worked in these really like small mid-size organizations with nowhere near enough overhead to support the work that we were doing. And so I think this is the other place that it’s really complicated is that it’s not one size fits all. And even how we determine overhead, what we call overhead. Those look so different in different places. And so I think what we need is more nuanced education. We don’t just need more posters that say overhead is good. But we need more nuance conversations around what is happening? What’s the purpose of nonprofits? What’s happening inside of them? And what is the reason for all of these different elements perhaps? 

I also think this other point that you’re making I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that sometimes I do worry about really influential nonprofits having big campaigns around a lack of overhead because I worry that reinforces the language that we shouldn’t have overhead. And that as an umbrella statement can be dangerous. And when we as a sector or organizations in the sector are perpetuating a hundred percent model campaigns, I do believe it can be harmful to people’s education around the nonprofit sector. 

And the conversations I have had in there, which I also really understand and see is the hundred percent model is a marketing campaign. It’s like understanding that a certain group of your donor base don’t necessarily understand overhead. And you’re not going to be able to educate them and change their opinion about that in a certain amount of time. But there is a way to really positively engage them in your mission. And so why not build a program or one fundraising part of your engine that can share that message in a way that’s compelling, engaging, creates participation, and have your overhead covered everywhere. 

And I actually agree with that for a charity water who has also created a 0% program, right? They have the well, and what I wish organizations were saying more of how did they build that? How did they have conversations with major donors to give 0% to program? That’s what’s interesting to me, like that’s the wisdom. And so I think it is nuanced. 

Louis Diez: I’m learning so much from you today, Mallory. But something that I also thought was you mentioned how everybody’s perspective and experience with fundraising informs how they come into these conversations. And I find that a lot of the pushback against this especially comes from organizations that to me feel like they do a lot of fundraising from foundations and grants. Where definitely yes, you need to prospect, there’s a lot of education and lobbying to do it probably in a very public way. Because that’s what moves them, they’re not individually. 

So that’s also another thing I noticed and I loved how you compared both of our experiences. I think another of those sector-wide things that people don’t think about and that is affecting the number of people giving to nonprofits is trust again, going back to our conversation earlier, right? So lots of nonprofits do things that might maximize their returns in the short term but that reduces trust in the sector. I know you’re not going to hold every nonprofit accountable for what they do, but over time I think it’s adding up. And I don’t know how we solve that.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I totally agree. I was speaking recently at some event and it just came out of my mouth in a response to someone. I was like we are stewarding each other’s donors, period. Like most donors are giving to five to seven nonprofits and we are stewarding each other’s donors. And so how we treat them impacts everybody. And I think what we’ve seen a lot recently, and I wonder if you’ve explored this in the Donor Participation Project, is I feel like there are new opportunities for generosity that perhaps didn’t exist 10 years ago, for expressing your values and for expressing generosity. Be it Bcorpse, or what we saw with Ukraine using Airbnb.org, or Etsy to buy digital art. The diversity in ways that we as humans get to connect and be generous and solidify that piece of identity has really grown.

And so that then this interesting question around when people are not showing up to nonprofits in a time of crisis but seeking out other ways to make a positive impact, what does that say about how they’ve been treated here? 

Louis Diez: Yeah, treated and again whether they believe that nonprofits are the best way to solve it. Ease of use people giving directly on Facebook. So I don’t think there’s any doubt that the human spirit and especially the spirit in this country is exceptionally generous, probably as generous as ever. It’s just that the ways are changing which I guess is another conversation like are nonprofits the best structure for our needs nowadays from what they were in the past. But I think that’s three or four more podcasts. 

Mallory Erickson: That’s probably a whole series. Yeah. And I think just like with everything else the answer is sometimes and sometimes not. And I think there’s no kind of one size fits all there. Yeah, I think it’s good for us to be open. And I think sometimes the nonprofit sector can get, and I was definitely in this camp, a little bit self-righteous at times. I think this is what makes our communication very tunnel vision around our own perspective is we are a little bit on our high horse about the work that we do. And we don’t recognize that the way feels to donors or comes off to donors or that it isn’t. It’s doing the exact opposite of what you’re trying to encourage people to do, which is build community, build two-way communication, build participation, doing this together. So talk to me a little bit about how you think about community building and that element of donor participation.

Louis Diez: Sure. So I did a little bit of research because as you see that’s how I try to understand things. And I came up with this definition that I really liked. So community is when people get together in ways that are participatory, that are purposeful, that are recurring, and that identify leaders.

And that felt like it’s a definition that people were using in tech. But it felt like something that was very appropriate to the nonprofit works and to the projects and the campaigns that I run in this way, which is a very similar model to how we run our boards. We’re not reinventing anything, we are maybe just describing it so we can do more of it.

Think of your board or any other good volunteer group, right, it’s participatory. They have a say, it’s a back and forth, it’s recurring. So this is where lots of nonprofits I feel like they do something really good, but then it’s just a once and done. So to build community you actually have to build in that kind of habit of getting together and the best way to do that is to say, this is a thing that happens every first Monday of the month, or just turn it into something. This happened to us and the Donor Participation where I forgot to schedule one of our monthly calls after a while and people were writing me like aren’t we meeting on Wednesday? What, was there an expectation about this? It’s recurring, it’s purposeful. 

