Are You Guilty of Self-Congratulations?

“What a great job we’ve done!”

In the wake of recent disasters, and with thousands left-behind by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and the devastating earthquakes in Mexico, the president was criticized for boasting of the great work being done by his administration while so many were suffering. Whether or not you agree that the administration responded appropriately, using “great”, “incredible” and “amazing” when talking about the administration's response during this troubling time seems to lack sympathy and compassion.

I found myself cringing every time I heard it – not just because it lacks sympathy and compassion, but because I often read the same language in the newsletters, appeals, and even thank you notes from non-profit organizations across the country. Think about it.

Better yet, review the most recent communications your organization has sent to previous and potential donors. Do you boast of the great work you’re doing to address the problem driving your mission? How many times do you mention your organization and the word ‘we’? How much of the letter reminds donors of the mission statement, history, and services you provide?

On the flip side, how often do you refer to the donor? How many times is the word ‘you’ used? What portion of the communication shares the stories of those positively impacted by the work being done through the generosity of donors?

At the risk of sounding rude, and to borrow an old phrase, “It ain’t about you, stupid!”

From the minute your non-profit is established, it ceases to be about you. The non-profit organization, along with its staff and volunteers, is a public charity conducting work on behalf of the donors. The organization is simply the facilitator, the conduit between the donor and the beneficiary.

Don’t get me wrong. I know you work hard, and often put in well-beyond a full work week. You stay in the trenches! You make a difference, too!

But donors need to know they are making a difference. They share your passion. They donate. They invest in you because they rely on you, and trust you, to get the work done – because they care about the cause.

Don’t forget to tell donors how important THEY are to the cause. Help them understand they are truly partners in delivering the solution – that you are all in this together because, as I’ve recently become painfully aware, self-congratulatory communications don’t inspire further giving.

Does Your GuideStar Rating Matter?

You and the members of your organization are doing great work. Every day. No doubt. But is this enough?

In this day and age, with information at our fingertips and people everywhere asking for more accountability – from business and nonprofits alike, knowing the criteria people are relying on to judge your organization and the work you do, is not only critical, but simple.

Check out the websites donors use to look up how nonprofits are governed and how they allocate their funds. Because your nonprofit is supported by the public, the public has the right to know. What is important to remember is, that different websites provide different information and draw different conclusions from the information provided.

This guide is not meant to evaluate, judge, or in any way rate such websites. Instead, this is a simple explanation of the information aggregated by GuideStar, which contains the information of more than 10,000 nonprofit, big and small alike – provided so that you can decide if providing the information requested is important for your organization.

Depending on how much information you provide in your profile, your organization is identified by a particular Seal of Transparency that helps prospective donors understand your organization, potentially before they make a donation. According to GuideStar, “The GuideStar Seals of Transparency is not a rating or ranking system. They are used to indicate your organization's commitment to transparency. When you share information through your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile, you have the opportunity to increase funding for your organization.” (

What are the Seals?

  • Bronze: Basic Information
  • Silver: Financial Information
  • Gold: Goals and Strategy
  • Platinum: Progress and Results

How can these Seals help?

By monitoring and updating your GuideStar profile, you are better positioned to:

  • manage your organizations' online identity
  • increase funding by having your information available to donor-advised funds and thousands of foundations
  • save time with your grant application - because some of these granting organizations pull data directly from your profile

Creating a GuideStar account is free and easy.

In addition to basic contact and financial information found in the Form 990, adopting certain transparency policies can boost the trust donors have in your organization. Examples of such policies might include, but are not limited to:

  • Gift Acceptance Policy
  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Whistleblower Policy
  • Document Retention and Destruction Policy
  • Expense Reimbursement Policy
  • Compensation Policy and the Use of a Compensation Committee
  • Written policies and procedures governing the activities of chapters, affiliates, and branches to ensure their operations are consistent with the organization’s exempt purposes
  • Procedures for Monitoring the Use of Grants

For more information, visit the and consult your legal and financial advisors.

Fundraiser or Matchmaker: Which Are You?

If your favorite song lyrics come from Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”, you may be in the wrong business. Don’t get me wrong, I can belt out “I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad” as loudly and sincerely as I do “Lean on me” or “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

But, let’s face it - no one starts or joins a nonprofit to get rich. Right?

We have a passion, a cause, a mission! You’ve probably quoted John Belushi more than once: “We’re on a Mission from God” (Blues Brothers), even if you don’t work with a faith-based organization.

You didn’t get into nonprofit work to make a buck.

That being true, if you ask the Executive Director or the Director of Development of any small nonprofit what they spend most of their time working on, what keeps them up at night, or what has the biggest impact on their ability to fulfill their mission – what answer will you expect? What would you say? Funding?

But fundraising really isn’t about money, it’s about mission! Some say it’s about building relationships – but let’s get this straight: it isn’t about you and your organization! You don’t need donors to believe in you. You need them to believe in the cause.

You are simply the matchmaker. You are a facilitator connecting the individual donor to the beneficiary.

If you shift your focus from how wonderful your organization is, to how wonderful the donor is – and demonstrate the incredible work they are doing and the impact they have – you will build a lasting relationship between the donor and the cause. Remove yourself from the equation.

But, ‘hey, we do the work’ – you might be thinking. Yes, you teach the class, offer the job development program, serve the sandwich, or foster the abandoned animal. But you don’t do these things simply because you enjoy it or because you need a paycheck. If you do, then this is a hobby or a self-serving venture, not a mission – and you need to stop asking others to support you.

If – as I’m sure is the case – you really do care about the why, about making a difference, about solving a problem and having an impact – you need to find and invite those who care about the problem to join you in offering a solution.

Once they’ve become part of the solution, be sure to effectively and efficiently offer a solution and consistently share the difference their dollars make.

Dust-Collector or Change-Driver: Who Needs a Strategic Plan?

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘plan your work and work your plan’.

In the nonprofit world, particularly in the smaller shops where one or two individuals are expected to address the needs of so many, the thought of stopping to plan your work may seem laughable. Who has time? Day-to-day operations – just putting out fires and keeping things running – gets the most of you. Your time and energy is spent. And speaking of spent, you have no money, right? What good is a plan if you don’t have the money to make it happen?

If the booming entrepreneurial mindset sweeping the country sheds light on anything, it is this: you’ve gotta have a business plan to grow a business. Investors want to know you’ve done your homework. Doing your homework reduces the likelihood of mistakes that cost time and money. The plan itself is not the critical piece, so much as the process of developing the plan.

An acquaintance once said, “a business plan is the best work of fiction ever written”. Many in the nonprofit sector groan when they hear mention of a ‘strategic plan’, thinking of binders and brochures gathering dust on the shelf, demonstrating that said plans are exercises in futility.

Reality is, if you never take the time to plan strategically, your priorities, messaging, and movement forward will reflect a lack of direction, at best.

An effective process stimulates proactive, rather than reactive, action. You not only confirm your vision and mission, but spark creativity, clarify values, promote consensus, and focus on the desired future for the organization and the community being served.

Articulating long and short-term goals for the organization also protects the organization from becoming too person dependent. Nonprofit leadership is charged with ensuring the long-term viability of the organization, regardless of who sits on the Board of Directors or in the Executive Director’s seat. With goals supported by objectives, achieved by taking specific action to deliver measurable outcomes, your vision becomes reality. Establishing priorities rooted in a review of the organization’s demonstrated impact and current capacity ensures donors and prospective board members, donors, employees, and volunteers, that engaging with the organization will lead to change, growth, and positive impact.

With this clarity, you can tell a better story. Strong stories answer, without question, the ‘WHY?’ many savvy donors want to know before throwing their money behind an organization. Folks don’t get excited about backing a budget so much as buying into a vision!

You may think the Board, Executive Director, and key staff members are all on the same page. But a quick survey asking each person to share the organization’s mission and top funding priority (without peaking at any documents, minutes, or the website) might reveal striking results!

Try it. I dare you. If everyone offers the same answer – kudos! If not - whether you employ a long, extensive method for strategic planning or you opt for a shortened, barebones approach, do something!

Can We Do That? Some Thoughts on NonProfit Giving Societies

Giving Societies or named Giving Levels are not uncommon. Hospitals and higher ed institutions have the Founder or President’s Circle. Museums and Zoos offer membership levels. My clients, that tend to be small to medium size social service and arts agencies, ask “Can we do that?”

My immediate response is, “Sure you can!” Followed quickly by, “But are you sure you want to?”

While I believe Giving Societies can be a great tool to encourage donors' continue giving, I also believe that no specific tool fits every nonprofit organization. So, I offer some thoughts for those wondering if they should launch a Gift Society Campaign.

1. Will you recognize annual or lifetime giving levels?

Many organizations provide annual giving levels with clever names and possible perks. Another avenue is to create lifetime giving levels that allow those who may not be able to give a large amount annually, but who are consistent supporters, to be recognized and feel appreciated for their continual support for the mission. Someone who gives $25 per month consistently to an organization for five or ten years might be overlooked if the Giving Society only focuses on the higher end annual gifts.

Lifetime giving levels can be effective, particularly when planning activities for organizational anniversary years. Donors who have not yet reached the ‘next’ level could be encouraged to make a ‘stretch’ gift in the anniversary year to meet the milestone of the next lifetime giving level. Many donors who make such contributions begin to give at the higher level stretch gift in the years following the anniversary.

If your Annual Fund relies heavily on current constituents (like elementary or high school families), then creating annual giving circles/levels could be beneficial – but lifetime giving levels might not present any value added, given many families stop giving once their children graduate or complete a program.

2. Do your donors tend to compete or collaborate?

Recognizing higher level donors in a different manner than lower level donors – while encouraging higher level gifts from community members who have the capacity to give, could breed resentment from others that do not – particularly if your donor base is also the community being served. For example, a school or church community where a diverse population is served could run the risk of causing divisiveness or leaving some members feeling alienated.

On the other hand, if your donor base relies heavily on alumni families or previous program participants, it is worth considering establishing Giving Circles based on graduation year or affinity groups. For example, if the Class of 2017 (or Basketball Parents or actors in a given production) cumulatively donates at a specific level ($5000 or $1000), the group can be recognized at that particular giving level ($5000 All Stars, $1000 Fan Club).

Establishing participatory groups that encourage members to give together so that the organization or affinity group is recognized at a higher level can boost donations from those who might not otherwise give. Folks like to belong and to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Isn’t this ultimately the concept behind Peer2Peer and Fundraising Teams?

3.  Do you have the capacity to cultivate segmented giving levels?

The benefit of creating annual giving circles/levels would depend on the anticipated range of possible gifts. If you can identify constituents with the capacity to give at, at least, four different levels ($5000, $1000, $500, $100) AND you can provide appropriate recognition and cultivation methods for each of the levels – giving levels could encourage higher level gifts.

Before you launch, be sure your organization has the capacity to fulfill the promised perks. For example, while lower level donors might be recognized in the annual report, higher level donors might also be thanked at an annual breakfast or with another perk valued by the constituency. Do you have the capacity to follow through without intense labor or financial expense? If you promise a t-shirt, can you manage the logistical nightmare of sending these out if your campaign happens to be widely successful?

Also, in deciding how to steward and cultivate donors at each level, it is important to remember that, ‘the larger the gift, the more special the thanks’ practice might sometimes conflict with the core values of the organization. Would a faith-based or faith-driven organization do well to remember the widow’s mite?

4.  What’s in a name?

Some organizations and programs lend themselves to catchy, clever names for their giving levels. For example, an orchestra with maestro, musician, composer. Some organizations use the names of well-known founders, educators, or program directors to honor those individuals deeply involved in the mission. While the default Platinum, Gold, Bronze, Silver or Friend, Ambassador, Partner work – if you can easily articulate mission-related names for each giving level, even better.

