Building nonprofit community with Dan Hanley

Episode aired August 19, 2020: Building Community

When it comes to building relationships, nonprofit and fundraising expert Dan Hanley of Altrui Consulting is a pro’s pro. How can your nonprofit build a community? Put your mission in front of more people. In this episode Dan discusses

  • what fundraising is- and what it isn’t
  • how critical it is to get out and meet new people
  • how social media helps you build community and 
  • the need to invest in volunteers- one of your major forefront communities.

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.


Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us my friend, a great guy and a super smart fundraiser and nonprofiteer, Dan Hanley. Dan, how you doing today?

Dan: Good. How are you my friend?

Ephraim: I’m doing excellent. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Dan Hanley is principal at Altrui Consulting, based in Monrovia, California. He spent 12 years leading nonprofit development teams and calls himself a fundraising nerd. He works with clients throughout the U.S. and Mexico and is especially fond of organizations working in human services and animal welfare. He considers himself a human rights and animal rights activist and uses his passion for making the world a better place as an asset when working with clients.

Dan shares his home with his husband and four adopted furries and loves to read, ride his bike around town and create delicious vegan dishes. He is currently reading ‘Dreaming in Cuban’ by Christina Garcia.

What Is Community Building

In today’s episode we’re going to discuss building a community. So let’s dive right in. Dan, how do you define community building?

Dan: So I think about this a lot and I talk about it a lot and I think it for me it boils down to relationships. So community building to me is building relationships with people who share my passion and so that passion can be fill in the blank, whatever, one of a dozen passions I may have or more but it boils down to building relationships with people who share that passion.

Building Community Helps Fundraising

Ephraim: Fantastic. So how can building a community strengthen the nonprofit’s overall fundraising efforts?

Dan: Yeah, so this is something that I focus on a lot in in building community and building relationships. The benefit to fundraising is that I don’t believe fundraising is about money or raising money. I believe that it’s 100% about building relationships. And you will always see frowns from board members and people shrugging their shoulders and say, who brought this guy to the table? But it really builds on relationships and so being in community and building community means that you’re putting your mission, your impact, your staff, your programs in front of more and more people. And they seemingly may come across as not having the same passion as you have or wanting to build relationships with other passions or within other passions, but what I’ve found is that the more I’m out there, the more I’m building community with people that I don’t know, whether I’m representing Altrui or my nonprofits or my past non-profit world. I always walked away from an attempt at building community with knowing somebody that I didn’t know before, that will benefit me, my mission, my program, staff, our volunteers, just going down the list.

3 Things To Do To Build Community

Ephraim: Love that. So let’s go to today’s actionable item. Please tell us three things a nonprofit must be doing in order to build and maintain a community of dedicated supporters, or what I like to refer to as cheerleaders.

Dan: Sure. So I was gonna break out my pom-poms for this with the cheerleaders. But my first one is to get out in the community and this is not difficult for most nonprofits. It just takes a little bit of an investment of time. So this could be joining your local Chamber of Commerce, this could be attending a Rotary Club meeting, it could be signing up to speak at a Rotary Club meeting or a Kiwanis meeting. It could mean attending economic forums, nonprofit events, leadership councils, community meetings and gatherings. Number one is get out in the community. Let people know about your nonprofit, give them a human face of the passion of what your nonprofit is about, what your mission is about and the impact that you have every day and not only that to inform people on why you need to exist as a nonprofit.

Number two is- this is something I love- not everybody does but it can be simple once you get used to it, is to keep your social media flowing with non-giving actions that supporters can take. So this is not constantly being on Twitter or Facebook saying we’re in dire need, we need to raise money, we need this much money for this. It’s really just saying, hey, did you see this article in the newspaper? Did you see that I do work with the domestic violence groups and I’m always posting articles about domestic violence because typically that’s going to engage people who are interested in the cause. But there are many many things you can talk about. You can have an employee of the week that you put on. You can have a volunteer of the week that you talk about and it can be a couple sentences or it can be a link to a whole page. But keep your social media flowing because you’re going to build community that way and that will inevitably benefit your programs, your staff and overall your mission.

