From Fundraising

Deep thoughts on the ice bucket fundraising challenge

Since a twitter chat at #fundchat, I’ve been having deep thoughts on the ice bucket fundraising challenge.

1. Are they really “new donors” or just leads?

ice bucketWith the fundraising world now rightly focused on retention, the big question on the Twitter chat was how will the ALS Association keep these donors.

I think it might be a mistake to jump all the way to assuming that these 1.9 million new donors (as of Aug 26, 2014) are really donors yet. With new donor dropout rates in the 70-80%s, there’s already an axiom in the fundraising world that your donor isn’t really your donor until they’ve made a 2nd gift. And that’s for people who on their own initiative responded to a direct mail appeal or TV ad.

But these “donors” are responding to a peer ask,  like a walk-a-thon giver. The emotional connection is to the asker  not the cause.

If I were the ALS Association I’d be doing two things. First, Read more

Donor messages stick better on paper

Screens create distance between readers and your words.

Before you drop your direct mail donor appeals and donor newsletter, consider these findings by literacy scholars in Norway and Canada. Paper beats computer screens at making written information, ideas and emotions stick in readers’ minds.

Of course, fundraisers already know this: printed direct mail still does better than email in terms of donor response rates by wide margins.

A new study from Norway takes a deeper look at the difference between paper and screen. Using both fiction and factual articles, researchers compared comprehension and retention between groups reading the same material from PDFs on monitors and from printed pages. The group reading from screens understood significantly less than those reading print. Anne Mangen at the Reading Centre of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her co-authors speculate Read more

Train your CEO to be a fundraiser

How do you train your CEO to be a fundraiser?

Jeff Schreifel provides excellent advice in his article, 6 Ways to Influence Your CEO to love Fundraising, in the online magazine Fundraising Success.

Most CEO’s are just shy about fundraising and not sure how to get started. Here are a few examples from my own experience that align with Jeff’s excellent overview.

Back in the early 90s, I was the first hire of a newly appointed executive director for a statewide environmental organization. My boss was promoted into this position from his previous job as director of programs. While he certainly had been involved with some grant work and interacted with the board of directors, he had little direct experience with major gift fundraising and approached it reluctantly.

Over a decade later, he was a seasoned fundraiser and had grown the organization from a $1 million to a $4 million operation, including cutting the ribbon on a gorgeous, award-winning, environmentally-friendly building.

Here are a few examples from the start of his journey.

1. Get critical fundraising buddies. A few of our board members who were major donors and experienced fundraisers themselves saw it as their responsibility to take him under their wing. These individuals introduced the executive director to other major donors, accompanied him on cultivation and solicitation visits, and modeled the fundraising behaviors that he would come to develop himself. Of course, they were also sending a pretty clear message that fundraising was part of the job.

2.  Meet donors and prospects who intersect with the CEO’s program interests. Among our donors, we had a number of local manufacturing businesses. As development director, I worked with our executive director to get out and visit these individuals at their manufacturing sites. We walked many a shop floor, viewing the latest pollution prevention investments and hearing the heartfelt stories of people trying to do the right thing but sometimes being thwarted by ineffective environmental regulations. Our CEO found most of these meetings to be extremely rewarding, increasing his personal insight into on-the-ground practical application of environmental regulations. A number of these business owners grew to become major financial champions of the organization.

3.Hang out with other CEOs who are good at fundraising. The prior CEO was already a member of an informal support network of the other environmental CEOs in New England. This group got together periodically to discuss program and government issues, to compare notes on management or fundraising, and to just generally learn from each other.Having successful peers talk about their own major gift and foundation work was an important motivator.

4. Practice. Practice. Practice. Our CEO got better at major gift fundraising by doing it over and over again.  As the development director, it was my part of my job to manage that activity. I was responsible, directly or through my staff, for ensuring our CEO had a list of prospects to visit, to make sure duties were assigned and strategies coordinated and to support and follow up on my CEO’s activities.


Need more help on how to fundraise?

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed in your small shop, get yourself a copy of The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits. You’ll find great advice from 8 nationally know fundraisers who have spent their own time in the trenches. Buy it on Amazon today!

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Hiring a fundraiser? Some questions to ask.

Free Download:  Bringing a Development Director on Board In the excitement of hiring a new fundraiser, it’s easy to forget to bring the necessary rigor to your interview. All those exciting resumes! All those gobs of money allegedly raised!

As the ground breaking research UnderDeveloped discovered, it’s really hard finding a fundraiser you can afford with the experience you need. It’s easy to be charmed by the individual and to hire for all the wrong reasons. You can read all about that in our article: The Ten Worst Reasons For Hiring Your Development Director 

One way to be more confident about who you hire is to be meticulous about reference checking.

Another screen is to be very thoughtful about the types of questions you ask in your interviews.

What kinds of questions do you want to ask in your interview?

  • Questions that probe for technical skills in action because you want someone with both the fundraising knowledge and the ability to execute
  • Questions that uncover the candidate’s personal attributes, like creativity, passion for achievement or people skills
  • Questions about the candidate’s approach to work to help you understand how they might fit in your workplace
  • Questions about their service to the profession or philanthropy
  • Questions about their future ambitions and goals

Read more

Where has all the philanthropy gone? More and more to the biggest.

The Giving USA 2014 Annual Report shows that donor giving has just about returned to pre-recession levels. You can get a free copy of the short report. It has those tables about where philanthropy comes from (90% from individuals when you count bequests and family foundations) and where it goes (religion again the winner at 31%,though that’s a decrease over the last two decades).

But what the report doesn’t cover is the income stratification in this sector. Where does the money go if we look at nonprofits by size? And how has that changed over time?

