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Nathan Chappell thinks about the generosity crisis

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In RKD’s new donor relationship study, Listen Up: The Nonprofit Marketer’s Guide to What Donors Want,we set out to gain a better understanding of the age-old struggle of donor retention. To do this, we took a deep dive into donor feelings. In this series of Group Thinkers podcast episodes, we’re sitting down with donor relationship experts to discuss the findings and provide insights on how nonprofits can apply them to their programs.    

On this episode, we chat with Nathan Chappell, co-author of The Generosity Crisis, about the idea behind his book and what nonprofits can do to address the declining donor pool. Tune in as we cover: 

  • The idea behind The Generosity Crisis (9:55) 
  • What nonprofits can do to address the declining donor base (14:41) 
  • A donor’s responsibility in spreading generosity (20:52) 
  • How to make donors feel valued and involved (23:53) 
  • What steps a nonprofit must take to embrace personalization (30:01) 

Meet our guest 

Nathan Chappell Headshot

Nathan Chappell 

Co-author of The Generosity Crisis  


“I got an email yesterday ... 55% of the people that they just surveyed said that philanthropy was modeled by their family when they were a kid … Traditionally, religion had been that vehicle that trained most people on the virtues of giving. You know, this idea that people that are associated with any religion are more likely to be a donor and also give twice as much. So, what is that replacement?  

I think this is about ... it is a responsibility of the donor. It's a responsibility, me talking to my kids, but it's also me talking to my kids' friends and my neighbors. And for us to actually talk about what does generosity mean to us and what role do we play?” 

Podcast transcript 

Justin McCord: OK, Ronnie, today may be, this may be as close as we've ever gotten to our pursuit of a connection to someone around the Pixar movie Inside Out because our guest is in the Los Angeles area. 

Ronnie Richard: Which is like a geographic, physical connection. That's as close as we're going to get. 

Justin: That’s as close as we've gotten so far to someone from Inside Out. So, no pressure, Nathan. No pressure at all.  

Nathan Chappell: Am I supposed to whisper that little voice in your head just to tell you what's right or wrong? I'll try to channel the inside out.  

Justin: If you could channel more the inside out ... my typical go to there is George Burns, you know, the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. So somewhere in between.  

Nathan: Right, I'll do my best.  

Justin: Yeah, so welcome to Group Thinkers, everyone. I'm your host, Justin McCord. And with me, as always, is Ronnie Richard. And Group Thinkers is the podcast from RKD Group, where on every episode, we talk with someone who's got a unique point of view and is doing something innovative in the nonprofit marketing space.  

One of the things that we really like about our guest today is that we have a very complimentary point of view, as you all will hear. So welcome, Nathan Chappell, to the show. Welcome, Nathan. Good to have you. 

Nathan: Thanks for having me. It's an honor to be here.  

Justin: Yeah, no, Thank you. Thank you so much. So, Nathan, you're the Senior Vice President over at Donor Search. And you're also a co-author of a new book that is coming out that is called The Generosity Crisis: The case for radical connection to solve humanity's greatest challenges. So, just a little bit of a lofty idea in the book.  

Nathan: Yeah, yeah, we thought about calling it The Generosity Crisis, A Book of Hope, you know, but that didn't fly very well. You know, it actually … we really struggled with naming the book The Generosity Crisis and went back and forth quite a bit. The publisher really encouraged us to essentially, don't write a book called Generosity Crisis to make friends or to sell books that are going to be in stock for Christmas. But you write it because of a calling and because there's a story that needs to be told. That you want to spark conversation. So, yeah, I tend to be, like, this eternal optimist. So, writing a book called Generosity Crisis has not been an easy thing to do. But there's a different side of the story that we can talk about.  

Justin: Yeah, well, and having been able to enjoy a treatment of the book, I will tell you that there's something that scratches that calling that I know I have into the space in reading the treatment and that optimism, even in the midst of some very frank circumstances that we're facing. So, I don't want to jump too far into it just yet.  

I want to start by you talking about, talk about your calling, talk about your career, share for us from Notre Dame to today. Fill in some gaps on how the heck you got here.  

Nathan: Yeah, I mean, I … well, it's one of those topsy-turvy stories. Like most people I didn't, like, ever, I didn't wake up as a child and say, well, I want to work in philanthropy for the rest of my life. And I didn't even know it was a career. Honestly, I was getting my MBA. I was on the board of directors at a Boys and Girls Club. Typical story. I think this happens a lot where the executive director quit. I was there. I’d just sold my business, going to getting my graduate degree. And so, I was like, sure, you know, I'm naive. I was, like, a lot younger and, 20 plus years ago, and said, sure, I'll step in and help out. And honestly, I found … I thought I'd be there, like, six weeks just to keep an eye on things while they hired someone new, and I ended up there seven years at Boys and Girls Club. 

And, honestly, it was a calling because it very quickly changed what my motivations in life were, which was, like, I wanted to sell my company, go get my MBA, work on Madison Avenue. That was, like, my … that was my thing. That's what I really wanted to go do. And, you know, when you're not aligned with what life's purpose is, you know, there's friction there. But when you become aligned with life's purpose, things start to flow. And I got to the point where I never felt like I went to work. I felt like I had a new way of life.  

And so, looking back―that was back in 2000―yeah, I spent the rest of my career in fundraising, and I went back for a second graduate degree at Notre Dame. It's just been amazing. Like, I never thought I'd spend this long, you know, essentially, you know, doing good and doing good business, but doing good with a variety of nonprofits. And now on for-profit side, an amazing career. I mean, honestly, like for those that have fallen into it or planned it, you know, I think, you know, I look at friends on the outside who, you know, they have really good livings doing other things. But that sense of purpose that you get, when you're working in the nonprofit sector, you know, you get to see the good in the world and you get to be part of that. It's special.  

Justin: You know, I don't think, I don't want to miss this point. Commonly, when I share with someone, you know, you get into small talk or et cetera and someone says, so what do you do? And when you actually unpack our role in philanthropy and in nonprofit marketing, they're always somewhat taken aback.  

Nathan: Yeah. 

Justin: It's really interesting. It's very rare that you can have … if you were just going to say, yeah, I'm in finance, I'm in business, I'm in real estate, whatever, whatever all those other things are, those still have their place. But that sense of purpose is, is … it really comes out when people understand the connection to philanthropy.  

Nathan: And sometimes there’s jealousy in that, too. Like, you know, there's like, well, how do I get that? Like, I've had friends mid-career try to switch and, you know, it's, it's difficult because kind of the Golden handcuffs, you get kind of settled in your career when you're younger, it's easy, you know, it's like, well, I'm not going to do pharmaceutical sales. I want to go into fundraising. You know, you can translate those skills pretty easily. But later in your career, like, I have friends, have very successful careers in high-paying jobs that they look at what I do with this reverence of like, wow, like, I mean, it is a very different type of work.  

With that said, I think that calling is, it's more than your mission. It's more than the clients that you have. It's about philanthropy in general. And maybe it's just me, but I've been, like, I feel like I'm, like, a guardian of generosity. Like it's my responsibility. Like, I think all of ours is to protect that, like, I believe and I have seen the power of philanthropy, but we all are part of that tribe that has to care for that. And I, going back to your earlier question, that’s really where, you know, the idea or the calling for the book came because it was, like, something's not right. You know, something is not going well. We need to talk about some things together.  

Justin: Yeah, yeah. We often say that fundraising, we believe fundraising is a noble profession. And so, again, very much aligned. And it's important to reiterate those things because many of our listeners and colleagues, you know, it's, it's also a very stressful profession, and this is a very stressful time for those in the nonprofit space.  

Nathan: Yeah, it's so funny to use that word because, you know, so through most of my career, I started out as a fundraiser and then led fundraising teams, and pretty large, you know, 175, $200 million a year annual goals and multibillion dollar campaigns. And when I would be doing an all staff or just mentoring someone, I would remind them that their work is not about them, you know, and it is a noble profession. That being called to steward a relationship, to do something together that neither party could do on their own, like, that, like, that's just amazing. Like, how do you, like, at the hardest day? You're right. I mean, it's difficult work, but the most difficult day you go home feeling like, I did good. Like, you know, I, I made a little bit of a difference today, so it's noble work; I love it. 1,000% would do it again and again and again if I had to pick over.  

Justin: Right, right. Yeah, likewise. And, and Ronnie, I'm going to speak for you and say that I've even seen that with your transition from, really, journalism as a profession into the space that having also been in the, the journalism space, there was a, a phrase that talked about getting ink in your blood, and that once you have worked kind of in media on the publishing side, that you're really connected to it. And there's something deeper in the space that we work now.  

