Life as a donor with Lisa Greer

Episode aired August 5, 2020: What Donors Think And Want

Have you ever sat down and had an honest conversation with your donors? If not, then you should listen to philanthropist and donor Lisa Greer of Saving Giving. Fundraisers have a LOT to learn! In this episode Lisa discusses

  • 3 things a nonprofit must do (besides a thank you letter) to retain a donor
  • what happens when you make a donor feel uncomfortable
  • the assumption that one gift will lead to more and 
  • why fundraisers should read the emails they send.

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 an advocate of reform in the nonprofit sector, Lisa Zola Greer. Lisa, how are you doing today?

Lisa: I’m great, thanks. How are you?

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

Lisa Zola Greer is a philanthropist, author and entrepreneur. Her new book, Philanthropy Revolution, published by Harper Collins, is being released this summer. She’s an active real estate investor, advisor to many nonprofits and the co-founder of Tandem Care Planning, a public benefit corporation that champions both care seekers and caregivers, nurturing the very best in home care.

Lisa sits on the board of the New Israel Fund and is an active member of the Cedar Sinai board of governors. She recently completed terms as commissioner and chair of the Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission and trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Previously she served as President of Temple Emmanuel of Beverly Hills and board member of many organizations, including the L.A. District Attorney’s Crime Prevention Foundation, Make a Wish of greater Los Angeles, Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and others.

A native of Los Angeles, Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in History from UCLA and an MBA from Pepperdine University. The mother of five children, Lisa and her husband Joshua are proud and involved residents of Beverly Hills. Their iconic home, recognized by the Will Rogers Awards, has been the site for myriad social justice, educational and community events.

Don’t Make This Mistake

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss life as a donor. So let’s dive right in. Lisa, as a donor, what’s the biggest mistake you see nonprofits make when communicating with you?

 Lisa: The biggest mistake by far is very very simple: They don’t see me as a human being. They see me as some alien person who is different than them and I think if they…as I write in my book, if fundraisers just looked at donors as human beings and said, if I were to ask myself that question, how would I feel, then we would have a lot more people donating and a lot more people happy in this industry.

3 Things You MUST Do For Donors

Ephraim: Good answer. Let’s move on to today’s actionable item. Please tell us three things a nonprofit must be doing for donors, besides a thank you letter, in order to retain you as a donor?

Lisa: Right. So thank you letter for sure but we won’t include that. We’ll make that number four.

They need to be telling me about the organization, they need to be giving me updates on where my money is going. In the old days, I think some people would give a check and say, I don’t want to hear from you till next year when you come back for another one. But people are different today and I think most of us are… we would actually want to know what is the impact that our donation has made. So I think it’s really important to give that information.

The other is to peel back the curtain and really give us information on how is the organization going. If it all sounds beautiful, rose-colored glasses, everything’s perfect, we’re not idiots. Most of us aren’t. Maybe some of us are but most of us are not idiots and we know that you’re making… you’re holding something back and you’re not telling us the truth. If you tell us the truth, we are going to trust you more and if we trust you more, we are going to give you more. So that is incredibly important as well.

The other thing I think is… it is just not thinking how something would relate to yourself. So you send an email out and about, you know, we need money. Why do we need money? We need money because it’s the end of our quarter, we need money. Think about… I think every fundraiser should think about how would you respond if you got that. Would you really want to open up your wallet and say I want to give you money just because it’s the end of your quarter and you need money? No, that’s ridiculous but for some reason people do it and I’ve just talked to some consulting clients in the last few days. They don’t think about what if I got that email, how would I feel.

Why I’m Stopping To Donate

Ephraim: Excellent. I definitely like that last one. Perfect. Besides blogging about it on your blog, philanthropy 451, have you told a nonprofit that you previously donated to the reasons why you’re no longer going to be a donor to that organization?

Lisa: I have a couple of times. I don’t as much as I should because I, like other donors, feel like what if you really screwed it up? If I really tried to be a partner with you and you screwed up, then I’m just sort of done with you and I don’t want to even spend the time. But the reason I wrote the book is because that’s how most donors feel and it doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It doesn’t make it any better and I think that everybody who has a donor close the door on them deserves to know why.

I did have… I’ve had a couple of organizations who asked me for money that made no sense. I made a small donation and then they insisted that I make a large donation, much larger and without any rhyme or reason, other than they wanted it. It gave me a very uncomfortable feeling about that organization and I think I donated a little to them the next year but then I slowly just said, I’m just not comfortable with them. So that is one.

The other is when nonprofits- this is a really interesting thing- if a fundraiser from a nonprofit or the head of a nonprofit comes to me and they call me after my first donation and they assume or they send me an email, actually more likely and they assume that I am going to give it to them for a second year. They assume I am an annual donor just because they assume that- and everyone knows what assumes stands for- so that is a big mistake and when they do that, I don’t feel very good about it and it makes me less likely to give to them and that happens a lot. So I have told a couple of people that. Where, at what point, did you decide to assume that I was going to give you money every year? Why did you assume that? And they never really have a good answer.

