“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.

It’s Not About the Taxes

tax documents on the table
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

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.

Be One: If You Are a Fundraiser, Give.

cash dollars hands money
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the most important lessons we can use to improve our work: be one. Become a mystery shopper and do some field research. We’ll be sharing how you can do field research throughout your organization in upcoming posts, but today let’s focus on fund development.

If you are a fundraiser, give.

One of the most effective ways a fundraiser can expand understanding of how a donor feels is to be one – be a donor. Besides a gift to your own organization, make donations to charities you respect and see how they treat their donors. You might be surprised and learn a thing or two – on what you can add to your process, or how you can be sure to improve on their ways.

Things you can learn from your gifts:

  • Online giving experience – take notes on the number of clicks it takes you to get from the starting point to the gift completion. Notice where the giving button “Give Now” appears and if it is obvious. If you give from a social media channel, take note of that experience. (Check out Does Your Online Giving Pass the Test?)
  • Thoughtful stewardship – no matter if your gift is online or a check through the mail, be sure to notice how the organization makes you feel about the gift. Hopefully, you feel appreciated but how did they accomplish that? And if you didn’t feel appreciated, think through why not? Maybe the form letter is outdated, or feels just like another form letter.
  • Donor communications – following your gift, see if the organization stays in touch with you. What communication channels do they use? How are there messages? Do they use photos effectively? Also take note of the frequency of the communications. Just as with stewardship, ask yourself how the communications made you feel.

  • Subsequent solicitations – after that first gift, be mindful of how quickly and how often they ask you to give again. Notice if the subsequent solicitations acknowledge that you’ve made a previous gift.

Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers and board members to share examples from the charities they support. This will allow you to create a library of samples – good and bad.

I added this to my collection of good examples the day I received it from Prospect Riding Center.


Because fundraising is about building relationships, you can learn things long after your gift is made and apply them to make improvements in your charity’s development efforts. Remember to be one – if you are a fundraising, give.

Keep an eye out for our next Be One post on volunteering, or you can subscribe below to get our posts straight to your inbox.

5 Reasons to Make Your 2021 Development Plan Now

As 2020 winds down, you might be asking, ‘should I even bother to make a development plan for 2021?’  

photo of people having meeting
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

I think YES!  

Now is exactly the time to make a plan for moving forward.  

Here is why I think you should make a development plan:  

You will set goals for more than dollars raised. 
The only measurement of development is NOT dollars raised. You should also be measuring donor retention, new donors, contacts made to deepen engagement, board and volunteer involvement in fundraising. Create a development plan that addresses all of the key performance indicators you identify.  

You can activate everyone on your development team: fundraising staff, CEO, board members and volunteers.
Development is a team sport and now more than ever, you need the whole team working toward the same goals. Use your development plan to confirm who is doing what and when. Include goals and activities for everyone working on raising the funds your organization needs to accomplish the mission. 

You will know that things are changing and your plan can change.
Even in times of uncertainty, maybe especially in times of uncertainty, you will benefit from having a plan that provides a starting point for adjustments.  Your development plan should be written down but not in permanent ink. Go into it knowing that you’ll be making changes throughout the year. 

You can make hard decisions about where to focus limited resources.
This year we’ve overused the word “pivot” so we know that there will be tough choices ahead. If you are facing budget cuts, a development plan allows you to see the impact of reduction and make the best choices. A well-researched and thorough development plan addresses those changes.  

You will document uncertainties. 
Making a plan will allow you to note what is uncertain and set deadlines to make decisions about those. A plan doesn’t do away with unknowns but it can relieve some of the anxiety by putting them out in the open. 

Now is the time to take a clear-eyed look at the future and make a 2021 development plan that will serve your organization and the people who depend on it.  

7 Tips for Year End Fundraising in a Pandemic

How did you handle fundraising in your last global pandemic?

Author Jon Acuff recently reminded me that “this is my first global pandemic.” If you’ve been wondering how to handle fundraising for the rest of 2020 – you are not alone. No one is exactly sure how year-end fundraising will be impacted because no one has ever been here before.  

But that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up in defeat. We can figure this out.  

