US Census: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

The US Census is massive and might seem impersonal, but sometimes it is highly personal. The image above is from a page of the 1900 census. I am so fascinated by many things about it. I wanted to share a few.   

Line #9 lists “infant daughter” – That’s my grandmother making her first appearance. I find it extraordinary that she was a month old but not yet named. That name becomes very important in my life because my daughter is named after her over 100 years later. Funny side note: in a later census, my grandmother is listed as “Emmer” instead of “Emma.” I wonder if that’s how the census taker interpreted my great grandparent’s thick Georgia accents.  

Handwritten – A census taker, who is listed at the top, did in-person interviews and completed it by hand. I’m writing this blog on my laptop. You’re reading it on some kind of electronic device. The day this census was completed, these items couldn’t have been imagined. If you haven’t already, you can complete your 2020 census ONLINE. It only took me about 10 minutes. 

Continuity of the US census – Very few things remain the same, but the methodical counting of US citizens has survived. For more than two centuries our government has taken a count of each citizen every 10 years. This was the 12th census while the 2020 census is the 24th.  I can’t begin to imagine how many different ways that information has been used. From the funding of my children’s schools to my representative in Congress, this data touches me every day.  

Public uses of info – Seeing this census made me wonder if the info I submitted this year would be public. I was reassured to learn that it won’t. The individual records are sealed for 72 years. The last census info to be released was from the 1940 census in 2012. That’s encouraging. But, the information will be hard at work helping communities, like yours, get their piece of trillions of dollars in government funding for the next decade.

I like to imagine that some future generation will search records and find my name on the 2020 census. I wonder what technology they will use to do that. I also wonder what they’ll learn about me. 

The current census is important because of the impact it will have on our future. It only takes a few minutes to complete it. If you haven’t already, click here https://my2020census.gov to complete it.  

3 Reasons the Giving Challenge Wrap-Up is Just the Beginning

2020 defiantly put the “challenge” in Giving Challenge. Even though the year started like many others, it certainly took a turn that no one could have predicted.

As nonprofits across the region prepared for the 24-hour giving event, scheduled for April 28–29, the world around us was changing quickly and unpredictably. To respond to these unprecedented changes, the Community Foundation of Sarasota adapted plans for events around the Giving Challenge. The Patterson Foundation created a 30-day social media countdown that, shared information about the event and tips for participating nonprofits. Nonprofits were forced to think outside what had worked in the past in their approach to reaching donors. There was no playbook for pandemic lockdown community fundraising. There were a lot of people who put a lot of thought into figuring it out day-by-day.

And it worked! The 2020 Giving Challenge was a record-setting success. Over $19 million was raised by nearly 700 nonprofits from 58,947 unique donors. Feel free to re-read that last sentence and let it sink in. 

It is great fun to see the nonprofits receive their checks as the wrap-up announcements are made. 

But the wrap-up is just the beginning. Now the real work of being good stewards of the Giving Challenge funds begins. 

Here are three reasons the Giving Challenge wrap-up is just the beginning: 

1. Let it all sink in.

All across our region, children are learning, animals are safe, families have homes, music is played, and it’s all because of us. We — donors, staff, board members, funders, and volunteers — should take a moment to savor the good feeling that comes from knowing we’ve done something to improve our community. We are all so busy, and the day already happened, so it’s easy to skip that pause to let it all sink in. Don’t skip it. Celebrate the hard work that went into making the day a success.

2. Embrace innovative approaches.

The nonprofits in the Giving Challenge showed adaptability and innovation at every turn. For instance, some turned their in-person events into online events. Others used mail, phone calls, and text messages to reach donors. The creativity on social media channels was phenomenal. Now that the 24-hour excitement is over, be sure to apply the lessons learned across your fundraising program. Instead of a regular event, could you hold a virtual event? Can you find ways to build excitement on social media by counting down to your next fundraising appeal? Now that the excuse of “that’s how we always did it” doesn’t apply, the innovations can be applied to every fundraising effort. 

