FYI Blog

Avalon Dispatch 09.19.2023

Help us welcome Avalon’s newest VPs and join us in discussing the rise of low-dollar political donations, why people give, how to hold your audience’s attention, and what Hulu’s The Bear could teach nonprofits. Get the scoop on all this and more in today’s @AvalonFYI dispatch!

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Dear friends,

I’m enjoying a week of in-person engagement with Avalon team members and industry colleagues at TNPA’s Leadership Summit. In addition, Avalon senior leaders held a planning session yesterday, followed by a welcome dinner for Avalon’s newest VP, Bill Tucker. Bill is a phenomenal fundraiser with experience on both the client and the agency sides of our business. This will be his second tour of duty at Avalon, and we are delighted to have him back on the team. Welcome, Bill!

Congratulations also to Will Griffiths and Aly Wells for their recent promotions to VP. Both Will and Aly have long tenures at Avalon, are strong team leaders, and have outstanding track records advancing our clients’ programs. Together with Bill, they join an incredible team of Avalon senior fundraisers. Congrats to Avalon’s newest VPs!

Last week, I came across this New York Times op-ed about the rise of low-dollar political donations. I’ve viewed the increase in low-dollar contributions as the democratization of giving and an antidote to the rise of large donors with excessive influence and dark money. However, the author had a different take:

The rise of the small donor has been a key element driving the continuing decline of the major political parties…[and] a major factor in driving polarization.

The article covers many areas of campaign finance, including the influence of Super PACs, and is a sobering commentary on the landscape of campaign fundraising. We are, as always, grateful to our friends at the League of Women Voters and Common Cause and to our clients at the Brennan Center for Justice for shining a spotlight on these issues.

Also of note, researchers at Harvard Business School (HBS) and the University of Michigan are exploring the question, “What makes people give?” This HBS article reminds us to think about the objections donors have in mind as they review fundraising communications. It argues that donors are looking for excuses not to give simply because they are asked so frequently and can’t give every time. We have to remember that declines often mean “no, not now”, NOT “no, never”. The article also talks about self-interest as a motivating factor and makes an interesting point about premiums:

Either you are buying an item with the proceeds going to charity, or you are making a donation and receiving an item in return. We found that the former ends up being a stronger motivator than the latter, because people compare those framings to different sets of behaviors: When you think about buying an item with the proceeds going to charity, you’re comparing that to other times you’ve made a purchase—and the fact that money is going to charity makes it seem like a better version of an economic transaction. Whereas, when you receive an item in return for your donation, your comparison point is other donations you’ve made—and the fact that you’re getting something for this supposedly altruistic act makes it seem like a worse version of a charitable act. So the difference in framing can affect both whether people want to engage in that behavior in the first place and how much they give as a result.

In addition, Knowledge at Wharton featured a podcast on “Surviving the Attention Economy: How to Keep Audiences Engaged.” Researcher Jonah Berger argues that holding attention is not only about your topic, but also about the language you use to present it. To hold an audience’s attention, aim for what Berger calls “processing ease” (making copy easier for donors to digest). In addition, be aware of how your language stirs emotion. According to Berger, certainty doesn’t hold attention as well as language that makes people feel uneasy or uncertain. However, we also need to offer hope for a solution—and, of course, provide opportunities to engage through giving.

Finally, thank you to Suzie McGuire at Names in the News for sharing this article on why Hulu’s The Bear is “required viewing for the nonprofit world.” Author Eboo Patel draws an interesting parallel between the enterprise of opening a restaurant and the enterprise of building a nonprofit. I love this observation and couldn’t agree more (especially since my brother is a chef!):

If someone can approach making an omelet as both a work of art and an act of service, surely I can approach writing a strategic plan or leading a staff retreat with the same spirit.

Take care,


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Allison Porter, President
Avalon Consulting Group
202-429-6080 ext. 102