Tips to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

I’ve recently signed a contract that has me working with organizations in upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire for the next few months. With this new super new exciting challenge, I plan on increasing my use of guest blog posts as a way to make my life work. Hopefully, this will also bring new and exciting points of view to the DonorDreams blog community. I want to thank Gretchen Barry and our friends at NonProfitEasy for today’s contribution. I’ve included Gretchen’s bio at the end of today’s post. Enjoy!  ~Erik

4 Ways to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

By Gretchen Barry

mailboxesThe ease of technology now reaches almost all aspects of life, even fundraising.  With the help of social media and email and texting, nonprofits are now able to raise money with the click of a button.  This shift has been hugely beneficial.

Easy access equals quick donations.

HOWEVER, the growth in online fundraising techniques does not mean that older methods should fall by the wayside.  In particular, direct mail should remain a fundraising method of choice.

There’s a common misconception that direct mail is only for reaching nonprofits’ ages 65+ demographic.  There is some validity in this statement.  Yes, a powerful contingent of donors prefers direct mail because those in that age range use the online functionalities nonprofits provide with less frequency.

Remember though, younger donors appreciate direct mail just as much.

For young donors, like millennials, snail mail is actually a novelty.  The internet has made everything so easy that it takes very little effort to email a friend or send an e-card.

A hand-written note or a personalized, mailed package takes effort and, as a result, shows dedication and care.  A direct mail campaign will surprise and connect with the elusive and generous millennial population.

Showing care in your communications is a great way to improve your fundraising effectiveness.  Direct mail can make a huge difference in your donor acquisition efforts.  People want to feel appreciated for the time and money they’ve invested in your cause.

The four tips below will help ensure your team is implementing the best direct mail strategy around.


This point might seem obvious, but let me explain.  Each nonprofit is centered on a mission to serve a needed and worthwhile cause.

It should be easy to convince people that your cause is worth caring about.  What’s harder, and what should come into play when deciding whether to use direct mail or not, is knowing if any given fundraising campaign will be one people will feel compelled to donate towards.

Campaigns run the gamut.  Some are for new equipment.  Others are for events.  The scope is broad, but usually you’re asking for funds for a set venture rather than a generic fund.

So you can feel confident about your decision to put the extra effort and money into direct mail fundraisings, ask:

Once you’ve thought through those questions, you’ll be better equipped to decide if direct mail is the right fit.

Direct mail is not limited to fundraising.  Its uses range from sending out educational content to requesting RSVPs for an event. Don’t forget that when weighing if direct mail is the right fit.

Just really think through what you’re asking for.  A donor wants to help the cause.  She might be more inclined to donate an auction item to your annual gala’s live auction than a check for new office chairs.  Both asks are valid, but you have to determine what is important to your constituents.


An ineffective mailing list will result in an ineffective campaign.

There are three biggies when it comes to organizing a mailing list:

  1. Reliable Donors
  2. Updated Information
  3. High-Quality Prospects

You want to spend your time and money contacting those who read and respond to direct mail.  It’s a good idea to have a donor segment of your prospects and donors who prefer direct mail.

If a donor has a history of never contributing as a result of a hand-mailed campaign, why would you spend the postage on shipping materials to him?

Also think about the time wasted mailing an item to a donor’s former address, or, worse, referring to an outdated detail.

Let’s say Mrs. Smith, formerly Ms. Jones, has moved in with her new husband.  If your list doesn’t have this information, your campaign likely won’t reach her.  If you do end up getting the correct address, what happens when she’s addressed by her maiden name?

Side-step this problem by making sure your donor database information is current and accurate.

The mishap might not upset her, but using her new, married name would certainly impress her.  It would demonstrate care — one of the biggest benefits of direct mail.


If direct mail’s benefit is a demonstration of effort and email’s benefit is ease, how do you bridge that gap?  Just because donors enjoy the care you put into sending a package, it doesn’t mean that they won’t miss the simplicity of donating online.

How do we solve this problem?  Send your mailings with an SASE.  If your donor has decided to send funds don’t lose them on a technicality.  Take the guess work out of replying.

With a SASE a donor simply applies postage and sticks the envelope in the mail.  You could even talk to your post office about getting a permit to make the postage on your SASEs pre-paid.


Your direct mail methods should become more effective over time if you actively work on improvement.  What’s the best way to improve your approach?  You look at what you’re doing, determine areas of weakness, and focus on lessening those weaknesses.

Take advantage of your experiences by tracking campaign results.  That data will provide invaluable insight into potential direct mail mistakes.

Here’s what you should be analyzing:

  • Number of responses
  • Response type — How many RSVPs? How many no thank yous?
  • Donation amounts (if applicable)
  • Number of returns to sender
  • Comparison of funds raised versus costs to send

After a campaign, you will have the raw data.  That raw information will be the foundation of the metrics listed above.  Let that data make a difference.