3. New relationships take work. 

Many nonprofits received gifts from new donors during the Giving Challenge. Hooray! That’s fantastic. But, it would be even better if those first-time donors became repeat givers. The relationship should start with a thank you letter. If it hasn’t already been sent, it’s not too late, so do that right now. Then, you can move on to the important step of stewardship. As you think about cultivating donors, each nonprofit should answer the question: “How can I help you change the world?” Then share that answer with your donors – through photos, stories, and visits (virtual for now, of course). Fundraising is not all about asking for money. It’s about inviting people to join you in changing the world. Be sure that you are looking for opportunities to bring your donors along with you as you change the world.

Someone from the outside might look at the phenomenal results of the 2020 Giving Challenge and think, “not bad for a day’s work.” That doesn’t apply here because it wasn’t just a day. It was weeks, months, even years of building a philanthropic community. As we pause to celebrate the success, let’s look ahead to the bright future. And remember – it is not a wrap-up, it’s just the beginning.

A quick note: this post originally appeared on The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

Fundraising Tricks and Secrets

Because I write this blog for Sara Leonard Group, I tend to notice the titles of other people’s blog posts. They often include the words tricks and secrets. Recently, those words really hit the wrong nerve and had me very annoyed.

The reason? This field doesn’t really have any tricks and I’ve never had a fundraising colleague who kept their tactics a secret.

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There is no trick to what we do. It’s steady, hard work that raises money for our organizations. We are in the relationship business and building relationships takes time. I wish there were a shortcut, it would certainly make things easier and bosses and boards happier.

As far as secrets, I’ve been working in this field for a long time and I can’t think of a single time that I called a colleague with a question that they didn’t share their experience and/or expertise with me. Successful fundraisers don’t have secrets, they have hard-earned experience. Most – I’m not willing to say all because there’s an exception to every rule, right? – will help a colleague. Of course, there is a strict code of confidentiality, but we can share the things we’ve learned without sharing donor information.

Still want to get your hands on these “tricks” and “secrets?” Here are a few suggestions:

Practice
I think this is in some ways the opposite of tricks, it’s putting in the reps. For fundraising that means meeting with donors and listening to what they have to say and getting used to hearing no. It might be drafting an appeal letter and asking for feedback from a more experienced fundraising writer. It’s committing to getting better each time.

Learning
The opposite of secrets, learning the fundraising profession can take on many forms. We have a stellar professional association, Association for Fundraising Professionals, with local chapters across North America. There are great books on general fundraising and every specialty area. I’ve got a few favorites, I’m always happy to share recommendations. There are many reputable publications that provide access to up-to-date results and information on fundraising, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly are a couple of my go-to resources.

Participate
This is the key to unlock the “secrets.” Get out from behind your desk and participate in our profession. I’ve been a member of AFP and participated in our Tampa Bay Chapter for over 25 years. I’ve made lasting friendships and learned an encyclopedia-sized volume of “secrets.” Local AFP chapters have various volunteer opportunities to practice new skills and learn from others.

Interact
With our modern ways of email and online learning opportunities, there’s a risk that we try to do it all from our computers. There is value in getting into your local nonprofit community. For my Tampa Bay colleagues, I recommend programs at NLC. In Florida, we have the annual Planet Philanthropy conference. Almost every community has some way to convene a group. If yours doesn’t, take it as a challenge and get a group started.

The bad news – there’s no shortcut to effective fundraising, no “tricks” and “secrets” to making you a better fundraiser.

The good news – there are lots of ways to learn to do it the right way.

Let me know if you need some help with this. A development coaching session might be the key to get you started on you way without any fake “tricks” or “secrets.”

Board Giving: How Much?

“How much should a board member be required to give?”

It’s a question I receive fairly often when working with all types and sizes of organizations. The short answer – it depends on your board culture.

My personal preference is not to set an amount, but ask each board member to make their best gift. If they are serving on your board, it is not unreasonable to expect to be in their top three gifts.

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Two ways to approach it with your board:

Their Best Gift
Board members should feel strongly – even passionately – about your organization’s mission. Therefore, they should want to make their best gift to help you accomplish that mission. Through their perspective as a board member, they know how much money you need to make a difference and their passion should translate into a gift that makes the biggest difference possible.

Caring How it is Used
A key responsibility of a board member is the fiscal health of the organization. Board members who have made a personally significant best gift, will feel ownership of how donated funds are used. As they monitor the fiscal activities of your organization, they will see their gift at work. This allows them to shift from an “advisory” role where they are watching over other people’s money to a “service” role where they have a stake in your progress.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention minimum gift levels. I’m not opposed to them in all situations. Many organizations have a culture that supports that approach. If it’s working for your nonprofit, stick with it. However, if you have a minimum amount but most board members aren’t giving it, it’s time to reevaluate your approach.

