From Fundraising

Strategically crafting your Letter of Inquiry (LOI)

ABCI recently revived a training on basic grant seeking. I thought I’d share some of the components with you as they are useful not just for grant seeking, but also apply to other aspects of your fund raising.

Let’s start with the Letter of Inquiry.

Crafting your Letter of Inquiry (LOI) for a foundation or other institutional funder is good practice for developing your case for support.

The LOI is a preliminary, shorter version of a grant application. In one to three pages, you need to convince the funder that your proposed project is important and worthy of a more thorough review.

In the LOI, you need to make your case against strong competition (hundreds or even thousands of proposals) in order to advance to the next round of consideration.

In a very short document, you need to answer these questions:

  • What good this will accomplish (problem/need) and for whom (target audience) in keeping with the objectives of the grant guidelines
  • How it accomplishes the funder’s goals
  • Who you are and why you are the best organization to solve this problem/address this need
  • What you plan to do, when you plan to do it, who will do it and why you believe it will be effective
  • What will have changed/improved as a result of this project
  • How much the project will cost, how much you want from the funder, and how you will pay for the other costs

And up the ante by also ensuring that your LOI is:

  • Well-crafted
  • Evidence-based
  • Reasonable on its face, likely to succeed
  • Extraordinarily compelling
  • Logical
  • Competitive
  • Using language that resonates with the funders theory of change
  • Complete (includes everything the funder requested)
  • Compliant with the length and space limitations of the funder

While we aren’t in the proposal writing business (at least not recently), we can help you develop your case for support and assess your readiness for grants funding.  Just give Jon a call at 401-331-2272 or email Jon

See also:

10 grant seeking tips from a program officer

How we got the grant


Event fundraising lessons from

Valley Street riders 2I’m not a great events fundraiser. I strongly encourage nonprofits to put their time and energy into cultivating donors directly rather than spending huge amounts of time on logistics for events that too often raise very little money.

But I’m far from doctrinaire about events, unlike some colleagues who poo poo their value. When done well — and that’s the caveat —  events can raise significant money at a good return on investment and excite supporters and build community energy and interest in your organization and it’s mission. 

Special events come “naturally” to some fundraisers who are really talented at raising money this way.  I’m not, but I admire them. My take is that the backdrop of an event provides a comforting rationale to raise major individual and corporate gifts which are the secret sauce for successful events. And there are some donors who would just rather give through events. Events can be the hook for young donors or those new to philanthropy.

Online giving platforms have become a critical part of event fundraising. Today I’m sharing a guest post from Maureen Peine of DoJiggy. on what they’ve learned from their clients.

— Gayle

Effective Fundraising : 5 Things Our Customers Have Taught Us

By Maureen Peine, DoJiggy

Our best teachers are our customers. They use our software every day, creatively, to raise funds for the noblest of causes from hunger to education to the environment. Of these diverse organizations, there are those who stand out among the crowd for their dedication, success and effectiveness.

Ride4resaon1. Get Personal with Your Crowdfunding Audience

Crowdfunding events have become quite popular given their inherent ability to reach the audience of each constituent. Reaching constituents emotionally was done with a great degree of effectiveness by an event participant during a recent bike-a-thon to support education in California. Julia is one of the event’s top fundraisers, and from her personal fundraising page, it is easy to see why. Even the scrolling comments from her supporters reflect her commitment to education given the emotional investment shown by each supporter — “Besides the donation, sending a million blessings!”….. Literacy lives! Love, Mom”. Julia has included some touching photos of the kids she teaches and their artwork as opposed to pictures of herself, speaking loudly of her mission. Read more

When thank-a-thons go bad

Two weeks ago I received a thank you call from a board member of an organization of which I have been a long-time supporter.

It kind of went like this:

Hi, How are you.

I’m making my thank you calls to supporters. I wanted to thank you for your support.

Okay, that’s all.

Here I am two weeks later and this is what I remember:

  • I’m scratching my head trying to remember what organization it was and who called me. And I knew the person who called me. (Of course, this can just be my own bad memory).
  • I remember that the call felt forced and kind of painful. I felt uncomfortable for the caller.

I don’t think this is exactly what the organization was trying to accomplish.

