Vancouver fundraising expert Harvey McKinnon comes across as anything but reticent.
He’s spoken in front of large gatherings at conferences. He’s written five books and sat on high-profile boards of directors. He also pops up in the media from time to time as a commentator.
Most significantly, McKinnon’s company has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations around North America.
Yet in a recent phone interview with the Straight, he described himself as “unbelievably shy” when he was a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
But that changed after a friend invited him to attend a small gathering to discuss institutionalized racism back in 1975. Two of the seven people were from Namibia—then known as South West Africa—which was then under apartheid.
“I was so moved by the stories they were telling me that I decided to start an anti-apartheid group on campus,” McKinnon recalled. “That got me out of being shy. I started bringing in films.”
That led him to begin raising money for Oxfam, a global antipoverty and human-rights organization. He’s a talented writer—and to his great pleasure, his fundraising pitches worked wonders on donors.
“It’s an unbelievable rush to go get mail and there is tens of thousands of dollars for a cause you believe in,” McKinnon said.
When he was just 23 years old, he was invited to join Oxfam Canada’s board of directors, due in part to his fundraising prowess.
His first book, Hidden Gold, was published in 1999. It promoted monthly giving to build donor loyalty and increase nonprofit organizations’ income and financial stability.
This year, McKinnon expanded on that theme in a new book, How to Create Lifelong Donors Through Monthly Giving. It showed that virtually any organization can attract monthly donors, which offers a long-term, low-cost revenue stream.
“Monthly giving is in many ways the best way for charities to raise money because it allows people to make modest gifts once a month, just like you’re paying a bill,” McKinnon said. “But it adds up over the year.”
He has been donating monthly to Oxfam for 40 years. And he’s been giving money to Greenpeace on a monthly basis for 30 years.
“So the amount of money I can give over time really adds up,” he said. “And I don’t notice it missing.”
Another pioneer was Amnesty International, which is one of his clients.
“They made a phenomenal amount of money from monthly giving—definitely the backbone of their organization,” McKinnon said.
The international human-rights group surveyed its monthly donors to find out why they chose to do this.
Nine percent cited Amnesty’s efforts to help end torture. But 51 percent responded that they gave monthly because it’s convenient to them.
“I think the key thing is it doesn’t matter if you’re a small organization or a large organization,” McKinnon emphasized. “It helps bring stability and more income to your cause. And, most importantly, donors like it.
“It’s easy for them. It’s automatic. They don’t have to think about it.”