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

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

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

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 culturehive.co.ik 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

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

Looking for motivation? Show up for your non-monetary paydays

calgonLet’s face it. Working in the non-profit sector can feel like a grind. Compensation is typically less than what can be made in the for-profit sector. Clients can be challenging. Donors are awesome people, but getting them what they want and need can be difficult. Managing the day-to-day affairs of a resource strapped organization can leave you mumbling those words you learned from a bubble bath television commercial in the 1970s and 1980s, “Calgon, take me away!

When I was a young Boy Scout professional almost 20 years ago, I received some great advice from my boss. He urged me to always show up for non-monetary paydays, which he believed were Eagle Scout ceremonies. He said attending those events reminded him of why he does what he does, and they always wiped those gray skies away.

Truth be told, I thought he was full of it when shared that advice with me. However, I discovered that I was jaded and he was right. It is a lesson I will never forget.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago . . .

I received an invitation to this year’s Elgin Community College commencement ceremony from LaShaunda (Clark) Jordan, who was the 2001 Youth of the Year (YOY) recipient at Boys & Girls Clubs of Elgin, which is where I was the executive director from 2000-06.

Sitting in the ECC field house waiting for things to get started, I found myself taking a walk down memory lane with regards to LaShaunda. Here is some of what was rolling through my head:

I was a relatively new executive director, and LaShaunda was the first kid to receive the YOY honor on my watch. I had also decided to change our annual dinner format from a Steak-n-Burger dinner to a Distinguished Citizens theme, and our Youth of the Year was going to take the stage with other important and influential community leaders. So, I personally rolled up my sleeves and helped front line staff prepare LaShaunda for her big speech and memorable evening.

I remembered pacing the back of the banquet hall as LaShaunda spoke to a room of 300 people. I was really nervous because we had all of the right people in the room, and LaShaunda’s big night was an equally big night for our organization.

And then it happened.

LaShaunda stopped talking. The electricity in the room brought people to their feet. Two or three incredibly influential community leaders and donors were wiping tears from their cheeks.

Our little known organization, which I just spent a difficult year managing, had arrived, and it did so thanks to its 16-year-old YOY recipient.

lashaunda2I thought that day back in 2001 was a huge non-monetary payday for me, but I realized how wrong I was while waiting for the ECC graduation event to get started. As the Class of 2015 filed into the gymnasium, LaShaunda took her seat on the main stage because she was the commencement speaker. Sitting among her proud family members, this is what I learned (much of which I knew but some I did not):

  • LaShaunda is an air force veteran
  • She met her husband, James, during her time in the air force and they are happily married
  • They have three beautiful children
  • Thanks to G.I. bill benefits, LaShaunda and James are in school pursuing college degrees and living the American dream.
  • LaShaunda is enrolled at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville in the fall where she plans on completing work on a bachelor’s degree
  • While at ECC, LaShaunda was a student leader who was involved in the Black Students Association and was nominated as the 2014-15 Woman of the Year on campus
  • She just put her cancer in remission

It is the mission of the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.

Hindsight is 20/20, and the Distinguished Citizens Dinner wasn’t my non-monetary payday. It was the ECC graduation event.

LaShaunda was kind and gave me and the Club a little shout out from the podium. While that was awesome, what I really found motivational was learning that LaShaunda is reaching her full potential as a productive, caring, responsible citizen.

All of those tough days on the front line were worth it. At the end of the graduation ceremony, I actually found myself wondering when/if I might find my way back to the front line some day.

I want to use today’s DonorDreams blog platform to publicly thank LaShaunda for sharing her amazing day with an old friend. It meant more to me than she ever could possibly imagine.

I’m also hoping non-profit professionals who read this blog seek out their non-monetary paydays. They most likely exist all around you and occur more often than you think.

In my opinion, these types of opportunities are what motivates “Nonprofit Nation“.

By the way, if you think these mission-focused events are motivational for people who work for non-profit organizations, please trust me when I say they are equally impactful for donors.

Do you have a non-monetary payday that you’d like to share? Please scroll down and do so in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Advice from experts on donor stewardship

stewardship task listA few weeks ago I received an email from NonProfitEasy blog asking me to provide some “expert advice” for non-profits on the topic of donor stewardship. They said it was for their blog. They flattered me a little bit. So, I did what they asked of me. I was very busy at the time and didn’t really spend very much time figuring out what they were doing or how my submission would be used.

And then I received a follow-up email today informing me that their post went live. I clicked through out of curiosity, and the first thing I saw was a big headline saying:

“Donor Stewardship Expert Advice from 29 Industry Leaders”

Oh my . . . that is a lot of “experts“. And, of course, I couldn’t resist clicking through to see who else had submitted advice. Upon clicking the link, I saw names like:

  • Tom Ahern
  • Kivi Leroux Miller
  • Craig Linton
  • Claire Axelrad
  • Joe Garecht
  • Marc Pitman

These are some of the non-profit sector’s biggest consulting names, and they are all people for whom I have tons of respect. The following is just a small taste of what industry leaders said:


So many nonprofits send bad thank you letters – if they send them at all! Nonprofit thank you letters need to be thought of as a very important, highly strategic piece of communication.