Here’s what Penelope Burk, researcher and author of Donor Centered Fundraising,  advises around thank you calls:

” A true gesture of thanks is one that happens immediately after the gift has been received…. Calling donors to thank them for their continuing loyalty long after their most recent gift has been received can also be effective, but it requires more careful scripting and timing.” [emphasis added]

What would have made this more satisfying for me:

  • A bit of news. What’s up that I might be interested in hearing about? I’ve been the board chair, an event supporter, connected into a focus group, and lots of other stuff. I’d be interested.
  • Maybe a question for me.  Say, it’s been almost 10 years since you rotated off the board. Yet, you’ve been such a loyal supporter of ours in all that time. What keeps you connected?
  • Or maybe just a more personal thank you message. Haven’t seen you since that really engaging event that Susie led. But I still remember how great it was to have you there contributing your perspective. I’m just calling today because I’m remembering how fortunate our organization has been to have you with us all these years. Thank you.

Saying “thank you” to a donor definitely matters. Organizational indifference is one of the leading reasons people stop giving.

But perhaps put a little more thought into the strategy behind your next thank-a-thon?


A grant seeker’s wish list

Boneyard StarsI prepared this grant seeker’s wish list for a foundation that had recently spun off from its corporate parent.

What is it that nonprofits want or need from grant makers?

At the very top, I put:

 # 1: Flexible, unrestricted operating funds.

According to the most recent data from The Foundation Center, only 23% of foundation grants go to general support.

 #2: Long-term donor investment

Every organization has to re-raise every dollar it receives each year. Having a reliable source of funding can improve stability and planning (though for some nonprofits, it can make them very lazy).

 #3: Other wants/needs

  • Larger donations that make a significant difference.
  • Gifts that deliver a high return on investment in time and direct costs.
  • Response to rapid change or emergency community needs.
  • Leadership development: A mismatch between organization needs and its people can sink an organization. Sometimes, changes need to be made. Other times, investment in leadership development can make a different. Areas for investment on my list include self-knowledge, managerial and leadership skills,  technical expertise in administration, human resources, fund development, program development, etc. (This is an investment in the whole sector as leaders switch organizations).

Read more

10 grant seeking tips from a program officer

Daniel Kertzner, Vice President for Grant Programs at the Rhode Island Foundation, provided grant seeking tips to a crowd of development directors at the annual meeting of the RI Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals on February 6, 2015. Here are a few highlights:

  1. Grantwriting = Relationships. Daniel stressed that grant seekers need to treat their work with any foundation as they would with any other donor. Building relationships is critically important.
  2. Tell your story from the perspective of the funder. Put yourself into the head of the grants program officer. You need to understand how they talk and think and speak in a language that resonates with them.
  3. Be precise. Answer all the questions asked. Provide the information requested.
  4. Be clear. Program officers have lots of grants to read. Tell your story clearly and concisely.
  5. Carefully craft your budget. Your budget and your narrative should tell the same story. Your budget should make sense for what you are asking to accomplish.
  6. Evaluate. Measuring your impact is critically important.
  7. Cross your Ts and dot your Is. Get someone else to proofread your grant. Make sure your budget adds up. Don’t forget any part of the application or requested materials.
  8. Learn from rejection. Ask for feedback if you get turned down. Listen to that feedback.
  9. Say thank you.
  10. See #1.

For more advice, take a look at:
How we got the grant, Part I and How we got the grant, Part II


Donor difference-makers: more, better and new

Stuck for something to write about in your year-end e-mails or mail appeals? The best fund appeals show the donor how a contribution now will make a significant and specific difference in the not-too-distant future.  Three simple words help me isolate and describe that donor difference-maker clearly.

More:  Every dollar helps you do more great work. Donors will help you educate more children, serve more meals or provide more immunizations, making a difference in more peoples’ lives.Improvement

Better: Contributions help you create better outcomes and experiences. Through improved programs and services, new technology and upgraded facilities, your donors make the difference between good and great.

New: Contributors will invest in new locations, new programs and innovations. Donors create the potential to dramatically change the landscape in your area of concern.

New icon roundStay focused. You can often apply two or even all three terms to the same subject. But resist that urge. Don’t waste your donor’s precious attention with more takes on the same story. Help your donor understand and focus on the single most important difference she will make by giving today.

For example, a new program location could have better facilities than older locations and help you serve more people.

If the new location will double your caseload or impact with little change in your service model, more will be the best theme for your appeal. If growth in client numbers is modest, perhaps you should focus on how the change will be better for those you serve. But if the new spot will truly be a launching pad for innovative methods, consider stressing the newness.

Good luck with that appeal! Call me if you get stuck.

Budget like a rock band

Bands are businesses, too.

By VectorOpenStock (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Who knew we’d be getting an object lesson in fundraising event budgeting from a alternative music band today? But check out this great article at Medium. In it, musician Jack Conte runs down the  profit and loss on a 28-day concert tour by Pomplamoose the multi-talented California pop duo consisting of Jack and Nataley Dawn. Then ask whether you could track the monetary success of your most recent event as well as these musicians.