So, let's talk about this book. Let's talk about The Generosity Crisis and just what was the idea behind it?  

Nathan: Yeah, you know, it actually goes back more than 10 years. I studied, you know, business degrees, but really more on the economic side. So, I studied at Cambridge, macroeconomics at Cambridge. So. I just always looked at things from these, this macro lens of, like, if this happens, then what, you know? Kind of looking out at … absolutely don't consider myself any kind of, like, futurist, but I do like to think and ponder on the correlations between things, and back in, in 2010, I’m kind of a history nerdy history buff when it comes to philanthropy, too.  

In 2010, when the Giving Pledge was created, you know, I had this thought and didn't put too much thought around it for the first year or two. And then in 2012, I decided to study the effect of mega gifts. So really, this disparity of wealth, you know, what's going to happen. You know, the number of billionaires is increasing pretty rapidly. But with this giving pledge, there had not been as much conversation about philanthropy since, like, Rockefeller, Carnegie. There's this massive gap in time where mega gifts just kind of went unnoticed. They were happening, but they just didn't, they weren't in the spotlight of the media. 

So, all of a sudden this thing happens. And in 2012, I wrote this―it was actually a PowerPoint. It was this analysis on the evolution of mega gifts. And there's one or two things that could happen. One is that, you know, this new kind of sense of mega philanthropy would inspire others to follow in and join. And now that this generosity is a spotlight, that's just going to encourage so many other people. And actually, back then I went to India, we did polio, my wife and I did polio inoculations in India with Rotary International. And that was the big Bill Gates thing. And so, there was just like this really cool energy of, like, what's going to happen here?  

But the other thing, you know, the other thought was what I didn't know what the term was at the time would essentially be the crowding-out effect. Is that, you know, Gates and Buffett would fill the bucket and therefore, you know, maybe not me, but my neighbors and friends and family didn't really feel like their contributions were needed as much. And so, I ended up studying that for quite a while. I mean, never stopped it, never formally, but never stopped. Every year I got an update on how many billionaires, looking at Giving USA. I'd go through the fine print in the footnotes, essentially, because Giving USA takes out mega gifts from the total to not sway things. And when you look at the rise of those gifts that are being taken out in comparison.  

So ultimately what happened is, long story short, 20 years later, is giving remains at an all-time high, but it remains 2.1% of the GDP. And so, there's, like, just simple math. It's like, well, if the bucket still filled, but a lot more of the money is coming from a very small number of people, you have to conclude that a lot less people are giving. I think, just informally, for several years kind of talking about it, you know, was that I remember I was in New York on a panel talking about AI and the future of generosity. And I said to the audience, I was like, you know, someone's got to write a book called The Generosity Crisis. Like, I was, like, really hoping that someone in the audience, like, I remember even looking at a person in the front room, like, and it should be you. Like, you should write it because I never really thought I would write a book, and I really didn't want to, but I felt like it was an important, an important thing to talk about because for the most part, now it's a little different this year. This year, somehow this topic of the generosity crisis has become a little more in vogue.  

But for a majority of the last 20 years, like, I was like a lone wolf. Like, I'd be, like, yeah, but look, GDP and, you know, mega gifts. And then people are like, you're an idiot. Like, don't say those words like Voldemort. Like, you don't, like, don't talk about this stuff. Now this year and last year, I think the pandemic allowed this conversation to be OK. And for me, it's more about awareness than anything. It's just, it's, it's not a prescriptive book by any stretch. It's … there are some ideas, but it really is around creating this awareness. Like, if we continue on this path, bad things happen for our kids and their kids; like, this is … we, they will live in a society that's far less generous than the one that we live in. And I think we'd all agree, like, we'd like to live in a more generous society.  

Ronnie: Nathan you talked about that, that bucket remaining full, yet who's contributing to the bucket being very different? And, you know, I think we've all seen that study from the Lily school that shows from 2000. When we look back at the year 2000, 66% of American households gave charitable donations. Fast forward not quite 20 years because it stops in 2018, but it's down to 49.6%. So, you're looking at about a 17 percentage point drop, which is huge when we think about it. So, you know, in thinking about that, you presented the problem. Obviously, you said you don't exactly have prescriptive solutions, but what are some of those ideas, like, what can nonprofits be thinking about this issue going forward?  

Nathan: Yeah, yeah. And it's funny, when you go through this process and you write a book, you know, when you're done with it ... I'm a perfectionist … so, it's like, I would if, actually if it wasn't for deadlines and publishers, like, I'd be, like, five more years, I’d still be, like, but there's a new study, and let's add to that. And there's a new idea. 