Then lastly- and this can be difficult for some nonprofits because I’ve heard many say we just don’t have enough for group volunteers or for big volunteer projects, we don’t have a specific thing- but I definitely believe that every nonprofit can invest in volunteers. If you currently have volunteers, invest more time and effort in building relationships. This is one of your forefront communities. This is the community that you want to be closest with, aside from your staff and your donors. It’s kind of like a trio of communities that are most important to you. I highly recommend sitting down with your program team and maybe even board members and creating a plan that invests in your volunteers.

How To Show Appreciation

Ephraim: Excellent. All three of those, everybody who’s listening take notes and then go implement. So Dan, you don’t just talk the talk, you walk the walk. As someone who is active for quite a number of causes, can you tell me examples of how nonprofits have shown their appreciation for you and kept you on as a member of their community?

Dan: Sure. One of my favorite volunteer efforts is to work at shelters, animal shelters and one of my favorite tasks is cleaning cages and that is mainly because I want every animal in there to have the best experience they can. They’re frightened, some of them went from laying on somebody’s lap to being in a cage. Some of them are sick. They’re all freaked out and so for years I spent one day a week in the afternoon cleaning cages. And I remember one day on a day that the executive director was off, she came in because I was working and in between scooping poop and spraying something nice in the cage, she puts her hand on my shoulder and just wanted me to know how grateful they are for the work that I do.

I’ve gotten personal notes, I’m a huge fan of personal notes. I’ve even had one executive director make a donation to the organization in my honor and those are just little things. I mean there’s things nonprofits can do where they… at the reward ceremony, they may have a volunteer of the year or something like that. Those are much bigger. But we’re all busy, right? We all have a lot going on, especially in the nonprofit world. So I think there’s a lot of simple things that you can do to thank people that are supporting your cause.

Networking And Building Relationships

Ephraim: Excellent. So on your website,, you have a word cloud and one of the words there is ‘relations.’ You love to get out and meet people. So as a consultant, what advice can you give to other consultants who are looking to network and build relationships?

Dan: First and foremost is join your local Chamber of Commerce and if you don’t like your local Chamber of Commerce, your immediate one, join anyways and see if there’s anything you can bring to the picture. You’re going to meet people who are passionate for what you do. There’s literally dozens of ideas that I think about when it comes to being a member of the chamber.

I’ve been a member of the local Chamber of Commerce here this month will be three years and I’ve lived here for five. So it took me a while to find my footing but for three years it’s been extremely successful for me and I’ve also been able to give back, to be of service to people in the chamber. A lot of times, especially if you’re in the nonprofit world, you’ll see that there are very few nonprofits present and one day you’ll get a call from a chamber member saying, hey, we need to do something with a nonprofit and you’re the nonprofit because you’re the only one in the chamber, or something like that. It also allows you the opportunity to share what your nonprofit is doing. Every chamber of that you have an opportunity to speak. It may be 20 seconds 30 seconds but in that time, you can say this is our biggest challenge, this is our biggest need, this is our biggest success, this is our biggest not success. And little by little people get to know your no-profit to where it builds community for you. So I think by far being a member of the chamber. Most of them are pretty affordable and most nonprofits and consultants can just use it out of our marketing budget.

The other thing I like is showing… just showing up at community events, kind of like what I was saying earlier. I love to be chatting with people about Altrui, I love to be chatting about my most current client or my biggest passion or if something is in the news about something related to a nonprofit I support, I like to talk about that. And what happens is when you talk about your passions around nonprofit fundraising and how you want to change the world and make it a better place, you end up engaging with people. It may not be the first or second person you engage with but at the end of the day, you’ve met people who have the same passions and they may share the passion of the nonprofit that you work with. They may share your personal passion but you get to build these relationships that end up adding to your community. So I think that’s definitely it.

The other thing is that I have to remember on a daily basis that I want to be of service to others. So it’s not all about Altrui, it’s not all about my clients. It’s about how can I be of service to others and how can I show my gratitude for this amazing business that I have, the amazing relationships I have, the amazing world I live in and I can show that gratitude by being of service to others. And I’m much more apt and have more opportunities to do that when I’m out there engaging with other people.

