I had the pleasure of attending the Changing the Face of Philanthropy Summit in Washington, DC. This conference prides itself on offering meaningful conversations with experts from the nonprofit, private, and civic sectors to encourage philanthropy in the Black community. One of this year’s speakers was the Honorable Randall L. Woodfin, Esq., the Mayor of the City of Birmingham.Although his speech was more about his journey to becoming one of the youngest civic leaders, my ears perked up when I heard about how he was able to raise the money for his campaign. Raising money for political campaigns sure can be difficult with little to no resources, but not impossible. Through symbolic giving (and a robust sustainer program), Woodfin was able to raise enough money to successfully win his campaign.
Symbolic giving could mean a plethora of things, but simply put, it’s a donor donating a dollar amount that resonates with them and with the organization or cause. In this case, Woodfin found money outside of Birmingham. His alma mater was founded in 1867, so he asked for $18.67 from his fellow alumni. He asked $18.81 from the alma mater’s “sister” school and asked $19.06 from his fraternity brothers. Woodfin remarked in his conversation that donors were willing to give because he found something that was symbolic to them. Over time, these one-time asks turned into monthly gifts.
Although this was the first time I had heard about symbolic giving in political campaigns, it’s not the first time I’ve heard the phrase. Symbolic giving doesn’t always mean donating the amount of the year the organization was founded, it could be “donating 15 cents a day to sponsor a child in Africa” or “buying one pair of Toms means that a child in a third-world country will receive their own pair”. Finding ways to change how your donors give is all around you, just remember to test to make sure that your donors respond to it!