Using  National Center for Charitable Statistics data from the Business Master Files, I  looked at the numbers of organizations by expenditure size in 1995, 2000, 2010 and 2012.  The chart below shows the growth in the number of public charities using only the data from those filing Form 990*. The colored areas represent the proportion of the total number. As you can see, public charities below $100,000 in expenditures (the bottom of the chart) account for just about 44% of the total number of charities, while those over $100 million (top of the chart), are just .07%. If you add together the top two categories, organizations above $10 million in spending, they total only 4.5% of reporting US public charities.

# or organizations by sizeBut here’s where it gets really interesting. In order to look at the sources of data using the readily available, I had to switch over to the NCCS Core Files of public charities which is not an exact match in numbers to the BMF. But it was the only way I could view the category on the 990 called “Contributions, Gifts & Grants,” which is most of the philanthropy. The good news is that the amount of giving increased, reflecting the growth in numbers. That growth came at the top, with the top 4% of charities receiving 66.4% of total dollars given (the top two bars), up from  51% in 1995. The contributions received by those small organizations at the bottom (under $1M) stayed pretty flat, compared to the bigger organizations.

Gain by size of organization 1995


These disparities worry me a lot. Like US society, the gains have come at the top.

We already know that organizations with more fundraisers raise more money. And the smallest organizations, if they can afford a fundraiser at all, can’t compete financially for talent with the big guys.

But this is a lot to chew on before a holiday weekend. I’m hoping to break this data down even more in a future post.

*The number of public charities that did not report is very large, ranging from 332,305 in 1995, to 585,526 in 2012.


Fundraisers – your caring stewardship might ease a donor’s loneliness

I was shocked to learn that at any given time 1 in 5, or 60 million Americans, suffer from loneliness. This figure comes from the research of University of Chicago psychology professor John T. Cacioppo, PhD, coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.

In an article for O Magazine, Sanjay Gupta, MD describes loneliness as “acute bouts of melancholy we all feel from time to time, as well as a chronic lack of intimacy—a yearning for someone to truly know you, get you, see you—that can leave people feeling seriously unmoored.” 

Could it also be 1 in 5 of our donors are experiencing this same loneliness as well?

If that is true, then it adds an importance to caring for our donors beyond the potential return in gifts to our organizations. It should make you pause and think again about dashing off that aseptic thank you letter – bereft of emotion or personal connection. Or give you another reason to get out the door to regularly visit your donors and genuinely care about how they are doing

“Reaching out, even in the smallest ways, can inch us closer to more meaningful relationships, which research shows can prevent much of the damage social isolation causes.” Dr. Gupta.

Donor notes – lessons from The Lunchbox

Jon and I saw The Lunchbox last Friday. It’s a wonderfully charming new movie by Ritesh Batra in which two lonely people make a connection as a result of a mix-up in Mumbai’s extraordinary tiffin delivery system.

Our protagonists Saajan and Ila have never met each other as the film starts, yet by the end they have developed a deep connection (not giving much away here).

How did they do it? By sending each other notes, almost daily, through the lunchbox.

Once again, I’m struck by the power of the lowly, low tech note to touch another life.

I know when I head to my mailbox, a handwritten small envelope that contains a note is the thing I’m immediately drawn to read. Sometimes I don’t rip it open right away, waiting instead to savor its hidden message with a freshly brewed cup of tea or in sitting in my most comfy chair.

What would a well-crafted, caring note mean to one of your donors right now? What new depths of a relationship could you spark through a series of thoughtful connections?

Please share your powerful note stories. I’d love to hear them.

Here are a few more stories:

Thank yous that matter

An attitude of gratitude






Why consistency matters in fundraising

I wanted to share this guest post from Carol Golden, senior philanthropy advisor at the Rhode Island Foundation.  Carol joined the Rhode Island Foundation as its first development professional in 1991. Under Carol’s leadership during the past two decades, the Foundation has raised more than $425 million.

Carol GoldenThrough my work as a fundraiser and philanthropic advisor, I’ve been fascinated with the surprising amount of turnover in the development field. Have you noticed how frequently development professionals change from one organization to another? I have, and it concerns me.

The donors I’ve worked with throughout my career support a myriad of nonprofits that provide important services and resources to our communities. They are committed to helping these community organizations be successful and effective. All of these nonprofits need fuel for their work, and fundraising, along with fee for services, is an essential piece.

Individual donors, particularly at the major donor level, are one of the most important elements of a nonprofit’s success (along with effective and passionate leadership and top quality programs.) And, nothing connects an individual donor more strongly than respectful and consistent donor stewardship by key development staff. Note the word consistent. Read more

Fundraisers – 10 tips for advancing your career

I was asked to facilitate a roundtable discussion at 2014 Fundraising Day in Southern New England. Thought I’d pass along the tips I gathered and shared.

1. Know  yourself

  • What are your passions?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What are you fears/demons?

2. Be really good at your job

  • Embrace results
  • Embrace metrics
  • Learn about your cause
  • Engage in your whole organization

3. Learn all you can about your profession

  • Workshops, conference, webinars, college classes
  • Professional journals e.g. Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly
  • Know the research Read more

Yes, your nonprofit should care about millennials.

If we are going to be effective in this world, not just in raising money, but in serving our missions, we have to be smart, informed, adaptive, resilient and energetic about the work that we are doing. When Maggie Kuhn found herself living alone in her big house, she invited younger women to come be her roommates. We need to too.

Because our nonprofits need everyone’s energy and knowledge, young and old, shared across the generations, to make our missions happen.

Read more