Being A Donor And Board Member

Ephraim: You’re not just a donor but you’re also a board member. Have you used what you’ve learned as a donor to help with your board duties?

Lisa: Yes absolutely and I… the positive side is that I think I have a lot… Well, first of all, most board members are also donors. Not all but most and in a perfect world, everybody would be a donor at whatever level. But some of the things that I’ve learned from other organizations… it depends on the board, how much they actually are willing to listen. So have I tried when I’ve been on boards to give them some of my insights? Absolutely. Are they receptive to those insights? Sometimes.

I’ve been on boards where they say- and you’ll read about this in the book- where they say, well the only reason we’re on the board is to have fun and to meet friends. So if I come into them and I say well, we’re really here to enhance the mission and to be able to expand our work, our good work and to be able to be careful with our donors money, they kind of don’t want to hear that. If their main reason for being on the board is to basically have parties and meet friends, a lot of it has to do with that match. Needless to say I am no longer on the boards where there’s that mismatch, because it just doesn’t feel right for me and I’d like to be somewhere- and I believe all donors or most donors would like to be part of an organization where they can contribute not only money but also their information and their brain.

Saving Giving

Ephraim: Excellent. You have named your Twitter account @saving_giving. What about giving needs to be saved and how can it be saved?

Lisa: Right. So the original title of my book was ‘Saving Giving’ and the publishers, when they read it, decided that they thought that really what I was suggesting was more of a revolution than… and we are saving giving at the same time by doing that. So the problem is that a lot of people aren’t giving. Giving is increasing by minute numbers, not large numbers but by minute numbers. The Giving USA report just came out and it was showing really a net of over, I think the last two years of something like… actually, I think it was negative two percent of individuals increasing giving and if you look at last year it was four but the year before it was it was less and it makes it a negative two and you could look at just last year, but then if you look at last year and then you look at how much the stock market increased and how well everybody did, then it really is pretty flat and that’s a problem.

There’s a lot of people who aren’t giving and I think that is a problem and my biggest fear- and the reason why I started with the saving giving is because- it is clear, it became clear to me about three years ago when a very wealthy philanthropist in Los Angeles passed away and I had heard rumors that he was responsible for as much as 40 percent of one of the big nonprofits budgets. And I thought well gosh, in business nobody would allow one person to have that much impact and then I heard everybody’s scrambling and they don’t know what to do and I thought, well, the guy was like 90 years old. Maybe somebody should have thought about that happening in advance.

So I did a little bit of checking and I realized that the people on most institutional nonprofits and a lot of regular nonprofits, the medium size variety I would say, the majority of nonprofits are run by or funded by a small group of what I call 10 guys. It’s usually- I don’t know if it’s ten guys- but this is where I refer back to the Mary Poppins scene in the original Mary Poppins, where you have the old bankers and they’re trying to get the little tuppence from the little boy. I feel like this is… it’s just these older guys. They are usually white older men. Hopefully now that’s not going to be the case going forward but it usually is and they are funding these organizations, have been for a long time. But now, they’re older now, they’re in their 80s and 90s and whatever and so the organizations you would think would have thought about well those guys aren’t going to be with us forever. Maybe we should start talking to younger people. But they don’t because it’s easier for them to say, Can’t I just get a little bit more tuppence from that guy. Can’t I get a little more from those guys because it’s easier than learning the whole new language that you need to know to be able to fundraise for millennials and younger people. So I tend to say that.

Let’s Learn More About Lisa

Ephraim: Yes. Let’s move to the lightning round, let’s learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Lisa: All of a sudden finding out I was a philanthropist and then finding out that people didn’t treat me like a… they weren’t… let’s say the nonprofits weren’t welcoming to me because I wasn’t on the list, because I hadn’t been a well-known donor for my whole career. So they just didn’t know what to do with me and I recognize there’s a problem. My husband and I are serial entrepreneurs and when we see a problem, we can’t help ourselves but try to fix it.

Ephraim: Fantastic. So given your experiences on the other side of the table as a donor and board member, if you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Lisa: The most important thing I think is teaching differently. So if I could go in and say that I got to be the queen of the curriculum for everybody who’s taught about nonprofit fundraising and nonprofits and every nonprofit management course throughout the world, if I could go in there and say this is the new guidebook- and I’m hoping that our new book is- but that this is the guidebook and this is the new way and you have to start looking at this. You don’t to do everything but at least in my book when I say instead of doing this, try this, please God try some of those things so that we can actually… and then we can actually right the ship, because I do feel like fundraising and philanthropy it’s been taught the same way for decades, easily decades if not more and I feel like it is a big giant cruise ship, excuse the pondering right now but it’s this big giant cruise ship and I’m trying to just alter its direction. I’m trying to…I don’t know if I’m going to turn it around. I don’t think I need to turn it completely around but I want to alter its direction I want it to go a different direction, because there might be an iceberg right in front of where it is so…

Ephraim: Favorite proverb or saying.

