Successful Nonprofits : Courting and Retaining Your Donors

How To Make All Your Donor Relationships Happily Ever

Help Donors Fall In Love…With Your Organization with Abra Annes

How To Make All Your Donor Relationships Happily Ever

Help Donors Fall In Love…With Your Organization with Abra Annes

by GoldenburgGroup

Abra Annes tells a tale of two very different development offices. One of the organizations she gives to treats her like she’s a major donor. This smaller organization asked for her communication preferences, sent notes and offered a deeply personalized donor experience. The larger organization, however, used the same thank you letter for ten gifts totaling over $180,000! They never sent a personal note, never called, never texted.

In this episode, we take a deep dive into the donor’s perspective and learn ways your organization can be more nimble and effective at cultivating and stewarding donors.

Listen to the Episode Here!


Website: Generosity Auctions

Abra’s YouTube


(5:45) Abra’s first experiences with philanthropy

(9:23) The top 3 things Abra looks for as a donor

(10:08) A donor horror story and the lessons learned

(24:11) Earning back a disgruntled donor

(28:08) Donor fairy tale stories and the lessons learned

(35:42) Does your board Caucus (and why it should)


Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):

Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. Today we are bringing back one of our most popular guests, Abra Annes, to share her experiences and thoughts about strong donor cultivation and stewardship. Before I move into the intro, however, I want to share with you that we are launching two different group coaching opportunities. One group will be for new executive directors who are transitioning into the role. This will be for those first time EDs as well as experienced EDs. The group will meet regularly and we’ve designed a specialized curriculum to meet your onboarding and self-care needs. We’re also launching a coaching group for organizations that are experiencing tough times that might be related to COVID-19, the recession, an intransigent board or significant staffing issues. This group will provide the support, coaching and mentoring necessary to build success and thrive both professionally and organizationally. If you’re interested in either of these groups, please visit the coaching page at

Dolph Goldenburg (01:16):

Nonprofits, it is no secret, thrive on strong and healthy relationships with their clients, volunteers, staff, partner organizations and, of course, donors. Today, we are going to discuss the all-important relationship between nonprofits and donors and specifically what happens when that relationship starts to break down and not go as planned. We are joined today by Abra Annes, a close and dear friend of the podcast. And I know she’s a friend because she will occasionally reach out to me with the uncomfortable truth. She might say, “You know, Dolph, the sound quality of your guest this week wasn’t great.” Or she might say, “You should have posted this episode on YouTube as well.” And you know, a friend is someone who doesn’t just celebrate your successes, but will tell you the truth when something could be better.

Dolph Goldenburg (02:13):

Abra describes herself as a philanthropy nut. She worked in the nonprofit fundraising sector for a decade before founding Generosity Auctions, which has become San Francisco’s go to fundraising auctioneer company. In her spare time, Abra serves on numerous local nonprofit committees and boards. And she also regularly and actively donates to organizations herself. So Abra knows the donation game from the perspective of both the nonprofit and the donor. Unfortunately, this also means that Abra is intimately familiar with less than perfect relationships, cultivation and stewardship between a nonprofit and a donor. And she has graciously agreed to help us learn from her experience. So please, join me in welcoming Abra to the podcast. Hey, Abra, it has been far too long since you’ve been on the podcast.

Abra Annes (03:11):

I know, but it’s so great to be back. Thank you so much. I’m really honored to be here and hope everything’s going well with you and your family during this COVID time. So crazy.

Dolph Goldenburg (03:22):

All things considered, I think we can probably all say that right now. It’s like we’re just all hoping for the best. But I know that you’ve had some big life changes since you’ve been on the podcast. So share with our Listeners what’s been going on.

Abra Annes (03:36):

Oh, a ton has been going on. Our home and entire property burned down in the Tubbs Fire of 2017. We lived up in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa. We moved to a different suburb outside of San Francisco so I’m now closer to the city. And now I have three children, and actually I’m expecting another one in January. So my life is really crazy. But it’s been fun, very fun.

Dolph Goldenburg (04:06):

Oh my gosh. So what’s it like with three and one on the way? Are you prepping? What are you doing?