With the way recent technology has revolutionized the nonprofit marketplace, it is difficult to resist the urge to go completely digital.  Don’t forget about direct mail though.  If you do, you’ll be missing out on an incredibly valuable opportunity.

GretchenGretchen Barry, Director of Marketing — Gretchen has been a leader in corporate communications and marketing for 20+ years. Gretchen has published numerous articles related to charitable giving and is a passionate advocate for public schools.  Gretchen has donated her time to numerous causes including Relay for Life, Girls on the Run, Rebuilding Together, and just recently became involved with the local land trust.  Gretchen graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in English literature.

Build relationships with donors before asking them to sponsor your event

sponsorshipsMy neighbor owns and operates a home business, and last week he received a letter from a local non-profit organization asking him to sponsor a no-show” event. Upon digesting the solicitation, he promptly scanned the letter and emailed it to me with a few choice words. To say he was upset would be an understatement. So, I thought this might have the elements of a good blog post about how to avoid donor reactions like the one my neighbor experienced.

I’ve decided not to share the letter because I’m not a fan of public shaming, but after reading the letter I am comfortable sharing the type of information they sent him. Included in the letter was:

  • date of the no-show event
  • brief explanation of how it works (e.g. send in your contribution and bid online for auction items)
  • list of sponsor benefits
  • sponsor menu (enclosed with letter)

In order to avoid making assumptions about the source of my neighbor’s emotions, I emailed him and asked him to articulate exactly what made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. This is what he said:

If you want a donation, ask. I feel that this is a deception. I just don’t get this warm and fuzzy feeling from the letter.”

My first reaction was . . . “Wow, that was a strong reaction!” However, after thinking about it for a few minutes, it dawned on me that:

  • my neighbor didn’t have a relationship with this organization
  • he didn’t have an emotional connection to their mission
  • he didn’t have much (if any) information about their programs
  • the case for support was implied
  • the idea behind a no-show event felt like a slick fundraising trick

I totally get it, and if time machines were a reality, I’d advise this organization to use it and change their approach in the following ways:

  • invest a little time in cultivating the people they plan on asking to sponsor the no-show event (e.g. sit down with prospects, provide info in advance about mission/programming, or at a minimum send a pre-solicitaiton mailing explaining the need and prepping them for the impending request)
  • get to know your prospect’s marketing needs and develop a proposal that speaks to those needs
  • commit to measuring the impact of the exposure that you’re committing to the sponsor (e.g. number of Facebook impressions, etc)

While I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing this organization sent their sponsor letters to a cold mailing list they purchased from a mail house or a chamber of commerce. Cold calls are a brutal way to raise money because fundraising is all about relationships, which is why I’d only solicit people with whom you have a pre-existing donor relationship.

If you are new to the game of writing sponsorship proposals, I really like how outlined what a good proposal looks like in their blog post “10 Essential Steps to Create a Winning Sponsorship Proposal“.

  1. Sponsorship opportunity
  2. Marketing objectives
  3. Measures of success
  4. Value to the sponsor
  5. Unique marketing initiatives
  6. Terms & conditions
  7. Call to action

To learn more about each of these ideas, I encourage you to click-through and read their blog post. It is definitely worth the click and your time!

The bottom line? Engage your prospects/donors and build strong relationships and everything else will fall in place.

How does your organization approach special event sponsorships? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and opinions. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Nominating committee versus board development committee?

recruitmentI belong to a professional association and recently agreed to join their nominating committee to help the board of directors fill a few expiring board terms. This volunteer experience has made “board recruitment” top of mind for me over the last few weeks. I also can’t stop thinking about the various organizational structures and strategies/approaches to board recruitment. When this happens to me, I know there must be a blog post brewing.

Nominating committee approach

This method of undertaking board recruitment was what I was first exposed to as a young non-profit professional working for the Boy Scouts of America back in the 1990s.

A nominating committee is:

  • typically an ad hoc committee
  • pulled together a few months before existing board terms expire
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for identifying board prospects
  • responsible for pulling together a slate of volunteers for a larger body of membership to consider

There are variations on this approach.

I’ve been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • identifying and evaluating prospects
  • ranking prospects
  • building a slate of prospects
  • presenting a slate of prospects to the membership (where the slate is exactly equal to the number of vacancies that need to be filled)
  • asking the at-large membership to approve the slate or send the nominating committee back to the drawing board to re-develop a different slate

I’ve also been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • sifting through nominations from the field
  • interviewing applicants (based on board gap assessment and what the board needs with regards to skill sets and experiences)
  • constructing a ballot of vetted prospects without regard for how many vacancies need to be filled
  • asking the at-large membership to vote for a smaller subset of what appears on their ballot

Board Development / Board Governance Committee

The alternative to an ad hoc Nominating Committee is a Board Development (or board governance) standing committee. In the last 15 years of my non-profit career, I’ve become more familiar with this approach to board recruitment.

