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!

Does Your Online Giving Pass the Test?

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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.

4 Keys for Planning a Successful Staff Team Retreat

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It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day at your organization – doing what you have to do to get through the day and make our community a better place. Then, someone decides that all your team needs is a staff retreat to get everyone back on the same page and focused on what is ahead.

So, a calendar invite is sent with instructions for everyone to clear their calendar and meet in the conference room for a day of fun and togetherness (you know the email, I’m pretty sure you just rolled your eyes).

The day comes and it turns into a daylong meeting – with lots of PowerPoint slides, the same people talking, excruciating “get to know you” games – and, everyone leaves frustrated and feeling behind.

Let’s be clear, the intention was good. The execution… could have been a lot better. Planning a successful staff team retreat takes time, thought and preparation. We’ve got four tips to make planning your next staff team retreat a day everyone leaves feeling refreshed, focused and ready to tackle whatever is next for your organization.

1. Know your why. We have facilitated staff team retreats for a multitude of reasons – major changes on the horizon or just completed, new leadership or key team members, reconnecting a team. Once you identify the reason for your staff team retreat, you can set the agenda to accomplish this goal. Knowing this can help you with a lot of the logistic details like location and activities.

2. Don’t over fill the agenda. This can happen quickly – “oh, since we’ll all be together we can take care of this.” This is not a staff meeting, so you shouldn’t treat it like one. Going back to your why, pick one or two (at the most) major topics and allow ample time to cover them in depth. Often when prepping for a staff team retreat the most push back comes from what is seen as a “not enough” agenda from the organization’s lead. In our experience, a flexible agenda that allows for the natural flow of conversation and ideas works best.

3. Plan for active participation. Some people take more time and coaxing to take an active part in conversations. Think ahead of the conversations – how to include those people less likely to just jump in and how to temper those who are prone to taking over the conversation. Everyone on your team has a voice and brings a different perspective to an issue or challenge. At a recent retreat, the accounting person had a great idea for the thank you letters – no one had ever asked.

4. Bring in a professional. You’re great at what you do – and, that might not include planning and facilitating a successful and productive staff team retreat. Lucky for you, there are professionals, like the Sara Leonard Group, who have the experience and expertise to help you realize your why and to create an agenda to accomplish your why while planning for active participation from your entire team. A professional, outside facilitator allows full participation from your entire staff and a voice of reason and objectivity. Make sure when choosing a facilitator for your staff team retreat that it is someone who listens and understands your goals for the day. Your facilitator should be someone you are comfortable spending some time with – the preparation for your staff team retreat is really what makes all the difference.

We hope these tips help as you plan the next staff team retreat. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your organization in planning a retreat that gets the results you want, please contact us.

3 Ways to Be Present at Your Board Retreat

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The annual board retreat is coming up! You’ve found the perfect date (you still can’t believe it worked for everyone!), location (the perfect mix of relaxation and work space) and the yummy food is set to be delivered. The board leadership has worked with your board retreat facilitator to create an agenda that lets the group get to know each other better and discuss some big things ahead. This isn’t your first board retreat though, you know how hard it is to get everyone to disconnect and be present. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with three ways to help you and your participants be present at your next board retreat.

1. A cell phone basket. Before the board retreat begins, have everyone place their silenced phones in a basket (don’t worry, they can check them at breaks and lunch if needed). We all know how addicting our phones are and one innocent, out-of-habit look at your email is all it takes to lose focus on what is going on in the same room. The fair thing would be to give your board retreat participants advanced notice so they can set their out of office messages and be prepared for giving up their phones.

2. To do later list. One of the first things we do at a board retreat is have participants take out a blank piece of paper and title it “to do later.” This is where all of those nagging thoughts of ‘did I respond to Joe?’ and ‘I need to pick up the dry cleaning’ go. Taking a cue from meditation – acknowledge the thought, write it down (in our case, not meditations) and let it go.

3. The parking lot. Sometimes conversations take a wrong or winding turn. This is where the parking lot comes in handy. When the ideas are flowing and everyone is together great ideas happen. But, it might not be the time or place for that idea. On the parking lot it goes. It makes the board retreat participant feel that their thought matters and it gives the great idea or question a place to live so that it can be addressed later.

A well-organized board retreat is a great way to re-engage, re-energize and reconnect your board members. It offers time to concentrate on specific issues at your organization or to think big picture about the future. To make it as successful as possible everyone needs to be fully present and engaged. We hope using the tips above helps you make the most of your time together. We’d love to hear how you incorporated these into your next board retreat.

If we can be of assistance as your plan your next board retreat, please let us know.

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!

