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Where’s Sara?: Margin & Mission Ignition with The Patterson Foundation

Continuing our work with The Patterson Foundation, Sara Leonard Group is proud to be supporting four nonprofits selected to join the ongoing initiative Margin & Mission Ignition. Since 2015, Margin & Mission Ignition has given nonprofits the opportunity to explore, develop and execute earned-income strategies.

As part of the initiative, Sara Leonard Group will be working directly with four nonprofit participant organizations with 1:1 consulting support for their fundraising efforts.

“The Patterson Foundation’s commitment to not only offering world-class training opportunities for local nonprofits, but also offering wrap-around support to help them implement what they learn proves time and time again their commitment to improving as many lives as possible through the reach of established nonprofits,” Sara Leonard Group founder Sara Leonard said of the initiative.

For more information on The Patterson Foundation or the Margin & Mission Ignition initiative, please visit their website.

Articles of Interest:

The Patterson Foundation Engages Local Nonprofits in Entrepreneurial Endeavor
Margin & Mission Ignition Welcomes New Cohort Into Earned-Income Consulting Opportunity


Earned Income Articles:

Stewardship of Social Enterprise Investors
Raising Investment Capital and Fundraising – Not the Same

How Volunteering Altered My Life Plans

I watched so much “Quincy M.E.” as a child that I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I talked about it so much that a family friend suggested to my mom that I serve as a Teenage Volunteer (previously known as Candy Stripers – my uniform was a red and white striped dress) at our local hospital. Since I’m not a doctor, you can guess how this turns out. My stint as a Teenage Volunteer at the hospital made me realize: I don’t like sick people. That volunteer experience likely saved me years of education and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Interesting side note, my first nonprofit fundraising job was in a hospital so I landed in healthcare after all – still helping sick people, just not with them day to day.

After earning a business degree in college, I went into banking. My dad was a banker so I assumed that I knew what I was getting into but… unfortunately I was miserable. Nothing against banking or bankers, it just wasn’t the right fit for me. During that really long year of banking, a sorority connection reached out to see if I would serve as a volunteer chapter advisor for a local chapter. While she was recruiting me for the volunteer position, I learned that she had been promoted and was replacing herself. That’s where my lifelong career in fundraising really began – all because I answered yes to an invitation to volunteer.

In neither of these instances of volunteering did I have a stated reason of ‘gain info that will dramatically alter the trajectory of my life’ but now that I look back, I see that they did.

As volunteer managers we have to remember that volunteering can change the lives of those who volunteer – perhaps not in such a drastic life path way as with my two examples – just as much as the people/cause/animal the volunteer is serving. When we take the time to figure out the why behind our volunteer’s gift of time, we can insure the relationship is benefiting them as much as it benefits our organization. Not taking the time to nurture those relationships and helping our volunteers find and realize their ‘why’ can leave the volunteer feeling unappreciated and ultimately finding somewhere else to give their time.

My recommendation is this: Invest some time nurturing the relationship with your volunteers. It will be worth it for you, for them and for the people you are both serving.

Where’s Sara?: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Social Enterprise Accelerator 2021

http://www.hfpg.org

A second class of six nonprofits has been chosen to participate in the second class of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Social Enterprise Accelerator. Sara Leonard Group is thrilled to once again be part of the team working with these nonprofits during the 2.5 year program focused on strengthening their entrepreneurial capacity.

During the first program, launched in 2019, Sara Leonard Group founder Sara Leonard worked with the organizations on raising the startup funds needed to being their social enterprise. Participants in the 2019 cohort generated $2.5M in revenue to support their missions.

Congratulations to the new cohort:

  • CT Data Collaborative
  • End Hunger CT!
  • Hartford Food System
  • Health Equity Solutions
  • Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society
  • YWCA Hartford Region

Learn more about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Social Enterprise Accelerator:

Six Nonprofits Selected to Participate in the Social Enterprise Accelerator 2021
Hartford Foundation picks 6 nonprofits for second accelerator program

Where’s Sara?: Fueling Dynamic Fundraising with The Patterson Foundation

Continuing our work with The Patterson Foundation, Sara Leonard Group is delighted to be supporting three nonprofits selected to participate in the pilot program for their newest initiative: Fueling Dynamic Fundraising.

The Patterson Foundation worked with The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to develop a custom six-week virtual program that will challenge nonprofit participants to explore the power of the partnership between their board, staff, and CEO to strengthen their fundraising capability.

As part of the initiative, Sara Leonard Group will be working directly with three nonprofit participant organizations with 1:1 consulting support between course sessions and for one year following the conclusion of the course to help them implement their learnings and explore new possibilities for growth.