Ronnie: I feel that.  

Nathan: Yeah, you know, and back to your point, yeah, right. Especially, it's just, like, you've got to let it go at some point, you know, and just put it out there, you know? Back to your earlier comment, that trend line, the startling thing when we decided to write the book and it, it's like, you know, there's a story. Is that just simple math? If we follow that curve or that trend line down, giving ends in 49 years. Like, ends and/or is in the single digits without any kind of intervention or stabilization, it ends. And I'm like, man, I, you know, I've got kids, will hopefully have grandkids and, you know, I don't know, five or ten years. And it's like, what kind of world is that, like, you know, so, so, that there was a reason this is an inflection point for generosity, like, for sure. Like, people need to talk about that. 

That’s  what we really get into. So that's half the book. The other half of the book is really this call to rethink what we think we know about connection. And what I mean by that is that I think, you know, nonprofits were created to do something together that neither party could do on their own, right? So, I couldn't do this on my own. The nonprofit could do it on their own, but together, we could do something amazing. Somehow over the years, and I think through a lot of, frankly, misaligned goals and metrics of what success is ... and, you know, we live in a very different world, you know, 1.5 or 1.7 million nonprofits, all competing for each other, for-profit companies, talking like a nonprofit, competing for your attention. 

The book really gets us to rethink what connection means. And I was listening to something the other day with Alexis de Tocqueville, and his admiration for America was this idea of affiliation, like, people would, like, they'd connect in their community, and they'd get together, and they would do these amazing things together. And we've become so atomized as society. I mean, of course, from the advent of the TV to our supercomputers in our pocket, you know, we live very siloed lives. The call in the book is really to not think more is better. Stop just thinking more is better. Not everyone is a donor, you know, to your point, only 49.6% of Americans donate. So, the world is not your oyster. But the argument is that if we took the time to really get to know people in intimate ways like nonprofits used to do, we have lots of stories in the book about City of Hope, where I used to work, was a place where entire communities would come together, like, you would meet your future wife. They're at a dance that they would host for their community as a nonprofit because it was your family's identity.  

It's really about this idea of getting back into really leaning into the conversation, the connection with people one on one. And we had to come up with a new word for it because those words like affiliation and connection are so overused and, frankly, bought and sold every day. Like, your connection is being, it's out to the highest bidder every day. So, we came up with this term. The only thing to call it was this radical connection, which is not a one-way thing. It's not, like, I know you or I know this nonprofit, or they know me. It's, I know you and you know me. It goes way beyond an affiliation. It goes way beyond a preference. It goes into a deep, visceral connection, which we'd argue is a very limited quantity.  

Like my ability to connect at a visceral level with an organization or a person is a very limited quantity. I can't do that 1,000 times. I can do that a dozen times. And so, for people to be aware of what that connection is, the value of that connection, and to invest the right time and resources or whatever it might be into that connection, that's really what it comes down to. So, it's a bit of flipping the pyramid. Like, honestly, it's like we all talk about these terms. We're, like, flip the pyramid; more is not better, but better, more better is better. We know this, and this is where I think our work is so aligned between what you do, this idea that all donors are not created equal, you know, only in direct response to even talk about lifetime value, you know, but why is it not talked about in even major donor fundraising? So, lifetime value of donors stays with you, is 15 to 16 times x a single donor. So, more is not better, but more better is better, you know. So anyway, it's just more of that call to rethinking what we think we know about what it means to connect with people.  

Justin: You know, I love that. And Ronnie, your question was, what can nonprofits do to turn this around? And I'm sitting here thinking, yeah, but what about the responsibility of the donor? Like, there is that two-way, you know, piece to it. And when I sit and wrestle with the decline in donors, the decline in households, you know, I start to think about, OK, well, how did the idea of philanthropy come into my purview?  

And it came into my purview because I watched my parents write a check and put it in an offering plate. Like, that was the basis, that was the foundational element. And even, you know, my kids don't see me do that because it's all online and it's happening behind the scenes. And so, I have to be very intentional as a donor in helping pass that torch on. So, there's this really interesting responsibility of the donor as well, which I appreciate, Nathan, you talking about, like, the importance of philanthropy from both sides and meeting there in the middle.  