Abra Annes (04:12):

I am really, really enjoying spending this time with my children. For a very long time I just wanted to be a strong working woman first and then a mom second. And this COVID experience and this slowdown in society has really allowed me to embrace my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. We’re baking, going outside and having all these family meals. I feel like it’s hard in this society to be a woman. You’re either a gung ho mom or a gung ho working woman who happens to have children. And I feel like this time has let me embrace that other side, which I never embraced before. It’s been actually very fun. So it’s been great.

Dolph Goldenburg (04:57):

That’s so awesome. And I think for a lot of folks, especially people who have not had loved ones who’ve gotten COVID, this has been an opportunity to explore what life might look like when we’re not doing what we’ve always done. I’ve typically flown 120,000 to 140,000 miles a year the last several years. And it’s been three months since I’ve been on a plane. I thought when I first got grounded that I was going to really miss it. And I’m surprised I don’t. I don’t miss the lounge. I don’t miss the plane. I don’t miss the airport. So I hear you. This is an opportunity for us to really rediscover some things.

Abra Annes (05:36):


Dolph Goldenburg (05:39):

Well, you came on today because we’re going to talk a little bit about your donor journey. So where would you like to start?

Abra Annes (05:45):

I think we should start at the very beginning. I remember very clearly growing up the first moment I realized that there was inequality and injustice and hardship in the world that did not apply to me. And I’m just going to tell this quick story. I grew up in Chicago and there’s a beautiful public zoo called the Lincoln Park Zoo. I was there with my mom and it was freezing cold. We went into the bathroom and there was somebody listening to the radio in the other stall. My mom and I were in the stall together and I asked her why someone would listen to the radio in the bathroom. And my mom said, that’s their home. And it literally blew my mind that somebody was living in this bathroom stall to escape the snow and the cold.

Abra Annes (06:43):

I have two first donor experiences. When I was about 10 years old, I adopted a Manatee named Boomer. I didn’t really know it was philanthropy at the time. I thought it was more like getting a pet that lived in the wild. And the second was with Lamb’s Farm, this amazing facility outside of Chicago that is a working, breathing community where young adults and adults with physical and mental-different abilities live and work. And so they work in the gift shop or they feed the animals and they also live there independently in homes. And we would go there all the time because it was something to do.

Abra Annes (07:21):

I remember reading you could donate. And so for my 10th birthday, I took all $20 of my birthday money, and I donated it to Lamb’s Farm. But I remember my parents saying, “Wow, $20 is a lot of money. Are you sure you want to donate all of this? You won’t be able to keep any.” And I said, yes, I want to donate all of it. And I think I was a donor there maybe 10 years. I kept my $20 donation going. And it really just started this love and this journey for giving back. And I have to admit, I have a very soft spot for social services. That is my heart.

Dolph Goldenburg (08:06):

I just have to reflect that I love your take on your very first foray into philanthropy where you say you didn’t even think of it as philanthropy. That’s almost ideal philanthropy; where you don’t even feel like you’re giving you just feel like you’re doing something great.

Abra Annes (08:22):

Yeah. And what I remember so clearly about both my experience with Lamb’s Farm and adopting a manatee is that I would get mail! This was also back in the eighties and early nineties. They sent these letters written from the manatee’s point of view and I thought Boomer was literally writing me from Florida. And Lamb’s Farm also sent these beautiful letters filled with pictures and stories. And I remember reading these and being like, “Wow, look what I did! I support this place!” Now thinking back on it with donor cultivation, those letters kept me connected. They kept me engaged. So year after year, when it was time to donate, I’d be like, “All right, here’s my $20.” And I would mail it in and feel so good about it.

Dolph Goldenburg (09:18):

Again, that’s the way philanthropy is supposed to work. You’re supposed to feel good when you donate.

Abra Annes (09:23):

Yes. You’re supposed to feel good. And you’re supposed to know what’s going on. As a donor, I want three big things. The first is personalization. Second is insight. I want to know what’s going on. What are you doing with my $20? Third, I want acknowledgement. And those simple little letters gave me those. I got them once a month. And they were the best thing that ever happened to me.