The first question seems to be: will donors still give? The research results so far indicate yes.*

My biggest takeaway from the research: Don’t hold back on cultivating and soliciting your donors.

silver and gold coins
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here are 7 things to make your year-end fundraising successful in a global pandemic:  

  1. Don’t just ask.
    Make sure that fundraising ins’t the only message your donors hear from you. Be sure that you are telling them how their previous gifts have made an impact on your constituents.  
  2. Listen to your donors.
    Be sure that some of your communication is two-way and that you are listening to your donors. Consider personal calls to key donors. Integrate a survey into your donor communications plan.  
  3. Be transparent. 
    Communicate honestly (and often) with your constituents about how the pandemic is impacting your nonprofit. If you had to close, tell them why and what is needed to reopen. If you adjusted services, share with them how. If you made mistakes, share what you learned and how you are improving.  
  4. Refocus on your mission
    While you may have changed the way you are doing things, your mission is still the same. Communicate how you are still changing the world. Donors want to help. Your job is to show them how their financial support will help people. Tell stories that demonstrate how they will make a difference.  
  5. Look at your past success. 
    Evaluate how you raised money last year. If you had in-person events, seek new ways to ask those donors. Find the other fundraising methods that worked and adjust as needed. You don’t have to start from scratch but you will probably have to try some new things.  
  6. Enhance your digital fundraising strategies.  
    Start with your website. Make sure that a visitor can find the donation page easily. For best year-end giving results, create a multi-channel solicitation using direct mail, e-mail and social media. Giving is not one size fits all. If you’re looking for best practices, check out Heather Mansfield’s 101 Digital Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits.
  7. Make a plan for stewardship. 
    If you are asking, you’ve got to be thanking. Take it a step farther and provide donors with meaningful information about how their gift saved lives or changed lives.  

Hank Rosso defines fundraising as “the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” You might feel nervous asking in these uncertain times, but who are we to deny someone the joy of giving?  

*If you’re looking for the details, here are two respected sources for research:
Association of Fundraising Professionals
IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Is Your Development Plan Obsolete?

You might be asking: ‘with all of the uncertainty and chaos, has my development plan become obsolete?‘ 

I contend no — but it is going to require some adjustment. 

When I work on a development plan with a nonprofit client we follow these steps: identify where you have been, where you are and where you want to go. Then we work on the details of how to get there. So even in these days of uncertainty, those first steps would be the same. What has changed? The details of how to get you there. That’s where adjustment is needed. Here are the places to start your adjustments: 

  1. Communication methods – with the cancellation, rescheduling or redesigning of most in-person events, look at the ways you usually communicated with event participants and find new ways to share your messages with them. E-mail and social media are obvious tools right now. But don’t forget the telephone and handwritten notes. If there are volunteers who usually assist with events, ask them to help with phone calls and personal notes to engage your audiences. 
  1. Fundraising team – every development plan should include the details of “who” will be on your fundraising team. Now is the time to evaluate your plan for what tasks will need to be reassigned. This is also a time to recruit new members to your fundraising team. People want to help you change lives but you have to show them the ways to help and invite them to join you. With what is probably less in-person commitment needed, you might find additional or different people who can help that couldn’t commit in-person.
  1. Goal adjustment – it is time for a realistic review of what you were expecting to raise in this development plan. You likely set your goals before the Coronavirus pandemic. That means those goals – dollars raised, event participation, donor renewal rate – may be beyond reach now. Take some time to adjust those numbers. By resetting to  goals within reach, your team will be more motivated to work hard to reach them. 

So what do you do now that your year has been turned upside down?

Regroup and move forward.

Upon completion of a development plan, I encourage clients to put it on a shelf and never look at it again (just kidding! I threw that in to see if you were paying attention). I recommend that the development plan is a dynamic organism. The plan should be updated to reflect results and adjustments. Now is the time to put the ‘dynamic’ into your development plan.  

So what do you do now that your year has been turned upside down? Regroup and move forward. 

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.

SLG_TricksandSecrets

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.”

5 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Success

endweb

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’?

big-check-xlarge-sample

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.