When my children were toddlers, why was my least favorite word. I heard it a million times a day about everything… literally EVERYTHING. But now, more years than I’d like to admit removed from the constant questioning, why has become one of my favorite words.
As a fundraising instructor, it is my distinct privilege to meet many nonprofit professionals and learn about their organizations. Most of them spend their days thinking about what and how but the outside world (translation: donors, funders) care about the why.
Simon Sinek has a great book, Start With Why, and TED Talk on this topic. His theories are targeted to the world at large but I think they have a very specific application to the fundraising profession. We should always aim to talk in why, not what or how.
So how do you find your why?
One way is to imagine the world without your organization. What does that look like? Who isn’t served? Who isn’t saved? Are good things gone? Do bad things happen? When I teach I call this the It’s a Wonderful Life exercise. The world without your organization is your why.
Your why may look like this:
children can’t reach their full potential
diseases kill people
It’s likely not a pretty picture so you can see how using the why helps donors see why giving to your organization matters. When you invite others to join you in changing the world, you are looking for people who don’t want these bad things to happen. Your organization provides them an opportunity to make a difference in the world — save animals, help children, cure diseases.
Turn Why? — the question I used to dread from my toddlers — into a powerful fundraising tool. We’re happy to work with your organization on finding your own why and how to best integrate it into your fundraising work. Contact us to learn how we can work together.
Attention nonprofit board members: now is the time for you to take action.
As we approach the end of the year, board members should take some action to boost your nonprofits’ end of year giving efforts.
Give – board members should have already made your best gifts by now but still make a gift to support current efforts. If your nonprofit is having a year-end event, sponsor. If they are selling something, buy some. If they are sending a year-end appeal, make a gift.
Ask others to give – your friends and family should know that this charity is important to you. Now is the time to ask them to invest in this cause. If your nonprofit has special year-end drives (like toys or food), use that opportunity to tell the story and ask for donations.
Engage on social media – if you haven’t already, like, follow, join (whatever the appropriate verb) your nonprofit’s social media accounts. During the final weeks of the year, make an effort to check the social media channels once a day and share, retweet, repost. This simple but intentional action can amplify your nonprofits’ reach.
Thank – start with the people you know who support your nonprofit. Reach out with an e-mail or handwritten note to tell them how their gifts have made the world a better place this year. After that, ask if there are additional donors you could contact with a stewardship message. Don’t forget social media channels for thanking, too. For instance, a post on LinkedIn to thank corporate donors is a simple but powerful way to show appreciation.
Encourage staff – it’s been a tough year for everyone. This may be the most obvious statement I’ve ever written but it’s important to remember that nonprofit staff members have been under a tremendous amount of pressure for 9 months. Whether your nonprofit has been running at full speed or has had to curtail services, the stress has been real. Take a moment to write a personal note to staff members telling them that you see their hard work and it’s appreciated. Find a way to tell them that they are appreciated – by you and by the people you are all serving.
If you are reading this in November: take action now. If you’re reading this in early December: take action now. If you’re reading this in late December:take action now. (seeing a trend?) And if you are reading this after 2021 has started and year-end giving is completed, it’s still not too late to take action.
It’s not too late – it’s never too late – for board members to demonstrate their leadership by engaging in year-end fundraising.
How did you handle fundraising in your last global pandemic?
Author Jon Acuff recently reminded me that “this is my first global pandemic.” If you’ve been wondering how to handle fundraising for the rest of 2020 – you are not alone. No one is exactly sure how year-end fundraising will be impacted because no one has ever been here before.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up in defeat. We can figure this out.
The first question seems to be: will donors still give? The research results so far indicate yes.*
My biggest takeaway from the research: Don’t hold back on cultivating and soliciting your donors.
Here are 7 things to make your year-end fundraising successful in a global pandemic:
Don’t just ask. Make sure that fundraising ins’t the only message your donors hear from you. Be sure that you are telling them how their previous gifts have made an impact on your constituents.
Listen to your donors. Be sure that some of your communication is two-way and that you are listening to your donors. Consider personal calls to key donors. Integrate a survey into your donor communications plan.
Be transparent. Communicate honestly (and often) with your constituents about how the pandemic is impacting your nonprofit. If you had to close, tell them why and what is needed to reopen. If you adjusted services, share with them how. If you made mistakes, share what you learned and how you are improving.
Refocus on your mission. While you may have changed the way you are doing things, your mission is still the same. Communicate how you are still changing the world. Donors want to help. Your job is to show them how their financial support will help people. Tell stories that demonstrate how they will make a difference.
