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Who’s Got Next? February 19, 2013

Filed under: individual donors,strategic fundraising,young donors — fundtimes @ 6:26 pm

If the average life expectancy in the United States is 78, then you might consider my life to be half-over.  Unless you don’t want to see me curled up in a fetal position crying.  But, as my children have shown me, I must nonetheless get up, wipe my nose on my sleeve, and keep it moving.  This adage also applies when it comes to considering how best to use my financial resources while in the land of the living.  Fortunately, I’m not alone.

A recent report titled, “#NextGenDonors” examines the giving trends of major donors between the ages of 21 to 40.  Commissioned by the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University and 21/64, this report describes how this cohort is poised to inherit over $40 trillion in wealth, examines their ideologies on giving, and predicts how 21st century giving will be impacted by emerging donors of the nation’s most affluential families.  While this report is useful for nonprofits with access to high-net worth individuals, the lessons gleaned from this research can also be applied when considering how to identify the giving capacity of young people who are low- and medium-dollar donors.

  • Know Your Donors.  When was the last time you looked at your donor list? Better yet, how often do you monitor the response rate of either your direct-mail or email campaign? If you never thought to segment your donor list, there’s no time like the present.  Dividing your donor list by age, giving history, and giving method may give you some insight into how younger (and older people) contribute to your effort; allowing your fundraising staff the insight needed for more targeted individual appeals.
  • Unearth Your Board. Fundraising is a key duty of any nonprofit board member.  This is especially true when employing strategies to recruit and engage younger donors.  Consider asking your board to identify a few of their younger colleagues to recruit for board membership.  Or, ask your board to invite at least five young people to sit on the host committee in preparation for your next event. Research has consistently shown that younger people desire active roles when it comes to supporting the nonprofit sector so providing opportunities for direct engagement is critical.
  • Cast Wide Your Net. When identifying next generation donors, diversity is often overlooked. As was the case in the #NextGenDonors report, the cohort surveyed and interviewed was overwhelmingly white and female. With the U.S. population expected to become a “majority-minority” by the year 2043, nonprofits must begin to think more broadly about how to engage a variety of communities as donors (rather than recipients).  Diversifying your board and management staff are a few ways to begin this important work.

What strategies has your nonprofit identified in cultivating the next generation of donors? 


Fear Factor: The Fundraising Edition January 14, 2013

Filed under: strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 6:19 pm

Everybody is afraid of something.  Whether it’s spiders, heights or sifting through clothes at Filene’s Basement (shudder), we all experience some sort of phobia.  And fundraisers are no different.

Truth is, asking people for money can be a very scary thing.  Sure, we’ve all heard those cute soundbites reminding us to put the “fun” back into fundraising. Or the adage that raising money is not about the dollars itself, but about making friends (preferably loaded ones).  While there is truth to these messages, these ideas inadvertently overshadow the anxieties that many nonprofit leaders face in asking people to fork over their hard earned money to support a cause.

So how do you effectively overcome your fear of asking people for money? Turns out, the answers lie among salespeople in the for-profit world.  In a recent article written by international sales expert (and self-professed introvert) Grant Cardone in Entrepreneur magazine, Cardone offers nine tips on what he does to overcome his timidity in completing sales.  The following excerpt highlights four tips that I think are most useful in helping nonprofit leaders like you to build your confidence in advance of the next fundraising ask:

    • Get passionate. I become so excited about what I’m selling that I have to share it with the world. Becoming passionate about your product or service makes you less interested in how you are perceived and more concerned about showing excitement about what you have to offer.
    • Do one thing a day that you fear. It’s very important for me do the things that make me most uncomfortable. You need to be courageous and make a point of facing your fears, no matter how big or small. The single scariest thing for me was visiting my customers or prospects in person. So that is exactly what I did first thing every day to get over my fear. It instilled courage in me, belief in myself and changed my focus from limitations to possibilities.
    • Observe people for their differences. After a series of failed sales calls, you may start to see all prospects as likely rejections. What you need to do is take a moment and observe how people are different from one another. This will stop you from thinking that everyone is going to respond the same way your last few prospects did.
    • Help other people make sales. Anytime I go a few days without making a sale for myself, I immediately offer my help to other salespeople because it’s a great way to get outside yourself. After several failures to close, a salesperson can become introverted and anxious. But by working with someone else’s prospective customers and having nothing to lose yourself, you will feel more relaxed and regain your confidence. Once you score a sale for someone else, it’s back to your own prospects again.

