In this episode of Intentional Fundraiser Podcast, I'm talking with Tim Sarrantonio, the Director of Corporate Brand at Neon One. They're a provider of innovative, end-to-end nonprofit software solutions. We're talking about The Future of Individual Giving, something that we are all keenly interested in.
Tim is an internationally renowned speaker on generosity, technology, and all the trends in the social goods sector. After helping causes raise more than $3 million, he moved to provide support for thousands of nonprofits. Through his work at Neon One, he has spoken at the AFP international conference, NTEN conference, and TEDx. And Tim holds a certificate in Philanthropic Psychology from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy.
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Tammy Zonker: In this episode of Intentional Fundraiser Podcast, I'm talking with Tim Sarrantonio, the Director of Corporate Brand at Neon One. They're a provider of innovative, end-to-end nonprofit software solutions. We're talking about The Future of Individual Giving, something that we are all keenly interested in.
Tim is an internationally renowned speaker on generosity, technology, and all the trends in the social goods sector. After helping causes raise more than $3 million, he moved to provide support for thousands of nonprofits. Through his work at Neon One, he has spoken at the AFP international conference, NTEN conference, and TEDx. And, Tim holds a certificate in Philanthropic Psychology from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy.
Tim lives in upstate New York with his lovely wife, three lovely daughters, and, as he puts it, two perfectly fine cats.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yes, they're all right. They're okay.
Tammy Zonker: Welcome to the show, Tim.
Tim Sarrantonio: Thank you, Tammy, for having me. Thank you.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah, it's our pleasure. So, Tim, when we talked at the AFP international conference in Las Vegas this year, you had a hot off-the-press neon One report titled donors understanding the future of individual giving, which is phenomenal. I've already dog-eared it. I have it digitally and in print. I mean, it's an incredible resource.
Tim Sarrantonio: Well, thank you. It's already out of date.
Tammy Zonker: Yes. Such is the nature of research.
Tim Sarrantonio: We can get into that. And that's not only an intentional choice but how we approached it in the future state, too.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah, that makes sense. So the report aims to answer the question, where is individual giving going in a post-pandemic world? Tell us about this exciting report, the research behind it, and what Neon One sees for the future.was based on information from:
Tammy Zonker: So much.. And so that was around July:
Tammy Zonker: Yeah, like the Rosetta Stone, I think.
Tim Sarrantonio: Exactly. Just got to try to find it. Right. And so that also held true to a few core things that I think are important that, in turn, Neon One tries to keep as kind of their brand values, which is like authenticity, making it actionable and making it accurate. Right. It's got to be useful, it's got to be easy, and it's got to be something that works. And so that's kind of how we did it. So if somebody like Blumerang or Blackbaud put out good data, guess what we're going to talk about? A lot of times, those get suppressed. That gets through the review process because I'm in marketing, right? I know how these things work. And so it goes through the review process, and it gets caught. Now I think let's just link to another thing, right?
Tammy Zonker: Right.
Tim Sarrantonio: So that's kind of where it came from. But we wanted to focus on just that core set of questions around individual giving. So grants, foundation giving, and those had their own trends, but that's not what we discussed here either. So that's a meandering answer for you.
Tammy Zonker: I love it, and I just want to distinguish really how generous to essentially publish and talk about research data from essentially your competitors. Right? Because Neon One, you and your colleagues are committed to the greater good. And I just want to acknowledge that because I think it just speaks to the quality and the character of you and your organization.
