Open Source Fundraising

Published by Rebecca Davies on

2016 is ending not completely without marvel for me. Two great things happened last week. First, on December 16, the family of Canadian philanthropists Larry and Judy Tanenbaum donated $20 million to create the Tanenbaum Open Institute at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. Inspired by open science, these donors understand that researchers will be able to find cures and treatments faster by sharing their data.

Open science allows the exploration of data by many people to generate many new questions. And new questions generate new answers. Open science is a subset of open-source philosophy which comes from software. In open source – or view source – developers look for ways of making and sharing software to improve their products and solve human problems. A famous example is the Mozilla Project, where the participation of a community of 40,000 people created the Firefox browser. They did and continue to file bugs, test for quality assurance, and, at the top of the pyramid, contribute complex code. The software freedom tenets give anyone the ability to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.

Open source projects are perfect propositions for donors, who are often interested in leveraging and the multiplier effects from their charity investments, as was the Tanenbaum family.

I love open source everything, and it’s just perfect in fundraising. I believe that working open – defined by @OpenMatt as using transparency, agility, and community participation to increase impact and get more done – is what we’ve been doing at 101fundraising.org these last six years. Blogging by definition is working open. In fact, as this is the last 101 blog post ever, I might as well say it: I believe the 101 project is mis-named: we’re not a crowdblog on fundraising, we’re open source fundraising. Certainly, crowdsourcing and open sourcing have things in common: both try to tap into the wisdom and resources of a the crowd, to get value from people outside of the core team, to create community and commercialisation through participation. But open philosophy says that crowds aren’t all smart, but that communities of peers are. And crowdsourcing typically benefits one product marketer or entrepreneur in a finite way, where open sourcing is all about openness and community and infinite return for all.

Think about it: every 101 blog post these last six years has been a publicising of data, case studies, opinions, problems, results, lessons learnt, and methodology. All opened to our global community of fundraisers for consideration, reaction, testing, tinkering, iteration, and improvement. Improvement of the profession, art, science of fundraising, one of the few ways of getting the resources to address some of the most grievous problems in this world. It’s a lot to shoulder sometimes: solve climate change/change human rights policy/secure funding for that opera libretto that’s going to change the belief systems of its audience. What’s the right donor segment/channel integration/creative content to do this? Open up and blog. We need to keep blogging about our fundraising challenges, posting and sharing our results, and commenting and questioning and testing and iterating everything. Open source fundraising. We have so many problems to solve in fundraising: put the question out there, and others will collaborate in solving it with you. Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

And at present, there are a lot of bugs. People everywhere are feeling overwhelmed with severity and multiplicity of acute problems facing or threatening our planet.

We need a forced multiplier to tackle the state of the world. I believe to my core that one way through is opening up what we know about fundraising so we all can do better together.

With this, the final blog post of 101fundraising.org, I sign off with the other inspiring thing that happened for me last week. On December 15, an email went to the fundraising directors at Save the Children, then somewhat viral through the organisation. Written by Julie Weston, Director of the Global Fundraising Hub, her Holiday (fundraising) Wishis a great manifesto in working open: it encourages testing, iteration, and sharing of fundraising assets, and freely offers expertise and participation. Most importantly and too rarely, it’s an example of open leadership. I asked her if I could share it with you, not only as an example of the best of open, but as a tribute to 101 and to you, dear 101 community. For me, her email represents what we’ve done together these past six years: open source contribution to fundraising best practice. Enjoy the read. And then try, test, and share back.

Julie’s Holiday (fundraising) Wish


Fatima*, 3, inside her family’s temporary shelter in the suburbs of Idleb where they have been living after they were forced to leave their hometown because of the violent clashes and heavy bombinb.

We live in particularly tough times for children. As a leader in fundraising for Save the Children, do you raise money this week for children in Yemen? Do you speak out and raise vital funds for children and their families trapped in Aleppo? Or do you start planning how to raise more for Search & Rescue in 2017 because we need to get the boat back in the water and save lives?

We are all lucky to work for an amazing organisation that is there for children in all of these crises – and many more.

So my Holiday wish is for all of us to do all we can to have a final push and raise more vitally needed funds for the most vulnerable children in the world today.

When I was a fundraising director, this is the time we’d get together as a team and brain storm on what more we can do. Here would be one of my contributions because it is totally doable!

I’d start calling donors – or have our best performing outbound call centre do it or more than one depending on volumes.

The donors I’d prioritise would be
– those who always give to emergencies and may give again even if they have already this year
– the donors who give higher average gifts ($100+ as single gifts) starting with the highest givers
– if this was working well, why not call all donors you have a phone number for?

I’d go all out to start calling by Friday and through the weekend because now is the time. If it works, I’d keep calling next week as we approach the holidays.

As a fundraiser, I’d know that would give a great ROI and, even if I’d run out of budget, I’d ask my CEO for more to do this.

I’d ask donors if they can make an exceptional gift for the Children’s Emergency Fund (CEF) and we’d make sure the children in greatest need get it. And I’d tell the donor we are helping children in all of the places they are hearing about in the media right now. If they want their donation to go to children in Aleppo, then allocate to Aleppo. If you decide it’s stronger to ask for Aleppo, rather than CEF, then ask for Aleppo. You can figure this out in the first few calls. We fundraisers always like to test.

(And I’d share the phone script with fundraising teams in other countries because we can all do more for children by sharing).

Then I would get on the phone myself – and so would the chief executive – and we’d call all of our top donors personally and ask if they could make an exceptional donation for children as these are exceptionally tough times for children. It is the time of year for giving, we know they are generous and together we are there for children. And I’d wish them and their families a healthy and happy holidays.

And I wish you all a healthy and happy holidays too. You and your teams have achieved so much in 2016 to be really proud of. And we can all feel proud of working for Save the Children.


Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies is incoming Chief Development Officer of Save the Children Canada. As past director of fundraising for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, from 2007-2014 she lead a team that in seven years increased private revenue from $19 million to over $50 million. Prior to joining MSF, she held senior fundraising positions in some of Canada’s top hospitals and the University of Toronto. Her current volunteer passion is the Ripple Refugee Project, where she and a group of concerned Torontonians are sponsoring and settling five Syrian families over the new few years. Rebecca’s an active musician (French horn), plays hockey and golf, and very proudly is on the executive for and was the inaugural blog post contributor to 101fundraising.org.


Matt Thompson · December 19, 2016 at 18:45

I love this post. In particular because it connects “open” to the *present moment*, which is crucial. The world has changed in recent months, and so has how people are feeling. We need to position “open” — open science, working open, and opening ourselves to more collaborative approaches — as one of the key force multipliers the world needs right now. Otherwise, it just feels abstract and disconnected. Or a “nice thing to try when we have time” — versus the slingshot we all need to take down the Goliaths that threaten us so severely right now.

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