What fears do you have in executing direct asks? What techniques have you used in overcoming these fears?


#hashtag giving December 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — fundtimes @ 2:59 pm

Well folks, it’s that time of the year again. For-profit companies are focused on ending the calendar year with a surplus of greenbacks (aka cheddar, cream, dollar dollar bills y’all).  Hence, corporate marketing strategies like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.   This year, a group of nonprofits also decided to jump on the bandwagon by infusing their own money-making trend called #Giving Tuesday.


While I’m all for year-end appeals, I must admit that #Giving Tuesday was like my last massage; it simply rubbed me the wrong way.  As I read the online topics trending around fundraising, I thought to myself, “Self, why on earth would a nonprofit want to ride the coattails of the biggest commercial shopping season of the year?  Did they think that the frenzy around buying the Wii U would somehow translate into equally fuzzy feelings of giving to the less fortunate?”. Turns out, that’s exactly what folks were thinking. 

According to their website, #GivingTuesday’s mission is to “…create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season.”  Created and endorsed by a group of nonprofits and corporations alike, #GivingTuesday is poised to change the thinking of Americans from a mindset of “getting” to “giving” during the holiday season.  Sounds easy enough, right? Not really. I’m inclined to disagree for a variety of reasons:

  • Oversimplifies Fundraising. Truth be told, fundraising is not easy.  While I like to simplify the fundraising process through this blog, it is still hard work.  Not only does raising money for a nonprofit require a solid strategy, but this strategy must happen all year round.  Relegating fundraising to one day is just irresponsible (no matter the intent) and only helps to misrepresent the hard work that is needed to raise money so that a nonprofit is sustainable for years to come.


  • Commercialism Rules. While I would love to see a world were altruism existed wholesale in the minds of mankind, that is just simply not the case.  I mean, have you seen the frenzy that occurs the night before Black Friday? Each year, there are several news reports of people camping out in the parking lot of their local Best Buy for a chance to grab limited supplies of the “next best thing”.  Let’s face it, shoppers love the holiday season just as much as corporations so creating a campaign that promotes giving at the tail end of the shopping season is unrealistic.


  • “If You Build It, He Will Come.” The underlying assumption of #GivingTuesday is if you promote this day, then folks will automatically latch on and significantly change a nonprofit’s bottom line at the end of the year.  Again, this just isn’t the case.  While many nonprofits indeed conduct a year-end appeal, it is often the conclusion of a hard-fought fundraising strategy that began at the beginning of their fiscal year.  This means that new donors are likely not included in a year-end push.  Point blank, #GivingTuesday will not magically result in a crop of new donors.  And if it does, they likely won’t become long-term donors unless you have a strategy to tap them again in the coming year.

What are your thoughts on #GivingTuesday?  Do you know of nonprofits who have benefitted from this trend?


Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth November 13, 2012

Have you ever considered turning down a donation?  This may seem like a strange question in today’s economy, but knowing the answer may impact your bottom line in more ways than one.


In my first job as a fundraiser, I was introduced to the wonderful world of grantmakers.  Channeling my inner nerd, I would often research the history behind the formation of a philanthropic institution, paying careful attention to the ways in which wealth was accumulated.  I came across foundations who built their endowments through a variety of means; some of which would be viewed as highly unethical these days.   In an era where information is readily accessible (I dare you to google yourself), I wonder how many nonprofits consider the source of  funding prospects?  Turns out The Real News Network (TRNN) does.


TRNN considers themselves to be “…a television news and documentary network focused on providing independent and uncompromising journalism.”  To this end, they do not accept government or corporate funding choosing to solely raise money through the individual donations of their viewers.  This mantra is even boldly placed at the top of their website.  Now this may seem like an unimportant detail to most.  But for a donor looking to ensure that their money is given to an organization that will truly advance independent media, this promise may be the sticking point needed for them to write that check for years to come.


