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.”

Knowing When NOT to Ask

stop sign
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

birthday bow box card
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.

Don’t Say “No” for Your Prospect

IMG_2907.jpg
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

IMG_4368

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!

Stewardship of Social Enterprise Investors

Leonard blog TPF MMI
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.

7 Ways to Appreciate Your Colleagues

pexels-photo-883466.jpeg

A guest post from Ashley Pero

Any day is the perfect day to be a little more thoughtful and show your appreciation for those in your life. As a fundraiser, appreciating donors is always top of mind. But, one area that you might be overlooking is your colleagues– the people you spend nearly a quarter of your weekly hours with. Here are some tips to be a little more thoughtful and show your appreciation to the people in your work life.

  1. Take the time to say thank you for something you appreciate, but have come to expect. Does your co-worker always start the coffee in the morning – have you said thank you recently?
  2. Share that article you just read. Did you read an article that made you smile, made you think of someone, or that was about a topic you know someone is passionate about? Take a minute to send an email. It can be as simple as “thought you might enjoy this.”
  3. Listen, fully and completely. If someone comes up to your desk and you don’t have time to give them your full attention (and stop typing, reading, or whatever it is you’re doing) just ask if you can talk later. Your undivided attention makes people feel valued, if you can’t give them that at that moment then let them know when you can. And, for goodness sakes, PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN.
  4. Ask about their family/hobby/weekend. Get to know a little about your colleague’s life outside the office and be sure to take the time to ask about their interests.
  5. Leave a sticky-note of thanks. Was there something this week that a colleague did that made your week a little easier? Leave a sticky-note on their computer screen that they’ll find the next morning saying thanks.
  6. Take a coffee break. Know that a colleague is having a not-so-great time either at work or dealing with personal matters? Take 15 minutes and invite them to go grab a cup of coffee.
  7. Compliment them. Share something you admire about them—their creativity, calm under pressure, attention to detail, how they handled that difficult person… Share why you think they are such an important part of the team. Maybe you think they know, but perhaps they don’t and if they do, it still is nice to hear it.

Here are two articles that have some great ideas and two of my favorite videos around being thoughtful and showing appreciation.

KidPresidentTrice

I encourage you to take the opportunity today, and every day, to make someone feel valued and appreciated.

Your turn! What has a colleague done to make you feel appreciated that really meant a lot to you? Feel free to share below in the comments.

Lessons for Staying Purposeful, Fresh & Connected

pexels-photo-64057.jpeg

A guest post from Ashley Pero.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” -Margaret Wheatley

As we move through our careers, we go from being the one asking all the questions to being someone that has a few answers. As we get older (and, hopefully wiser) we are sometimes asked what we’ve learned, especially it seems as graduation time approaches again. Today, I’m sharing a few of the lessons I have learned.

Be kind and delightful. If you spent much time at one of the organizations I worked for you likely heard, “Will that delight?” It was cultural value to satisfy and delight and we strived to live it every day. It’s not to say that the “customer is always right,” but it does mean that you can be kind when you tell someone they aren’t going to get their way. It’s not always easy to be kind, but the extra effort is always worth it and it really makes a difference to the people you interact with (family and colleagues). Make it a habit to practice kindness and delight others. I guarantee you won’t regret it and people won’t forget that you make them feel special.

Connect often. I’ve had to privilege of meeting some amazing people throughout my career. I can also confirm that what you hear is true, a strong network is important. It’s good for your well-being to have colleagues and friends that you can call for advice or talk through ideas. And using your connections and relationships to help others (connecting your connections, if you will) makes you feel good. It’s easy to neglect those relationships, but it’s also easy to keep them alive and well. A quick coffee before work, an email with an article that would be helpful for them, a quick call to see how things are – those small gestures (that more often than not shouldn’t be about you) build relationships, and connections matter.

Seek knowledge. Knowledge comes in many forms – formal training, coaching, mentoring, experiences, volunteering, reading – and all of them should have a valued place of importance in your life. Learning keeps you sharp, allows you to contribute in meaningful ways, makes you a trusted resource, and pushes you to grow. An investment in yourself is one of the surest investments you can make. Even if the only investment you can afford to make right now is the time to stay current on your favorite news sources and blog resources, you’re worth it.

Turn it off. We all need time to recharge and disconnect (yes even you). That vacation time you’ve earned but have been saving (read: not using) needs to be used. Not just for you, but for your organization and your family. Your organization deserves a refreshed, clear-thinking version of you. Your family deserves a fully present, not work-consumed version of you. There isn’t a magic number of days to get away, you have to figure out what’s right for you. Never feel bad for taking a break from work or turning off your phone. It will all still be waiting for you when you get back and you’ll have a clear mind to tackle it.

What lessons do you share most often when asked?

3 Ways to Turn Failure Into Adventure

Beach rain
Image courtesy of Detanan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I took my kids on an adventure. Or at least I called it an “adventure.” My kids called it a “fail” (they are teenagers, that’s how they talk). I wasn’t willing to admit defeat.

What’s the difference in adventure and failure? I think it is in the learning. If you learned something from your failure, call it an adventure. Our family adventure involved a beach trolley, torrential rain and an iconic pink hotel.

What about your fundraising activities? Are the failures ever adventures? Do you look for the opportunities to learn from what you did and improve for next time?

Here was the scenario and here’s how I want to apply it to our work in the nonprofit sector.

The plan was to take the beach trolley to the Don Cesar for ice cream. We were staying on the beach in Pinellas County and I wanted to take my kids to visit the Don Cesar. I researched the trolley routes online before we left. I timed our adventure after the afternoon thunderstorms blew thru. But (and these are a few big buts) I misread the trolley routes and a second, major thunderstorm came thru. That led to the three of us, huddled under a trolley shelter in rain so heavy our umbrella turned inside out.

3 ways to make the failure into an adventure:

1. What would we do better next time?
For our family adventure, I’ll understand the trolley route better next time and know that we have to change trolleys to get from where we were staying to the Don Cesar. If rain is predicted, I’ll probably skip the trolley altogether and drive.

For your fundraising adventure, take a realistic look at what you did in the planning stage and the execution stage. Look for sacred cows, those things that are accepted as the way you do things in your organization but might not be the right or best way to do them.

2. Can we adjust our expectations? Were our expectations realistic?
I thought my kids would enjoy the trolley ride but for them it was too much like a school bus. Everyone’s expectations contributed to the challenges.

In fundraising, we often set the goal too high which leads to unrealistic expectations from CEO’s and board members. Research is a great way to set realistic expectations. Sometimes the best research is calling a colleague who has already implemented your activity to ask what their results were and what they’ve learned. One of the great things about the fundraising profession: we are very open to sharing with our colleagues.

3. What was the final result? Was there anything good in it besides the final result?
The final result with my kids was delicious ice cream in a beautiful setting but getting soaking wet on the trip home. There was good in it because the Don Cesar is well worth the trip. Also, it was a memory that will live forever in our family’s history.

For your fundraising adventure, look for the successes, even beyond dollars raised. If the net amount raised was less than expected, determine if you succeeded in other areas such as reaching new donors, renewing lapsed donors or deeper engagement of current donors.

Our work as fundraisers is sometimes hard but always important. When you approach something new as an adventure, you will be more likely to take risks. Set realistic expectations, get ready to learn something new, turn your failures into adventures, and then let me know how it goes.

Close Your Door

Closed door
Image courtesy of paisin191 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.