Mind Your Manners (and Other Practical Tips for Calling a Prospective Funder)

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Calling a prospective funder shouldn’t just be another phone call to quickly check off your to-do list. At the point of actually picking up the phone, you should be confident the funder is open to your communication (Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect) and have spent time researching and preparing to make the call (Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone). Now (and hopefully only now) is the time to actually make the call.

Remember – this is not just any old call. This call could be the beginning or the beginning of the end of a great relationship with a funder for your organization.

Here are tips to make the most of the call.

Be Ready to Talk Now or Later

When you make the initial phone call, you may or may not get through. Be ready for either scenario. First, if you get through to the funder and they say, “Let’s talk now” be ready to go. This does not happen often, but you have to be ready for it every time. Conversely, if you get voice mail or talk to a gatekeeper, be ready to explain why you are calling and make an appointment to connect at a later time.

Location, Location, Location

One wonderful benefit of our modern, connected world is our ability to conduct business from anywhere – coffee shops, sporting events, and conferences. This however is not one of those times. Find a quiet, private place and make sure those around you know that you are not to be interrupted for the duration of the call.

Be Prompt and Respectful of Their Time

Place the call on time and be respectful of the time allowed for the call. If you asked the funder for 20 minutes, stick to that. When the allotted time has passed, you can ask if they are able to keep going, but be prepared for them to say “no” and conclude the call.

Smile!

This might sound silly for a phone call, but it really matters. If you smile while you are talking, it will show in your voice. Practice this on a family member if you are skeptical. The smile in your voice projects a positive attitude and shows your enthusiasm.

Be Enthusiastic

Avoid the trap of being “all business” and not letting your passion come through during the conversation. Make an effort to find the inspiration that you need. Consider a photo of the ultimate beneficiary of the mission – that might be an animal that will be rescued or a child that will be educated.

Manners Matter

You’re building a relationship and first impressions matter. Remember the little things:

• say please and thank you,
• don’t interrupt,
• listen carefully to their answers,
• speak in a clear voice.

Take Good Notes

This conversation is where you can ask for answers and clarification to the questions left unanswered by your research. As you ask your questions, take good notes. Make note of any questions the funder has of you and be sure to record any promises you make or any information you need to provide following the conversation. If you are asked a question you can’t answer, don’t panic and just be honest. Explain why you don’t have that information and offer to find out and follow up as soon as you can.

Ask for Clarity

If you are asked a question you don’t understand, speak up and ask for clarification. The nonprofit sector is filled with jargon and the funder might use terms you haven’t heard before, ask for a definition. Sometimes we are afraid to admit we don’t understand something for fear of making a bad impression. It’s much better to understand than to answer incorrectly on the application when the funder feels they told you what they wanted.

Finish Strong

As you conclude the conversation, review anything you promised to provide and confirm your next steps. Hopefully, you have determined that they will consider your grant application so confirm the deadline. If you determine that a grant application is not appropriate, restate any follow-up action that is appropriate. No matter the outcome of the call, thank them for taking the time to talk to you.

Follow Up

A thank you/nice to meet you note is always appropriate to send after a call. If the funder requested information be sure to follow up and provide it within the agreed upon timeline. If someone else has the information, contact them immediately and confirm that the deadline is appropriate.

The funding community is smaller and more connected that most people think. So while it’s true that if you know one funder, you know one funder – they also talk and a good impression on one can translate to introductions and a good reputation among many funders. Taking the time to do your research about the funder’s process; researching what you can on your own while preparing; and making the most of your time while on the call can make a big difference not only on this particular opportunity but perhaps even more opportunities in the future.

Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect

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To contact or not to contact? That’s the million-dollar question (okay, let’s be realistic – the $40,000 question). You’ve identified a new private foundation that might fund your organization, so you want to make contact with them right away and tell them all the ways your organization is a great investment opportunity for them. Now’s the time to stop and make sure it’s the right thing to do.

Raising money from private foundations certainly has some things in common with other types of fundraising, but there are some major differences. One major difference is whether or not to contact a funder before submitting a grant application. The three steps below will help you determine the best course of action before you pick up the phone.

Before deciding to contact a prospective funder, determine if calling them is an appropriate option. You should consider these scenarios before picking up the phone.

When Not to Approach

  • They Ask You Not To
    If the funder has specific instructions not to contact before applying, don’t! Each funder has their own specific process for receiving applications. Research the funder to determine if they are open to discussing your application before its submission.
  • You’re Not a Match
    Don’t approach the funder if your project does not meet the criteria they have for funding. For instance, you might be within their program specifics but outside their geographic boundaries. Or your request for general operating support or capital campaign funding does not fit their type of giving.
  • They Have a Letter Of Intent/Introduction Process
    In the vast majority of cases, if a funder has a Letter of Introduction or Letter of Intent process, they want that process to be the initial contact. Be considerate of the funder in this case. An LOI is a fairly simple document that will most often give the funder an opportunity to learn more about your organization than through a phone call. Be respectful of the funder’s time by making the LOI your first inquiry.

