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Virtuous and Responsive Fundraising - An Interview with Gabe Cooper on the Petrus Development Show

In this episode, Andrew visits with Gabe Cooper. Gabe is the Founder of Virtuous, a responsive fundraising platform designed to help nonprofit teams build better donor relationships and increase impact with confidence. Andrew and Gabe discuss the power of data and automation and how the ultimate goal is to be able to treat every donor as if they were a major gift donor. They also discuss how Virtuous came to be and their thoughts on the Church as a leader of innovation. 


Show Notes:

Welcome to Episode 79 of the Petrus Development Show. As a liberal arts major and a little more of a right brain thinker, I certainly appreciate stories, connections, imagination and things like that more than the analytical aspects of life. I have always said that I am so thankful for the engineers and mathematicians of the world because if I was in charge of building bridges or calculating long formulas or designing computer software, we would all be in big trouble. I kind of feel the same way about databases. The tedium of updating records and recording gifts and thank-you notes sends a shiver up my spine (and not in a good kind of way).

My guest today however is the founder of a donor database, or CRM who got me really excited to talk about the power of data and automation. Gabe Cooper is the founder of a relatively new database called Virtuous. Virtuous is the only responsive fundraising platform designed to help nonprofit teams build better donor relationships and increase impact with confidence. So what does that mean? Well, Gabe explains it very clearly when he says that he wants you to be able to treat every donor as if they were a major gift donor. Interesting, yeah? See what I mean when I said that this is really interesting now? Gabe and I had a really great conversation about his background, what inspired him to develop and launch Virtuous, what he thinks about the Church as a leader of innovation, and even what his favorite kind of music is (spoiler alert...Gabe may or may not have been in a rock band at some point in his life).

Even if you are like me and can’t imagine listening to someone talk about databases for an hour, I think that you will enjoy this conversation. If you want to learn more about Virtuous, check it out at virtuous.org. And as always, stick around until the end for my takeaways.

 

Personal

Gabe is a software developer by trade. He began his career in technology with a 30 million dollar non-profit organization. During that time, he developed a love for generosity. For the last 12 years he has been an entrepreneur helping non-profits design software, applications, etc. 

 

Child Sponsorship

In Andrew's experience in speaking with donors, he has discovered that a high majority of donors are child sponsors. We won't give to save a thousand kids, we'll give to save one kid. We want the connection and to be able to see the impact. It's also a good way to teach your children how to support others when they can relate. 

Child sponsorship figured out the "as-a-service" model way before Netflix did. If you look at your monthly statement, most things are a monthly service. If you are major donor dependent, how can you find something that shows value that can be created into a monthly giving model/automatic donations?

 

Virtuous

Move the needle on global generosity. We are already the highest giving country but Gabe believes that can be doubled. Most of our fundraising practices are built on 1950s thinking. What that means, we know our top donors. We know them, their families, their favorite color. The next level of donors, we see them as a name on a list and we have no idea what their passionate about. And it's worked...until now. How do we take advantage of technology in order to connect every donor on a personal scale?

 

Marketing Automation

You can automate the next steps. Donor retention is a huge problem, but if you could automate a new donor welcome series to engage someone around their particular passions, you have moved the needle to retention. 

Honing into the most important piece of fundraising which is connection and relationships. 

If we can be better at using our resources, technology, we are setting ourselves up for success. 

If you look at your other brand experiences, you can see that it is catered to you and your likes. And they don't have someone following you around, they are utilizing technology. In Episode 71 with JM Boyd, they discussed that every year I get emails from the Gap and Starbucks, etc but I don't get a birthday wish from my Church. Where I spend multiple hours a week, they don't have that personal connection to me. 

What if you could send your donors and birthday card, or a note when they reach a certain level of giving? What kind of impact could you make with that simple connection? It has a profound impact. 

 

Donor Retention

A new donor welcome series. If you can thank someone before you make the next ask, it makes a difference in the success possibility. 

Taking the child sponsorship example, if you know that your donors are grandparents that want to support a child, or a young parent who wants to teach their kids about supporting others, you now know how to reach out to them for a potential ask. 

