Where’s Sara?: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Social Enterprise Accelerator 2021

http://www.hfpg.org

A second class of six nonprofits has been chosen to participate in the second class of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Social Enterprise Accelerator. Sara Leonard Group is thrilled to once again be part of the team working with these nonprofits during the 2.5 year program focused on strengthening their entrepreneurial capacity.

During the first program, launched in 2019, Sara Leonard Group founder Sara Leonard worked with the organizations on raising the startup funds needed to being their social enterprise. Participants in the 2019 cohort generated $2.5M in revenue to support their missions.

Congratulations to the new cohort:

  • CT Data Collaborative
  • End Hunger CT!
  • Hartford Food System
  • Health Equity Solutions
  • Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society
  • YWCA Hartford Region

Learn more about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Social Enterprise Accelerator:

Six Nonprofits Selected to Participate in the Social Enterprise Accelerator 2021
Hartford Foundation picks 6 nonprofits for second accelerator program

Secrets to Inspire Greater Year-End Giving

I recently had the opportunity to share some practical tips to implement during the last two months of the year to inspire greater year-end giving as part of the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s free webinar series.

See more free webinars with other Nonprofit Leaderships Center presenters on nlctb.org.

Additional year-end giving resources:

5 Board Member Actions to Boost 2020 Year-End Fundraising
7 Tips for Year End Fundraising in a Pandemic
5 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Success

Two Approaches to Board Giving

“How much should our board members be required to give?”

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It’s a question I receive pretty often.

The short answer, it depends on your board culture. My personal preference, as a board member and a fundraiser, is not to set an amount but ask each board member to make their best gift.

Here are two approaches to consider for your organization.

Their Best Gift
Board members should feel strongly – even passionately about your organization’s mission. Therefore, they should want to make their best gift to help you accomplish that mission. Through their perspective as a board member, they know how much money you need to save a life and their passion should translate into a gift that saves or changes the most lives possible. This also allows each board member to make their best gift based on their own financial situation.

A Gift They Care About How It is Used
Because a board member is responsible for the fiscal health (Board Source), board members who have made a personally significant gift, will feel ownership of how donated funds are used. As they monitor the fiscal activities of your organization, they will see their gift at work. This allows them to shift from an “advisory” role where they are watching over other people’s money to a “service” role where they have a stake in your progress.

A quick thought about minimum gift levels, I’m not opposed to them in all situations. Many organizations have a culture that supports that approach. If it’s working for your nonprofit, stick with it. If you have a minimum amount but most board members aren’t giving it, it’s time to reevaluate.

Board giving is a critically important topic for every nonprofit. Now is the right time to discuss it and take action to improve it.

“Why” – No Longer My Least Favorite Word

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When my children were toddlers, why was my least favorite word. I heard it a million times a day about everything… literally EVERYTHING. But now, more years than I’d like to admit removed from the constant questioning, why has become one of my favorite words.

“Why? Why? Why?”3 year olds everywhere


As a fundraising instructor, it is my distinct privilege to meet many nonprofit professionals and learn about their organizations. Most of them spend their days thinking about what and how but the outside world (translation: donors, funders) care about the why.

Simon Sinek has a great book, Start With Why, and TED Talk on this topic. His theories are targeted to the world at large but I think they have a very specific application to the fundraising profession. We should always aim to talk in why, not what or how.

So how do you find your why?

One way is to imagine the world without your organization. What does that look like? Who isn’t served? Who isn’t saved? Are good things gone? Do bad things happen? When I teach I call this the It’s a Wonderful Life exercise. The world without your organization is your why.

Your why may look like this:

  • animals die
  • children can’t reach their full potential
  • diseases kill people

It’s likely not a pretty picture so you can see how using the why helps donors see why giving to your organization matters. When you invite others to join you in changing the world, you are looking for people who don’t want these bad things to happen. Your organization provides them an opportunity to make a difference in the world — save animals, help children, cure diseases.

Turn Why? — the question I used to dread from my toddlers — into a powerful fundraising tool. We’re happy to work with your organization on finding your own why and how to best integrate it into your fundraising work. Contact us to learn how we can work together.