“The Patterson Foundation’s commitment to not only offering world-class training opportunities for local nonprofits, but also offering wrap-around support to help them implement what they learn proves time and time again their commitment to improving as many lives as possible through the reach of established nonprofits. We are thrilled to help these organizations build a well-developed strategy that can increase their fundraising reach,” Sara Leonard Group founder Sara Leonard said of the initiative.

For more information on The Patterson Foundation or the Fueling Dynamic Fundraising program, please visit their website.

Secrets to Inspire Greater Year-End Giving

I recently had the opportunity to share some practical tips to implement during the last two months of the year to inspire greater year-end giving as part of the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s free webinar series.

See more free webinars with other Nonprofit Leaderships Center presenters on nlctb.org.

Additional year-end giving resources:

5 Board Member Actions to Boost 2020 Year-End Fundraising
7 Tips for Year End Fundraising in a Pandemic
5 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Success

Two Approaches to Board Giving

“How much should our board members be required to give?”

person in pink button up shirt holding brown paper
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s a question I receive pretty often.

The short answer, it depends on your board culture. My personal preference, as a board member and a fundraiser, is not to set an amount but ask each board member to make their best gift.

Here are two approaches to consider for your organization.

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 save a life and their passion should translate into a gift that saves or changes the most lives possible. This also allows each board member to make their best gift based on their own financial situation.

A Gift They Care About How It is Used
Because a board member is responsible for the fiscal health (Board Source), board members who have made a personally significant 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.

A quick thought about 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. If you have a minimum amount but most board members aren’t giving it, it’s time to reevaluate.

Board giving is a critically important topic for every nonprofit. Now is the right time to discuss it and take action to improve it.

Board Retreats: Don’t Skip the Fun

Today we’re going to talk about fun.

Running a successful nonprofit organization is a lot of hard work. There are animals to save, people to feed, art to be created – the list goes on and on. On top of all of the world bettering, comes the day to day operations. Your organization not only has internal leadership, but a board of directors. This group is entrusted to not only making sure the organization does things right, but does the right thing. Again, a lot of hard work by a lot of people just trying to make the world a little better.

Back to the fun. With all these responsibilities it’s important that you don’t skip the fun at your next board retreat. We’re not talking about putting “fun” as an agenda item between strategic planning and lunch. More like weaving fun into the entire retreat.

Don’t skip the fun at your next

board retreat!

Here are six ways to put the fun in your next board retreat:

1. Don’t conduct regular board business at the retreat. I understand that this is difficult, but it is a real momentum killer. When there is that “one little item to cover while we’re all together” it is tempting to address it at the beginning or at the end, but that “one little thing” rabbit holes into a lot different directions. Avoid this. Find another way to address it like an e-mail vote or a conference call a few days before the retreat.

2. Be active. Skip the room with just room for a conference table; find a space that accommodates moving around. Do some work sitting, some standing, some outside in the fresh air. Mix up the agenda so it isn’t the same person talking most of the day. More active participation will lead to better results because everyone feels heard and included.

3. Mix up the groups. Every board has natural groups so you need to do some prep and put retreat teams together that are counter to the natural groupings. Then change the groups throughout the retreat. Encourage board members to interact with someone they don’t already know well. If you have new members attending, ensure that they are interacting with longer-serving members. Again, this allows everyone to feel heard and included.

4. Combine team building with retreat objectives. Team building exercises don’t have to be standalone items that appear to distract from the objectives of the board. For instance, if you want board members to work on their elevator speeches, have them do it in pairs. When I facilitate a retreat, I work with board and staff leadership to establish objectives THEN I look for ways to weave in fun exercises that relate to those objectives.

5. Laugh. The work your organization is doing is important and likely not a laughing matter. But, when a board laughs together they form bonds that will serve them in the future. Use an exercise that allows board members to laugh at themselves and each other.

6. Include your mission. Your nonprofit has a unique mission and personality so be sure to include that in your retreat. This also allows your board to really immerse in the mission and remember why they joined the board in the first place. For example, if you are an arts organization do something creative. Help the board make memories together so they can work better together to support the mission.

Don’t be afraid of having fun at your board retreat. Retreats provide an opportunity to move the work of your board forward and help your board build relationships to better serve the mission.

We’d enjoy the opportunity to discuss how we can help make your next board retreat fun and successful.

“Why” – No Longer My Least Favorite Word

person with difficulty and questions in studies
Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

When my children were toddlers, why was my least favorite word. I heard it a million times a day about everything… literally EVERYTHING. But now, more years than I’d like to admit removed from the constant questioning, why has become one of my favorite words.

