From Fundraising

Ten norms for fundraising teams

I was recycling paper and shredding files on this rainy day. I found this old gem among the papers I had prepared for a small fundraising campaign is was working on. Red spiky flowers again beach

If you are a fundraiser, guaranteed you’ve tried to rev up a bunch of willing but hesitant fundraising volunteers. They may be board members or fundraising donors, even your program staff.

These ten norms for fundraising teams were designed for them. You’ll see that they are heavy on the encouragement to just do it!

I agree to the following:

  1. I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to start.
  2. I’ll discover the joy in raising money for [name organization or cause]
  3. I’ll ask, otherwise I’ll never know.
  4. I’ll rely on my team – volunteers, staff, consultant – for support and advice.
  5. I’ll only volunteer for assignments I know I can complete.
  6. I’ll ask for help when I need it, as soon as I need it.
  7. I’ll take risks and not fear failing.
  8. I’ll remember the advice of hockey player Wayne Gretzky: “100% of shots you never take won’t go in.”
  9. I’ll provide written or oral debriefs to our team leader on all meetings and contacts with potential donors.

What do you think? Will these work for you? 

What working agreements or norms has your fundraising team agreed to? Please share them with us.

More reading for you:

What does your board know about fundraising?

Board member fundraising; what they need from you

A fundraiser’s guide to working with board members


Play attention to your lapsed donor

What do you do to renew a lapsed donor? green circle with sad face on tree

I decided not to renew my membership in the Association of Fundraising Professionals. My membership ended in December 2022.

I would have marked 35 years as a loyal member this year.

What did AFP do about my nonrenewal? Not much.  I’ll get to that story in a moment.

Why I joined AFP

As my consulting practice has evolved over the years, the amount of fundraising consultation has diminished substantially. So in looking at that $350 a year price tag (two, as Jon and I are both members), I had to ask myself if my AFP membership was still worth it.

When I joined AFP back in 1988 (it was NSFRE then), I was Director of Development and Communications at PLAN USA (which back then was called Foster Parents Plan). My fundraising focus was national and all direct response. I attended my first local AFP conference because there was a session on planned giving which I was interested in formalizing for PLAN (we received unsolicited bequests virtually every year, but had no formal marketing program. The ins and outs of planned gifts were beyond my expertise),

While attending that first conference, I realized that the language of traditional fundraisers was so different from my direct marketing schooling. Annual fund? What’s that? I just raised money all year round. I didn’t have experience in face-to-face fundraising and was just getting proposal writing under my belt. So there was a lot for me to learn.

How I benefited from my AFP membership

And I learned a lot. When I moved from Plan to Save The Bay,  I needed to learn all about special events, and corporate giving.

I found a wonderfully supportive network among my local colleagues, many of whom are now dear friends. The late Simone Joyaux invited me into volunteering for the chapter and I subsequently spent years on the RI Board, as its President, as a mentor, as a workshop presenter and just ready to help as I could, always available to my colleagues.

When I joined my husband and founded our consulting firm Cause & Effect Inc. in 1996, AFP nationally grew in importance to me. I attended the national conference and presented a few times. I attended and presented at other conferences in the New England region. The code of ethics and national advocacy were of great value. (I still have my beef with the PAC though. And for many years the lack of AFP accommodation for the many, many fundraisers working at small organizations that couldn’t afford the membership).

I decided to earn my CFRE, largely because I was interested in earning the ACFRE, the advanced fundraising credential held by only one other Rhode Islander, Simone. So I earned the CFRE, recertified once and then pursued the ACFRE which I received in 2002. That professional validation was important to my confidence as a consultant, as was earning my MS in management in 2000.

Why I decided not to renew

However, over the 26+ years I’ve been a consultant, the percentage of my projects that are directly fundraising has diminished substantially. I needed  to deepen my practice, my thinking and skills in other areas, like organization capacity building and public engagement including assessment, strategic planning, business planning, governance and board development, facilitation, organization behavior, DEAI, anti-racism, teaching and more. Other professional associations and communities of practice better filled those needs, like the Alliance for Nonprofit Management or Boston Facilitators and OD Roundtable, and even the New England Museum Association which aligned with the course I’ve been teaching at Brown University for over a decade.

So, when I received that renewal notice late last fall, I had to ask myself again, was the $350 price tag worth it?

A looming question for me was would I lose my hard won ACFRE without renewing my AFP membership? But the ACFRE doesn’t require being a member of AFP, though it does require “membership and active participation in a field-related professional organization, with demonstrated volunteer service to nonprofit organizations.” Check.