Regardless of the names you choose, the levels you designate, or if you will recognize annual or lifetime gifts - remember that no tool or gimmick can replace the tough, but rewarding, work of donor cultivation and stewardship.

The Importance of the Thank You: Creating an Attitude of Gratitude

Originally posted on Network for Good on June 14, 2017

From early childhood, we are taught the magic words: thank you.  I don’t have to tell you that these two simple words can make or break the relationship between an organization and its donors.

Most nonprofits know how important it is to send acknowledgment letters after receiving gifts. We dutifully thank our donors for the recorded gift date and amount and tell the donor about the many great works we perform because of the gifts we receive. Some of us even add the executive director’s signature as a personal touch. We thank our donors and move on to the next task.

But, to truly engage and retain donors, we need to do so much more!

We need to foster an attitude of gratitude and create a culture of “thanks-4-giving!” Developing a donor-centric gift acknowledgment policy is key to ensuring our donors feel appreciated and our board members are excited about fundraising – which is a win-win for any organization!

To create an ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE, consider the good ole’ fashion 5Ws and an H:

Who is involved in each step of the thank you process?

  • Invite board members into the thank you process. Thank them first and recognize their gifts and role as huge supporters of your organization.
  • Print a weekly gift report that’s given to every staff and board member involved in thanking donors. Brainstorm ways to make sure EVERY donor knows their gift matters.
  • Prepare thank you note cards at board meetings with notes about the donor. Also, ask board members to write, or at least sign, several notes OR better yet, make phone calls, thanking the donors before the meeting officially begins.

What is your gift acknowledgment policy?

  • Is it part of a larger, more encompassing thank you policy?
  • What happens from the moment the gift arrives?
  • Do you have this policy in writing so that it is an organizational process, not person dependent?
  • Does the gift amount determine the speed of acknowledgment, who the ‘thanker’ is, or the method of thanking?

When is each donor thanked?

  • How often are acknowledgment letters sent? Is it a daily, weekly, or monthly task?
  • Are larger donors thanked more quickly than smaller donors? Is a $10,000 gift acknowledged the same way as a $10 gift?
  • Is a donor thanked at any time besides in the gift acknowledgment letter or the next ask?

Where are donors thanked?

  • EVERYWHERE! Every time we see them. Every chance we get.
  • Expose staff members to donors’ names. Post a donor sign/wall in the office. Acknowledge them in a weekly employee briefing or at a staff meeting.
  • Mention donors on the website, in newsletters, and on social media. Get the word out: you have FANTASTIC donors!

Why do we always need to thank donors? Isn’t once enough?

  • Because without them, nothing happens!
  • Your organization is the facilitator of the relationship between the donor and the recipient. Try not to get in the way. Focus on how the donor makes a difference.

 How are donors thanked?

  • Develop quirky, unexpected, and fun ways to surprise donors:
  • Decide 3-4 extra “thanks-4-giving” times per year. From Valentine’s Day to your organization’s anniversary to the donor’s birthday, there’s lots of opportunities to show your gratitude.
  • Produce a quick-and-easy thanks video that highlights program participants and send it out via email.
  • Hold an annual “thanks-4-giving” breakfast, picnic, or other event.
  • Post a daily/weekly/monthly (depending on the volume of donors) social media “shout-out” that highlights specific donors.

John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” As nonprofits, we must follow this advice and live our gratitude for the donors who make our work possible. From social media posts to regular phone calls and appreciation events, taking a “thanks-4-giving” approach will help our organizations not just survive, but thrive, in the future.

5 Tips for Launching a SMART and Successful Fundraising Campaign

This post originally appeared on Network for Good's Nonprofit Marketing Blog on March 17, 2017

Did you hear about the anonymous donor who paid a $4 million mortgage of a church in Georgia? Or the California high school that received a $1 million windfall from the Snapchat investment?

These stories are great, but most of us don’t have such fortune. Instead, we work and plan and worry about making budget. If your organization has at least a few years of history, you have revenue streams: an event or two, an annual appeal campaign, a grant, and a handful of major donors. Maybe you tried an online giving campaign like #GivingTuesday – with unremarkable results.