“Why? Why? Why?”3 year olds everywhere


As a fundraising instructor, it is my distinct privilege to meet many nonprofit professionals and learn about their organizations. Most of them spend their days thinking about what and how but the outside world (translation: donors, funders) care about the why.

Simon Sinek has a great book, Start With Why, and TED Talk on this topic. His theories are targeted to the world at large but I think they have a very specific application to the fundraising profession. We should always aim to talk in why, not what or how.

So how do you find your why?

One way is to imagine the world without your organization. What does that look like? Who isn’t served? Who isn’t saved? Are good things gone? Do bad things happen? When I teach I call this the It’s a Wonderful Life exercise. The world without your organization is your why.

Your why may look like this:

  • animals die
  • children can’t reach their full potential
  • diseases kill people

It’s likely not a pretty picture so you can see how using the why helps donors see why giving to your organization matters. When you invite others to join you in changing the world, you are looking for people who don’t want these bad things to happen. Your organization provides them an opportunity to make a difference in the world — save animals, help children, cure diseases.

Turn Why? — the question I used to dread from my toddlers — into a powerful fundraising tool. We’re happy to work with your organization on finding your own why and how to best integrate it into your fundraising work. Contact us to learn how we can work together.

Book Review: Soundtracks by Jon Acuff

I’d never thought to call them “soundtracks,” those voices in my head that have an opinion about everything I do. (Sometimes they sound like my mom.

But more than anything, it’s my own voice and it’s often not positive. Until I read Jon Acuff’s new book Soundtracks, I’d never thought to name that as overthinking and do something about it. I’m so glad I read this because it has already been a game changer, with lots of easy and quick to apply lessons for me. 

Jon defines overthinking this way: “when what you think gets in the way of what you want.” Using that framework, he made me realize how often I do that and what a productivity killer it is. 

The book is loaded with practical suggestions to combat overthinking. Here are a two that resonated with me:

  • Borrow from the best – I don’t have to come up with new soundtracks on my own. I can borrow from the famous and the close by. He even makes suggestions that I am using. I’ve also started paying attention to the people around me and gotten some good ones there.
  • Don’t fight it, flip it – Once I identify the negative things I’m telling myself, rewrite the soundtrack. Instead of “This will never work,” I’m trying “This is a great idea with a lot to learn from it.

Soundtracks offers tons of suggestions for new soundtracks to replace the broken ones. My new favorite is “Feeling uncomfortable is just a sign that my old comfort zone is having a hard time keeping up with me.” Anyone want to join me in claiming that one? 

A few years ago, I was delighted to meet Jon when he spoke at the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay’s Leadership Conference. Since then, I’ve read (and laughed through) all of his books. He mixes humor and practical advice in a way that sticks with me. This latest does not disappoint. I laughed, I highlighted and I’m on a path to replace my broken soundtracks. 

Grab your copy today and join me! After all, we could all stand to be a little nicer to the person we spend the most time with – ourselves.

It’s Not About the Taxes

tax documents on the table
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With tax season upon us, our thoughts (and probably a board meeting fundraising topic or two) turn to deductible charitable donations.

Do donors take advantage of tax benefits? Yes, some do.

Do donors give for tax reasons? No, most don’t.

This distinction is important and should shape how you ask and how you thank donors.

Start with how you ask:

Don’t lead with “we are a 501C3 organization…” Only accountants care about your tax status. When you talk about your organization, lead with how you change the world.

  • “We save lives…”
  • “We create jobs…”
  • “We make the world a more beautiful place…”
  • Insert your organization’s mission here…” (If your mission statement mentions your tax status, put that at the top of your priority list to revise.)

From your website to social media posts to fundraising letters, look for anyplace you use “tax deductible” and substitute “world changing” for a more impactful appeal. Most people give money because they are asked, not because of how it impacts their taxes.

Continue when you say thanks*:

The IRS has specific requirements donation acknowledgments. However, there are no rules saying you have to use only that language – that’s the minimum required. Go beyond that with a sincere expression of how much the donation means and how it will change lives. Don’t be boring, this acknowledgement is the first building block to your next ask. Your nonprofit is doing important work – you’re making our community a better place to live! Show the donor that their gift matters in doing just that.

  • Tell a story.
  • Share a photo.
  • Share the joy you felt when the gift was received.

Taxes are an inevitable part of our lives and certainly a consideration in our work. However, they must be kept in perspective when we communicate with our donors and remember that we are inviting people to help us change the world, not help them with their taxes.

*This blog post should not be considered legal advice, so please speak to an attorney/CPA to make sure that your communications meet the legal requirements set forth by the IRS.