Dolph Goldenburg (10:02):

As a donor today, how are you looking for that personalization, insight and acknowledgment?

Abra Annes (10:08):

This is one of my favorite topics. And we could go so deep on this. Back when I was getting those letters from Boomer and from Lamb’s Farm, it was a lot of work to type it up on a word processor, send it to a printer, and get it to my house. Somebody probably put on every label. Today with technology, the ability to personalize our mail, from welcome letters to a new member to acknowledgement letters, is incredibly simple and easy to do. And it kills me when organizations send me such impersonal, uncreative letters and then I get the same one for five years in a row. That’s what drives me nuts.

Abra Annes (10:58):

So what I look for is people who take the time to categorize me. Put me in a category for under 40. Put me in a category for someone who likes to receive texts. Put me in a category with people who started giving during this decade so I don’t get the messages from people who’ve been giving 50 years. You can customize and really niche down. Have 10 different acknowledgement levels. For example, don’t send me the generic thank you letter from the Manatee Association. I give because of Boomer, so send me the thank you letter from Boomer. I save all my acknowledgment letters and I realized that one organization that I donated $18,000 a year to never sent me a handwritten note. And not only that, but they sent me the same letter 10 years in a row. That tells me that the nonprofit wasn’t even taking the time to update their letter yearly to say anything new about what they were doing. And it had zero photos, zero. It was so boring to read.

Dolph Goldenburg (12:24):

Oh my gosh. I cannot imagine giving it that level and getting 10 of the exact same donation letters. I just cannot imagine

Abra Annes (12:35):

10 of them. Yes. And it finally occurred to me this organization doesn’t care enough about themselves to write a new letter every year. It could take you a day, maybe. And they don’t care to segment me. I’m a little old fashioned in the way I give in that I like to give one time annually. Most millennials, which I do qualify for, are monthly givers. But I want the organization to take the time to acknowledge my donation in a meaningful way.

Dolph Goldenburg (13:10):

We’ve never met in person, but we live in this miraculous time so I feel like I know you pretty well. So I feel like you probably reached out to them to give them some feedback.

Abra Annes (13:21):

You’re correct. And I did. This is a lengthy story and I’m not sure how deep we want to get. First of all, it was a hurtful experience. You don’t give five figure gifts for organizations that you just kind of like. You give five figure gifts to organizations that you believe in and that you know and that you love and that you trust and that you feel passionate about their work. That’s how I felt about this organization. And I had been involved a long time, at least seven years. And my gift had increased; I didn’t start off giving $18,000. This organization used to be a donor-to-donor organization where one member of the community would ask another member of the community for a gift. So you would have a relationship with somebody who would either meet you for coffee or lunch to solicit your gift.

Abra Annes (14:22):

Over the years, like many organizations, they felt they were streamlining and moved to the donor relationship manager concept, where there was a staff member who took over the giving. So my initial call was, “Hey, I don’t even know who my donor relationship manager is. I haven’t spoken to them in three years. I’ve been giving perpetually and I keep getting these acknowledgement letters. Who is my donor manager?” And I got a call back saying, “Well, your donor relationship manager was this person, but actually now we’re switching you.” Which I’m just guessing meant that somebody knew that they had messed up and were embarrassed to have a conversation with me so they transferred me to somebody else.

Abra Annes (15:10):

So I get this new person and I tell them what I need and what I want and what I’m expecting. We had a lovely lunch and then I hear nothing. Then I keep reading articles about what this organization is doing. And I call up and I say, “Is this true? Can we have a conversation about this? I want to know.” And I just got passed around and nothing happened. So yes, I gave feedback. And I did say I would like to have a conversation with you once a year to find out what the funding priorities are this year or what my money is being used for or how we are allocating dollars to programs, etc. And even though that was expressed, I felt very clearly it either wasn’t absorbed or the organization didn’t feel like it mattered.

Dolph Goldenburg (16:16):

What did getting passed around look like?