So okay, people can get together and they get together maybe in groups related to our nonprofit. And lots of nonprofits have what I call it their sub-communities, shadow communities, people get together. If you have volunteers, if you have alumni patients, if you have audience members, they’re going to form their own groups whether you want it or. Especially now with social media, et cetera. Your task is to either create ones or try to influence in a very positive and supportive way the ones that already exist so that they take some of your purpose. They adopt some of your purpose. And your purpose could be helping students, medical research, ending cancer and homelessness, whatever it is. But that purpose is important. Otherwise, it’s just people getting together and that’s like lots of times what people fault for in galas where it’s just a party. It’s not purposeful. 

And then finally you identify leaders. So there’s always going to be people who want to do more, who lift their hand when asked for help, who will go that extra mile, who will lead their own groups that you can rely on to take the work forward, either growing the community, either making larger gifts. This is also where community and major gifts work comes together nicely. That’s the framework I use to think about whether something is good or bad. 

So I’ll give you an example. We talked about a gala, right? So is it participatory, maybe, a little bit, probably the only participation they want is you giving. Is it purposeful? Some of them are, some of them aren’t, good. Is it recurring? Usually, it’s a yearly thing, so that’s good. It builds momentum and people expect it. And does it identify leaders, some galas are done with a committee and that type of committee volunteer work is pretty valuable in and of itself, it doesn’t meet others.

The Donor Participation Project is putting on it’s learning course slash event for fundraisers to learn about gaming fundraising, as in kind of the people that are on Twitch and fundraising or those communities that get together and raise a ginormous amount of money for a cause. We want to teach people and learn ourselves how to leverage this for every nonprofit. Two-thirds of the US population play video games. So probably that’s a ton of people in your donor file and a way to bring new people and that meets those characteristics. So is it participatory, a lot! You’re playing, it’s back and forth. Is it purposeful? That’s what we need to crack. We need to give it a purpose. It’s not just about a playing game. Is it recurring? These people are, and I don’t want to say addicted, but they’re pretty, the people that play. And does it identify leaders, again maybe that’s the work of the development office finding your maybe most well-known gamers or find the community leaders inside this kind of video game communities. That’s how I try to approach this work in a kind of, 

Mallory Erickson: I love it. Okay. Can we talk about the purpose piece for a second? One thing I wonder when you were talking about that, something that came up for me is how I feel like I’ve sat in on a lot of subcommittee meetings where folks were brought together around helping for a gala or helping for this other thing. And it’s not a very engaged environment and there’s a lot of kind of repetitive brainstorming meetings and not a whole lot of action. And the development director, I think feels nervous about holding those volunteers accountable and that maybe people would leave the committee if there was a higher level of requirement. 

But the reason I was thinking about that based on what you said is okay, but if you just have a meeting every month to talk about this issue and keep brainstorming how the group is gonna have this impact on the organization and that never leads to action. Or it never leads to fundraising, or it doesn’t ultimately lead to a successful event. Then does that break the trust piece around whether or not it’s actually purposeful? I’m just curious how you think about that. Is purpose in a statement, is purpose in an action, is it in the intersection of both of that? What have you seen there? 

Louis Diez: So something else I discovered building communities is that this kind of ideal that everybody’s going to be on equal footage and things are going to happen miraculously is not so accurate. So it’s like any business meeting, there has to be somebody who is moving things along. And sometimes that development director, you’re a project manager, you’re just moving things in the right direction.

So another thing I told my teams all the time is, lead with the purpose. So even if you think that the purpose is clear, people forget it. They’re busy. When they meet, they just show up and you need to remind them every single time what the purpose of this is. And then you need to guide them, people do, and I never found any resistance, you need to guide them toward unintended outcome and you need to let them know their deadlines and things to be done in a way that’s not, some people say either do this or you’re out. I think there’s mileage for very different approaches. But you still need to say, hey, this needs to happen. It’s just not going to happen. I find that the problems were more on that end of things, the volunteers they just, they’re, well-meaning, they’re really accomplished, but they also need to be given a little bit of structure.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Okay. I really appreciate that. 

Louis Diez: Does this resonate with kind of the situations you had in your mind? 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I would say yes. I think what you said, that’s super important there. I liked everything that you said, but I think the thing I would double-click on is just that there’s not going to be some miraculous output from committees without a driver. And I think some people maybe think that the recruitment of the volunteers was the action they needed to take. And then the ship’s going to sail by itself. And so I think just reframing and understanding that’s not actually how these things work and it’s not bad that people are not taking action without your guidance. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care. Maybe it doesn’t even mean that they’re not engaged. It just means that they don’t have the direction and support that they need actually to continue to play that role.

And I love the reminder of purpose. I think there’s also something to be said for just starting meetings with a practice that brings everyone back to that purpose, sharing something out that reconnects to that purpose. So I love all of that. Yeah. I’d love that. Okay an hour just flew by. We could have four more of these. But I’m so grateful for your time. Tell everyone where they can find you. Where do you like to connect with folks and how they can get involved in the Donor Participation Project if they’re interested.

Louis Diez: You’re so kind Mallory, and we’re going to have you back for a DPP office hours on LinkedIn. So I’ll send you the link after that. If you want to join the Donor Participation Project, it’s really easy. Just go to joinPPD.org. So joindpp.org. You can sign up there. It’s free. Just check it out. You can go there and see the types of events we’ve had. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. So Louis Diez. And I look forward to continuing the conversation. Thanks so much, Mallory.

Mallory Erickson: Thank you.

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