Tim Sarrantonio: The reality is that the vast majority of the nonprofit sector, 97%, makes under $5 million total, right? The real enemy isn't somebody from the outside, a competitor, even in business, to call people enemies and stuff is weird, right? But some folks do take it that way. The real concern, the real enemy, is the apathy that's happening outside the sector, toward the sector and things like eCommerce usage for Netflix and Disney Plus. That's where the real concern is. It's not the internal nonprofit tech space, whatever. They do their thing. For me, when I look at it, it's like, Jeff Bezos is going to take your donor's money. It's going to be Elon Musk. He will suck up that thing with whatever weird thing he's come out with. And we're going to then hear through perhaps things like effective altruism that nonprofits aren't as efficient as they can be in delivering good. And it turns out they are. They are, they are. There's a lot of misinformation. So thank you for acknowledging that. I like to reframe it for folks listening that don't use tech that helps you. The real concern is that these things are taking the attention away from the work we're doing.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah, really powerful. So, Tim, what surprised you or excited you the most about the findings you published in the report?billion in analysis from:
Tammy Zonker: No, there's no one like you.ike me. Most people donate at:
Tammy Zonker: Amazing.
Tim Sarrantonio: But here's the fascinating thing. Remember, if I'm worrying about the guardians at the gate of the eCommerce world and the venture capitalists coming in and the tech bros coming in and saying, I know how to be better at fundraising than you, it means that I need to study that, too. When are most people, and this is pandemic-related data, when do you think most people are doing their online eCommerce shopping? So what that tells us is know what is activating people that will capture their attention, but we have the leg up. This is what I always like to say. The other things that I learned through Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy. Chapter five is an existential chapter of, like, looking in the mirror and saying, why? And the human brain is wired to give. We are inherently generous as humanity, right? That's why philanthropy means love of humanity, right? And so that means that we have an advantage biologically over eCommerce. If we can make the experience pleasurable, then people are more likely to give their money to us psychologically, biologically than do I really need this other trinket that's being thrown in front of me?
Tammy Zonker: Right? And we'd likely get a bigger boost of oxytocin. Those feel-good hormones, chemicals rushing through our body when we make a gift to change a life versus a new hand mixer.
Tim Sarrantonio: Regardless of your income, the University of Michigan's data panel looks at the demographics across a wide variety of items. They found that regardless of your income, you're giving to charity a portion of your annual revenue. Even at the lowest income levels in the United States, people are giving to charities. There are still great things like mutual aid that can sometimes, in an emergency, especially be very impactful to get money to versus a little bit slower bureaucracy. We've seen this in places like Haiti, for instance. But more often than not, if you're looking for long-term institutional change, the nonprofit space is the best place to put that money.
Tammy Zonker: It reminds me of something else I read in the study. You talk about how we are hardwired to give, and most people households are giving households. And it was fascinating to me when you looked at demographics like race, that people of color specifically, I think it called out African American, or black folks give a greater percentage of income than Caucasians. Which kind of flies in the face of some of the stereotypes we've had in the sector.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah, black families give more than white families per capita, and that's from the Federal Reserve directly. So that's one of the things that helps, is that the data is the data, right? So one of the things that we did in the report was we also invited voices from outside our company to round out perspectives that we might not bring or know about. So Sabrina Walker Hernandez, for instance, a fantastic consultant, does a lot of different work, but she wrote about black philanthropy in America specifically, and that bookended the why chapter. So we even put the report's first chapter out without needing to enter an email or anything like that. Got to enter the email if you want the whole report, right? Timmy's got to pay his bills somehow, so I got to get some numbers there, folks. But on Gating, content is important to us too. A lot of people force you to have to enter some sort of transactional email situation or to get stuff. So we put the first chapter out, and I was really happy. It was that chapter in particular because of the demographics chapter. And so it was like your potential board member leadership or even your own long-held assumptions about your donor base are most likely wrong.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. Powerful.
Tim Sarrantonio: And you work with a lot of folks. To me. I'm turning around. This is not just a one-way conversation. I got a question for you when you went through that. How are most leaders approaching that type of question if they're even thinking about it?
Tammy Zonker: Yeah, I think it is a question that's being had, especially at the executive leadership team. I don't know that boards are so much talking about it right now, at least in my experience. Yes, we want to diversify our funding pool to raise more money, but more importantly, we want to be more inclusive organizations.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yes.