Abra Annes (16:25):

It was extremely frustrating. I have worked in nonprofits for many, many years and my very first nonprofit I worked for was in the Midwest. I had been trained in the old school philanthropy method that you try to touch base with your donors at least once a quarter. It can be a phone call or an email. You can leave a voice message. It can just take 10 minutes. But I was taught that you cannot just call people once a year and ask for the lunch and then expect them to just give you money. Some people do work like that. But most of them don’t; they want to be involved and they want to feel cared about. And when I became a donor, especially at the $10,000 and up level, I couldn’t wait for those meetings and to be treated like a major donor.

Abra Annes (17:14):

But it didn’t happen. And maybe that isn’t how things work at this organization, though I assume it is. And when I called, I didn’t want to be the person that was like, “I’m not getting enough attention as a donor!” But I did feel like I was giving at a decent level and I should be getting some kind of attention. Not because I want people to pat me on the back, but because I care and I really want to know what’s going on and I want to be involved. So I would be passed around to people on the board or on committees or to the leadership development team. Anybody who they thought could have this conversation with me.

Abra Annes (17:58):

And what I really needed was somebody to just sit down and listen to me and say, “You want to hear what’s going on? I know what’s going on. Let me tell you. Let me answer any questions that you have. And if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask them to me. And let’s make this an every six months meeting. We can even do it over the phone.” But what was making me frustrated and exasperated and tired was I felt I was doing all the work that the organization was supposed to do. I felt like I was cultivating myself and begging to be cultivated. And they didn’t want to. My husband is also big into philanthropy. And after a while he said, “They either don’t like you or they don’t care, but nothing good is happening here.” And so that’s when I came to the realization that not all organizations do cultivation like this. Now I’m involved with many different organizations that do incredible donor cultivation and it is so refreshing.

Dolph Goldenburg (18:58):

I know everyone is wondering, did you stay as a donor?

Abra Annes (19:02):

Great question. I was part of a big cohort of people under 40 who was part of this national committee. And part of the requirement to join this national committee was you had to commit to giving a minimum of $5,000 per year for six years. So for the first four years, I gave at above the $5,000 level. My last two years on that committee I had a kid and I had a move and all this other stuff going on. So I wasn’t able to be as active in that committee and so I didn’t give as part of that committee. And so I decided I was going to give this money, but they had to ask for it. I’m done with just sending in the checks and not being cultivated and not being acknowledged the way I want to. I wanted a meaningful ask through a real conversation from the right person. So they had the whole year. And the whole year went by.

Dolph Goldenburg (20:06):

Can I guess? The whole year went by and there were just a couple of days left in the year. And then they called and said, “You gave last year. But unfortunately not this year. Will you please give?”

Abra Annes (20:25):

I wish that would have happened. That would have been better than what did happen. And I still would have given. I know that the organization is so much bigger than the people who work there that are sometimes the failures of the day-to-day operations. And I know that by not giving a gift, you often penalize the wrong people. You think you’re penalizing that was mean to you at lunch, but actually you’re penalizing the beneficiaries. Well, I didn’t get any call that year. Not even a check in call.

Abra Annes (21:07):

Their campaign year came and went. And so the next year came, and I still would have given if somebody called with a meaningful ask. But the second year went by, too. And I just couldn’t believe that they had not noticed that I gave to them every August for eight years and then suddenly stopped. So after the second year I called them and said, “What’s up? You guys don’t want my money anymore? You guys are losing donors. Is my money bad money?” And they were like, “Oh, well, uh, well.” They had no answer!

Abra Annes (21:53):

And so I was like, this is just not how you fundraise! And they said, “Well, let us know if you want to restart a relationship.” That’s not what you say to a donor! You decide if you want a relationship with me and then you work on it. It’s kind of like dating. I really love Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. It’s like being courted by Almanzo. Laura didn’t pick Almanzo. Almanzo picked her and then he drove her to church and drove her to singing lessons. If I as a donor express interest, I want you to call me. I’ll be responsive, but I need to be courted.