This may seem like overly simple advice, but many times in our enthusiasm for our cause we overlook the obvious.

When Approaching is Okay

  • They Accept Calls
    As you do your funder research, pay attention to how they accept contact. Some funders are open to phone calls, some will have meetings, while others do not allow any contact before an application. If they state that they are willing, then you are safe to reach out.
  • You Are Connected
    Foundations are staffed by people and people have connections. When you have identified a potential funder, review the list of their staff and board members. Show the list to your organization’s board members to see if they have any connections. If you identify a connection, ask them to reach out on behalf of your organization or to make an introduction.
  • You Have Specific Questions
    Just because a funder will accept calls, don’t make the assumption that you should make the call. Only make the initial outreach if you are prepared and have specific questions. After you carefully review their published materials and their website, determine what additional information you need from them to complete your application. When you call, you want to make the best impression – so be prepared.

If you attempt to contact a potential funder and are not able to reach them or don’t receive a return phone call, take that as their way of saying, “we don’t want to have a conversation with you until you submit an application.

Next time we’ll discuss what to do if you decide to move forward with making a call and share tips for preparing.

Close Your Door

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Being on a plane and not connected to the internet made me realize how out of practice I’ve gotten at staying totally focused. I found myself looking down to check the mail icon on my laptop to see if I had any new e-mail messages but of course I didn’t have any.

Did life as I know it cease to exist? Of course not. I was actually getting more done. There was a crying baby behind me and a guy sleeping wide next to me but I was still able to get some quality work done. How? Those distractions are more like white noise while the distraction of e-mail requires my brain to shift gears.

Research says we lose 15 minutes when we hop from task to task. I could have purchased WiFi to use the internet on that flight but I gained more in productivity by focusing on the tasks at hand (including creating this blog).

So what’s on your agenda that needs your focus? How are you going to get to it?

Here are 3 suggestions:

1) Create a closed-door policy
I’m not suggesting that you keep your door closed all the time but there are times when you need to excuse yourself from the distractions like drop by meetings. This applies if you are the boss, too. Tell your teammates that you need some time to focus on an important task but you will be available in an hour. If you have a position that doesn’t allow this, look for someone around you that would trade an hour – you cover for them, then they cover for you.

2) Work out of the office
“Working at a coffee shop” brings to mind a peaceful setting but a few years ago my office was across the street from what seemed like the world’s busiest Starbucks, or at least the noisiest. There were still times that I could go across the street and accomplish something important because I could focus on the task at hand, not the priorities of my coworkers (and boss). If you’re like me and can work in a noisy place you’ve got unlimited options. If you need things quieter, try to public library or a restaurant during their slowest times.  Looking for more proof? Check out this TED Talk “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.”

3) Schedule the big things
Determine the time of day when you are the most productive and schedule the big things for those times. Click here for a blog from Evernote on finding your most productive hours.
Once you determine your most productive times, don’t spend those hours on the small and mindless tasks. Use them for the big things like creating a major gift solicitation strategy or writing your annual appeal letter. Take a few minute to review your to-do list to find the most important items that require the most concentration. No one you work with will make this happen for you, you have to make this happen for yourself. Schedule a 2-hour item on your schedule that says “create development plan” then protect that time from other demands. I’ve started using a different color for those items in my calendar.

Do you believe that the work you are doing is important? I do. Our work in the nonprofit sector saves lives and changes lives. That work is worthy of your focus. Don’t let the daily distractions keep you from the big things.

Raising Investment Capital and Fundraising – Not the Same

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In 2016, I worked with five nonprofits engaged in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignition program. After completing a strenuous business planning process, it was time for these organizations to implement their plans. A key part of any social enterprise plan – and ultimately successful implementation – is raising investment capital.

It’s not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to pursue social enterprise activities to diversify their revenue. However, even organizations that have previously had great fundraising success, sometimes find challenges when trying to raise the investment capital needed to implement their social enterprise endeavor.

Fundraising for social enterprise investment capital is different than regular fundraising – but, not completely different. All types of fundraising share some basic principles.

You’ve likely been part of fundraising before, so let’s start with the similarities.

Cultivation
Fundraising is about building relationships on behalf of your organization and cultivation is the biggest part of this. Sometimes when we are so excited about an idea (like our new social enterprise), our enthusiasm leads us to skip the cultivation step – a big mistake! To cultivate a potential investment capital prospect, a nonprofit must reach out and seek to build a relationship.