Tammy Zonker: Right. And I've had the privilege of fundraising in the city of Detroit for close to 15 years now. And, of course, Detroit is the city of Detroit. The population is 86% African American or identifies as black. And so it's fascinating to me how generous that community is and how they gravitate to causes where leadership, like the executive director, the CEO, the founder, are people of color. And why is that? It's because they see that they are welcomed and they belong. And so when we look at when any of us hold up the mirror and look at our boards, do we have boards representative of our communities? Do we have executive leadership that is representative of our communities? And if the answer is no, they're fooling ourselves that we will cross that threshold into inclusiveness.
Tim Sarrantonio: So two points on that, and that's really powerful stuff, too, because it opens up the question of, again, identity in many different ways. So that's something that I love unpacking. I think it's one of the most important questions that we can ask ourselves is basically, who are we? And why do we matter? If you, as a nonprofit professional, are even struggling right now, it is more than okay to say, why have we always done it that way? Right.
Tammy Zonker: Yes.employee grant writer. It was:
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. And somewhere in the middle, I think, is the solution.
Tim Sarrantonio: Absolutely.
Tammy Zonker: And we're in such a divisive culture right now. People feel like they need to take sides versus, like, let's take the essence and the strengths of both of these and create something new. To your point, let's throw out why we are doing things we've always done because we've always done them that way.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah, it's a great time to do that. And it's a great time because donors are paying attention to it, too. Another important point is that they are looking for that community. They are looking for that cooperation between different nonprofits on projects. We saw some really powerful things. This is actually where it is interesting to think about the larger trends because we fundraisers, from the events people to major gift officers, like even the corporate folks, we forget that there's the whole program and foundation world. Right?
Tammy Zonker: Yes.
Tim Sarrantonio: The small shops, they know, like, I got a hustle for this grant, and I need to go ask this donor for a gift. But especially you get to slightly larger organizations, and they're completely different departments. And what was fascinating is I love paying attention to the foundation world. And one of my favorite people to collaborate with is Corinne Mitchell of Flux and who they serve, the kind of corporate or the government space and the private foundation space specifically, like, Ford Foundation uses them for grants management. Sure, I love talking to her because it's like, what's happening over there? It's a completely different world, but it's the same world. Right. And we just forget about it. And we saw a lot of big movement in the universal grant application. For instance, use one form in a community. So I don't have like 20 different foundation forms that I have to do. And that kudos to Tag and folks over there for doing that. So really great stuff.
Tammy Zonker: Fascinating.
Tammy Zonker: So with giving down year over year, according to Giving USA, like, we adjusted for inflation, right? There's a slight decrease. What is it? Zero 7% decrease year over year when adjusted for inflation.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yes.
Tammy Zonker: We have current inflation and a possible recession brewing as we enter into the fourth quarter. Tim, after pouring yourself through all this data and looking at the trends and the big picture, what's your best advice to nonprofits who really count on year-end giving, which is all of us, to meet their revenue goals for the year to support the programs and the mission delivery, what's your best advice?ppening at the same time, the:
Tammy Zonker: The donor retention rate for first-time donors, according to Fundraising Effectiveness Project, is just under 20% and 18.6%.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah.
Tammy Zonker: So what you're saying is if they give in that year-end window, there's a higher retention rate just by naturally.
Tim Sarrantonio: In the data, right? It's just in the data. So that tells us a few things. You can make some assumptions. So there's a bit of an assumption here, but I think a lot of this is strongly correlated with communication cadence. And so one, if you think you're sending too many emails, you're not. You're just sending bad emails, and the same with direct mail. It's not that the communication is too much. It's that the communication is not personalized.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. Wow. I mean, that deserves a pause, right? When I work with clients, I talk with them and say, write to your donors like you're writing to your grandmother.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yes.