Dolph Goldenburg (22:27):

Part of what baffles me so much, Abra, is this organization had moved from a donor-to-donor model to a staffed model. So presumably, before they made that move, they could have said, “Oh, we’re really sorry. Our volunteer didn’t follow up. We’re going to correct this.” But at this point, it’s someone’s job. And they’ve got a limited number of people they are responsible for knowing about and responsible for following up with.

Abra Annes (22:57):

Correct. I was talking to my husband, Jordan, last night and he said he would have called every donor if he ran that organization, just to check in on them. Every donor, whether large or small, current or lapsed. How good that would have felt to me! And, by the way, I might have started giving again. I can only speak about this from my personal donor experience. But even though I am frustrated by what the organization has done and how it is run, I am still as passionate and caring about the work. And I would give again today if treated properly as a donor. And that’s just a big misconception. People think someone is mad and put a big do-not-touch button on them. And I think that’s a mistake. I think if you call just to ask for money, sure, don’t call them. But if you want to call to reinvigorate the relationship and reinvigorate the passion, that call is never a bad call. And I would welcome that call with open arms. I’d be happy to take that call at any time.

Dolph Goldenburg (24:11):

So I got to tell you a true story. When I started as the executive director of the Community Center in Philly, there was a donor who had a high capacity and could have easily made six figure gifts every single year. But the organization had alienated him when he was a $10,000 a year donor. And he had not given in 18 months. And so coming in as the new ED, part of my job is to reach out to all the current and lapsed donors. So I called this person up. I can still picture it. I’m on regional rail coming back from a meeting and just trying to get my calls in. So I call this person, I tell him who I am and I can hear he’s angry and he’s almost screaming at me. And he essentially says, “I know what this is about. All you want is money.” And he hangs up on me. So I call him back and say, “Somehow we must have gotten disconnected. Can we continue this conversation?” And then I spent the next several months building a relationship with this person. I even said, “I know that you’re concerned that all we want is money. I’m not going to ask you for money until you give us permission to ask you for money.” And I would say about six months in, we got a $5,000 check from him. And so I call him up and I thanked him profusely. But he’s still not yet given me permission to ask him for money.

Dolph Goldenburg (25:34):

So we just keep cultivating him. He had an area of expertise so we could call him up and say, “Hey, we need your advice.” And you better believe every time I thought his advice would be valuable, I called him up. And the checks would go up a little bit; we got a $10,000 check then a $15,000 check. And then I asked him to help us out on a project. And it became clear thanks to his technical expertise that we were going to have a short fall on this project. I still do not have permission to ask him for money. But he says to me, “Don’t you think it’s about time you asked me for money? Why don’t you just ask me for the difference?” Well now I have his permission, so I asked him. And he wrote us a check for $375,000. But I totally get it because his first reaction was, I know what this is about, this is about money. And he hangs up. A lot of people will then label that donor as do not call, do not solicit, do not mail, just leave the person alone because they hate us. But I actually think it’s possible to turn an angry donor or a disgruntled donor back to liking your organization again. It just doesn’t happen overnight.

Abra Annes (26:39):

I completely agree. I think a lot of development directors see that gift and think, oh, it’s only $5,000. But you have to multiply that out over 30 years. What could that $5,000 have grown to? For my own personal self, I was set to donate over a million dollars to this organization over the course of my lifetime if I kept my giving at the same rate. And that is a big loss for an organization. It’s not just about the annual gift. You have to really think about it in terms of the future and the future giving capacity. And this donor that you solicited is, no offence, probably only getting wealthier so his giving capacity is only going up.

Dolph Goldenburg (27:38):

And the other thing is that it’s not just the cumulative gifts over the lifetime, but then it’s also those planned gifts. Because it’s the organizations that we’ve given to for a decade or two decades or three decades that end up in our will. I’ve always said to all of my favorite charities that I’m much more generous when I’m dead than when I’m alive.

Abra Annes (28:05):

Well, it’s much easier. You don’t need it for anything else.