Board giving is a critically important topic for every nonprofit. After all, it is easier to ask other people to join you in making a difference – rather than just asking them to do it. Now is the perfect time to discuss your board giving and take action to improve it.

If you need help with your board giving plan, contact us today and we can discuss how we can help.

5 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Success

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The clock is ticking and if you are a fundraiser trying to reach your goal, the sound can be deafening. Don’t fret, there’s still time to boost your year-end fundraising. In the last few days of this year, take time for these five tips to boost your fundraising and end the year on top.

1. Year-End Appeal

Even if it’s not a huge mailing to the masses, take the time to send a heartfelt letter to your closest supporters. Ask them to join you in changing the world. If you need help with your letter, my colleague Alyce Lee Stansbury shared her tried and true secrets to a successful letter.

2. Website Check

Make sure your website is ready to accept online gifts. The best and easiest way to do that is to take it for a test drive. Make a gift today and see what happens. This guide will help you make sure your online giving passes the test.

3. Mail the Card

Your donors are like family to your organization, and family should hear from you at the holidays. Through my own admission of being perpetually late with my cards, I can make the case that it is never too late to send out a card. And, if you want to go electronic, here are some ideas to make an electronic message that will still warm their hearts.

4. Pick Up the Phone

Possibly one of the most overlooked year-end tools – your telephone. Pick up the phone, tell your donors how much you appreciate them, and ask for their renewed support. Here’s a guide to tapping into that power.

5. Don’t Leave Them Hanging

If you are taking time off during the holidays – which I highly recommend – make sure that your voice mail and e-mail messages give people the information they need in your absence, including when they can expect to hear from you. And, since a large number of gifts are made in the last few days of the calendar year, include a link to your website’s giving page. Here are some tips on setting an effective out of office message.

It’s a busy time of year for you and for your donors. Be sure that you are doing everything you can to make giving to your organization convenient. A gentle reminder from you and a pleasant giving experience make the difference in year-end fundraising for your nonprofit organization. If doing all five things seem like too much, pick one or two and do them really well.

Always remember that you are changing the world with your hard work and you’re inviting people to join you. That matters! Also remember to take some time to rest and recharge and enjoy your family and friends. Happy Holidays!

Board Giving: Does Corporate Giving ‘Count’?

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One question that seems to always come up when working with an organization is ‘does corporate giving count as a board members gift?’ Like most fundraising questions, the answer is it depends. Since that doesn’t help with real-life situations, let’s expand on that.

One BoardSource certified trainer I’ve worked with taught that corporate gifts don’t count for board giving. That answer seems too absolute to me. I think it comes down to two variables:

  1. How the board member was recruited.
    We often ask our large corporate donors to put someone on our board. Sometimes we get a board member who is completely committed to our mission and sometimes we get a board member who is there because they were “voluntold” (one of my least favorite made-up words). When they are recruited to represent a company, it can be unrealistic to also expect them to be personally committed and make a personal gift (with no cultivation).
  2. How expectations were articulated to them.
    If the board expectations (which should be discussed with all new board members) aren’t explicit on the difference in a personal gift and a corporate gift, we can’t determine that arbitrarily. Any changes would need to be discussed and adopted by the board as a whole (including that person).

Don’t forget, with any board member there is opportunity for cultivation. That applies to personal and corporate giving. If they represent their company and don’t give personally, it might be because they were never shown how that makes a difference and asked. Many times we just expect board members to give because they are required to do so and forget that they need to see the mission in action and be invited to invest. In some cases, board members need special cultivation because we spend so much time telling them how financially successful we are, they might not see how their support will make a difference.

By now you probably know my favorite response is it depends, because in fundraising – and most things, really – talking in absolutes should be avoided when possible. Statements like ‘Board members should always’ or ‘board members should never’ don’t allow consideration of the many factors that can impact a situation. A more diplomatic way to state it might be, ‘best practice in this area is …’ or ‘BoardSource recommends…’ then ask why that may or may not work in your specific situation.