Tammy Zonker: Like, so much love, so personal. There's no on behalf, right? Like, no formality and just gratitude and impact and stories and personalization to your point.
Tim Sarrantonio: I'm not going to call them out by name, of course, but I did get an email from an organization to my personal account, and they said, we'd love for you to join us at so and so event coming up. Like, please commit and be part of the honorary committee. And I looked at the form, and it said Platinum Gold, and it had a $50 difference. And I wrote back, and I said, what's the difference between the two? Because now I'm not being asked to be me, Tim Sarrantonio. I'm being asked to be part of this honorary committee thing. This is like a really weird identity thing where it's like, Tim wasn't asked. I'm being asked to join a thing that I don't identify with. So I immediately entered it from a transaction standpoint instead of a love standpoint, and said, what do I get? And he wrote back, " Well, your name is under that thing. And I said, Wait, is there anything else? Is it just the $50? And then I'm on this thing versus that thing. And she's like, but if you commit by tomorrow, you can get in the book. And I'm like, I just didn't respond. But that's what we talk about with personalization, which will make me perk up and say, this is for me.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. Not a transaction.
Tim Sarrantonio: It is funny you should name the grandmother thing. My mother's birthday is on Saturday, so I had the kids sign the Hallmark card that I bought in New York City. Dwayne Reid and I slightly remembered John LEP's thing about creative deviation, making the stamp crooked. So when I put it on there, it's like, haha. It shows. Like, a human did this. And it's going to be so obvious when she opens it up because the seven and twin five-year-old scribbled all over it beautifully.
Tammy Zonker: And that's exactly how we should engage our donors because your mom won't even she won't throw that card away. Right? She's going to save it. It's going to be in a drawer.
Tim Sarrantonio: My mom might throw. But more often than not, Tammy, and that actually is an important thing because we always try, we always get so hung up on the outliers. And we have a little bit of an internal value system at Neon, one that our CEO Steve Criter put together, and it's basically like we call it 80 20, right? And so it's a little bit of a flip of the Pareto principle, where you hear 80% of the revenue is driven by 20% of the people. Right. Like, that's the Pareto principle. This is different when we say his interpretation is, hopefully, I'm not giving away any secret sauce here, but basically, you cannot be 100% or 0% focused on a project. If you're on a project, there's going to be something in the back of your head clawing away your attention slightly. So 80% is likely going to be focused on a project, an initiative, a goal, whatever. Should be driving eventually toward that, though. What's your 80? Who's an 80 on a project? It's the thing that we say internally.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah.
Tim Sarrantonio: If it's not your 80 and you're not a 20, which is an advisory role, be quiet. So where that comes into play is nonprofits, I think, need to ask themselves, where's the 80? Who's the 80 on a project when it comes to driving this revenue and paying attention to it? I think it's some powerful stuff to kind of reevaluate what we prioritize as well.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. I feel like in our sector, we keep piling it on, and we're going to do our best to get through it all. And there is a lack of prioritization and focus. I was just leading a three-day workshop with a crisis pregnancy center in Philly, and they have a big nut to crack. Like, they need to raise $1.5 million between now and the end of this calendar year. And it's like, great, let's get all of our initiatives, all of our fundraising channels, put them out on the table, and let's decide. To your point, which are the must-succeed factors. If we're fundraising inside churches, which churches generate the most revenue, and which do we have the closest relationship with? Those are the must-succeeds. And then these smaller parishes will find a way to meet their needs. But they would be like, they're the nice to-dos or should-dos, not necessarily the must-dos. And the same with major donor portfolios.
Tim Sarrantonio: Well, this is where the nuance is so hard, Tammy because you can also step back and go, well, that means I should just focus on major gifts, right? And it's like, no, because you need to create that multi-revenue stream pipeline of people interested in your mission. And so small-dollar donors, if you turn them off, you're never going to get a major donor out of that.