A board development committee is:

  • standing committee that meets throughout the calendar year
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for gap assessment
  • responsible for identifying and evaluating board prospects
  • responsible for recruiting board prospects
  • responsible for onboarding and orientation of new board volunteers
  • responsible for developing and implementing a board training calendar (e.g. external conferences as well as boardroom trainings)
  • responsible for annual review/evaluation of individual board volunteers
  • sometimes a resource to the board president on governance issues (e.g. assistance with committee structure, meeting design, annual board retreat, etc)

My two cents

I personally like the board development/board governance standing committee option over the old fashion Nominating Committee approach for the following reasons:

  • It feels more comprehensive in its approach to building/sustaining an organization
  • It feels more strategic with regards to aligning skills/experiences of volunteers with organizational talent gaps
  • It feels focused and more permanent (rather than “it’s that time of the year again” mentality)

In a perfect world, I believe your organization is best served when you can align your board development practices with approaches that are intentional, mindful and strategic.

While I recognize that membership-based organizations might struggle with this approach, I still think a board development committee can work in those environments and accommodate practices such as a “call for nominations” from the at-large membership.  In these situations, if there needs to be voting from the membership, then I obviously favor the practice of putting a slate of prospects in front of the membership for a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.

Your thoughts? What does your organization do to be intentional, mindful and strategic with its board recruitment, development and governance? Please scroll down and provide your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Because you know it’s all about that list

A few years ago, Meghan Trainor released a song titled “All About That Bass,” and it immediately resonated with the world. For whatever reason, that song is rumbling through my head this morning as I think about your organization’s year-end fundraising efforts. Of course, I’m changing the lyrics to the song to make it more appropriate for fundraising professionals, and it is starting to sound a little bit like this:

Because you know I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no envelope
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no response card
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no letter
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list … list … list … list

Just in case you have no idea what song I’m butchering, check out Meghan Trainor’s music video on YouTube.

You’re probably wondering what I mean when I say I’m not about the envelope, response card, letter, etc. in my silly, made-up song lyrics.

I don’t mean to imply those elements of your year-end holiday mail appeal aren’t important. Because, of course, they are. However, those things are considerations for you down the road.

In my opinion, your first order of business is pulling together a good mailing list.

the listWithout a good list of donors, your year-end mail appeal will fall very flat and likely not raise very much money. Some direct mail experts, such as the folks at zairmail, have said the quality of your list can account for up to 70% of your year-end fundraising success.

When I worked on my last year-end holiday mail campaign, here were some of the lists I pulled from to create my larger prospect list:

  • Donors who already gave once this calendar year
  • Donors who traditionally only give to year-end holiday appeals
  • Targeted prospects from various lists I had purchased from mail house throughout the years

Typically, I didn’t blanket this group of prospects with the same appeal letter. Instead, I would target different letters with different messages to each niche group of prospects, and then I’d track the response rates and evaluate what worked (or didn’t work) so I could make adjustments next year.

With more than half of 2015 gone, I’m encouraging you not to wait until October or November to start thinking about your year-end holiday appeal efforts.

Start today!

And don’t start working on issues like what the letter says or what the mail package looks like. Those things can be put on the back burner for a few more weeks, but thinking about your list is something you can be (and should be) working on today. After all, it is the one most important elements of your year-end appeal that will make or break you.

Here are a few things you might want to consider doing in the next 30 days:

  • Make a decision on who you plan to include on your year-end holiday appeal and start pulling those lists
  • Scan the list for donors with high giving capacity and make plans to call them and sit down with them before the end of the summer (not to solicit them . . . just a cultivation or stewardship visit)
  • Make plans to communicate with everyone people on this list at least two of three things before your send them a fundraising appeal in early November

The following is a short list of communication tactics you might want to consider:

  • Send everyone a “Christmas in July” holiday card (or if you want to keep it non-religious simply make it a mid-year holiday card)
  • Mail out a newsletter or e-newsletter
  • Develop and distribute a mid-year impact report
  • Create a targeted social media distribution list comprised of your year-end fundraising appeal prospects and start tweeting or posting semi-regularly about how your organization is getting ready for year-end programming with clients

In effect, you are warming your pool of prospects and donors, which should improve your response rate.

If you do this pre-holiday communication strategy correctly, you might even be able to reference something you said mid-year in your year-end appeal letter. Doing so, will be a gentle reminder to the donor that you’ve been talking to them about your case for support for a long time. Essentially, the ask won’t feel so sudden and abrupt.