Knowing When NOT to Ask

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Photo by Mwabonje on Pexels.com

Most would argue that in fundraising the million dollar question is when to ask. I’m not disagreeing, but I propose that the billion dollar question is knowing when NOT to ask. I know, I know – fundraising is about raising money and you can’t possibly raise money without asking – but you can strengthen the foundation for a future ask by waiting and just not asking.

Let me share two scenarios when you should NOT ask – feel free to use these examples when dealing with a board member or fellow team member who just can’t help themselves.

But, everyone is already here…
An organization had spent money to have a stewardship event – an opportunity to thank their generous donors for all they’ve given and share the successes their donations had made possible. The development team understood this, but the organization’s leadership was having a really hard time just enjoying the evening and sharing appreciation. “One little ask won’t hurt, there won’t be any pressure for them to give.” But, one little ask would change the whole mood of the room. The donors had been asked to attend as a thank you. In the end the development team won – no ask was made. Would someone have made a gift? It’s possible. But, they might not have made the next gift and they probably would have said no to the next invitation. You have to remember and be comfortable in knowing there are times that stewardship is what matters and knowing when that time is can be invaluable.

But, we have other/new stuff that needs support…
I was working with an organization who was preparing a stewardship e-mail to update their donors on how their Give Day gifts had been used to change lives. Give Days offer a unique opportunity to get new donors, but keeping them engaged and turning them into continued supporters can be tricky. The nonprofit asked, “Can we talk about the exciting things we have coming up that we’ll need them to support?” The answer – no. No, just thank them and tell the story of how their gift changed the world. The news about what comes next can come in later communications. For at least one communication, focus on showing them the impact they made and how grateful you and your constituents are for their support.

According to Penelope Burk’s research, 80% of donors say that a prompt meaningful thank you and additional communication that explains how the donation was used would convince them to make a second gift to an organization. Her research also tells us that 65% of first time donors don’t make a second gift – seems like the lack of follow up and stewardship could be the problem.

Donors need to know that we appreciate them for the gifts they’ve already made and they will never know that if we ask every time we see them. I challenge you to step back and make sure you know when to ask, and possibly even more important know when NOT to ask.

The Secret Life of Board Gifts

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Many times in my career I resented the money we were spending on board gifts. Looking back, that was short sighted of me. Board gifts – those little things with your organization’s logo that you can use to express gratitude for their service – actually pay a dividend to your organization.

I’ll use my favorite Yeti knockoff as an example: it was a thank you gift for my service on a board (it was actually leftover participant gifts from a golf tournament – so check the supply closet). At the time I opened the gift, I thought “oh this is nice.” But now 5 years later, it is a powerful tool that opens many conversations about the organization.

Yesterday I took it to my daughter’s high school softball game. Lest I sound like a complete nonprofit nerd, let me assure you I selected that tumbler because I can sit in the hot Florida sun and the ice won’t melt in my Diet Dr. Pepper. But, because the Young Life logo was on the tumbler, one of the other parents asked me about it (the organization, not my cold beverage). I had the chance to talk about the mission of the organization and why we support the organization. I didn’t have to bring it up – they asked me. In any fundraising book, that’s a win-win.

Here are some ideas on how your next board gift can be a win-win for your organization:

  • Do they write with your organization’s pen? Do they keep an extra on hand so when someone needs a pen they can share it?
  • Do your board members have name tags they can wear at your events? These are cheap and easy to order, so make sure it looks nice.
  • Do your board members have shirts (a collared shirt for casual Friday or golf)? Hats? Some kind of apparel that makes it apparent they are on your team?
  • Do they drink from a coffee mug or insulated cup with your logo on it? It could also be used on their desk to hold pens.

Board gifts are a valuable tool in helping board members share the mission of your organization and allows a soft introduction to the people they see when out and about.

We’d love to hear about the best board gift you have given or received – please share in the comments below or Tweet us @SaraTampa.

Does Your Online Giving Pass the Test?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to be a mystery shopper. It’s not just the shopping part – which I love to do – it’s the opportunity to give feedback on the customer experience.

We need to take time to think of our donors as customers – people who buy into our mission and the amazing work we’re doing to make our community a better place. Customers who we want to engage in our mission and become repeat customers. A great place to start is your online giving.