Nathan: Well, you know, it's interesting. In fact, I got an email yesterday. The Generosity Commission was established. It's being funded by private support in general and Giving USA a bit in there. Really, it's a short-term project, right, to study what's going on. Generosity in America. Yesterday they sent an email out. It's not surprising, but, you know, exactly to your point that 55% of the people that they just surveyed said that philanthropy was modeled by their family when they were a kid. You know, so that's the troubling part, right? Because what is ... and traditionally, religion, in any religion, you know, has been that vehicle that trained most people on the virtues of giving, you know, this idea that people that have that associated with any religion are more likely to be a donor and also give twice as much. So, what is that replacement?  

So, I think this is about, it is a responsibility of the donor. It's a responsibility, me talking to my kids, but it's also me talking to my kids' friends and my neighbors. And for us to actually talk about what does generosity mean to us, and what role do we play? Because that's the scariest thing, is that no one is talking about it, it just kind of evaporates.  

Justin: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, the book also talks about the importance of giving of your time in addition, right? And, you know, I find that to be an understated part of philanthropy. And, you know, our recent study that we put out, it's been a couple of months now, but the “Listen Up” study, we talked about this correlation as well. And so, when donors feel valued and when they feel involved, which typically means that they are involved in some way, their relationships grow stronger and their giving goes up.  

And so, it's thinking about strategically from the nonprofit side. OK, how do I make Nathan feel valued and feel involved? And how do I make Ronnie feel valued and involved? And it is a one-to-one thing. It's not a, how do I broadly communicate to both of these folks or to hundreds or thousands of them?  

Nathan: Yeah, what I would say too, I mean, as I'm sure you see this every day in your work, is that, you know, we live in an extremely personalized end of one world, where whether it's American Express or Audi knows me and when I'm going to buy a car or what I'm going to do or where I'm traveling. And we've gotten so used to that idea of personalization, you know, and just by a sheer experiment, I turned off all of my recommendations on Amazon about six months ago, just to prove a point. And I was, like, I just want to see what happens. And the very first thing it recommends that I buy was fingernail clippers. And I was getting, like, bombarded with, like, you need to buy fingernail clippers because they didn't know me at all. 

Like, we become, you know, we take so much for granted that these companies know what we want. When we turn that off, it's startling. But then, you know, the position is like nonprofits, like, you know, not, I mean, I don't think we're in the dear alum space anymore. That's just, like, you just can't even survive if you're doing that, right? But I do think that expectations for individuals from a nonprofit are much higher than what's being delivered in most cases. And so, I think, as we have to admit and acknowledge, like, it really comes down to if you can't do micro personalization or micro segmentation, you need to get much better at communicating the right message at the right time or to the right person. 

Fortunately, there is technology that exists that has never existed before at scale, that's affordable in the nonprofit sector that, you know. I think the future is bright from that perspective. I think in several years, we'll be able to do literally like n of one fundraising because that's what our constituents deserve. Like they deserve to be heard, like I share in the book, but the worst thing I ever heard from a donor ever was why is the only time we hear from you is when you want a gift? And it's horrifying, right? Because we're not communicating in ways that feel personal and are meaningful in between those asks. And so, there's a lot of work to do, but it's not overwhelming. Like, it really comes down to, you know, putting your, the lens of, like, what do I want to receive as a donor? Like, how would I feel? And, and really, I think if anything, stop trying to boil the ocean, and then take that extra energy and effort in and push that into more personalized communication that you can have with a group of people that are going to go the distance with you.  

Justin: Yeah, gosh, we are so on the same page. We're so on the same page, even down to the use of technology. And, you know, there are a lot of times to where there tend to be, I think there's one communicated and one not communicated, but observed trends around technology, adoption and implementation. You know, the observed trend is it's easy to put up barriers. Sure, it's easy. It's easy to say, well, our data is messed up and, you know. Or well, you know, we don't want to just buy another piece of technology, or well, you know, to have all these objections come up as to why you can't use technology. I think the observed factor there is that it's most likely a problem of sequencing, meaning like, OK, well, what's your first decision? And then what's your next decision? And then what's your next decision?  

Nathan: Yeah, yeah, I, you know, having spent 20 years in fundraising, you know, I actually, for me always have kind of, like, a business hat, like, I used to use the term ROI, like, in 2005. And I was always afraid my car was going to be keyed after a conference because, like, people were, like, over hearing about things like ROI and fundraising. So, we've come a long way in our industry, but I agree that there's a long ways to go.  