Dolph Goldenburg (28:08):

So at this point now you’ve moved on and you’ve found some other charities that are really giving you the insight and the acknowledgement and the personalization that you want. So what are some of the things that they’re doing that will over time cause you to become a more loyal donor and maybe even a more generous donor?

Abra Annes (28:23):

I’ll tell you the things they’re doing now that I really appreciate. These are much smaller organizations, so our access to top level staff is much better than at a larger organization, such as the one from my story. But I value the very honest and transparent conversations that we have with the development director or the executive director. And it really forges a bond. They can also learn about us and our priorities. For example, they have learned that we are very open to solicitation, but we like solicitation in a very specific way. As I mentioned before, I like being solicited one time over the year. I don’t want a spring ask, a fall ask, and an event. And I’m very open about that. They are excellent at listening and respecting our wishes. So as soon as we made that request to only be asked once a year, they actually followed through with that in their next giving cycle. And their ask was also very well done.

Abra Annes (29:39):

The second thing is the acknowledgements. We get these beautiful postcards once a month. And they’re written by the executive director, which is unbelievable. They’re not long, just a couple of lines. But it’s such a personal touch. And we also get holiday cards. And even though they’re mass produced, there’s always a little note on there which I really, really like. Another organization I’m involved with has excellent communication and they are so open and so transparent. They’re very honest about what they’re doing, what the problems are and what they need help with. It’s insight that I always craved as a donor because I really like to know what the money is being used for.

Abra Annes (30:38):

The other thing I appreciate is communication. And I appreciate communication that is not useless. I’m so sick of all these emails that come out that say nothing. I like good communication. And both of these organizations communicate very clearly and very concisely and they also do it in a way that I really like, especially for my generation. So to connect with young donors they do Facebook Lives at least once a month. The executive director pops on for 10 to 20 minutes and you can ask questions if you want to. But for me, if I’m working at home or I’m taking care of my kids, I can watch it later and type in a question so they can answer me back. But it’s a really nice way to feel like you’re interacting with somebody when you’re actually just watching a video. Another thing is that both of these organizations are not afraid to ask. I really love organizations that are not afraid of what philanthropy is. And I’m not offended when they ask me for more than I can give that year or more than I have planned to give that year. In fact, I’m honored. The fact that you think I have $100,000 to give is flattering! I’m like, “Sweet! I drive a minivan ,what gave you that idea? But amazing. Great. Thank you. You think I’m loaded? Awesome.” I love the idea of it.

Dolph Goldenburg (32:02):

Like you, whenever a charity asks me for something that’s far above my capacity, I’m only flattered. I’m never insulted. About 25 years ago the High Museum of Art in Atlanta asked me. I was making $20,000 a year and was literally scraping together pennies to give them $500 a year. So it was a pretty big gift for me at the time. It was the first time that a volunteer had ever called me up and asked to have coffee with me. And I knew what was going to come. I thought they were going to ask me for $1,000 or something like that. Let’s just say there were a couple too many zeros on the end of that number. And I said, “I’m really flattered. I can’t do it.” But the funny thing is I ended up giving a gift much higher than what I otherwise would have.

Dolph Goldenburg (32:54):

But the other thing that you brought up that I agree with you 100% is that small nonprofits have the competitive advantage in the major gift game. I was working on a strategic plan with a performing arts organization last year. They’re in their first five years, so relatively new and building their donor base. And one of the things I said to them is that they have such a competitive advantage. Using Atlanta as an example, if you give $5,000 a year at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, you are probably not going to have that many opportunities to have intimate conversations with the musicians. But the $5,000 donors of this organization are going to have intimate conversations with these world class performers. There’s going to be way more opportunities and they’re going to have more donor loyalty because they’re going to be seen as the value.

Abra Annes (33:49):

I couldn’t agree more. Most small organizations always think that they’re too small to win the major donor game. And I completely disagree. There is so much more access and insight and transparency because you don’t have 50 or 75 staff and you don’t need to go to the accounting department to get this giant report. When you need to meet with a donor, you can be nimble and quick and responsive. So I very, very much agree.