Let’s Learn More About Dan

Ephraim: Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. So let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Dan: So a local HIV, a small local rural HIV AIDS group in Boulder, Colorado was looking for a new director of development and someone their team asked me if I would put the word out to my rolodex down in Denver. But then the next day they called and asked if I would consider applying. I had never… I came from the hotel business. I never considered working for a nonprofit and… But I wasn’t in sales and I was a huge relationship builder and people knew that. The other thing was that my best friend died of HIV AIDS on July 6 of 1992 and so that struck me and so I decided to leave the corporate world and go help fundraise for this little HIV AIDS group in Boulder, Colorado.

Ephraim: So given all your years in the nonprofit world and you’ve been in it for a lot of years, if you could shake up one thing, what would it be?

Dan: So I think about this all the time and I think today… this is something that I could answer different tomorrow probably and the day before but today I would say, I want nonprofit fundraising professionals to be treated better. I want them to be respected, I want the board to realize the amount of work they put into everything, I want people to give them a break, I want them to be celebrated and I want them to be put on a pedestal once in awhile. I mean literally I’ve seen time and time and again the crap thrown at nonprofit professionals and you see people leave the field or you see, you know, our turnover rate is awful. But if we just treated nonprofit professionals in a better, kinder, professional, ethical, compassionate way- I’m sure there’s a bunch of other words I can think of- that’s how I would want to shake it up.

Ephraim: Got it. I will add true hashtag true story. Tell us, why is your company name Altrui?

Dan: So I thought a lot about this and I put a lot of time in forming Altrui before the day I went public and told people and introduced people to Altrui. Altrui is based on the word altruism and really just being altruistic and thinking of that and bringing good to the world and knowing that each one of us has that capacity on a daily basis, to do one small thing to make the world a better place.

Ephraim: Beautiful. I love that. I didn’t know that before and now I’m glad I learned that. Excellent. So if you didn’t work in the nonprofit sector, what sector would you work in?

Dan: So I love the ocean and I love the beach and I think if I could I would have a little espresso station on my surfboard and I would go around and sell pre-bought espressos and coffees to people out in the water. So like kind of a coffee machine on a surfboard. Certain people would buy prepaid. And I know that’s really funny but this is kind of my dream. I mean anything where I could be on the beach- fully protected by the sun of course- and listen to the ocean all day and be of service to others and I love coffee, so that’s probably what I would want to do.

Ephraim: That’s a very creative, interesting idea, I have to admit.

Dan: You would buy an espresso from me, right?

Ephraim: Dan, obviously! But I’d still buy the espresso. So now that I’ve asked that question, I guess I almost know the answer to this one. Best part about living on the left coast?

Dan: Yeah, so we live um about 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles and in Los Angeles county and it’s easy to talk or to…I hear a lot of negative things about Los Angeles and it’s crowded and smoggy and traffic. But I’ll tell you, I’ve been all over the world and it’s one of the most magical places on earth. And the thing that makes it magical to me is that, something I read when we moved here is that the second highest population of most countries after the population of people that live in their country is Los Angeles county. For dozens of countries. The ethnicity, the diversity and I mean hard core diversity, not just Hispanic or Latino people or people from South America and Central America but specific countries and parts of different countries and different cuisines and different dialects and it’s just fascinating to be… We’re vegan and to be in a vegan Chinese restaurant and be the only two white people in the restaurant. To be in a vegan Ethiopian restaurant. It’s very popular, so there’s a few more white people but the vast majority are not white and to experience all the different cultures of the LGBTQ communities here, of the vegan and vegetarian communities, of the human rights and social justice communities that just makes it magical.

And a quick second is the beach and a quick third the weather. I mean it’s beautiful. There’s nothing like wearing shorts during Hanukkah or Christmas or Ramadan. Nothing like it. And once you’ve spent a summer or a winter in southern California and you’re from a cold climate like Colorado where we moved from, you really never want to go back to winter. You just don’t want to go back.

Ephraim: I hear that. Alright, let’s turn the table. You get to ask me a surprise question that I don’t know what it is. Go ahead.