The other reasons I like the idea of starting now rather than waiting is because:

  • It allows you to reach out mid-year LYBUNT/SYBUNT donors and gives you time to address issues they might have with your organization (which is likely what has kept them from renewing their support)
  • It also gives you an opportunity to be more personal and intentional with higher capacity donors who might make a smaller token contribution if asked via direct mail at the end of the year instead of an in-person solicitation

Where is your organization at with planning for its year-end fundraising efforts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and activities in the comment box. Not only can we learn from each other, but we can inspire each other too.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Is your non-profit organization following the law?

state lawsMy husband is a sales and use tax accountant for a large multi-national corporation, and I am a small entrepreneur who runs a non-profit consulting practice. We operate in two very different worlds, but every once in a great while there is overlap. A few months ago, John sent me an email about a sales and use tax ruling in the State of Oklahoma that very much applied to non-profit organizations that run charity auctions, and it got me thinking about the ever changing complex and overlapping legal structure in our country and the status of your non-profit organization.

Here is what the new Oklahoma sales and use tax ruling said:

“The Oklahoma Tax Commission examined the sales tax treatment of sales of tickets to a silent auction held to raise funds for a foundation. The Commission found that the ticket charges were subject to sales tax under a provision that imposes sales tax on sales of tickets for admission to (or voluntary contributions made to) places of amusement, sports, entertainment, exhibition, display, or other recreational events or activities. The Commission also found that the ticket charge did not qualify as a nontaxable donation because the charge was necessary for admission and was not an entirely voluntary contribution. (LR 14-003, 01/15/2015.)”

I could write an entire blog based upon this simple ruling, but I’m going to use some self-restraint this morning. Instead, I’m going to focus on the bigger picture.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled “Why your organization should worry about Haiti and Charleston, SC“. In that post, I talked about the importance of embracing donor stewardship in ways that go beyond simple gift acknowledgement.

I shared the definition of stewardship from a training curriculum I formerly used: “Stewardship is a process whereby a non-profit cares for and protects its philanthropic support – its gifts and the donors who give them – in a way that responds to the donor’s expectations and respects the act of giving.”

I also shared with readers what some of the big picture topics were from that training, including:

  • legal compliance (e.g. state registration, etc)
  • pledge/gift record keeping (including donor intent)
  • transparency & communication (e.g. demonstrating how gifts are used and if impact is being achieved)
  • policy development & organizational capacity (e.g. board engagement and governance)

Understanding that stewardship includes the concept of legal compliance and circling back to the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s ruling, I’m left wondering:

  • How many Oklahoma non-profit organizations know about this new ruling?
  • How do most non-profits stay on top of the always evolving federal, state, and local laws?

I’ve been pontificating these questions for the last few months. Having been an executive director for a small, under-resourced non-profit organization, I can honestly say that I’ve come up with very few good answers.

However, I do have a few suggestions:

  1. Make sure you pay an external accountant to conduct an annual audit or financial review every year. (I know it is expensive, but it is necessary.)
  2. Make sure your board development committee understands the importance of recruiting an attorney to serve on your board (and make sure that person understands you need them to help you keep an eye on the changing legal and regulatory environment in your community)
  3. Subscribe to non-profit blogs that focus on the law (I especially like and they even have a legal updates section to their site)
  4. Consider joining (or at least keeping in touch with) your state’s non-profit association. Click here to access a list of those groups. If you can’t afford to join, then at least visit their website periodically and subscribe to their blog if one exists.

Is your organization a good steward? Does it take its stewardship related fiduciary responsibilities beyond simple gift acknowledgement? How does your non-profit organization stay on top of legal and regulatory changes? Please scroll down to the comment box and share your best practices. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Hangin’ with Henry and talking about setting fundraising goals

It is the first Thursday of the month, which can only mean one thing at DonorDreams blog. We’re “Hangin’ With Henry” today and talking about when goal setting for fundraising campaigns becomes a little counter-intuitive.  Henry characterizes it as “when raising more money is easier than raising less”.

For those of you who subscribe to DonorDreams blog and get notices by email, you will want to click this link to view this month’s featured YouTube video. If you got here via your web browser, then you can click on the video graphic below.

If you clicked through and watched Henry’s 3:33 minute short video, then you saw him playing with a rubber band as he described the challenges associated with setting campaign goals that are too big as well as too small.

I loved this analogy, and it reminded me of a story about one of my favorite donors.

I had been recently hired as the new executive director, and my start date just so happened to align with annual campaign season. During my first week on the job, I learned that the board’s idea of an annual campaign involved sending 10 letters to their friends asking for $100 each. There were no in-person visits, and only a few people were following up with phone calls. Needless to say, there wasn’t much money being raised.

So, I decided to jump in with both feet and change the campaign by introducing a face-to-face, in-person solicitation strategy. In addition to selling the board on the idea and bringing some training to the table, I started looking around the community for seasoned fundraising volunteers who I could recruit to work five pledge cards.

