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How to Double Down on People-Powered Philanthropy

By Guest Author September 28, 2022

At the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), we believe anyone can become a philanthropist by rallying friends, family, and local businesses to support the causes they care about. For decades, LLS has harnessed people power to raise funds for cancer research and treatment through Light the NightTeam in TrainingVisionaries of the Year, and other unique in-person events—historically raising 67% of all individual contributions made to LLS.  

When the pandemic threatened this critical revenue stream, we quickly pivoted to create virtual, interactive experiences achieving fantastic results—our campaigns over-performed expectations by 23%, raising over $168 million in support of our mission. Because of our success during the pandemic, we were able to fund more research and services in 2022 than ever before.  

In this blog, you’ll find a list of principles for optimizing people-powered philanthropy in a post-pandemic world. These include tried and true fundamentals of successful event and peer-to-peer campaign planning, and lessons learned during the pandemic.

Stay Mission Centric 

What made us successful in the past and what we will continue to do in the future is using events to create a meaningful connection with our mission. There’s incredible power in doing good and feeling good together. The key is making a clear connection between participation in our events and tangible impact through our mission.

For example, LLS improves the lives of patients every day by working to eradicate blood cancers. When participants raise money for LLS, we regularly remind them in different channels and formats how their efforts directly contribute to improving patient lives. Our supporters are able to make a tangible connection between their participation and the resulting impact.

Support Authentic Experiences

When cancer patients hear the words “You have cancer” for the first time, it’s one of the darkest moments of their lives. LLS shines light into that darkness by providing patients access to  financial assistance, clinical trials, new therapies, and other lifesaving services. Our Light The Night event gives participants an opportunity to literally and figuratively brighten the lives of cancer patients by raising funds to support our mission.

In their fundraising appeals, Light the Night participants often share deeply personal stories of how cancer has affected their lives. On event day, we weave storytelling throughout the event to remind participants of how their efforts help LLS bring light to the darkness. This powerful metaphor allows thousands of people to experience our mission in a meaningful way.

Embrace Your Donors’ Values 

A few years ago LLS began evaluating our sustainability practices because we felt a moral obligation to help protect the planet. It was also becoming increasingly clear that younger generations, including future LLS supporters, care very deeply about the environment—and expect companies and organizations like LLS to embrace sustainability, too. 

When we paused our in-person events during the pandemic, it gave us the chance to step back and evaluate if our fundraising practices were sustainable. We took a hard look at our fundraising incentives and rewards. We asked ourselves: do participants really want a branded water bottle or would they rather get a note from a twelve-year-old cancer survivor? What helps us tell our story and reinforce the connection to our mission while allowing us to be great citizens of the world? 

Evaluating our events through a mission-centric lens has helped us take meaningful steps towards reducing our environmental footprint while demonstrating alignment with our supporters’ values.

Question Everything 

We knew going into the pandemic we would have to be more efficient with our resources. This empowered us to ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo. We didn’t know what the outcomes of the pandemic could mean for us, so we questioned the way we did everything. Are we doing it the best way, the smartest way, and the most efficient way? Are we responding to the world around us and staying ahead of the curve?

We challenged ourselves to find ways to cut costs while making progress on other goals. For example, we cut back on our branded swag, which helped us reduce costs and take meaningful steps toward our sustainability goals. This shift in mindset helped us think creatively and become better stewards of our donors’ contributions.

Make Technology a Strategic Pillar

One of the key ways LLS is continuing to evolve is by making technology a strategic pillar. Like many nonprofits, we have been using a homegrown legacy system. However, the world is changing, and to become a modern organization, we must evolve. 

Today’s donors expect an easy, intuitive, donor-centric experience enabled by technology. To meet these expectations, we’ve partnered with Salesforce and Classy to implement a flexible system that will grow and evolve as quickly as we do. 

We’re excited about this change and believe it will allow us to: 

  • Deliver a better experience to all stakeholders—staff, volunteers, fundraisers, and donors.  
  • Create a seamless journey for our philanthropists to engage with LLS in a variety of ways—from campaigns and individual giving to creating community partnerships and more.
  • Simplify our engagement with philanthropists so we can maximize their generosity to make the biggest impact in research, patient services, and advocacy.

For more on fundraising, check out the Resilient Nonprofit Fundraising Guide.

Coker Powell, Chief Development Officer, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

About the Author

Coker Powell
Chief Development Officer, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Coker Powell is a forward-thinking development leader with a highly successful track record in creating and executing strategic plans to drive organizational growth and innovation. As Chief Development Officer, Powell is responsible for the strategy and delivery of a $450 million annual revenue portfolio, including peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, business development, direct to consumer initiatives, retail/point of sale campaigns, and pharma and healthcare development