Learn about your donor. From your major donor to your $5 donor. 

If you are spending all your time digging through data, you are missing out on being able to connect with people. 

 

Journey

Before Virtuous, he and a couple of guys made apps for companies. A valuable lesson was that the world wants beautiful and ease of use. It's not a time for clunky software that only one person in the office knows how to use.

 

Innovation

Is there an innovation problem in the non-profit / faith community? If you are in a faith community, you believe that God created you to be a creative. And if that's the case, you are called to be a leader in innovation and not following 30 years behind. 

If there is a silver lining to covid, it's that it's been a wake-up call to our organizations that we need to be leading in innovation. 

In the past it's been spending 6 months on an idea and when it doesn't work, you get a slap on the wrist and you don't want to try again. What needs to be happening is a faster trial and error, every 2 weeks trying something and celebrate the failures. "Our donors don't like that, now we know!"

Great examples from the Cincinnati Zoo and the Fine Arts Gala. 

Let's not loose that focus and scrappy attitude as we move forward and continue to fight for innovation. 

 

Generosity Crisis

When you dig into the numbers, an outsized portion of the 400 billion is being sucked up by major donors. We have lost a huge portion of low and mid-tier donors. Even though giving hasn't gone down, the writing is on the wall because we are losing the everyday donor. 

 

Lightening Round

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization or cause at any time in history, what would it be?
    • The Clapham Circle 
  2. If you could get a beer with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • John Adams, 2nd President of the United States
  3. Is there enough money out there for every organization that's doing good work?
    • Yes! There's more money floating around than we know what to do with. The problem is both accessing and deploying those funds. 
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • Build endurable relationships with people who care about you greatly. 
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you, professionally?
    • Henry Casiner and Daryl Heald and a handful of authors
  6. What is one fact about Gabe that most people don’t know?
    • His first start up was a record label and his wife was the lead singer of their band. All of his children are musical. 

If you would like to connect with Gabe, you can reach out to him at: virtuous.org

 

Andrew's Key Take-Aways:

  1. We went down a bit of a rabbit trail with our discussion about child sponsorship programs, but I really appreciated a lot about that trail. First, Gabe had a great comment about how people won’t give to save a thousand kids, but they will give to save one. Regardless of your ministry or your mission, this is a principle that you should learn, understand, memorize and write on a sticky note and stick it on your computer monitor to read every day. Your donors want to be the hero of their story and saving one kid, or one college student, or even one soul of any age is how they will find more fulfillment in supporting your organization and understand the impact of their gifts in a tangible way. Be mindful of that and you will raise more money. 
  2. We talked a lot about automation. Whether its Nordstrom's, the Gap, Netflix, Amazon...the world around you is all automated. Why should the nonprofit world not embrace this mentality and leverage technology in the same ways? Gabe mentioned starting a new donor welcome series. We talked about donors automating their giving through monthly recurring donations. Whatever the case may be, there are strategies that your organization can and should be implementing to make you more successful in raising money and building more loyal donors. Now is the time to lean into those ideas and technologies, not shy away from them out of fear or confusion.
  3. Gabe mentioned that the world needs and deserves beautiful and easy to use software and as faith-based leaders, we should be leading the way to create innovative solutions in this regard. Gabe made a great point about the God that we serve being the original innovator and calling us all as men and women of faith to create beauty in our world. I fully support this idea and try my hardest to live this principle myself. I don't always succeed, but as Gabe mentioned, failure should be celebrated because it moves us closer to making something good that does work. And who knows, maybe someone will buy me a cake next time I fall flat on my face. 

 

Action Item:

So what are you doing to embrace failure as a result of trying new ideas? I encourage you to think about that today and write down three new ideas that you are going to try out this week. It could be anything, I just want to encourage you to exercise those innovation muscles today, because muscles that don't get worked out occasionally will die, kind of like the left side of my brain when I skip my weekly sudoku puzzle... 


Again, if you want to learn more about Virtuous, go to virtuous.org and check it out. And if you have questions for Petrus or me, email us [email protected]. We’d love to chat.

And as always, I hope you have a great day today, God bless you and God bless your work.

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