Abra Annes (34:16):

I want to add something as an aside. I don’t want to hijack this conversation. Before Dolph and I started recording, I said, “By the way, I’m happy talking about anything to do with money and fundraising and how much I give and whatever.” And I wasn’t always this way. But I will tell you that one of the things that got me to be so comfortable talking about money, and that I highly recommend for organizations both big and small, is something called caucusing. We do this very often in the Jewish community; I don’t know if it’s popular elsewhere. But we sit together as a board or a committee for two to three hours and people share, very openly, about themselves. Why they give. Why they’re passionate. Why they’re connected to this organization. The caucuses I attend are very open in regards to what we give. We share the amount of our gift last year and our plans for this year and note the percentage increase.

Abra Annes (35:31):

Listening to other people talk openly about philanthropy, how much they give and why they care and their decisions and the feelings that drive their giving, is incredibly powerful and it really normalizes the conversation around money. And if I had to give any organization one piece of advice, it would be: try a caucus. You can start small with three or four people at a time. And note this is not like spy time. No one ever took down what I said and then used it again in a solicitation like. But it connected us closer as a committee. It bonded us, sometimes for life. It created friendships. And it also inspired us. Like if Dolph and I were caucusing and Dolph said he gives $20,000, then I might think I should give a little more or even match him. When philanthropy is communal and open, there’s so much power. I just wanted to mention that because I used to be really scared to talk about how much money I gave.

Dolph Goldenburg (36:32):

I love that concept of caucusing. And I agree. I actually think boards, committees and even major donor giving circles should sit down and have those conversations with members who are comfortable. And I think you’re right. Most of us already have a sense, maybe not to the penny, of what someone’s net worth is based on where they came from and what they do for a living. So you’re also going to have moments when you’re like, “Wow, I’ve always felt like I’ve done better in life than this person, but they’re giving much more generously than I am. Maybe I should think about my own giving and priorities.”

Abra Annes (37:11):

And often when one person shares their passion, it can’t help but stir up other people’s passion. And to go back to all my Little House on the Prairie anecdotes, it’s like when the traveling pastor comes to town and they have a revival. Revivals are basically just people exciting each other. And that’s what a really good caucus could be. My passion and your passion equals triple the passion. I just think it’s a really beautiful concept that sounds really scary and really awful and really intimidating until you try it.

Dolph Goldenburg (37:43):

Absolutely. I started my fundraising career at Jewish Family Services in Atlanta, which later became Jewish Family and Career Services. I know not all Jewish organizations are alike and they don’t cultivate donors the same way. But at Jewish Family Services we had such a high touch approach to how we would handle giving. I will also share with you that one of the things I loved about fundraising within the Jewish community is there really is a culture of philanthropy and people are raised to do this. And one of the things I also want to point out for folks who may not know is that a lot of gifts within or to Jewish organizations often start with number 18 because it’s the number for life and thus a powerful number. So $1,800, $18,000, et cetera. Or multiples of 18. I think it’s a good way for Jewish organizations to culturally connect with their donors. And I think all organizations need to find ways to connect because donors don’t just give out of our brain. We give out of our heart and our soul and our passion.

Abra Annes (38:59):

I agree 100%. I also found that to be very true. I sit on the board of an organization that provides equine therapy, which is therapy for humans on horseback. So if you have an adult or a child who needs speech therapy or physical therapy or has PTSD and needs emotional support, you do it all through horses. We did, what’s called an emotional caucus. So we didn’t talk about money, we talked about why we loved the organization. And I found out things about people that I didn’t know, for example that somebody’s uncle had had PTSD from a war and they tried equine therapy. So even if your organization is not Jewish or not religious or not a school, there are things that bond people together through their love and their passion, whether it’s horses or children with different abilities or social services or homelessness. People care deeply and when you connect those passions, that’s where the magic really happens.

Dolph Goldenburg (40:04):

About 15 years ago, I was in a board retreat facilitated by Mickey Macintyre out of Orlando. And he had all of us spend about 45 minutes to develop our own personal love story with the organization and then to share it with all the other board members. I love that exercise. I have used it with other boards since. But I’m always blown away when some board members look at me and say they don’t have any real love story with this organization. And my response is always: Wow. We need to figure out how we’re going to create a love story for you. We need to figure out what experiences we need to give you so that when you talk about this organization, you’re like, “I love this organization!” I think that’s far nicer than being like, “Wow. So why did you join this board if you don’t love the organization?”