So, I gritted my teeth and made the decision. I decided not to renew.

What happened?

What AFP didn’t do. 

I received maybe two mailings reminding me my membership was about to or then had lapsed. I received an email on January 7th telling me my membership lapsed.

That’s it. No phone call. No call from AFP Global or even my local chapter. Membership over. I was dispensable. Forgotten.

At some point I am likely to attend a local event and pay the non-member price for the first time in 35 years. That should get some attention, right?

Don’t be like AFP. Instead, adopt the membership attitude of one of my clients, the Audubon Society of RI. Here’s the story of how they treat longtime donors who lapse:  How one nonprofit loved their lapsed members back

Would I now renew even if I was contacted? Unlikely. As the most expensive of all my professional memberships, it is the one delivering the least reward.

But I am sad. After all those years of loyalty, all those years of service, my membership in  AFP ended not with a bang, not even with a whimper.


7 factors you need to have influence as a fundraiser

I hear from Directors of Development all the time that they are frustrated in their positions.  These Directors feel that they don’t have influence as the fundraiser. They say they feel marginalized by their Executive Director, frustrated with board members, or stymied by uncooperative program staff.

Is this you? Do you lack the influence you need to be a successful fundraiser?

Here’s the bad news. You can’t really change other people. They have to change themselves. .

But you do have control over the way you behave and relate to others inside your organization. And by doing that, you can help create the insight others need for change.

As I was preparing for a workshop presentation for AFP ICON 2021, reviewed my own ability to have influence as a fundraiser. I focused on the three jobs I had as Director of Development.

For example, in my first fundraising job, I started as a sponsorship relations coordinator creating the newsletter and fund appeals on a budget of $75,000. Seven years later, I was part of the five person senior management team at this national nonprofit. When I chronicled the changes, my department grew from just me to a six person department with a budget of $750,000. I oversaw house fundraising, grants, donor education, cross-cultural communications, volunteers, a resource library, and a startup bequest society. I also participated on teams within the organization and with our international colleagues.

Here are 7 factors I found to be essential to have influence as a fundraiser:

1. Expertise.

Demonstrate that you know what you are doing, as both a fundraiser and as a manager. That means learning what really works and doesn’t work in fund development and how to put that into action. This requires you to read the research, participate in the professional organizations that value research, hang out with colleagues who have proven they can raise money. You need to take charge of your professional development. Read more

What does your board know about fundraising?

What does your board know about fundraising? I wanted to share my podcast interview on boards and fundraising with Steven Halasnik of Nonprofit MBA.

What does your board know about fundraising? Start here:

  • First and foremost, the board needs to ensure that its nonprofit is making an important difference for its community, its constituents, or the planet. That is, the Board needs to ensure that the organization is worthy of donor support.
  • Next, it needs to ensure that the organization is trustworthy, that it stewards its resources well.
  • Then, board members need a deep emotional connection to the mission, to be able to be ambassadors and to sincerely thank donors for their support.
  • After that… it depends…

Is your nonprofit worthy and trustworthy?

7 tips to see new fundraising opportunities

Is your fundraising stuck in a rut? Have you lost the ability to see new fundraising opportunities in your current work?

Have you ever played with a kaleidoscope? Those are those tubes that you look through and as you twist them colors and images shift.

I hadn’t played with one in years until I received one as a gift for presenting a workshop at a fundraising conference. Instead of creating designs from shapes embedded in the kaleidoscope itself, this one made fascinating patterns out of whatever you were looking at.

Successful fundraisers are a lot like kaleidoscopes.

How? Excellent fundraisers have the ability to look at people and their own organizations and see limitless opportunities for making interesting designs together.

As fundraisers, we are always on the lookout for donors whose dreams and desires are a perfect match with our organization. Sometimes that match is pretty straightforward, as when a loved one is stricken by a disease and family members give to the organization that is working to find a cure. Or the guidelines of a foundation are a perfect fit with our programs. Read more

True donor gratitude

Henrietta White-Holder, Founder and CEO of Higher Ground International

On this day of giving thanks, I’m resharing this post from 2018 about true donor gratitude, from a heart filled with love.

All my best to all of  you and your loved ones for this Thanksgiving.

You might want to read about the history and myth of Thanksgiving while  you are waiting for the turkey to roast.


We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.

But then organizations revert to form by tiering their gratitude to the size of the gift. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report. Big givers get their names at the top of the donor wall. They are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.

The little gift donor barely registers.

Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think what kind of sacrifice might come with that gift? Someone of limited means or on a fixed income may have reached deep to send their donation.