Like nonprofits, Pomplamoose is more about the mission – music – than the money. And, like many nonprofits (and quite a few diners), just staying around to do great work from year to year can be a worthy achievement in itself. Pomplamoose has been making it for seven years and seems likely to keep on going, judging from their clear-eyed perspective on the business side of being professional artists.

Their 2014 tour went on to become one of the popular Musicals worldwide. But as it turned out they lost money on the tour. But they know exactly how much: $11,819. And they know exactly why – the $48,094 they spent on bandmates and crew instead of touring as a duo. By delivering a big concert experience, the pair are confident they’ll make that money back on future tours. Pomplamoose could afford the risk because they make most of their income from crowdfunding of their videos and online music sales.

Few nonprofits could similarly justify the risk or tolerate a loss from an event. But any nonprofit can learn from Pomplamoose’s acceptance that to make their art, they must also be a business. And any organization can do the simple math to project future costs and revenues and track net profits from events.

And check out their Pharrell Mashup video – showing how Pamplamoose does great work on a slim budget.

Is your gift acceptance policy true to your values?

Susan G. Komen is once again in the media, with more troubling news.

Mother Jones magazine reported that this nonprofit committed to ending breast cancer had teamed up with oil giant Baker Hughes. The company is donating $100,000 to Komen and painting drill bits pink to raise awareness of breast cancer.

What’s wrong with Komen receiving a gift from an oil company? Nothing on the surface. Except … those pink drill bits are used in fracking, where massive amounts of chemicals are mixed with water and pumped into the ground. As reported, a number of those chemicals are known carcinogens, including chemicals that Komen itself lists on its web site as chemicals of concern.

Komen justified its gift acceptance by saying “the evidence to this point does not establish a connection between fracking and breast cancer.” (emphasis added).

What is your gift acceptance policy? Is it true to your values?

While you may have heard the expression “Tainted money? ‘taint enough!” that’s not what I’d advise as your gift acceptance policy.

These policies aren’t always so easy to create. Sometimes the line is pretty bright – say, a health organization not accepting money from cigarette manufacturers. In case someone is affected by an ailment they can go for medical tourism and explore their options as well.

But many times the choices are not so clear. I remember when I was developing a gift acceptance policy for an international child sponsorship organization. We had decided that we wouldn’t accept any illegal or covert funding which would be damaging to our reputation and the safety of our international staff. But what about tobacco money? Weapons manufacturers? After talking to many of our colleagues, we decided to keep our policy language fairly general — not accepting gifts that didn’t align with our mission and values — so that we could evaluate potentially controversial gifts on a case by case basis.

A story about evaluating those controversial gifts.

At the time of President Clinton’s inauguration, I was director of development for an environmental organization whose mission was the protection and restoration of an estuary and its watershed. Always on the lookout for new sources of money, we had the opportunity to apply for funding from a major western beer company which touted its clean water.

The only trouble, this particular company had a problem – they had been cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for illegally contaminating the ground water in the area they manufactured their beer. And the owner of the company was financing a legal foundation that was aggressively working to undercut environmental regulations.

It wasn’t that we never accepted money from polluters. Just about any manufacturing business polluted as they produced waste that was discharged into waterways or landfills. We had a lot of local manufacturing companies that were donors. But they had approved limits from the environmental regulators on their waste disposal and most were actively working on pollution prevention efforts.

We had a long and hard discussion throughout the organization as to whether to apply for their funding. In the end, we chose not to apply. The violations were serious, they involved clean water which was our issue, we would never have a clear conscience about the funding and it would be hard to justify the gift to many of our donors.

Shortly after that decision, a few of our staff and donors attended the DC environmental inaugural festivities. We were quite surprised when they returned with programs that listed the company we had rejected as a major sponsor of the environmental galas – a decision that must have been vetted by national environmental colleagues.

While we might have momentarily felt like chumps, we never really regretted the decision we made. Instead, we used the opportunity to more fully explore our values to ensure that our gift seeking and gift acceptance policies were clearly aligned.

I think when an organization has to qualify a decision to accept a controversial donation with a phrase like “to this point” it’s probably already compromising its values for the money. But I have to wonder if there was any reflection at all at Komen about accepting this gift before the news hit the press.

I’d love to hear from you.

  • What difficult situations have you experienced?
  • How did you resolve them?
  • Were your gift acceptance policies helpful?



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