Lisa: So the front of my book- and I will use this because shameless whatever- this is my book that is just coming out, ‘Philanthropy Revolution’ and one of my favorite sayings which is at the beginning of the book is: Pressure can break pipes or make diamonds. And that was Robert Horry, a famous NBA player. It is exactly how I feel a lot, maybe most days but when you realize that pressure can actually be a good thing… I relate that to change. Change creates pressure.

People… I think by nature want to be resistant to change. It’s hard but the pressure that comes with it can actually result in diamonds and that’s what I’m hoping to do.

Ephraim: I love that. I didn’t like Robert Horry too much. I mean I remember when he played but he was beating my team so I didn’t like him too much. But I love that quote. It’s an excellent quote. Do you have a happy place and if so, where is it?

Lisa: My happy place is in… it’s gonna sound a little strange but my happy place is in Hawaii, the big island of Hawaii, where we’ve gone for several years with our family. And one of the reasons why I really love it, first of all it’s one of the only places I can relax. But this will sound a little bit strange. They have these wonderful chase lounge, double chase lounge things with like a canopy over them and so you don’t get burnt and you can move the canopy and get a little more sun or less sun and I park it not around the pool but right in front of the beach and all I can see is the ocean and I don’t see anybody to the sides of me and I do conference calls from there and I’m able to do work and I find that I’m able to treat everything in a much… I’m able to listen better, I’m much calmer about my answers and you know, when you’re seeing dolphins out there, it’s the most wonderful thing ever. So that is my happy place.

Ephraim: Okay, that sounds really nice. Favorite city or country to visit and tour?

Lisa: I think actually- and this is gonna sound that I’m fawning here- but I think probably Israel. It changes all the time but where I like… I love traveling and I travel to a lot of different places. But we went to Akko a year or two ago which is a place that isn’t a part of the ordinary kind of scheme of things of where you would go. We try and go somewhere different every year and it was phenomenal and it had amazing history. I’m a history major and I think anything that has really interesting history, I find very appealing. The people were nice and the food was awesome.

Ephraim: That’s the most important thing. Let’s turn the tables. You get to ask me a surprise question which I have no idea what it is. Go ahead.

Lisa: Wow, okay. Lakers or Clippers?

Ephraim: Oh my God, I’m from Boston. So neither and I may…

Lisa: That’s not fair. I never gave you that place. So what about my one of my favorite songs is… what is his name… oh gosh, it’s the song about the 76ers by… oh my god, what is his name? Oh well, hopefully you’ll cut this out because I can’t remember what it is. What is really great, he’s kind of a rap popular singer and I just blanked on his name but trying to get you some Boston stuff that you know, will make the end of this wicked awesome. But I really am curious, why do you do your work from Israel?

Ephraim: It’s where I live. It’s where I’ve been for 30 years. This is where I do my work although for the last… well, not this summer, the last four summers I’ve spent my entire summer in the U.S. traveling. In fact four summers ago literally this past Sunday was the first time I ever made it west of Chicago and I was in L.A.

Lisa: You didn’t visit?

Ephraim: I apologize, I apologize. I was literally there for the weekend and I grew up on the shores of the Atlantic in Connecticut and plenty of people have told me that the Pacific exists. But until you see it, you can see it’s on a map but until you actually physically see it… and four years ago and four days ago, it was the first time I ever saw it. I was there, my friend took me at sunset to Santa Monica Pier. We got onto the shores of the Pacific and I saw sunset and it was amazing. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. So I do try to travel in the summers across the U.S. and visit different cities and new cities that I’ve never been to.

Lisa: So now you know that L.A. is beautiful, yet you won’t support either of our basketball teams.

Ephraim: Yeah I’m sorry. Boston. There’s this… it’s already one, two, three generations and it’s been passed on to my kids, so it’s a four generational thing. These are the types of things you can’t change. A lot of things I want to change in the world of philanthropy and elsewhere but who I root for in basketball? Never, sorry, not happening. But one second: You- Lakers or Clippers?

Lisa: You know, I probably should be a Clippers fan but I really kind of am a Lakers fan because when I was little, my dad used to take and it’s all that kind of thing. When I was little my dad used to take me and uh, Jerry what was his name?

Ephraim: Jerry West.

Lisa: Jerry was the short guy who could do amazing things and I really thought at that point, next to these gigantic seven foot-ish guys and I remember seeing how fast he was and how wonderful he was and I think later in years he became a coach. And I just thought if that guy can do it, then anything’s possible.

 Ephraim: Amazing. I’ll let that go, even though I didn’t like the Lakers. I like that story. That’s fantastic. Thank you very much for appearing on the podcast. You can connect with Lisa via her blog, philanthropy451, on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @saving_giving. Lisa, really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Lisa: Thank you. Take care.

Ephraim: Okay. Be well.