By Jon Howard

Make your appeal donor-friendly – a checklist

People give to people. Use a personal voice in fund appeals.Before you sign off on that spring mail appeal to donors, take one last look. Have you really done everything you can to help friends like me respond with a donation?

Have you addressed me personally? Have you used the word “you” in nearly every paragraph? Have you thanked me? Have you shown me how important I am to your work?

Have you used a human voice? Use the singular pronoun “I,” not the snooty “We.” Speak the everyday language you would use with a neighbor or friend. Replace insider jargon with words your Mom would understand.

Have you asked me clearly for money? Don’t try to sneak up on me with your ask. Tell me up front that you’re writing for my help with an important need and what specific amount or range of contributions you’re hoping I’ll consider. Then remind me again at the end (after you’ve made me care).

Have you explained how my donation will make a difference and to whom? A story or testimonial from someone who benefited from my past donations adds credibility to this promise.

Have you created urgency? Why do you need my money right now? To earn a matching gift? To be sure you can serve every deserving student when school opens?   Read more

2013 set records for charitable giving

If you’re waiting for a rising tide of charitable giving, you may already have missed it.

Charitable giving in the U.S. reached an all-time high of $416 billion in 2013, according to the Atlas of Giving’s latest report on giving in the last 12 months, an increase of 13.3% over 2012. Looking ahead, the Atlas projects giving growth of just 4 percent for 2014.

The 2013 Atlas of Giving report was released today, via a live stream announcement featuring Rob Mitchell of the Atlas.

Giving to philanthropies that receive most of their gifts from major donors and foundation grants grew the most. Human services received 19.1 percent more gifts and grants than in 2012. Environmental organizations saw giving grow by 18.5 percent. That’s because a booming stock market and recovering real estate caused a huge jump in the value of assets, according to Mitchell.

Religious organizations did not fare as well, reflecting their reliance on the current incomes of less affluent donors. With employment high and wages flat, giving to religion rose just 8.8 percent.

Looking ahead, you still have a chance to claim a piece of 2013’s stock market Read more

Best questions for 2014?

Reflection questions for the year past:

What did we think was impossible this year, but accomplished anyway? What made it possible?
Of all that we accomplished, what makes us most proud? Why is that important to us?
What question was I asked in 2013 that was so powerful I couldn’t stop thinking about it? Why?

Read more

Get your wish – make a fundraising wish list

Not long ago, we worked with a temporary shelter for homeless families. They had mattresses, but no beds. They were buried in plastic toys, but lacked preschool supplies. They had dozens of friends and volunteers more than eager to help, but getting the bills paid was a monthly cliffhanger. The problem: they took whatever people offered and did not ask for what they really needed. They didn’t have a wish list.

A recent article from Benevon reminded us of the importance of making wishes– and of sharing your wishes with others. The article, Point of Entry – Causing the Ripple Effect does a great job of showing the potential chain-reaction impacts of good cultivation work from the donor’s point of view. (We also highly recommend the excellent Raising More Money: the Point of Entry Handbook by Terry Axelrod.)

The article stresses the critical importance of having a well-considered Wish List for every new prospect, even though it may be too early to make a direct solicitation. New friends get a copy of this list with other materials.

Just  having this list in their hands immediately boosts the prospect’s perception of your organization from :”Good Cause” to “Good Cause That Knows What It Wants.” It’s a critical step toward a future conversation about how that individual can help you get what your organization and the people you serve really need to move ahead.

Be creative and thoughtful about your wish list and provide a broad range of ways for people to contribute: volunteering, in-kind goods and services to cash contributions. Even referrals. If you are hiring, let your prospects know – they may have just the right person for the job. Need new board members or a volunteer receptionist? Put those needs on your wish list, too.

Ask your colleagues to help you name things that they truly need and will happily accept and use. While in-kind contributions can be great, cash gives you far greater choice and flexibility. Put price tags on the things you want and give your donor the option of helping you buy it for yourself. Include a range of costs from that playground equipment set at $50,000 down to toys and books  for $50 and $25.

You never know who will turn out to be your fairy godmother or when she’ll turn up. When she does appear, make sure she’ll know what you really need.

How does your money management stack up?

Here’s a chance to contribute to a study on nonprofit investment policies and performance – and get an inside look at the results for free. Raffa Wealth Management has launched The Study on Nonprofit Investing to identify best practices in money management at charities, public foundations and trade associations.

The deadline to register to take Raffa’s 10- to 15-minute survey is January 18. Raffa says participants will be able to download the full report when it is completed soon after the end of February. This will be the first in an annual series of money management surveys for nonprofits, according to Raffa.

In her last post, Gayle wrote about benchmarking – the practice of measuring your  organization’s performance against information from peers and learning from their best practices. Gayle pointed out how difficult it can sometimes be to get comparable information. In this case, you only have to take an email survey and Raffa will do the rest.