So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.

With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:

“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.

“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).

“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.

“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!

“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”

Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.

More on donor gratitude

An attitude of gratitude

13/100 Things we’ve learned: Build a culture of gratitude

COVID disrupts nonprofit volunteering

You may not be surprised to hear that COVID has caused a major drop in volunteer participation, according to a report from Fidelity Charitable – but fundraisers should take notice. Volunteer experiences can be an important point of entry for many donors, particularly Millenials. The study is summarized in today’s Mass Nonprofit News.

Sixty-six percent of volunteers report ending or decreasing their volunteer commitments since the crisis began. Only 11 percent have increased their volunteer hours. Of those who maintained or increased their commitments, about 80 percent participate online, compared to just 11 percent before COVID.

As with other COVID impacts, we can only speculate whether these changes in behavior will stick when we arrive at our future “normal.” In the meantime, it’s a good idea to engage with idled volunteers now to sustain these valuable relationships.

Hiring a fundraiser? Six questions to get you started.

Free Download: Bringing a Development Director on Board Are you excited about hiring a new fundraiser?

While looking at all those exciting resumes, it’s easy to forget to bring the necessary rigor to your interview. Don’t get swayed by all those gobs of money allegedly raised!

As we learned from the ground breaking study UnderDeveloped, it’s really hard finding a fundraiser you can afford with the experience you need. Don’t be charmed by the individual and hire for all the wrong reasons. We share our cautions in our article: The Ten Worst Reasons For Hiring Your Development Director 

To be more confident about who you hire, be meticulous about reference checking.

Another screen is to be very thoughtful about the types of questions you ask in your interviews. Here are some tips:

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

  • Because you need someone with both fundraising knowledge and the ability to execute, ask questions that probe for technical skills in action.
  • Consider questions that uncover the candidate’s personal attributes, like creativity, passion for achievement or people skills.
  • Be sure to ask about your candidate’s approach to work to help you understand how they might fit in your workplace.
  • Because you wanted dedicated professionals, ask about professional membership, professional development and service to the profession or philanthropy.
  • And of course, it’s important to know where they are heading, so ask about their future ambitions and goals.

Read more

Board member fundraising — what they need from you

Guess what development director. Board member fundraising is hard work.

Your board members aren’t going to start fundraising just because they are now on the board. And you can’t scold them into participating.

You’ve got to treat them as the individuals they are. If you invest time in these directors, some will become strong partners with you. Others may participate around the edges. With the proper attention, all will give.

Change happens in stages

Most of us don’t leap from never doing something to suddenly being good at it. We usually need to contemplate our new role, convincing ourselves that the benefits of doing the new thing are greater than the cons of doing it. Then we need to prepare, to develop the skills we need. With those skills, then we are ready to act, taking a small step forward into doing. After that it’s practice, practice, practice. And with the right supports to enable the new thing to eventually become second nature. .

What do board members need from you?

Above all, they need to really get the need for raising money. No, not the financial statement line item. The compelling case for support they can understand in their hearts, as well as their head.   How the money links to the outcomes. You can never explain this enough.

So show them. Create the transformative experience that knocks their socks off. A day volunteering in your food pantry?  That bird banding session with your super caring staff? A special trip to capitol hill?

Help them find the large donor in themselves. Have a relationship building strategy for each board member, just like you would have a strategy for any of your prospects.

What else do they need?

On the practical side:

  • The right assignment that corresponds to their planned movement up the change ladder
  • Leadership from you, the professional
  • A menu of options from a well-developed plan
  • Personal training, coaching, encouragement
  • Logistical support
  • Your gratitude for their work
  • Celebrating their baby steps and the big ones

And for yourself… when thinking about board member fundraising, start with the willing few. Then work your way deeper into the pack.

Volunteer fundraiser commitment

I was cleaning my workshop files and found this compact, or volunteer fundraiser commitment, I created a few years ago. Feel free to share.

Here’s my volunteer fundraiser commitment.

I will:

  • discover joy in raising money for my favorite cause
  • ask, otherwise I’ll never know
  • rely on my team for advice and support
  • only volunteer for assignments I know I can complete
  • ask for help when I need it, as soon as I need it.
  • take risks and not fear failing
  • remember the words of hockey star Wayne Gretzky: You  miss 100% of the shots you never take
  • send in my notes from all of my meetings and contacts.
  • I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to start!

More reading for you

12 common mistakes fundraisers make working with board members

If fundraising is a profession, why are we so angry with our amateur board members?