Of course, I started developing my prospect list by reviewing previous year’s donor honor roll lists (because of course they didn’t own a donor database. UGH!).

Shortly after identifying a few people with the right set of fundraising skills and experiences,  I found myself in the office of someone who would become one of my favorite donors of all time. As I sat in this person’s office, I asked him to consider renewing his pledge and working five pledge cards. I’ll never forget the words he uttered immediately after I asked for these two commitments.

He said . . .

“Erik, you’re new to town so please understand that I’m not the guy you ask to work five pledge cards valued at a few hundred dollars for your annual campaign with a goal of  $20,000. I’m the guy you ask to help raise millions of dollars for your capital campaign.”

He promptly reached into the middle drawer of his desk, pulled out a checkbook, wrote a check for the amount I asked him to pledge, and sent me on my merry way.

I walked away from that meeting with the following thoughts:

  • I failed to ask him for a large enough pledge because he simply wrote a check right on the spot
  • Our annual campaign goal was too small and didn’t inspire people to stretch

Henry captures this idea so perfectly in 3:33 minutes and with a rubber band as a prop. If I could go back in time and talk to my young fundraising professional self, I would share this YouTube video with him.

Learn a lesson from me. Consider sharing Henry’s video and my blog with your resource development committee or your board of directors before setting your next fundraising campaign or event goal. I suspect you may be surprised at the discussion that ensues.

A word of caution . . . please don’t mishear Henry. He is NOT saying you should set lofty, unreasonable goals because that rubber band will break and donor confidence in your organization will evaporate. He is simply suggesting that the idea of “stretching” is a powerful engagement tool in your fundraising toolbox both for donors and volunteers.

Please take a minute to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

  • How do you go about setting your fundraising goals?
  • How do you prepare your board members and fundraising volunteers for this conversation?
  • Do you have any fun personal stories like the one I just shared?

If you want to purchase a complete set of videos or other fundraising resources from Henry Freeman, you can do so by visiting the online store at H. Freeman Associates LLC. You can also sign-up for quarterly emails with a FREE online video and discussion guide by clicking here.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Make your special event fundraisers all about individuals

walkathonLast week I wrote a post titled “Philanthropy is all about individuals” and focused on the newest set of data in the Giving USA annual report. Not surprisingly, the report told us that individuals are responsible for more than three-quarters of charitable giving. Of course, not every non-profit organization asks individuals for their support in the same way, which is why I found the information in Software Advice’s report titled “Which Fundraising Event Is Best for Your Nonprofit? IndustryView | 2015” very interesting.

There are many ways to ask individuals for their charitable dollars and support:

  • special events
  • annual campaign pledge drives
  • direct mail
  • major gift proposals
  • capital campaigns
  • endowment appeals
  • any number of online giving strategies (e.g. personal pages, crowdfunding, social media appeals, website landing page, etc)

Savvy non-profits have a diverse approach and often include many of these strategies in their written resource development plan. Smaller organizations usually embrace fewer of these approaches simply because their organizational capacity doesn’t allow them to do everything.

The following statement from the Software Advice report caught my attention:

“According to the research group Nonprofit Research Collaborative, event fundraising is quite popular: 82 percent of nonprofits host galas, golf tournaments, competitive races and other types of events to amass contributions and raise awareness for causes.”

eventIn other words, most of us run at least one special event as part of our comprehensive resource development program. While this was foreseeable and expected, what was surprising to me was that different size non-profit organizations get more bang-for-their-buck from different types of events. And what floored me was that regardless of organizational size most respondents reported that “fun runs and walks” universally receive a high return on investment (ROI).

And then I remembered what I wrote last week . . .

Philanthropy is all about individuals

Of course, “fun runs / walks” get the most ROI when compared to other events. They engage a lotw of individuals both as volunteers and even more as donors who might have been asked to make pledge for every mile walked.

Janna Finch, who is a non-profit researcher for Software Advice summed it up best when she said:

“We found that fun runs and walks, a-thon events and competitions are best for small nonprofits—including athletic clubs, PTAs, booster clubs and similar—because they are budget-friendly and easy to plan no matter a person’s experience. The good news is many of those types of organizations already host such events and execute on planning them very well.” 

In addition to the report’s finding on”fun runs and walks,” the following are few additional key findings:

  • Small nonprofits are at a disadvantage compared to larger nonprofits: Respondents say the upfront investment for an event is a strain on resources.
  • On average, a-thon events have the lowest cost per dollar raised (CPDR), and thus are suitable for all nonprofits. Concerts have the highest CPDR, requiring a larger budget.
  • CPDR, number of new donors and number of attendees are the most popular metrics to measure event success, used by 83 percent, 80 percent and 75 percent of respondents, respectively.
  • Respondents say that software, including fundraising and event management applications, speeds up event performance analysis and improves experiences for both staff and attendees.


