Jim Martin discusses small shop fundraising

Episode aired June 3, 2020: Small Shop Fundraising

Jim Martin is a passionate fundraising pro who has spent most of his career working in small shops. He knows what it takes to get the job done. In this episode, Jim discusses 

  • the ability to change lives
  • the flexibility of being in a small shop
  • what MUST be done before making an ask of an individual donor
  • direct mail vs. face-to-face: What’s harder?
  • getting stuck in the snow is why he loves Canada so much

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 thrilled to have with us a fundraising pro, my friend Jim Martin, as my guest. Jim how you doing today?

Jim: I’m doing grand! How bout you?

Ephraim: Doing great. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers. Jim Martin is a parent and co-parent of five children, four of whom have been diagnosed with autism. For the last 23 years, Jim has been a fundraiser mostly at small community-based organizations, with a dash of time at larger charities. Direct mail, stewardship and databases are Jim’s favorites at smaller fundraising shops and has provided him with hours of both joy and anxiety. He has worked for a number of food security agencies, HIV/AIDS service organizations and a small national disease focused charity. As Development Manager at an education foundation, Jim gets to use his background with databases and direct mail to help students achieve success in school. He has also served on the boards of an autism and HIV/AIDS charity. Before becoming a fundraiser, he owned a couple of businesses, worked in government and developed an unusual interest in Watergate.

Jim is with us to discuss being a fundraiser in a small shop. So let’s dive right in. Jim, what’s the biggest positive and negative about working in a small shop and what’s your preference, small or large shop and why?

Jim: Okay. The biggest positive in my experience is in a small shop, there’s a great deal of flexibility. We can do things quickly, we can shift resources quickly, a lot of folks talk about nimble. I think about the candlestick when I think about nimble but we get to do things I think and move much more quickly than a larger shop. And there’s also the element of knowing who does what. Knowing where to go to get the stories or where to get the answers is a big plus.

In terms of flip side, the negative, sometimes flexibility is chaos and it’s oftentimes difficult to figure out which is which. But over time we can see that smaller shops don’t always have the time to plan. And it’s not true of all small shops and it’s also true of larger shops, living in chaos but I think it’s more endemic to smaller shops. And I think also it’s harder to get answers. It’s harder to connect directly to the people who are doing the work that we help to support.

As for my preference, small shop. I like the intimacy of being able to find an answer, to effect change, to make things happen and also not having to go to another building for the washrooms.

Wearing Many Hats

Ephraim: That’s certainly very important when comparing small and large shops. So your preference is a small shop. You alluded to it in your answer: Employees do end up wearing a lot of different hats. Do you enjoy that, being able to dabble in different types of jobs or is it a hindrance because you can’t be focused 100% of the time on fundraising?

Jim: If I say both, then I think we know it can cut either way. For me, what I’ve experienced is that even when we don’t think we’re wearing many hats, we’re constantly wearing many hats. We the fundraisers in a small shop are almost always involved in communications, these days almost always involved in social media. Some of us think we’re going to get through the day just with direct mail and we end up being involved with planned giving. So there’s a lot of stuff that happens that is still fundraising but may not be our primary focus.

Also, there are very few places where a fundraiser does only fundraising. It’s so… it’s so little or it takes up so little of our day, because we’re doing the administrative stuff, we’re doing the things we need to to keep the organization going in other ways. But also for me the wearing different hats or the idea that we’re going to have to pitch in and help each other out can be one of those amazing moments when it’s non-fundraising work.

So one HIV/AIDS organization I worked for ran a needle exchange program. And there were two people who did the needle exchange program and in one day, only one person in that program was working. He needed someone to help go clean up a crack house. So picking up the sharps, cleaning it up, removing supplies… I would never have that opportunity in a larger shop and it’s kind of terrifying to be in that situation. On the other hand, it immediately gives me a degree of empathy I wouldn’t have had for a lot of the people we serve. And this was in a time earlier in the HIV/AIDS crisis where there was a lot of disdain for certain people connected to the disease. So I would never… I would never turn my back on an opportunity like that and it had zero to do with fundraising that day. But down the road it made my stories and communications a whole lot better.

What To Do Before The Ask

Ephraim: That’s fantastic. So today’s actionable item for our audience: What three things must a fundraiser do before they make an ask of an individual donor?

Jim: I’m going to split this up into three or two different lists. And please don’t hate me for doing that. I think there’s the normal expected stuff: Check the record. We want to find out about their giving history. Before we ask, we want to talk to them. So check the record, talk to them and get their name right. It’s a simple thing but whether it’s a mail piece or whether it’s a face-to-face ask, start off on the right foot by getting their name right.

The other list, the kind of big picture list, also has get their name right, what do they like to be called. But thinking about… just changing or thinking a little bit, shifting a little bit… why do we as a fundraiser believe that donor wants to\ give to us? Can we visualize with all the information we have, why they would care about us? Second, can we imagine ourselves believing what they want to change?