Be One: If You Are a Fundraiser, Give.

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

If you are a fundraiser, give.

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

Things you can learn from your gifts:

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

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

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

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


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

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

5 Board Member Actions to Boost 2020 Year-End Fundraising

Attention nonprofit board members: now is the time for you to take action.  

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It’s not too late – it’s never too late – for board members to demonstrate their leadership by engaging in year-end fundraising.  

As we approach the end of the year, board members should take some action to boost your nonprofits’ end of year giving efforts.  

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.  
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.   
  5. 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.  

5 Reasons to Make Your 2021 Development Plan Now

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

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I think YES!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Tips for Year End Fundraising in a Pandemic

How did you handle fundraising in your last global pandemic?

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

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

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

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

silver and gold coins
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

Is Your Development Plan Obsolete?

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

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

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

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

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

Regroup and move forward.

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

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

3 Reasons the Giving Challenge Wrap-Up is Just the Beginning

2020 defiantly put the “challenge” in Giving Challenge. Even though the year started like many others, it certainly took a turn that no one could have predicted.

As nonprofits across the region prepared for the 24-hour giving event, scheduled for April 28–29, the world around us was changing quickly and unpredictably. To respond to these unprecedented changes, the Community Foundation of Sarasota adapted plans for events around the Giving Challenge. The Patterson Foundation created a 30-day social media countdown that, shared information about the event and tips for participating nonprofits. Nonprofits were forced to think outside what had worked in the past in their approach to reaching donors. There was no playbook for pandemic lockdown community fundraising. There were a lot of people who put a lot of thought into figuring it out day-by-day.

And it worked! The 2020 Giving Challenge was a record-setting success. Over $19 million was raised by nearly 700 nonprofits from 58,947 unique donors. Feel free to re-read that last sentence and let it sink in. 

It is great fun to see the nonprofits receive their checks as the wrap-up announcements are made. 

But the wrap-up is just the beginning. Now the real work of being good stewards of the Giving Challenge funds begins. 

Here are three reasons the Giving Challenge wrap-up is just the beginning: 

1. Let it all sink in.

All across our region, children are learning, animals are safe, families have homes, music is played, and it’s all because of us. We — donors, staff, board members, funders, and volunteers — should take a moment to savor the good feeling that comes from knowing we’ve done something to improve our community. We are all so busy, and the day already happened, so it’s easy to skip that pause to let it all sink in. Don’t skip it. Celebrate the hard work that went into making the day a success.

2. Embrace innovative approaches.

The nonprofits in the Giving Challenge showed adaptability and innovation at every turn. For instance, some turned their in-person events into online events. Others used mail, phone calls, and text messages to reach donors. The creativity on social media channels was phenomenal. Now that the 24-hour excitement is over, be sure to apply the lessons learned across your fundraising program. Instead of a regular event, could you hold a virtual event? Can you find ways to build excitement on social media by counting down to your next fundraising appeal? Now that the excuse of “that’s how we always did it” doesn’t apply, the innovations can be applied to every fundraising effort. 

3. New relationships take work. 

Many nonprofits received gifts from new donors during the Giving Challenge. Hooray! That’s fantastic. But, it would be even better if those first-time donors became repeat givers. The relationship should start with a thank you letter. If it hasn’t already been sent, it’s not too late, so do that right now. Then, you can move on to the important step of stewardship. As you think about cultivating donors, each nonprofit should answer the question: “How can I help you change the world?” Then share that answer with your donors – through photos, stories, and visits (virtual for now, of course). Fundraising is not all about asking for money. It’s about inviting people to join you in changing the world. Be sure that you are looking for opportunities to bring your donors along with you as you change the world.

Someone from the outside might look at the phenomenal results of the 2020 Giving Challenge and think, “not bad for a day’s work.” That doesn’t apply here because it wasn’t just a day. It was weeks, months, even years of building a philanthropic community. As we pause to celebrate the success, let’s look ahead to the bright future. And remember – it is not a wrap-up, it’s just the beginning.

A quick note: this post originally appeared on The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.