The following is an awesome SlideShare document summary provided by Software Advice that nicely summarizes everything for those of you who don’t have time to read the entire report:

If you do have a little time, you really should click-through and read the report. It contains lots of interesting facts and findings that you and your fundraising volunteers will likely find thought provoking.

Does your organization run special events? How do you determine which ones are best for you, your volunteers, and your community? What data analytics do you track and how do you use it?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Philanthropy is all about individuals

GivingUSA1It is June and you know what that means … The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the fundraising professionals from The Giving Institute are releasing another Giving USA annual report focused on charitable giving and philanthropy in America. This usually provides days worth of chatter throughout the non-profit sector and blogosphere. Today, I will fall in lock step with my colleagues by chattering a little bit over the new numbers and providing you with links to other online chats on this subject.

Erik chatters about this year’s Giving USA numbers

This year’s report contains a few surprises such as:

  • Charitable giving hit a record high with Americans giving $358 billion
  • Giving now accounts for 2.1% of GDP, which is the highest since 2003
  • Charitable giving still hasn’t gotten back to pre-recession levels

Not surprising is more than three-quarters of philanthropy is still coming from individuals (72% of giving comes from living individuals and 8% coming from bequests).

It has been this way for as long as I can remember.

If you want to get serious about raising money, then you need an individual giving strategy.

It never ceases to amaze me how many times I hear people moaning about cuts in government funding (please note that I live in Illinois, which is broke and entering a period of austerity) and how their organizational survival strategy is based on writing more grants and asking corporations to step up.

With this year’s Giving USA numbers glowing in the background of this blog post, I strongly encourage all of you who are looking down the barrel of impending government funding cuts to please do something — heck, do anything — to strengthen your individual giving strategies and tactics. The following is a short list of things you might want to start developing or strengthening:

  • Annual campaign pledge drive
  • Walk-a-thon (or any kind of an a-thon)
  • Direct mail or targeted mail
  • e-Philanthropy (there are all kinds of online fundraising tactics that you can pursue)
  • Benevon style event

While I have strong opinions on where you should start, I’m simply going to encourage you today to start somewhere.

Others chatter about this year’s Giving USA numbers

GivingUSA2Before you dive into lots of other chatter, you may want to purchase this year’s Giving USA annual report (or at least download the free whitepaper highlights). Click here to access the website where you can access those products.

Why is this information valuable? Simply put, it provides benchmark data for your organization. Share it with your board and resource committee volunteers. Use it during the process you’re about to undertake to start development of your 2016 written resource development plan. I guarantee it will spark discussion and even comparisons, which is a healthy place to start a planning process.

Click here to read a great story in the Chronicle of Philanthropy titled “Philanthropy Surges 5.4% to Record $358 Billion, Says ‘Giving USA’” written by Holly Hall, Eden Stiffman, Ron Coddington, and Meredith Myers. They do a nice job summarizing all of this year’s chatter around the report.

Click here to read a wonderful blog post by Rob Mitchell, who is the CEO at Atlas of Giving, titled “Giving USA Annual Release fraught with impossible and immoral problems”. Rob does a nice job of being the contrarian in this discussion. I really like this tough-minded critique, and it gives me something to chew on. However, I’m left with the fact that Rob thinks the charitable giving numbers are even better than what Giving USA is reporting.  All I have to say to that is . . . WooHoo! This post is definitely worth the click!

The Chronicle of Philanthropy also recorded a Google Hangout of experts chattering about this year’s Giving USA report. I’ve embedded that video below (please note that it starts off a little choppy but gets better). If you cannot see that embedded video because you’re receiving this in your email then click here to access it.

Phew . . . that is a lot of chatter. I’m sure you’ve clicked on some of it and ignored other parts of it, but I’m kind of curious about your initial thoughts and reactions. What struck you as the most memorable thing coming out of this year’s report? What, if anything, do you plan on doing with this information? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

CRM? Donor Database? Your non-profit needs one

crmIn recent months, I’ve been reminded of the power of donor databases and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. For-profit corporations grasped the importance of gathering customer data a long time ago, which is why they invested in these systems before many non-profit organizations started doing so. I will divide the remainder of this blog post up into sections and share a few personal stories about my experiences in recent months. At the end of this post, I’ll share a few resources to help you with your search.

What is the difference?

I suspect the difference between a traditional donor database and a CRM is getting smaller and smaller as time passes. However, I think the whitepaper at titled “Do I need a CRM or a donor database?” written by Mags Rivett at Purple Vision did a nice job spelling out the technical differences.