Listening
The most critical skill in fundraising, both traditional and investment capital, is listening. When cultivating investors, our natural inclination is to “pitch” our idea by doing all of the talking. STOP TALKING and listen to your prospect (they are often filled with great ideas). The more we listen and learn from them, the more they will engage with our project.

Ask
After all of that sharing and listening, surely the prospective investor knows we need their support, right? NO! Every successful investment invitation needs to include an ask. If you’re not specific in what you need, the prospect could either give you something you don’t need or nothing at all.

Shared Values (Mission)
Investment capital donations have the very same core as all other donations: shared values. A social enterprise may have the strongest business plan, leadership, etc. but if the mission of the organization does not inspire the prospective investor of their shared values, no investment will ever take place.

 

See, you’re more prepared that you realize. Now, let’s talk about how raising investment capital and fundraising are DIFFERENT.

Non-Financial Support and Engagement
Social enterprise investment donors don’t want to write a check and walk away. They want to participate and provide support beyond cash contributions. This participation varies by investor, so you have to pay attention (see Listening above) and respond to each donor accordingly. As you cultivate the relationship, think of how their expertise could bring value to your new venture – marketing, leadership, mentorship, coaching. Be careful not to see their desire for engagement as a threat to your plan. Instead, use it as an additional research opportunity and battle-tested resource.

Business Plan Required
Donors who invest in social enterprise want to see that careful planning has gone into the project. Your organization must be ready to demonstrate how you conducted research that lead to thoughtful planning. As a general rule, a nonprofit should never embark on a social enterprise without careful planning. Knowing your investors will want to see that plan just reinforces the importance. Don’t take their questions (sometimes challenging) as lack of interest, they are looking to make a good investment.

Innovation Appealing
Typically, donors who invest in social enterprise are attracted to innovation. While creating your business plan, take the time to highlight new ideas (and understand them thoroughly) so you can share them with potential investors. Some social enterprise ideas aren’t brand new but are new to your nonprofit. Make sure that you focus on that innovation.

Risk Tolerant
Investment donors tolerate more risk than typical nonprofit donors — with innovation comes risk. Investors know that a venture may not succeed. They are often more comfortable with the risk than the nonprofit leadership. But when a project fails, the investor wants to see that you learned from it and take the time to make improvements going forward.

Performance Measurement
Investment capital donors are interested in how things are going throughout the implementation of your social enterprise. Be sure to have a plan for communicating with donors once your enterprise is operational. Measure performance and communicate with investors. Don’t worry if all of your measurements aren’t exceeding expectations. But, be sure to include what adaptations are being made so they can see that their investment provided an opportunity for your organization to learn and improve.

While there are some new things to consider while raising capital for a social enterprise, you and your organization have completed some of the hardest parts through the research and plan development process. At the funding stage, everyone is excited about getting this new project started and you can use that excitement to make an impression on potential investors

I hope with the realization that you can build on what you already practice in fundraising in your organization, that you approach this with confidence.

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.

Inspiration from Under the French Fries

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Inspiration comes when you least expect it. While having dinner with my children at McDonalds, I was challenged by the verbiage on the tray liner. You know the tray liner – that piece of paper lining the tray that usually contains a special offer for an amusement park or a promotion of the latest McFood. But this time it was a statement about McDonalds’ corporate beliefs, starting with “We believe that when you say something people should be able to believe it.” They concluded with this statement: “To be the best company we can, we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here.

So here’s the challenge to us in the nonprofit community: do we offer our employees the best opportunities around? Do we invest in their training and development? Do we let them try new things? Do we listen to their ideas?

Many – maybe even most – of our employees took their current positions because they believe in the mission of our organizations. Sure, they need the paycheck but there are plenty of places to get those. Do we capitalize on their commitment to our organization?

Although we often blame ‘tight budgets’ for our lack of employee development, some opportunities are free. Even the opportunities that require some budget are worth it. By investing in an employee’s next step – through training and opportunities – we develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

Training and education
The nonprofit sector has a language all our own and some basic training will benefit employees at every level. Watch for web-based trainings, share interesting articles or invest in training from a professional association like AFP.

Opportunity
Find where their interests lie and let them work on a project, try out a skill or pitch in when things are exceptionally busy. Look for areas where your organization is lacking talent, social media for instance. Challenge an employee to become a specialist in that area by researching best practices in other organizations.

Feedback
One of the most valuable things you can provide aspiring leaders in your organization is honest feedback on their performance. Find places they can improve and be proactive in providing the opportunities needed to make those improvements. Don’t wait for annual reviews, provide ongoing feedback so your team can be constantly improving.

I have no idea what kind of workplace McDonalds truly is. But I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years. Can the employees in the nonprofit sector agree with the statement on my McDonalds tray liner: “we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here“?