I, sometimes, you know, nonprofit organizations just can't help themselves because they feel like, and a lot of it, it's because the motive, expectations for cost per dollar raised and things like that, you know, the ability to innovate is tough for nonprofits because of how, you know, whether it's, we don't have to name names, but any of the rating services that evaluate success means efficiency. And so, nonprofits just feel penalized for trying to innovate if something doesn't go right.  

In fact, I did a panel with a large hospital last week, and we were using, one of the questions I was interviewing them with was, you know, what's your tolerance for risk? And when we talked before, they actually had me remove the word risk from the question and use what's your tolerance for innovation? Because, you know, and I get it, no blame, because when I was in nonprofit, it was like, I can't risk my donor dollars, my board's going to kill me, or we're not going to, you know. So, it's really tough. But I do think that there needs to be a change in mindset.  

You know, people need to realize that things like AI are not … it's not a fad, like, this is not going away. The largest companies in the world are all AI companies. And AI drives efficiency and personalization. Like, that's what it does. And so, I still feel the future is bright. But to your point, there's a ways to come, like, we've got to ... it can't just be the early innovators or the early adopters anymore. It's got to be at scale.  

Ronnie: But Nathan, if we're thinking about this from the nonprofits’ perspective, like Justin mentioned, the sequencing, you know, you have to start somewhere. And what does that sequence … or where you start building this? So, we know moving towards personalization, it certainly requires clean data. Good data, effective data, is data that first step? Because nonprofits certainly have their challenges when it comes to data. Do we need to fix data first? Is that where we begin?  

Nathan: It's always the very first question. It's always the largest barrier, the single biggest barrier that actually, to be honest, is not nearly as big as people give it credit for. So, if you're using all the nonprofit’s data, then yes. Like if, say, you're building models, the AI models on only a client's data, that data should be, it should have decent hygiene. So, it's actually … I’m trying to answer this … but AI should never rest on a single data set. So, you should always enrich that data with outside data. There's so much really good data you could take, Ronnie Richard, add 1,000 or 4,000 data points to that. That would really essentially distribute out that ugliness part of it to a broader, much broader kind of more holistic view.  

But with that said, the other thing that nonprofits have to realize is that this type of approach that we're talking about is so fundamentally different than what … anything that's existed in the past, which has got accurate, clean data because I'm going to build a model from 12 data points or 18 data points, which is a classic regression model, and they better be right, because if they're not, we're going to pay the price.  

Well, the big, big, big difference in AI models is at first your model’s never done. It will never be done. You're not building it one time and put it on the shelf, and it's fixed, and you're going to it. It'll never be done. Then the other part is being able to enrich it with so much more data that it kind of distributes that out. So, I think getting over that fear that you've got one shot at it, most organizations―I think this is a big barrier―had tried models in the past, and they tried looking at personas, and it didn't work because their data wasn't clean. They had a fixed amount of data, and it wasn't clean, and they felt burned, and they don't want to try something new.  

But this new era of essentially machine learning and deep learning is so different; it's hard for people to get their arms around, like, how different it is. So, it's more about trusting, like, we’ll never be done. You got to start where you start, and you try to enrich data to help essentially distribute some of the data that way.  

Ronnie: When you say, you'll never be done, you mean AI continues to collect data and uses the data it's collecting as it's working, right? 

Nathan: Yeah, true machine learning is learning, right? So, like, the Amazon algorithm is essentially being retrained continuously based on your buying and viewing and sharing habits. And so, if it hadn't, it would still be recommending fingernail clippers. And so, it just every time … this never … you'll never be done. It’s essentially every day. This is just a big paradigm shift for nonprofits.  

People are not fixed in time. There is no such thing as a donor or a non-donor or a good donor or a bad donor. You have lots of people that know you to different levels. They are, they're connected to you from very little to very high. And what's different is that connection changes every day. So, every day, if you think about a hospital, someone either has a patient visit or they don't, or they attend an event or they don't. Or in higher ed, they get a degree, or they don't, or they volunteer in an Alumni Association or not.  

So, organizations have to stop thinking about people as, like, binary terms, as fixed, like donor, not donor. It truly is this idea of precision philanthropy, like “n of what?” Like, every person is on a unique path now, it's still a ways away. I mean, I think five years from now, I think we'll look at it―I mean, that's not that far out―but if I look at AI five years ago, from what we do now, it doesn't even look remotely similar. It is so vastly different. It's better, it's faster. I mean, it's a lot better, and it's way more adaptive. So, five years from now, is it possible to think that every person has individualized strategy? 100%. Based on where, you know, where they're at, the right time, the right ask and all that good stuff.  