Tammy Zonker: That is very true. And I think that that is some of the space where, hopefully, we're able to add staff to focus. Like, that could be there 80, but also that's the place of automation, automated workflows where that can kind of pick up that slack if done well if done in a personalized way. So I want to pick up on something you said earlier when we were talking about mom so we must get a whole lot better at understanding our donors and meeting their needs, to your point, at every gift value. So talk to us about the role of donor surveys and personalization through journey mapping as tools to meaningfully connect with our donors.
Tim Sarrantonio: So kind of the philosophy that I've been trying to develop on the intersection of donors, fundraisers, and technology, to your point, is that three main rules to it help address the question that you just asked. So rule number one is you focus on people, not their money.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah.
Tim Sarrantonio: Right. That's rule number one. If you listen to this podcast and you only get one thing out of it from me, that's the one that I want you folks to get. Focus on people, not their money. But number two is that you should prioritize the experience of that connection. So that's where the donor journey mapping kicks into high gear. And then rule number three is technology can be an accelerant to it but should never get in the way. Right. Don't rely on email when a phone call is better.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah.
Tim Sarrantonio: Type situation, an in-person meeting, or things like that. Right. So when you're thinking about the journey a lot of times, and even I'm evolving as I get deeper into my marketing career versus my original fundraising and sales transition, I went from kind of mercenary to missionary in a way.
Tammy Zonker: Right.
Tim Sarrantonio: And so where I've evolved there is that even personas are things where I'm like not entirely comfortable with because people are fluid. Even your kind of mood might influence how you are going to receive a communication. Sometimes we cannot control that, but if we map out the process as much as possible and understand what touch points we will have with our donors, we're a podcast so that I could show you Tammy, but I'll explain it to people. You can literally map it out all the different steps. That's what I'm showing Tammy right now. And there are great platforms like Lucidchart, or you can use Google's Pages design feature, and you can create boxes and name them like this is a step or fork in the road, that type of stuff. So if you say, okay, step one that somebody will become aware of me is my website. What is the website experience? How can I even personalize the website to people who want to do a bequest? Right? Do you try to shove everything onto the "ways to give" page? Are you making it more personal to be like, you know, be generous, and then they click that, and then it shows the different paths that they can take? Are you basically a marketplace, or are you more of a journey that somebody's taking that they're going through and finding more like a farmer's market where you're picking up what you want in a way.
Tammy Zonker: Right. The degree that we can know that through surveys, through even click-through mapping, right, we can know what did attract their attention and then some. Go ahead.
Tim Sarrantonio: Oh, no, sorry. Just because I don't want it to fly away, and surveys are hard in particular because people lie all the time, intentionally or not. So sometimes the survey can give you a good indication, but you should also gut-check it by looking at the transaction data to see if it bears out. Like, if you get on a survey that you sent out online, 60% of people say, I prefer to give online. And then, you design everything around your online given survey. There's a bit of bias there, right, versus, Hi, I'm 65 and I've been doing direct mail responses and remit envelopes, and suddenly that gets cut from the budget because of a survey.
Tammy Zonker: Right.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yikes. However, a good, easy thing that anybody can do right now, especially if your database allows this, is collect an open text field that says how'd you hear about us and make that online. That's fine. You can add it to a reply envelope, but likely you already know where that person at least came from a direct mail appeal. But online?
Tammy Zonker: I don't know.
Tim Sarrantonio: You never know what they're going to say if it's open text. So then you could step back and say, okay, let me look at to see if any trends lead to mapping a little bit more. So, I can go on there, but I'll kick it back to you.
Tammy Zonker: Okay. To underscore, though, a simple thing to do is go online and make a gift to your own organization or write a check and see what happens. Or ask a friend or family member to write a check, so it feels a little more not connected, like, oh.
Tim Sarrantonio: It'S Tammy, the secret shopper.