And then finally, the name. Getting the name right. It’s like walking up to someone and calling them Bruce instead of Brian. We’ve already closed the door to an opportunity.

Direct Mail vs. Face-To-Face

Ephraim: Right. So that goes definitely on both ists but I like the way that you split that up, because all of those are extremely important for anybody who’s doing any type of ask. What’s harder in your opinion: writing and sending a direct mail piece or a face-to-face ask?

Jim: Alright, as I pause I’ve got an answer in my mind. Harder for me to do is the\ face-to-face ask. What takes more time getting ready? The direct mail piece. So what I consider harder may not be, you know, all that hard when it comes right down to it. But the face-to-face ask is…it almost always feels like I’ve got to get this right, I’ve got to hit the homerun or I’ve got to get on base and move the other runner along, to use baseball analogies. And that’s a lot of pressure on a single meeting or a single call or in a series of calls. Always having to get that homerun.

But in terms of direct appeal, we bleed on that copy. We have convinced ourselves every single word is needed and we come back to the copy time and again, to tweak it a little bit, to ask you know could you read this for me before I send it on. And then if the appeal or approvals process is long and yes, in some small shops, there are four people who have to see a letter before it goes out. That’s always a little challenging to take.

Fundraising Joy

Ephraim: Big oy from me. So given all that… You’ve been a fundraiser now for many many years. What brings you the most joy about this noble profession?

Jim: We change lives! We do incredible things to make sure that the social workers, the nurses and doctors, the teachers, anybody on the front lines, has what they need to help people. That’s incredible!

And I make the connection to my father, who was a truck driver. During the Second World War, he was a paratroop. Amazing stuff, brave person and they gave him medals at the end of it. But for most of his life he was a truck driver. So he got things to people and no one ever knew how they got there. They were just there, they just arrived. And so for a fundraiser being in the background and seeing that we contribute to changing just one thing in a person’s life, that’s an amazing feeling.

Learn More About Jim

Ephraim: Perfect. Yes. Absolutely. Nothing I can even add to that perfect answer. Let’s go to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Jim: I was out of work and someone said, hey you know, you used to volunteer as a fundraiser… It’s a little bit more than that. I was working in a political position in provincial government and the party lost an election and during the election, someone said hey you wanna come fundraise on my campaign? I said sure. I had a blast. And I thought okay, alright what next? A number of people said go into fundraising. I did not have as much sense then and also it was easier for someone with a checkered political past to get into fundraising. So it really was not having a job in government that opened my eyes and made me think about the possibility.

Ephraim: Fantastic. So if there’s one thing in the nonprofit sector that you could shake up, what would it be?

Jim: It would be including more people who receive services or access services, having decision-making in an organization. Whether that’s on the board or staff. Where I live, in Ontario, there’s a thing called the Ontario Accord and it connects all HIV/AIDS service organizations in the province to a couple of simple principles. And one of them is that people affected by HIV/AIDS must have a greater involvement in programs and a meaningful involvement in programs. And in the 80s when we saw an explosion of HIV/AIDS organizations, a lot of us would have thought okay, that’s the last need that we have for charities in our sector. What is going to come along that’s going to be big in the future like that.\ And I would suggest to you that right now there is a need for organizations that serve disabled people, that serve indigenous populations that need the leadership, need the GIPA (Greater Involvement of People living with HIV/AIDS) and MIPA (Meaningful Involvement of People living with HIV/AIDS) or also another way of putting it is: Nothing about us without us! Which has been a very important clarion call really since the 90s among disabled populations. and groups.

Ephraim: What was your major in University and why?

Jim: Soviet Studies at Carlton and the biggest reason… there are two good reasons. I would suggest one of them is, you know, obvious to anybody who is 19 or 20 and wants to see the world. It gave me a chance to leave home and get far enough away from home so that I could see the world and perhaps do student type things. You know, the kinds of things a young person may want to do while not living at home.

The second reason is that it was just so interesting to me! When I went to school, we’re in the latter stages of the of the Cold War and there were not a lot of people around who were talking about the other side as we thought of them and it seemed so fascinating. In retrospect, it allows me to give a lot of answers that other people don’t get in trivia quizzes.

Ephraim: Yes, that’s a good skill to have handy.

Jim: Absolutely, absolutely. Know your trivia. That’s a life lesson.

Ephraim: Aha. Is that for everybody or just fundraisers?

Jim: No, I think that’s everybody.

Ephraim: Excellent. Your favorite Star Wars movie?

Jim: I know this is going to upset you…

Ephraim:  I know where this is going.

Jim: I think there are two ways to think about the Star Wars franchise: Star Wars by itself and then all the sequels. So really what you’re getting at I think with this question, if I may, let me put words into your mouth, is what’s the best sequel? Is that your question?