When is the last time you made an online gift to your organization? What about a gift from your mobile device? It’s probably not something you, your board members or your other staff members do on a regular basis.

Today, I challenge you to do a little mystery shopping of your own and make an online gift to your organization (bonus points if you try this from your mobile device). Here are some things to look for as you complete the process:

  • Could you easily find the ‘donate now’ button?
  • How many clicks did it take you to get to the actual give page?
  • Does your form ask for too much information that isn’t needed? (You probably need way less than you think.)
  • How easy was the process as a whole?
  • Were stories and pictures used on the give page to make you feel connected the mission? (This is a great place for a short case for support.)
  • Could you make a gift in memory or honor of someone (and get the proper recognition to the family or individual)?
  • Does the landing page after clicking ‘submit’ make you feel good about your giving? (It should NOT go to a blank page.)
  • Is the emailed receipt timely and accurate?
  • Did you receive some kind of communication afterwards?
  • Does someone in your organization pay attention to online gifts and make personal contact?
  • Were you added to the donor database?
  • How did the whole process make you feel? (Frustrated isn’t a good answer here.)
  • If you’re using your mobile device, could you complete the process in an easy way?(You shouldn’t have to contort your phone all around and zoom in and out.)

Note: Google offers a free tool to test if your website is mobile friendly: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/. This is a good place to start, but won’t speak for your online giving specifically.

Once you complete your mystery shopping, make notes of the improvements that could be made. Don’t feel like you need to fix it all right away – use your findings to make changes as you can starting with the most crucial. Just don’t put them off forever; you don’t want to lose a gift because someone found your online giving process to be too much work.

Where’s Sara?: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Social Enterprise Accelerator

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Credit: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

Since November, I’ve been honored to be a part of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s (NSP) Social Enterprise Accelerator. This exciting initiative is part of the Foundation’s Nonprofit Support Program. Starting with a series of educational labs, nonprofits were challenged to think differently. Ten nonprofit organizations were selected to complete the business planning process. My work with the groups has focused on raising the startup funds needed to begin their social enterprise.

I’m pleased to share some information on this innovative program as published in their recent press release:

Social enterprise as a self-supporting approach to revenue generation is new to many nonprofits. In response, the NSP launched the Social Enterprise Accelerator, designed to help organizations expand beyond traditional grants and donations when looking for new sources of revenue.
In June, the Foundation announced a matching challenge. For every dollar of start-up capital raised by the ten organizations participating in the Social Enterprise Accelerator project, the Foundation will match dollar for dollar, up to 50% of the goal, not to exceed $40,000. The announcement followed individual “Fast Pitch” sessions, where each organization presented their business plans to current and potential donors and made a direct ask for financial support toward startup capital needs.

“The enthusiasm and effort that area nonprofit organizations have brought to the Social Enterprise Accelerator program has exceeded our expectations,” said Nonprofit Support Program Director Melanie Tavares.

Community Child Guidance Clinic operates a school in Manchester for children ages 3-15 years of age of varying academic levels, learning abilities, and behavioral and emotional issues that serves students for districts throughout the region. One of the challenges for districts, students, families and staff is the cost and administration of transportation to the school. Currently, referring districts contract with different transportation companies to get the students to and from school. Due to safety concerns and lack of vehicle driver training in behavioral de-escalation models, districts typically have to utilize as few as one van or bus per student.

Recognizing these challenges, Community Child Guidance Clinic Chief Executive Officer Jamie Bellenoit and her executive team came up with the idea of using the agency’s vans and teaching assistant staff to provide therapeutic transportation services to the districts they serve. By having trained staff who the students already know serve as drivers, more students can share vans, allowing for the need for fewer drivers, reducing expenses and also providing higher quality services to the districts, the students and their families.

“Participating in the Social Enterprise Accelerator program was a true example of synergy as we had an opportunity to work with our program partners, Hartford Foundation staff, and No Margin-No Mission to fully realize our vision,” said Bellenoit. “Being a part of the nonprofit clinical and special education world, we simply lacked the expertise to develop a cohesive business plan and launch it. With the generous support of the Foundation and the expertise of Larry Clark from No Margin, No Mission as well as Sara Leonard, we now have the resources necessary to begin implementing our therapeutic transportation services this fall.”

Read the full press release.


Additional Articles:


Examples of Enterprises: