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.”

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.

Don’t Say “No” for Your Prospect

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Who could say “no” to this face at Satchel’s Last Resort? 

Me: “Let’s brainstorm on who might invest in your social enterprise startup capital.

NPO: “We should ask Mrs. Brown. She’s a great prospect for this. But then again, now isn’t a good time for her because she has moved recently. And, she makes a generous gift to our golf tournament. And, she might not like this because she is passionate about our mission and this is a business enterprise. So let’s not put Mrs. Brown on the list.”

This is a common conversation when I start working with the nonprofit organizations who are part of the Margin Mission Ignition initiative of The Patterson Foundation. I guide them through the process of making a prospect list for their new social enterprise. These prospects will be cultivated and if they indicate an interest, they will be asked to make a donation to invest in the business enterprise.

Too often, the staff and volunteer members of the team come up with great prospects but then talk themselves out of cultivating them for one reason (excuse) or another. In other words, they are deciding “no” for the prospect before they’ve even talked to them about the innovative and mission-sustaining business enterprise.

It’s not our job to say no for the prospect.

So what is our job? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some ideas:

  • It’s our job to talk to everyone we encounter about this exciting venture. I like to borrow the concept original to Gail Perry in “Fired Up Fundraising…”: the board should be sneezing. If your organization is embarking on a business planning process for an earned income venture, you should be talking to everyone you know about it. Picture sneezing and spreading your message all around – yes, I too was grossed by the visual at first.
  • It’s our job to share our enthusiasm. Creating an earned income strategy is an exciting undertaking and that should be shared with the people inside and outside your organization. It’s an opportunity to create a mission-sustaining income stream. What supporter wouldn’t want to know the organization they love will be sustained for years to come?
  • It’s our job to cast the vision. Business planning is a forward-looking process. Your organization has given it a lot of thought and it is part of a larger vision for the future of your nonprofit. Don’t keep all that to yourselves. Share it with those who are passionate about your cause.
  • It’s our job to invite them to be a part of the life-changing work of your nonprofit. Many times we are so close to the work of our organization that we forget that every day we are saving lives, changing lives and making our communities better places to live. When we ask for an investment in the business enterprise, we are inviting the donor to be part of that life-changing work.

When we decide “no” for a prospect, two bad things happen. First the prospect misses the opportunity to be a part of the amazing work of our nonprofit. Second, our nonprofit misses out on much-needed financial support. Next time you find yourself thinking of all the reasons a prospect might not support your nonprofit – STOP. You’ll be glad you did and surprised how contagious your enthusiasm can be.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

Help – Thanks – Wow

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Last month I completed my term as president of the AFP Suncoast Chapter. That milestone led me to reflect on my term and write some closing thoughts. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow.”  Her writing inspired my thoughts about the past two years in our AFP chapter.

Help
The board members and volunteers have provided help to the fundraising professionals of Tampa Bay. The resources from AFP International have enriched the help we have provided. That help came in the form of education, advocacy, resources, scholarships and friendship. Our job board helped people find jobs and helped organizations find valuable staff members. Everything we do is to help professional fundraising colleagues and the nonprofits where you work.

Thanks
I have been honored to serve with the dedicated board members and volunteers who make this chapter work. Because our board is an operating board not a governing board, each board member worked with a committee of volunteers to make the magic happen. And it is magic! All of those people are busy professionals who find the time to give back to AFP.  Thanks to everyone on the AFP Suncoast team!

Wow
Each time I’ve stood at the podium of our chapter meetings and looked at all of you, I’ve been touched by the impact you make in our community. Wow! You – my fundraising colleagues – represent nonprofit organizations that are changing lives and saving lives. You educate children, feed hungry neighbors, shelter victims of abuse. You make the world brighter and lovelier with art, music and history. You care for the environment and animals. You work every day to improve your corner of the world. I’m glad your corner is my corner, too. Wow!

In her book, Anne Lamott calls help, thanks and wow her “three essential prayers.” For me, these are the three essentials words that express my appreciation for my colleagues and friends in the AFP Suncoast Chapter.

Help. Thanks. Wow!

Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone

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So, you have decided to move forward with a call to a prospective foundation funder (after considering this information we shared in our last post, Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect).

The most important thing to remember: the contact you make with a potential funder can make or break your grant application before you write a single word.

That being said, prepare and prepare some more. Do your research on the funder and the person to whom you will be speaking. Think of this as you would a job interview. Just as you present your best self during an interview – for this conversation, you want to do the same for your organization. Here are five things to consider during your preparation.

Only Ask Questions You Couldn’t Find Through Research

Before you make a call, seek to find the answers to your questions using the funder’s website and third-party sites like GuideStar. If you use a phone call or meeting to ask questions that you could have answered with a little research, you will have wasted the funder’s time. That will make a terrible impression and likely have a negative effect on any future grant applications.

Anticipate Objections

After doing your research, think of possible objections the funder might have to considering a grant request from your organization. I once met with a funder who assured me he would never fund an organization as large as mine. I quickly explained that the program actually benefited grass roots organizations that were the sweet spot for this funder. I was only ready for that because I had done my research and anticipated the objection.

Make the Most of Your Time

Go into this conversation knowing that this could be the only time you talk to the funder. Never think, “I’ll ask that next time” because there might not be a next time. Prepare thinking, “this might be my only shot” and make the most of your time while being respectful of their time.

Prepare an Elevator Speech

Don’t wing it. Even if you are good at extemporaneous speaking, this is not the time. Prepare a two-minute elevator speech that summarizes your organization and your request. End with, “Does this sound like something in which your foundation would have an interest in learning more about through a written proposal?” Once you ask the question, stop and listen carefully to their answer.

Practice

After preparing but before dialing: practice. Find someone outside your organization and practice your questions and elevator speech. Use a stopwatch and make sure you are getting it done in the time allotted.

This may seem like a lot of work to make a phone call, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. This could be the start of a long and worthy relationship for your organization – that alone makes it worth the effort.

Next time, we’ll talk about actually making the call and how to make the best impression possible in a short amount of time.

Stewardship of Social Enterprise Investors

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Fish Painting at The Folk School at Florida Maritime Museum

Successful social enterprise requires capital investment. I am honored to work with the organizations participating in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignitioninitiative. My role is to support their capital investment fundraising efforts. Social enterprise business planning is hard work and not coincidentally, raising the capital can be hard work, too. Once the business plan is complete, the hard work of implementation begins. At this critical moment organizations can be tempted to move on full speed ahead without thinking about their donor investors. Warning: this is a terrible idea. 

Just like other types of fundraising, capital investment fundraising requires careful stewardship of donors. How should you steward them? I’m glad you asked! There are 3 major steps: Appreciate, Engage, and Listen.

Appreciate
First, make sure they know they are appreciated. This starts with an accurate, well-crafted thank you letter. Be sure to spell the donor’s name right and use their preferred title. If it’s a business, ensure that the letter is addressed to the right person so it doesn’t get lost.

But don’t stop with the letter from the organization. Look for other ways to say thank you. For instance, if a board member helped secure the gift, ask that board member to write a personal note or send an e-mail directly to the donor. You can’t really thank someone too much.

Providing updates on your capital fundraising efforts is another way to appreciate donors. When you show progress toward your capital investment fundraising, you are reassuring the donor that their investment is being joined by others. For instance, the Margin Mission Ignitionorganizations had a stated goal and were fundraising to secure matching funds by a deadline. By providing timely updates, early investors got to share in the celebration.

Engage
Second, keep them engaged. By the time you raise the gift, you’ve probably had multiple conversations with the donor about your earned income venture. Don’t go silent at that point. Update them on your business planning and implementation. They want to know that you are still making progress and likely can help in one way or another.

You can also engage donors by asking them to share their expertise. For instance, if they have a marketing background ask them to review the drafts of your new website. If they are an accountant ask for their help in creating your new accounting system. Donors like to be valued for more than just the checks they write us. Keep in mind though, only ask for their expertise if you’re willing to listen to their ideas.

When appropriate, invite donors to participate as customers. You could offer a coupon and make it comfortable for them to invite family and friends to join them. If your new enterprise includes a “soft opening,” invite donors to be a part of that. Ask for their honest critique of their experience.

Listen
Third, listen. With each of these interactions suggested above, listen to how your investors respond and act accordingly. Some questions to consider:

  • Are they investment donors and might want to do that again?  Then keep them in mind if you need additional capital investment or if you embark on another business plan.
  • Are they committed to your mission and would be likely to support other parts of your organization? Look for the next big thing that will intrigue them.
  • Do they like numbers? Keep them updated on the business plan and the adjustments you are making throughout implementation. 
  • Are they more interested in the impact on your mission? Send them stories about how the proceeds change and save lives at your organization. 

Here’s a bonus tip: as you appreciate, engage and listen – a picture is worth a thousand words. Keep the photos coming. Every communication doesn’t have to be a major design work of art. Spontaneous e-mails with photos attached can be very meaningful. When your donor investors visit you, be sure to snap and share photos. When the proceeds of your enterprise impact your mission, share photos. As an example, the photo above is from Margin Mission Ignition 2016 organization Florida Maritime Museum’s Folk School.

According to research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk, donors (and investors) are most interested in knowing that you put their money to work as they intended and don’t mind if you made some mistakes along the way as long as you can show that used those mistakes as learning opportunities. That is reassurance that their money is well spent. Taking the time to steward your social enterprise investors will be time well spent.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.