Look at your past success. Evaluate how you raised money last year. If you had in-person events, seek new ways to ask those donors. Find the other fundraising methods that worked and adjust as needed. You don’t have to start from scratch but you will probably have to try some new things.
2020 defiantly put the “challenge” in Giving Challenge. Even though the year started like many others, it certainly took a turn that no one could have predicted.
As nonprofits across the region prepared for the 24-hour giving event, scheduled for April 28–29, the world around us was changing quickly and unpredictably. To respond to these unprecedented changes, the Community Foundation of Sarasota adapted plans for events around the Giving Challenge. The Patterson Foundation created a 30-day social media countdown that, shared information about the event and tips for participating nonprofits. Nonprofits were forced to think outside what had worked in the past in their approach to reaching donors. There was no playbook for pandemic lockdown community fundraising. There were a lot of people who put a lot of thought into figuring it out day-by-day.
But the wrap-up is just the beginning. Now the real work of being good stewards of the Giving Challenge funds begins.
Here are three reasons the Giving Challenge wrap-up is just the beginning:
1. Let it all sink in.
All across our region, children are learning, animals are safe, families have homes, music is played, and it’s all because of us. We — donors, staff, board members, funders, and volunteers — should take a moment to savor the good feeling that comes from knowing we’ve done something to improve our community. We are all so busy, and the day already happened, so it’s easy to skip that pause to let it all sink in. Don’t skip it. Celebrate the hard work that went into making the day a success.
2. Embrace innovative approaches.
The nonprofits in the Giving Challenge showed adaptability and innovation at every turn. For instance, some turned their in-person events into online events. Others used mail, phone calls, and text messages to reach donors. The creativity on social media channels was phenomenal. Now that the 24-hour excitement is over, be sure to apply the lessons learned across your fundraising program. Instead of a regular event, could you hold a virtual event? Can you find ways to build excitement on social media by counting down to your next fundraising appeal? Now that the excuse of “that’s how we always did it” doesn’t apply, the innovations can be applied to every fundraising effort.
3. New relationships take work.
Many nonprofits received gifts from new donors during the Giving Challenge. Hooray! That’s fantastic. But, it would be even better if those first-time donors became repeat givers. The relationship should start with a thank you letter. If it hasn’t already been sent, it’s not too late, so do that right now. Then, you can move on to the important step of stewardship. As you think about cultivating donors, each nonprofit should answer the question: “How can I help you change the world?” Then share that answer with your donors – through photos, stories, and visits (virtual for now, of course). Fundraising is not all about asking for money. It’s about inviting people to join you in changing the world. Be sure that you are looking for opportunities to bring your donors along with you as you change the world.
Someone from the outside might look at the phenomenal results of the 2020 Giving Challenge and think, “not bad for a day’s work.” That doesn’t apply here because it wasn’t just a day. It was weeks, months, even years of building a philanthropic community. As we pause to celebrate the success, let’s look ahead to the bright future. And remember – it is not a wrap-up, it’s just the beginning.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Since starting my job at Lakeland Regional Medical Center Foundation more than 25 years ago, I’ve been explaining what I do. That’s natural; since my title included “development,” and many people weren’t sure what I was “developing.”
Throughout my career, my titles have included “development” and “advancement” in several iterations (associate, director of, officer). To simplify I’ve usually explained, “I’m a fundraiser.” But since I’ve been at this for a while, I’ve realized there is more to what I do than fundraising.
Let’s start with some definitions from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Dictionary: Development – noun; the total process by which an organization increases public understanding of its mission and acquires financial support for its programs Fundraise – verb; to seek donations from various sources for the support of an organization or a specific project Fundraiser – noun; a person, 1. paid or volunteer, who plans, manages or participates in raising assets and resources for an organization or cause. 2. an event conducted for the purpose of generating funds. Philanthropy – noun; love of humankind, usually expressed by an effort to enhance the well-being of humanity through personal acts of practical kindness or by financial support of a cause or causes
We can’t even decide whether we want “fundraising” to be one word or two.
What Really Matters
My dad used to say, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for supper,” and I think that applies here. It doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters most is how you do it.
Development is about developing relationships on behalf of your organization.
Fundraising is a transaction.
If development were a line, fundraising would be a spot on that line.
Here’s what matters most: how do you treat your donors? Do you treat them as a means to a transaction? Or do you treat them like friends and family, like someone who has a relationship with your organization?
If you’re treating them like a transaction, they won’t stay.
If you build a relationship, they will stay.
So what do you call it at your organization? Development, fundraising, or some of both? And how do you approach it: like a transaction or a relationship?
No matter what your job title might be, don’t strictly fundraise. Invest your energies in developing relationships with the donors who support your organization.