Dan: So one of the things- aside from your charming personality- the thing that made me fall in love with you almost instantly was when you did a post about your grandmother who’s a survivor and I’ve always wanted to ask this and I’m quite surprised that I haven’t but I’ll take advantage of it now is, what can I do as a friend to keep the memory of your grandmother and her experience alive? What can people do, even not me but what can people do who don’t have that shared lived experience but want to make sure that the memory and the experiences of those people that you love so dearly continue?

Ephraim: So I’ll tell you like this: The Jewish tradition- and I’ll start from there- is a tradition of passing it on from parent to child, parent to children. We’re very much into that. That’s how we learn our customs and religious customs and traditions.

One of the things that I know because… I don’t know the exact data and the stats but there’s a very high lack of knowledge about what happened in World War Two amongst younger people today. So if they’re… it’s 75 years ago, which for them is like 5,000 years ago and it happened on a different planet because it happened in Europe and it happened at a time when one madman decided he’s going to take out an entire people and that might not go with how people think today. We wouldn’t stand for that, of course not! It’s a matter of education and that to me is the basis of it all. You read, you learn, you find out more and then you call it out when somebody says something contrary to the facts on the ground.

You know what? My grandmother is 96 years old. When I come into the states in the summer, I don’t stay too long to see her, maybe an hour each time but I make my time to go see her a couple of times. She still has that number tattooed on her arm. I have a picture of that number. That’s in my… it’s tattooed in my mind that she has that. That number when I was five, I was already asking her questions about it and I can remember the first time I did. I was walking… we were in Cleveland, Ohio and I was walking her at 5:30 in the morning to her bakery job and she was gonna drop me off at synagogue with her husband, my grandfather and I said to her, what’s that number? And she had to explain to a five-year-old why somebody had tattooed that number, what had happened. And I asked her okay, you were in a war, what were you doing in the war? She wasn’t going to tell me the horrors of what she went through but that was… my education started very early on that one.

Very early and I’ve always… every time I see her, she’s 96, she’s still clear in her mind, I’ll pepper her with questions because I know that one day she won’t be around and I won’t have those answers. And the crazy thing was the last time I saw her which was last year in August, my boys were with me, we went to see her and I said to her just out of the blue, I said, who are you named after? Because your Hebrew name is after somebody. And she stopped and then we started going through all kinds of generations of her family and we realized, she’s named after her grandmother, something none of us had ever known because none of us had ever asked. So I always say that everybody in their own way, it’s education.

And the second thing is, as you know well, advocacy or calling out something which doesn’t mesh well with the facts. So anytime there’s a Holocaust denier or anything like that, it’s calling it out and saying that’s wrong. So if you’re educated, you can call it out, as you well know from your work with all kinds of activism. If you’re not educated, you can’t call out the wrong. And that’s how I answer that question. To me it’s a matter of simply being educated and then saying, we don’t tolerate all the craziness that went on but beyond that, if somebody’s gonna deny it or say something didn’t happen or whatever it is, you gotta call them out. That to me is… that’s how you do it. I hope that answers the question.

Dan: I’m forever grateful, I’m forever grateful for you bringing her up in our early, early connections, I saw you bring her up on social media and it really affected me.

Ephraim: I’m her oldest grandchild so I have that special connection of somebody who lost everything. Literally. And suddenly, in fact today, was the circumcision ceremony for her great great grandson. She has now… we now have five generations in our family of mother to daughter straight down basically. So you know, when you think… you give it a little bit of perspective, 75 years ago she left Auschwitz with nothing and now she’s celebrating a great great grandson, because… you can see the smile and the joy I have because I’ve got that historical perspective of being able to look at it in a little bit of a different way.

Thank you very much for appearing on the podcast. I really appreciate it. I encourage everybody to connect with Dan on Twitter at @FundraiserDan and to go and connect with him via his website,  Again Dan thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Dan: Thank you. Thank you so much. Have a beautiful day.

Ephraim: You too. A pleasure. We’ll talk.

Dan: Okay, bye-bye.

Ephraim: Bye.