Tammy Zonker: The secret shopper, exactly. I mean, it's just really fascinating. And when I was chief philanthropy officer at the Children's Center for nine years, I would often sit down with some of our supporters, even at those higher gift levels closest to us. And I would say I want to ask you some questions about your experience, and they want you to be candid. It won't hurt my feelings. It will actually help us a lot.
Tim Sarrantonio: Just talk to people, and don't be afraid, and don't ask if you're not prepared to like the answer.
Tammy Zonker: Yes, it does not get defensive. Oh, I know. That was terrible. That was only because that's not helpful.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah, not at all. Yes.
Tammy Zonker: All right, a new question about donor acquisition. What are your thoughts on how and when to create an intentional, data-informed donor acquisition strategy, especially in our current giving environment?
Tim Sarrantonio: Well, I think people will get some of the Given Tuesday data they just put out did show, and everybody here is giving Tuesday, and they might recoil. But the reality is that Giving Tuesday is much deeper and doing amazing data work when it comes to informing where generosity is going. Because generosity is time, talent, and treasure. Right. So they did find that 160 percent of donors are responding to appeals, but 40% are just kind of giving on their own whenever they want. Right. So you might not know. And that actually patterns with some of the data that we looked at for the where question. We didn't just answer geography. We also asked about channels of acquisition. And so data Axel found that about 43.5%, something like that, did the same thing unprompted online. So the other thing, and this is a bit of a danger in some ways, are assumptions that your end of the year will not have a strong acquisition component. Well, guess what? Remember Fundraising Effectiveness Project said that 30% of first-time donors are going to be coming in November and December. So make your acquisition strategy a year-round strategy that has nuances for different times of the year. Be seasonally appropriate about it. But it's a year-round strategy. And so that can come in a few different ways depending on the organization. But no matter what, it's something that should be, in my opinion, year-round and omnichannel, direct mail, and digital.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. And face to face. I mean, when we think about all the channels, those warm introductions from major donors, monthly donors, right?
Tim Sarrantonio: Yes.
Tammy Zonker: So all of the above, our peer.
Tim Sarrantonio: To peer platform, for instance, on Giving Tuesday, had an 80% acquisition rate for new donors.
Tammy Zonker: That's incredible.
Tim Sarrantonio: So that's powerful stuff like peer-to-peer networks where somebody's a champion on your behalf, that's a fantastic acquisition vehicle. My wife is running a Ragnar relay in honor of her sister, who passed away from breast cancer, and they do a fundraiser every year for that. And they do peer-to-peer. And there are all these people who, like, we met at some parent event or something, and now they follow us on social media, and then they're being exposed to this thing that's important to us, and now we're important to them. So they might give. So you never know where these things flow. The butterflies flying everywhere.
Tammy Zonker: I love it. Lastly, Neon One is cooking up some very exciting offerings, like something super exciting. Tell us about Generosity Exchange, what it is, how our listeners can benefit from it, and learn more.,:
Tammy Zonker: Well, I'm excited about it too. In fact, I just got my they upgraded the premier ticket this morning, so I cannot wait. Yes.
Tim Sarrantonio: Awesome.
Tammy Zonker: Yes.
Tim Sarrantonio: Oh, very cool. Well, I am just so thrilled with what we have cooking, and I know you, and I are cooking some stuff up too, but GX is a good way to kind of say, look, I want to be primed to think differently about fundraising. And you don't have to use Neon one products to benefit from it, but for any users, there are some really cool things that are going to be announced there too. So got to do that.
Tammy Zonker: Very excited. So at the end of each episode, I like to ask a few rapid-fire insightful questions.
Tim Sarrantonio: All right, let's do it.
Tammy Zonker: All right, number one, what's the best fundraising advice you've ever been given?
Tim Sarrantonio: I would say that the thing that sticks with me the most is Professor Jenshang during the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy certificate course, which I cannot recommend enough.
Tammy Zonker: Agreed.