Here is how Mags described a donor database:

“A donor database can be anything from an Excel spreadsheet or Access database through to a tool available on the open market or even built especially for you. The definition of a database is usually much more limited than that for CRM: ‘A database is a collection of information that is organized so that it can easily be accessed, managed, and updated.’ (Google Dictionary)”

Likewise, here is how a CRM was described:

“Today, CRM has assumed two meanings. It is both:  a) the approach of successfully managing customer and organisational relationships (be that for business, fundraising or service delivery) and b) the tool which we use to manage the relationships. We think of it as being the 360 degree view of our customers and the work of the organisation.”

Still don’t understand the difference? Don’t worry about it. Please trust me when I tell you:

  • you need a tool like this in order to make your private sector fundraising program run effectively in the 21st Century
  • you shouldn’t just purchase one and think that all of your problems are now solved
  • you need to connect and integrate your other systems with this tool
  • you need to build organizational capacity around this tool (e.g. written policies and procedures)
  • you need to put staffing around this tool

Does this sound like work? Of course it is! But it is worthwhile because this tool will help you build and deepen relationships with prospects and donors, which is what resource development is really all about. Right?

Welcome aboard, Mr Anderson!

IMG_20150414_215128628[1]My husband and I like to take cruises every other year and visit fun places. Over the years we’ve traveled to the Caribbean, Greek Islands, Scandinavian peninsula (and St. Petersburg, Russia), Alaska, and recently the Panama Canal (and Central America).

Over the last 10 years, we’ve only sailed on Princess Cruises, and they’ve collected an awful lot of data on us. For example, they know:

  • Our age
  • Our birthdays
  • Our dining preferences
  • Our entertainment preferences
  • Our drinking preferences (e.g. we’re oenophiles)
  • Our weakness for buying artwork
  • Our desire to purchase off-ship excursion packages

I am confident this information is stored in a CRM of some sort because I see signs of it from the moment I walk onto the cruise ship. The following is what is waiting for me in my cabin mailbox:

  • advertisements for the special wine club membership (for discounts on bottles of wine)
  • invitations to wine tastings
  • brochures for upcoming excursions
  • invitations to purchase tickets at the captains dining table
  • a handwritten card from the art director welcoming me back and inviting me to the first art show

IMG_20150414_191147999_HDR[1]While some people think this level of interaction is creepy, I believe the vast major of people (including myself) find this comforting and convenient. I prefer to think of it differently. I’m in a 10 year relationship with Princess Cruises, and they better know my preferences just like my husband better know my eye color.

Of course, relationship building goes beyond simply tracking my expenditures and targeting special events and offers at me. It includes more fundamental relationship building tactics like sending a bottle of champagne and a hand written note immediately following our purchase of artwork.

Non-profit organizations who use these types of systems are:

  • customizing how they communicate with their supporters (based on the donor’s interests and desires)
  • targeting donors with specific invitations, campaigns and appeals
  • celebrating specific milestones (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, etc)
  • connecting supporters based on affinity groups and backgrounds
  • managing events and campaigns

I don’t know about you, but this all seems very convenient and helpful to me from a donor perspective. Dare I suggest . . . “very donor-centered“.

Welcome back, Mr. Anderson!

marriottWhen I returned from my cruise at the end of April, I immediately hit the road on a business trip. Whenever I visit this one particular client, I always stay at the same hotel — Marriott SpringHill Suites.

When I checked into the hotel, the front desk person:

  • greeted me by name
  • knew my room preferences
  • reminded me of things that we’ve talked about before

And this time, they asked if I had enjoyed my Panama Canal cruise. The catch is that I had never told that particular front desk person about my cruise. Hmmmmm? I smell the existence of a CRM.

As I said in the previous section, I’m sure there are people who find this kind of stuff scary. However, I find it comforting and reassuring. It is nice to connect with people on a more personal level. In my opinion, it is the essence of being human.

Choosing a system that is right for your non-profit

OK . . . these systems can be expensive, especially when you add in the costs associated with creating systems, hiring people and developing policies and procedures. So, my advice is simple . . .

Treat this decision like you might do so with a marriage proposal

  • Think through what you really need
  • Involve all stakeholders
  • Develop a budget
  • Try different systems on for size
  • Ask lots of questions

I once came across an awesome online workbook titled “Getting the Most from Your Decision: Four Steps to Selecting Donor Management Software” developed by NPower Seattle. I think this step-by-step workbook is awesome, and I suggest you click-through and use it if you are thinking about purchasing a donor database or CRM.

While I don’t endorse products at DonorDreams blog, I have had experiences with certain products that I feel are worthy of your investigation. The following is a short list you might want to look into:

There is no such thing as a perfect product, and you need to find what best fits you.

I strongly urge you NOT to pick-up the phone and start calling sales professionals for these companies. Sit down with the NPower Seattle workbook first and determine your needs and wants first.