So how do you determine the need to vet donations to your nonprofit? Below are a few points to consider:

  • Ethics Outweigh Need: If your organization is committed to promoting a specific ideology (think: marriage equality), then it makes sense to scrutinize funding prospects (despite their tasty sandwiches, approaching Chick-Fil-A is not a good look). Let’s face it, nobody likes a hypocrite.
  • Need Outweighs Ethics: If your nonprofit works to address the physical needs of people (think: homeless shelter), then the beliefs of a potential donor or institution may be less of an issue (you will approach Chick-Fil-A because darn it, people have to eat).
  • It’s All Filthy Lucre: Perhaps the source of donations is simply a non-issue for your organization.  You may find it impossible to fully separate your nonprofit from money gained through the promotion of unfavorable beliefs or unethical business ventures.  All you know is that there are folks in your community that rely on your organization to help them overcome life’s biggest challenges.  To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it ‘The Present’.”


What do you think of vetting donor prospects? Is it worth the investigation?


Eating for a Cause October 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — fundtimes @ 8:25 pm

Okay. I usually don’t veer off schedule in my monthly posts.  But, as anal as I might be, I often break the rules in instances that are just too good to keep to myself.  Hence, this post.

So, I get an email from the Washington Post today with a list of upcoming activities in the DMV. I usually skim through them looking for great ideas (read: discount shopping), but today was different. Lo and behold, there was an article about a new cafe opening up in D.C. called, Cause.  This cafe caught my attention not because I love to eat.  Instead, I fell in love with the fact that they donate all of their profits (aside from basic operating expenses) to grassroots organizations.

Where’s the LOVE button?

Anyway, check out their website when you get a chance.  They are making their grand debut tonight, October 24th at 8 p.m.  If you’re in the area, consider foregoing your homecooked evening meal and checking them out instead.  It’s good to know that you can finally fill your belly and give back all at the same time. 🙂


My Check is in the Mail! October 11, 2012

Filed under: individual donors — fundtimes @ 9:51 pm

Wouldn’t you just love to open up your email one Monday morning and see this subject line?  What about seeing this a few weeks after you and your staff stayed up all night stuffing envelopes for your year-end direct mail campaign?  I can see you doing the running man already.

Despite the widespread use of technology in boosting a nonprofit’s ability to fundraise, direct mail (i.e., written appeals to potential and current donors) continues to be a viable tool for generating revenue.  However, with the lingering impact of the economic recession, competition for individual donations is harder than ever.

How then do you ensure that your individual solicitation doesn’t get tossed in the recycling bin?  Below are three tips for writing a winning donor appeal:

  • The Eyes Have It: Let’s face it: people’s attention spans are short these days.  This means that when reading your appeal, a person’s eyes are likely to just skim the letter; only capturing language in the opening paragraph, bolded text as well as the words in the P.S. portion of the letter.  Use this rule of thumb when crafting your appeal, meticulously placing information so that the reader is guided on your request.
  • Marching Orders: Once you’ve captivated the reader, your goal should be for them to bust a move.  Plainly stated, you want the reader to feel compelled to do something after reading your request.  There are three areas of the letter where your ask is likely to be seen: (1) the opening paragraph, (2) the last paragraph, and (3) the P.S.  Repetition is key in making sure that your reader understands what they can do to further your cause so say it once, say it twice, then go ahead and say it again.        
  • Dress for Success: I would argue that the most important part of a direct mail piece is the package that it comes in.  Does your donor envelope look like junk mail? Chances are, it won’t get opened.  Does it look like a bill? It definitely won’t get opened (just kidding, I pay my bills).  When deciding on an envelope, consider labeling your request on the outside of the envelope.  Does your nonprofit work to promote animal welfare? Place a picture of an animal in need on the outside of the envelope.  Tapping into the emotional side of donors is critical to long-term engagement in your cause.

Now it’s your turn.  How has your nonprofit used direct mail to further its fundraising efforts?


The Politics of Donating September 10, 2012

Filed under: individual donors,strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 4:23 pm

Anybody that knows me knows that politics are not my forté.  In fact, I find the entire campaign season about as compelling as watching ’90s reruns of the (not so) riveting Power Rangers.  Point blank, I just don’t care too much for a lot of dramatics and high-flying antics.

However, this past August, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released an interesting report called, “How America Gives.”

How America Gives

Photo Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig, ABC News

As its name suggests, this study provides an in-depth look at individual giving across the country; segmenting the data in a variety of ways including along political party lines.  If your nonprofit is interested in beefing up the way in which you engage individual donors, then this report is for you.

Click here to read the entire report and access the online interactive tool to learn more about individual giving trends in your nonprofit’s community.