You hear stories about other organizations getting great results from online campaigns and special events, but you  can’t figure out how to share in the windfall. What is their secret? How do they do it?

The secret is executing a strong, and well-planned, fundraising campaign.

What is a strong fundraising campaign?

A strong fundraising campaign is planned around SMART goals: That means the goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-limited. You may have heard of SMART goals before, but I want to walk you through setting one of these goals for fundraising:

First, state clearly, at least internally if not externally, your specific monetary goal.

Next, use historical data to make sure your stated goal is measurable. If you need to raise $50,000, do you have identifiable donors at various giving levels that can help you reach that goal?  If not, do you have another revenue streams to explore?

Then, decide which actions are needed to meet that goal. If you want to acquire three new $5,000 donors, what specific steps will you take to receive their support?

Be realistic. If you have 250 contacts in your database and raise $40,000 in annual gifts from your current stakeholders, launching a campaign to raise $1 million may not be realistic.

And, while you may have an entire year to raise the specified funds, set a shorter timeframe or deadline. This reinforces a sense of urgency for the prospective donor. You don’t want donor fatigue to set in if an ask drags on all year.

Now that you know how to set a SMART goal, I want to share how you can achieve one. There are five keys to success:

  1. Know the why.

When launching a campaign, make sure can clearly answer the “Why?” Imagine for a moment that you are presented with three possible giving opportunities: your organization and two others. Why should a donor give you money (instead of another organization)? Why are you raising money? Why do you need money now? Why is this urgent? Why should I care?

For more tips on executing a great fundraising campaign, sign up for this week’s Nonprofit911 webinar: How to Launch a Successful Fundraising Campaign. 

  1. Understand the donor.

People want to give. They give because it makes them feel that they’ve made a difference. Giving gives them joy. A successful campaign understands what the audience cares about. To grow your audience, you have to know where to reach them. Ask yourself two questions:

  • Where are the people who care about what you care about?
  • How can you share your story with them?
  1. Create connection.

People hear and respond to campaigns differently. Once you identify, and know where to find, your potential donors, converting them to actual donors takes knowing how to connect. Do you need to tug on their heartstrings or offer clear, concise proof of effectiveness?

  1. Offer the right opportunities.

Some folks love a great night out for a worthy cause. Others prefer writing a check and calling it a day. Once you’ve identified your potential donors, you need to figure out the best way to let them give. While you might love to golf and think inviting others to join a foursome will win them over, you could be missing all those who dread a day on the green. Which opportunities will engage your donors?

  1. Make the ask.

All the planning in the world falls short if you don’t ask.

Does your Non-profit really need a CRM? From someone who is NOT selling.

Reposted from an older blog-site.

Working with numerous small non-profits at varying stages and degrees of data collection and management, I have realized that many executives do not realize the advantage of having all of your information in one spot.

Think for a minute: How many different software programs are being used to manage contact information for mailings and for e-communications, for sales of products like t-shirts or coffee mugs, and registration for events? Not to mention how you track phone conversations and meetings.

One organization I worked with recently had six different systems in place and was attempting to keep them all current, not realizing the information overlap and discrepancies between the systems. How do you reconcile the information in your accounting system with the donation information you maintain? Has anyone fallen through the cracks in receiving a thank you? Has a once strong supporter not received pertinent materials because information was updated in one system but not another?

Any business person will tell you that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is critical for developing effective sales strategy. But non-profit fundraising is not sales, right? For me, fundraising is more about education than about sales. If people know about the important work you do, and why you do it, they will want to support you.

But is everyone’s knowledge and experience of your organization the same?

To properly educate potential stakeholders about your organization, it is important to understand their current relationship to the organization – and to educate them accordingly.

Think of it this way: would you expect someone who has been supporting your organization for five years to need the same information to give again as someone who has never given before? Would someone who follows you on social media, volunteers services on a weekly basis, and has an automatic monthly recurring payment need or want to receive the direct mail piece that you send out between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year?