Abra Annes (40:57):

I really love that idea. What experiences can we give you to make you fall in love with us?

Dolph Goldenburg (41:05):

It really is either that or you need to leave the board because why are you here? Right? If you’re just doing this out of a sense of obligation or noblesse oblige, then great. But please take it somewhere else. We want passionate, committed people on this board. So, Abra, I am so incredibly grateful that we got to have this conversation about the way we as nonprofits should be treating donors, which is the way they want to be treated. But I also want to make sure that I ask you the off-the-map question. I know that at any given point in time, you have five or six books on your nightstand. So you may not know exactly what’s on the top, but in your head, what’s on the top of that stack?

Abra Annes (41:57):

What’s on the top of the stack? Well, I’ll tell you what I’m reaching for the most out of that stack. I really love young adult sci-fi fantasy. Which needs a rebrand. It’s just the worst name for books about elves and wizards and magic. Otherwise it just sounds like erotica, but it’s not. It’s the other end of the spectrum. So one of my favorite authors is Cynthia Voigt and she wrote this series called The Kingdom. I recently discovered there was one book that I had never read from the series called Elske. And so that is what I am reading. And I’m also in the process of reading the Red Rising series, which I would highly recommend. It’s like the Hunger Games, but better in outer space.

Dolph Goldenburg (42:57):

I love that. Admittedly, I did not know you were such a fiction fan.

Abra Annes (43:04):

Major fiction. When I want to read, I don’t want to learn. I spend my day being a student of philanthropy and when I read I really want to go somewhere else. And it’s either Laura Ingles, which we’ve just re-read them all with my kids, or I really want to go to some magical land with magical powers. And I also listen to a ton of audio books. So it’s either that or reading.

Dolph Goldenburg (43:31):

Wow. Well, I love that. Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of fiction. I typically read one or two fiction books a year. So I’m going to check out both those books and see if one of them ends up on my fiction reading list this year. So thank you. And I’m so grateful that you joined us today. Listeners, this is usually the point in the show when I suggest you check out our guest’s website. But when I double checked the information I was going to share with Abra, she said, “Wait a minute, Dolph. That’s not why I’m here today. I really want to share my donor journey and help Listeners understand what donors are looking for and how to treat donors individually. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to share my URL.”


Dolph Goldenburg (44:09):

Oh my gosh, I got mad respect for you, Abra. So, Listeners, here’s what I’m going to say to you, against Abra’s wishes: If you want to be working with a person and an auctioneer who cares so deeply about philanthropy and the nonprofit sector that she doesn’t want to be promotional, then you need to look up Generosity Auctions. Out of respect for Abra, I won’t tell you the URL here. You can look her up on our website or on Google. And while you’re at it, you should check out her YouTube channel. It is blowing up right now and has great videos with great advice. Abra, I apologize. I had to do some promo here because you are that awesome.

Abra Annes (45:22):

Well, thank you. I appreciate it. There’s just mutual love through this screen from me to you. And thank you so much for having me on the show.

Dolph Goldenburg (45:30):

We’ll thank you. And, Listeners, if you have gotten distracted because I didn’t share the URL and now you’re thinking you’re going to have to Google it yourself then don’t worry. Just go to and you can find all the information you need to contact Abra. You can also get a transcript of today’s episode and timestamped highlights. We’ve been asking people to fill out the Listener Survey. We turned four in July of this year and never did any listener surveys. Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. But we want to know what our Listeners really want to know and what guests they want and what topics they want and why they download the podcast and why they don’t. It’s going to take you three minutes to answer 10 questions. So please just jump on and do that. And also, while you’re at our website, please take a minute to sign up for the newsletter. That, Dear Listeners, is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.

Dolph Goldenburg (46:36):

I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax legal or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.


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