A thank you is NOT just a tax receipt. It should look like a personal letter from one friend to another. Ditch the predictable openings like “Thank you for your gift of…” or “On behalf of our organization…” Draw in the donor immediately by placing them front and center. Something as simple as “You made my day…” is much better.

A great thank you is the first step in creating a relationship with your donor that will inspire them to give again and again.”


One of the most important things to do in donor stewardship is connect the donor to the mission. We need to bring donors into what my friend, Shanon Doolittle, calls these ‘mission moments.’ We often overlook these because they’re things our nonprofit is doing on a regular basis. But these are exactly what the donor is investing in. And since they’re happening on a regular basis, it doesn’t take a lot of programming or organizational inconvenience to bring donors in.

The best part? When non-fundraising staff see donors get excited about their work, the non-fundraising staff start willingly helping with the fundraising!”

Here is what I shared and was lucky enough they published:

“Donors are not ATMs, they are people with wishes and dreams. Your job as a fundraising professional is to help people realize those dreams. You are not a mugger lurking in the shadows trying to snatch a donor’s wallet or purse. If there is one guiding principle that is paramount to all other fundraising best practices, it is treat your best donors like you would your childhood BFF.

  • Check-in with them from time-to-time.
  • Care about what is happening in their life.
  • Put their needs ahead of your own.
  • Spend time with them figuring out what they want their philanthropy to accomplish and then show them how your organization can help them accomplish their goals and dreams.

The more personal you can make your cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship interactions, the stronger your relationship will become. Philanthropy done right can be enriching for all parties involved!”

Honestly, I am humbled to be included in today’s post with so many other amazing experts. Thank you, NonProfitEasy blog!

Ready to hear the rest of the advice?  Head over to NonProfitEasy’s full blog post now!

If you have advice of your own — from the front lines — that you’d like to share, please scroll down and do so in the comment box below. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.      ;-)

Here’s to your health!

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

A sample donor-centered communication

The non-profit community has heard lots about the merits of becoming more donor-centered over the last decade or so. This philosophy permeates everything in our resource development community including:

  • How we cultivate prospects
  • How we solicit prospects and donors
  • It especially speaks to the importance of stewardship and non-profit communications

While there is lots of talk-talk-talk on this subject, it is confounding to me that there are so few samples readily available. For example, I had a client ask me a year ago if I could find samples of “donor-centered gift acknowledgement letters“. After Googling for what seemed like hours and calling in all sorts of favors, I finally found one or two good examples.

So, last week I almost fell out of my chair when I received an email from a non-profit organization (e.g. I’m a periodic golf-a-thon or an endowment match donor) asking me WHAT and WHEN I want to receive from them. At its core, it might be one of the most donor-centered things ever sent me me by an organization.

Here is a copy of that email:

BGCB email sample

When I clicked the link, here is what that survey looked like:

BGCB email survey

All of this got me thinking . . . is your organization “donor-centered“? If so, how is it donor-centered? Do you have any samples that you’d like to share? If so, please email those samples to me and I’ll be happy to share them.  :-)

We don’t need to all re-create the wheel. Sharing is caring.  :-)

Here’s to your health!

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

“Hangin’ with Henry” and talking about Determining Gift Capability

Good morning DonorDreams readers! As most of you know, the month of May was dedicated to the Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which took us out of our regular blog rhythm. So, when I checked the calendar this morning and saw that it is the first Thursday of the month, I realized it is that time again. Uh-huh! You guessed it. We’re “Hangin’ With Henry” today and talking about what goes into determining a donor’s gift capability.  

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.

After listening to Henry for the last six minutes, I was struck by:

  • how well he hits the nail on the head with what considerations go into evaluating a prospect (he obviously has a lifetime of experience under his belt)
  • how many different methods and strategies I’ve used to help clients determine  a suggested ask amount for their annual campaign, major gifts program, and capital campaign donors

I used to be convinced there was a right way and a wrong way (or a better tool than another) when it came to prospect evaluation, but now that I’m a little older my opinion has changed. You will get to a good place for your campaign and your donors as long as you and your fundraising volunteers take into consideration the following principles that Henry talked about:

  • financial capacity
  • relationship / connectedness to your mission and organization
  • philanthropic orientation

As for tools and approaches that I’ve used, it typically depends on the client and their culture of philanthropy (or lack thereof) which dictates their level of comfort and willingness to engage in these discussions.  The following are just a few approaches and tools that I’ve found helpful.

Peer review

peer reviewThis is as simple as sitting down with a group of volunteers and talking about your pool of prospects. One simple tool that I’ve use is something I call an “A-B-C-1-2-3 worksheet“.