If you find your desk cluttered with scattered spreadsheets, yellow legal pads, silent auction bid sheets, sticky notes, calendars of meeting and phone conversation dates, and reports from email marketing software and online giving portals – you need to seriously consider purchasing a CRM.

A good CRM allows you to track all phone and email communications, send mass emails and e-newsletters, view and analyze giving history, receive online payments thru your website – including event registration, and so much more. The ability to segment donor groups, to create strategic plans for moving donors to further engagement, and to ultimately save time and money through effective communications and donor tracking, is critical to your organization’s ability to reach the next level of excellence in fulfilling your mission.

Ultimately, the question is not whether-or-not to purchase a CRM, but which one? More on that in a future post, but for now, the website Software Advice, offers a review of about 87 different CRM’s for Non-Profits.


Who is a Major Donor?

From an older blog-site - but worth a repost:

A new client recently asked who fits the “Major Donor” category. Not the first time I’ve been asked this question, I realized how difficult it sometimes is to define certain terms used in the fundraising world. While there is no specific one-size-fits-all formula, a few considerations could help to determine what constitutes a major gift for your particular institution.

First and foremost, you must determine why you need a ‘major donor’ designation.

Will you thank a major donor differently – perhaps with phone calls or special event invitations? Will you approach them differently in solicitation or cultivation? Will you acknowledge them in some particular manner?

Secondly, what is your capacity to handle ‘major donors’ in these ways? If you have limited staff or a very small board, who will engage the ‘major donors’? Can you handle 20 or 100?

To create the framework for how to engage a ‘major donor’ and how many relationships you can effectively manage, you might also consider certain eligibility criteria:

Financial ROI. What is the Return on Investment (ROI) to obtain the gift? Do you employ direct mail, phone solicitation, or an in-person meeting? What expenses are connected to these solicitation avenues? What then, would be the return on investment? Is a $1000 gift in response to the annual fund letter, costing about $1.40, with an approximate ROI of $1000 considered equivalent to a $1000 gift resulting from four 2-hour lunches with the Executive Director, who makes $65,000 a year, for an ROI closer to $700? Are both ‘major gifts’?

Impact. What impact does the gift have on the ability for your organization to fulfill its mission? How much does it cost to feed the homeless for a day, a week, a month? Or educate a child for a year? Or provide services to a veteran? Will $1000 cover a particular designated cost? Or $5000? Or $10,000?

Your donor base. What is the average gift size for your organization? What is the largest gift your organization has ever received from an individual? How close is the next gift amount below that? Was that an outlier or is it repeatable? How many people give in the vicinity of these outlier gifts? Do you have a large number of lower-end gifts? Do these donors have the capacity to give at a higher level if cultivated?

No one-size-fits-all exists. Each organization must consider their donor base, their resources, and their target goals to decide who fits the 'major donor' definition and how the relationship with them will be developed, but every organization would benefit from taking the time to approach the issue strategically.

3 Quick & Easy Ideas to Get Your NPO Noticed!

1.  Sponsor an essay and poster contest at the local schools. Choose a topic, a set of prizes, and a deadline. Done. This costs virtually nothing – especially if you can secure donated items for the prizes. The key is to pick the perfect topic – something that relates to your organization and will get teachers, parents, and kids excited!

2.  Sponsor a local little tikes sports team or grade school event. This gets your organization logo on the back or sleeve of little ones around town. A t-shirt is a walking billboard in season and out. Depending on your budget and the team budget, sponsorship can run anywhere between a few hundred dollars or thousands. But considering how many folks will see the t-shirts – decide if it is worth it.

3.  Invest in small promotional items. Drawstring backpack - another walking billboard. Of course, pens or pencils are the old standbys. But don’t shy away from stress relieve balls, magnet refrigerator calendars, and other items that folks still like to have around the house. Simply ask local coffee houses, dental or doctor offices, and such if you can leave them for patrons.

I’m sure there are many more – please feel free to share your tricks in the comment section.