Ephraim: Possibly. Maybe.

Jim: Because we all know Star Wars is the best but Empire Strikes Back is a better movie.

Ephraim: There may some disagreement on this end of the line but we’ll let it go.

Jim: Thank you. I thought that would be a safe answer, a different way of reframing the question. reframing the question.

Ephraim: You’re good.

Jim: We can continue this conversation in private.

Ephraim: Yes we may have to. I have to set the record straight. A final question: What’s your favorite thing about living in Canada?

Jim: When cars get stuck in the snow. There are… we have different regions, you know, every country has its different regions that are unhappy with another or experiences that happen only because we live here or there. Almost everyone in Canada lives in a place where they’re going to get stuck in the snow and we all know what to do. And we all know that patience and trying over and over again gets us through. We also know that if someone’s walking down the street, they’re likely to help get us out. And that’s my metaphor for the country that in most cases, we have the opportunity to be patient with each other, show empathy and help each other out.

Ephraim: I can cosign that, having lived in Toronto. So now I’m a bit scared but let’s turn the tables and Jim is going to ask me a surprise question. I have no idea what he’s gonna ask. Go ahead.

Jim: Alright, as I rub my hands in glee at this question. So people who know you or people who will find out about you, know that you have a deep love for Boston sports teams. What is your second favorite team in every sport?

Ephraim: Oh wow. You know, in baseball, I have a thing for the Cleveland Indians. My grandparents lived in Cleveland. I spent summers in Cleveland as a kid and because they were so bad, we could go down and buy first row, first base seats ten minutes before the game. I saw so many games in an empty stadium. Tons of memories. So the Indians would have to be there. In football, in the 70s, even though today I do hate the Steelers, I did have some love… showed some love for the Steelers of the 70s. Those great teams Mean Joe Greene and the Coke commercial, you know. That kind of solidified that.

In hockey, that’s a good question. You know what? I’m not gonna take a team I like, I’m gonna take a team I love to hate. That would be the Montreal Canadiens. I have to hate them, as a Boston fan. But I don’t like the Maple Leafs either. I’m really sorry but we just keep beating you guys in the playoffs. At this point already, I’m not gonna say it’s kind of boring but I’m happy with the choice of being a Boston fan. Basketball… honestly, you know what? I don’t even have a second team. There’s so many teams I hate there is no second team that I would… that I have any… trying to think any connection to.

You know what? I’m gonna go back one sport to hockey. Having grown up in Connecticut, I was also a fan of the Hartford Whalers.

Jim: OK, I wondered if that was gonna happen.

Ephraim: Yup. They played an hour away from my house and every now and then my dad would take me to a game in Hartford at the Hartford Civic Center. So I do have something in my heart for the Hartford Whalers. No longer in existence but yes, the Hartford Whalers would be that other team in hockey.

Jim: Wait a minute, didn’t the Hartford Whalers become someone else?

Ephraim: They became the Carolina Hurricanes. But once that happened, once they left Hartford, they’re no longer… Carolina doesn’t have a place in my heart. I’m sure it’s a nice place but nope, it’s Hartford Whalers, now that I’m thinking about it.

Jim: So I have to jump in and talk about the Maple Leafs. You know to know I’m not a Maple Leafs fan.

Ephraim: You’re a Quebec Nordiques…   

Jim:  No no no, alright. Montreal Canadiens fan.

Ephraim: Well we can still be friends. Relationship may have taken a left turn but we can still be friends. I’ll allow it.

Jim: When I grew up, it was hard to find a Maple Leafs fan. It was easy to find a Boston fan or a Philadelphia Flyers fan. And the Canadians were the exact opposite of the Bruins and the Flyers of the 70s. Very artistic team.

Ephraim: That’s correct, not the big bad Bruins and not the Philadelphia goons.

Jim: Right right.

Ephraim: That’s fine, if you wanna like a loser team I’m fine with that. That’s okay. It’s all good.

Jim: I’m Canadian, I’m Canadian. Silver medal is just fine.

Ephraim: That’s winning Jim. Canadian is winning in my book.  

Jim:  I aspire to fourth place.

Ephraim: You can aspire higher, go for third, go for third.

Jim: Okay, alright. Bronze medal.

Ephraim: Bronze medal. Now you’re already meddling. So you’re there on the podium. You’re on the podium. Thank you very very much for joining the podcast today. This was a wonderful conversation to learn about fundraising and small shops, a little bit about your background and your obsession with Russian history. Go follow Jim on twitter @gingerheaddad. He’s wonderfully engaging and a wonderful feed to follow. I am thrilled that I was able to have a chance to talk with you today. Thanks so much for appearing on the podcast.

Jim: Thank you very much. I was happy to be here.

Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a great day.  

Jim: You too, enjoy yours.

Ephraim: Thanks. Bye.