Tim Sarrantonio: It's so good. And so a big item that has influenced what happens at our company is focus on people, not their money. Focus on people, not their money. Remember, if you remember only one thing from our podcast, it's that. And so it's so powerful in its both simplicity but depth.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah, it is. We should make T-shirts up. I'm just writing this down.
Tim Sarrantonio: Well, guess what? Generosity exchange Bonfire. The T-shirt Company. Fantastic. Folks over there are sponsors of it. So there you go.
Tammy Zonker: Love it.
Tim Sarrantonio: I've been trying to get fundraising slogan T-shirts. So, yeah, let's do it.
Tammy Zonker: Let's do it. Tim, what book do you recommend to our audience and why?
Tim Sarrantonio: Okay, this is a hard one for me. So I have an extensive library. I'm a Luddite when it comes to books. It's funny because my father is an author and likes Kindle; only I have to order books. I just had books all the time. So I'm going to do three if that's okay.
Tammy Zonker: I love it.
Tim Sarrantonio: I have them right here. For nonprofit sector-specific, I'm going to recommend Dollar Dash, the Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising, by Katrina Van Hussein. There are a lot of great books in the sector, a lot of great books. It was hard to choose between this and Hooked on a Feeling. But I'm going with Dollar Dash because of the behavioral elements and impact that peer-to-peer can have. Because if you figure out one-to-many, you easily can then figure out one-to-one.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. Beautiful.
Tim Sarrantonio: So that's that one for brand development. Marty New Meyers, The Brand Gap, you can get this done in 2 hours, but a core item that nonprofits have to ask themselves is who are we and why do we exist? Marty is awesome. Love everything that he does. But that book, in particular, I read on a plane, and it is a well-worn copy of my book. I'm going to be talking a lot about brand in the nonprofit space because I think that the next round of analysis and sophistication is that fundraisers need to become better marketers. And then the final one is personal development. I like The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. So it's a little bit of a reflection on Stoicism. Don't roll your eyes, folks. It's not just a white dude thing though. I am a white dude. But I do like that book because I took Latin too. It's interesting, but there are some elements of being able to keep calm under pressure that's helped infinitely to kind of ground myself in. Like there is a bigger purpose than just me here. And so that's helped. So those are my three.
Tammy Zonker: Excellent. I love that they're in three distinct categories. That's so you, Tim.
Tim Sarrantonio: That's so me.
Tammy Zonker: Thorough, strategic, clear. Love it.
Tim Sarrantonio: Thank you. That's a high compliment.
Tammy Zonker: It's intended to be. What are the top three characteristics or traits that one needs to be a successful fundraising professional?
Tim Sarrantonio: I think people need focus. That's why I like 80/20 in particular. You need to focus because it's personal. I think you need to have patience. This is something that it's taken me a long time also to do is to not only become more patient but also be collaborative. Knowing that you're part of a team, you have a focused purpose for your team and feel supported to execute those things. Because it's like, this is our focus. This is what we're going to do. We're going to do it together, and we're going to do it well. Let's be awesome at this because we know it will move the needle. Like it's hard not to want to just go off on your own sometimes, especially for leaders. And many times, the fundraisers are the leaders in the organization, whether they know it or not. Because it's not just a title that designates leadership, it's the ones that say, you know what, I'm going to bring you along with me. And I've had to struggle and learn that, especially through the pandemic, right? Like it's harder to convey sometimes when you're not in person. Mediums like this are great, Tammy, but I know that we'd have a much different type of conversation if we were in person. So to have that emotional intelligence virtually it's been a learning curve.
Tammy Zonker: Such good response, such good insight. So this one, you might have just a teeny bit of a bias. What's your favorite fundraising tool or application?
Tim Sarrantonio: Okay, so, yes, of course, I have a bias. For Neon one, I'm not only the president. I'm a member. Like, I use it for a few nonprofits. So let's try not to talk about us in the sector. I think the secret weapon, and this is going to be drawn from Rachel Mueller, the secret tool that you are not using is your ability to text a donor. So what I want you to do, and this is all Rachel, but if.