Is your non-profit organization using a CRM or donor database? How is that going for you? Please scroll down and share your experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Why your organization should worry about Haiti and Charleston, SC

In the last few days, there have been a confluence of blogs, emails and news stories that got me thinking about the state of donor confidence in the non-profit sector and the increasing importance of practicing stewardship. I’m going to use the rest of this blog post to share with you exactly what has me spooked. I will also end with a link to an awesome blog post by Marc Pitman talking about what you should do about all of this. So, sit back, relax and get ready to roll up your sleeves!

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore

I am currently on the road visiting a client and couldn’t sleep a few nights ago. Whenever this happens, I’m usually dialed into Comedy Central watching late night shows like The Daily Show and The Nightly Show.

I was jolted awake when Larry Wilmore cut into the Red Cross for its $500 million Haiti earthquake relief fundraising efforts, which allegedly resulted in very little relief. If you missed the show, you might want to click-through to hulu and view this segment.


I know your organization isn’t the Red Cross, but you should still be concerned. Donor confidence is kinda/sorta like consumer confidence. When consumer confidence sinks, every business suffers and the economy slumps. Similarly, when donor confidence wanes, all of our organizations are put under the spotlight and questioned by donors.

Charleston massacre

bbbAs I’ve already explained, I couldn’t sleep, and the Red Cross story by Larry Wilmore rattled me to my non-profit core.

So, I flipped over to a cable news channel only to discover somebody walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire with a gun killing nine Bible study participants.

It didn’t take 24 hours before the online fundraising solicitations started arriving in my inbox. The first one was a friend forwarding me U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ request to make a contribution directly to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in their time of need. It really was a nice appeal.

However, no sooner did I open the forwarded email from Sen. Sanders, when I received another email from Jasmine Turner at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance. Here is what the bulk of her email advised me to do with regards to funding requests pertaining to the “Charleston Massacre“:

BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others. Here are BBB WGA’s tips for trusted giving:

1. Thoughtful Giving: Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.
2. State Government Registration: About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.
3. Respecting Victims and Their Families: Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities raising funds for the victims of previous shootings did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.
4. How Will Donations Be Used? Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.
5. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund? Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)
6. Advocacy Organizations: Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.
7. Online Cautions: Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.
8. Financial Transparency: After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
9. Newly Created or Established Organizations: This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.
10. Tax Deductibility: Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

An email like this is surely proof that donor confidence is on the decline.

If I were on the front line running a non-profit, I’d be looking for ways to be proactive and inoculate my organization from this problem.

Invest in stewardship

respectRecently, I’ve become frustrated by the word “stewardship” because every time I say it, the conversation immediately veers in the direction of gift acknowledgement letters, annual reports, thank-a-thon events, etc. While these things are important and necessary, the fact of the matter is that recognition is only a part of stewardship.

So, I went digging in my toolbox and pulled out an old (and very dusty) training curriculum I previously used when I was an internal consultant working for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). In only the very first few PowerPoint slides, I came across the following definition of “stewardship“:

“Stewardship is process whereby a non-profit cares for and protects its philanthropic support – its gifts and the donors who give them – in a way that responds to the donor’s expectations and respects the act of giving.”

In addition to acknowledgement and recognition, the training curriculum went into other stewardship concepts like:

  • legal compliance (e.g. state registration, etc)
  • pledge/gift recordkeeping (including donor intent)
  • transparency & communication (e.g. demonstrating how gifts are used and if impact is being achieved)
  • policy development & organizational capacity (e.g. board engagement and governance)

The benefits of doing “stewardship” in its entirety, thoroughly and correctly are:

  • ensuring future support (aka maintaining high donor loyalty)
  • remaining in good legal standing (aka not running aground with the government)
  • supporting volunteers (aka no surprises builds confidence, improves solicitation and retains volunteers)
  • it is the morally and ethically right thing to do

Organizational exercise

marcI went looking online for other non-profit consultants and bloggers with ideas to share. So, I wasn’t surprised when I came across a similar post from Marc Pitman (otherwise known as The Fundraising Coach). He also talks about Haiti and the Red Cross, and at the end of his blog post he lays out an awesome 30 minute exercise you can facilitate in your boardroom or with your resource development committee.

Marc’s post is titled “The Red Cross and Glass Houses,” and it is definitely worth the click. Don’t just read it . . . DO THE EXERCISE!

Have you recently had an uncomfortable conversation with a donor or supporter? Are you getting questioned a little more about how you’re spending money and whether or not you’re getting the results you promised? If so, please scroll down and tell us what your organization is doing about it. We can all learn from each other.

On a somber note, I would be remiss if I didn’t end this post by expressing my condolences and sympathies to those families and friends who lost loved ones in yet another senseless act of domestic terrorism inspired by racism.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


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