Justin: Well, man, gollee, I wish we could continue talking. I wish this was ... this is one where we might have to do, like, multiple conversations, Nathan, because this is, we could sit here and talk for three hours about this stuff. I feel like this is great conversation, you know, and you're right, I mean, it's, yeah, I remember having a conversation a couple of years ago of basically saying, we're all analysts at this point. If you're in fundraising, you're an analyst. That requires, that requires that you have some data set that you're looking at to make decisions. So, the sooner that we embrace that and find ways to scale it and leverage it, I think we will see even some of the ups and downs and fluctuations of this past year. I think that could iron through some of those easier if we have better data practices and better analysis practices into strategies that are personalized.  

Nathan: Yeah, yeah, I think, I mean, I'd be happy to. I love this, obviously. I mean, for me, AI is a means to an end. So, there's this idea of less people are giving less. And we, to use terms that when I was at City of Hope, like, you got to work smarter, not harder. Well, this is the way you do it. I mean, really, it is, it allows us to rethink that connection and quantify connection in real time. Like, we've not been able to do that. So, while it comes down into the real simplistic, like, it's about people connecting with people in an intimate way. Technology is a tool that can allow you to do that faster and with accuracy at scale. Not all people are created equal, not all our donors are created equal. So, how do you weed through the data forest and make sense of that?  

So, there's hope. I mean, absolutely there's hope. If we're willing to, quote unquote, take risks and all the stuff. Start where you start and really rethink connection. I’m so big on that, just rethinking what it means to connect with people.  

Justin: That's very cool, man. Well, listen, the book is The Generosity Crisis. And so, you can find it, it's available on Amazon, right?  

Nathan: Yeah, Barnes noble, Amazon. Where all books are sold, I guess. 

Justin: Yeah, where all books are sold. You can also get some fingernail clippers if you're interested. And so, Nathan, we really do, we appreciate you taking time to share with us a part of your story and this pursuit. We really appreciate the pursuit that you have and the calling that you have to raise the profile of this conversation.  

Nathan: Well, and a huge shout out to you guys because, you know, everything I read that you do, I mean, we're so aligned in this approach. Your work is really refreshing, to be honest. When I read it, I mean, it doesn't look like a lot of the other work that's out there because it's talking about the value of building long-lasting relationships, not just getting more revenue, you know, and honestly, that's a big reason why philanthropy is in this way, in this situation. It is because we've treated people like ATMs, and our work is so aligned with this idea of, you know, a new way of, like, bringing people along through the journey and keeping them. So, I love it. Kudos to you all and continue doing that because it's really great work.  

Justin: Right on. Well, no, we appreciate that very, very much. And yeah, we'll have to, we'll continue this conversation. And you know, I think that as we, especially as we get into 2023 and we see how this year-end pans out, I think it's going to give us even more data points. Who knows?  

I mean, you know, there is a trend where the election cycles of the midterms typically spur some sort of innovation for us each time. And so, there's all sorts of things that are bearing down on us that are forcing our hands. And I like that. I think that’s a good place for us to be.  

Nathan: Yeah, excellent. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.  

Justin: Nathan, thanks for joining us today. You can check out any and other episodes of Group Thinkers on Also, just anywhere that you listen to podcasts. You can find our entire archive as well as other pieces of work from Ronnie and the team, all available on our website. So be sure to check those out.  

And yeah, thank you all for checking out this episode. And we will see you next time. See you down there.  

Group Thinkers is a production of RKD Group. For more information, visit Special thanks to our production team, including the talented Ryan Mellinger for his work on mixing every episode. Also, a shout out to the content team that helps pull together research and guests puts the marketing efforts behind Group Thinkers. Suzanne, Ronnie and others for their work on this and every episode of Group Thinkers. 


RKD Group

RKD Group is North America's leading fundraising and marketing services provider to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, social service, disease research, animal welfare, rescue missions, and faith-based charities. RKD Group’s omnichannel approach leverages technology, advanced data science and award-winning strategic and creative leadership to accelerate net revenue growth, build long-term donor relationships and drive online and offline engagements and donations. With a growing team of professionals, RKD Group creates breakthroughs never thought possible.

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