Tammy Zonker: Rachel is amazing.
Tim Sarrantonio: She is amazing. So we had her at our dream big summit, which was all about creating generosity experiences, right? Another important book, by the way, is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Right? Another thing that I think is an important item going back to the donor journey is remembering that people are not going to remember the average of an experience. Right? We said a lot of great stuff on this podcast, but you're going to remember one thing, and I bet I know which one and how it ends, right? That's the Peak End Rule. So Rachel said in a room full of people, take out your phone, go text a donor and thank them right now. So do that. Do that. Pull it out and do it and then tweet it, Tammy, and tell what happened, basically.
Tammy Zonker: Please. Yes, do, do it! I love it.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah, that's a favorite underutilized tool. And anybody can do it. Anybody can do it.
Tammy Zonker: I love it. Tim, this might get you in a bit of trouble because I know you speak at many conferences, but which fundraising conference is your favorite and why?
Tim Sarrantonio: I love the local stuff if I'm going to be honest. So there's a really great industry conference, but only like 150 people can go. So I'm not going to say that one. It's Con Fab, which is from the National Council nonprofits. And everybody walks up and says, hi, I'm Montana. Because it's really only the state associations that represent hundreds of thousands of nonprofits. So I love going to that. But for individual fundraising, nothing beats that local touch. Nothing is more fun to go. And especially where I live, I'm part of the AFP Hudson Mohawk chapter. And so, to be able to go to their philanthropy day, I pitched a session, a new session that I'm very excited about. And I know I will be able to tailor and personalize it because I live here, and I love going to that, in other areas like New Orleans or Virginia. I went to Richmond for Vfri. And that ability to say and ask what's happening here? Because people might raise their hand in my presentation and say, that doesn't happen here. And I go, that's great.
Tammy Zonker: Tell me about that.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah. Open up. So this is how we learn. So that's where the geography question, the where question gets a lot of fun for me. So, I would say the local stuff, the international and the national stuff is fine. They got to get into the virtual world more. That's the thing I want to say. There is, like, not everybody can go or feel like they can safely go. So get your virtual game up. Big conferences, get them up good.
Tammy Zonker: Last question. Knowing what you do now about fundraising, what advice would you give your younger self who's just starting out in the profession?
Tim Sarrantonio: It's almost like Better Call Saul, just wrapped. And they reflected a lot about time. Like even HG. Wells, the time machine, there's a scene, no spoilers that relate to going back, right? And so one of the characters in a scene says, like, that's just a regret machine. So that's always hard now to reflect on that. Like, what would I tell my younger self? Because it could have a butterfly effect and, like, impact. Do I go and dump $90,000 into the post-doctorate degree path? That isn't going to pan out, right? Because that was very hard to live through that. So I would say, like, enjoy the journey. God, this is the 40-year-old. I mean, like, what? Come on. But I sound so cliche. But it's like it is. I have young kids, and it's so hard some days not to feel guilty working and not just like, playing with them, but at the same time, it's like, kids can be boring. They're just going to sit there and watch TV. I'm not contributing to anything. So it's that push and pulls of what enjoying the journey actually means. Sometimes it's for yourself, and sometimes it's for others. And so just recognize the difference.
Tammy Zonker: Yeah. Very good. Well, Tim, thank you. Thank you for joining us. And sharing your incredible insights on the future of individual giving and a whole bunch of other things.
Tim Sarrantonio: Yeah, I know we got too philosophical for this early in the morning.
Tammy Zonker: Oh, I love it, though. So we'll definitely include a link to download the full Neon One report on giving in the show notes.
Tim Sarrantonio: Love it.
Tammy Zonker: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Intentional Fundraiser podcast. And keep on transforming your fundraising so you can transform the world.