Using this tool, volunteers first assign every prospect an A, B or C rating that relates to their willingness to give to your organization (e.g. are their a hot, warm or cold prospect). Then volunteers do the same thing with a 1, 2 or 3 rating which simply assigns a prospect to a specific level on your campaign range of gift chart (of course there are likely more than three gift levels on your ROG and you’ll add as many numbers as there are levels).

Staff aggregate everyone’s worksheets, use giving history to set preliminary ask amounts and facilitate consensus building discussions with fundraising volunteers.

Moves Management

moves managementMajor gifts work is usually more in-depth and the tools change a little (e.g. nine cell grid, individual prospect cultivation plans, Moves Management tools, etc). Prospect evaluation typically is done in small teams that include the following individuals:

  • Natural Partner (someone close to you, knows prospect well, and has the ability to open that door)
  • Primary Player (might be the prospect’s BFF, but someone with whom they definitely have a hard time saying NO)
  • Relationship Manager (this is a staff person who helps with Moves Management, strategy, tracking and accountability)

There are lots of different tools involved in this process. Bill Sturtevant is one of the most well-respected experts in this area. You’ll want to definitely read his book “The Artful Journey“. You can also sneak a peak at some of the tools I’m referencing by checking out Bill’s presentation handouts from a Minnesota Planned Giving Council conference in 2009.

Another expert with great tools is our featured guest this morning — Henry Freeman. You might want to check out his website for interesting resources.

Data Driven Prospect Research

prospect researchI’m sometimes frightened by how much data is available out there on each of us. I’ve personally used all of the following tools for prospect research:

  • Google (OMG … there is tons of data you can find with a simple search)
  • 411.com (I go here to find contact info and confirm family relationships)
  • Facebook (I check-in here to see if their privacy settings are turned off. It is amazing what you can learn about someone’s family, social network, interests, etc from this social media site)
  • LinkedIn (I look around this site for work info, professional network, etc. I also use it to help me create prospect lists of natural partner, primary players and campaign volunteers/solicitors)
  • A variety of pay-for-service data providers like WealthEngine or Blackbaud’s Target Analytics (and this is where your mind gets blown with all of the info you can get)

If your organization engages in prospect research, please scroll down to the comment box and answer one of the following questions:

  • what methods have you used to determine your donors’ gift capability?
  • what tools have you use and which ones did you like?
  • if you’ve used pay-for-service providers like WealthEngine, what advice do you have for others?

Please take a minute to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other!

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

Photo essay of charity auction fundraising best practices

CoverA few months ago, my husband and I attended the Community Crisis Center’s 28th annual benefit auction. I’ve only attended this event a few times, but it ranks up there as one of my favorite non-profit special events for the following reasons:

  1. The mission of this organization is powerful
  2. Gretchen Vapnar, who has been the executive director for decades, is an extraordinary visionary, strong non-profit leader with a fun innovation streak
  3. This benefit auction is the “granddaddy” of them all in our community. It was the first charity auction event that raised significant money and became what resource development professionals would call a “signature special event

Every time I attend this event I’m impressed with all of the things they do right. So, this time I decided to take pictures of things that I consider important to the success of such an event and share them with you.


Meet Karen Fox

KarenKaren and her husband Dan are the co-chairs of this event. They have volunteered and co-chaired for countless years. The following are just a few reasons I decided to include Karen’s picture as photo evidence of a best practice:

  • Recruiting the right volunteers for your event is important. You need people with time, energy, vision and a desire to succeed.
  • Karen and Dan’s social network is large, which makes them ideal co-chairs because it provides them with a fertile environment from which to recruit other volunteers, sponsors, in-kind auction item donors, and event participants.
  • Karen and Dan’s long-term commitment to this event brings continuity and stability.

If you want to read more about the growing importance of volunteerism and some of the best practices involved with recruitment and retention, then you want to check out the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article “The New Volunteer Workforce“.

Live auction and silent auction

LiveCharity auctions are funny and quirky events. There is a weird “bargain hunter” mentality that is pervasive. I am a firm believe that you need to offer donors more than just a simple silent auction opportunity.

As the old saying goes . . . “Go BIG or go home,” which is why I think a live auction needs to accompany your silent auction.

guitarThe following are just a few tips you might want to consider:

  • Remember that donors can buy most of the stuff you’re auctioning off at the store or online. So, don’t try to sell them stuff . . . ask them to bid on “one-of-a-kind experiences” and things that are difficult to find and purchase. In other words, don’t auction off tickets to a sporting event. Package those tickets with luxury transportation, unique dinning, a meet-n-greet with people close to the team, special tours of locker rooms or behind the scenes stadium spaces.
  • Room set-up is critical. You want to get as much as you can all in one room because people will want to get up periodically from their dinner table and check on their bids. If they need to leave the room, then they are less likely to get up and monitor their bids.
  • Be smart when establishing your opening bids and incremental bid increases. Make sure to value the auction item and set the opening bid at 50% of the items value.
  • bid formI love the idea of adding a “guaranteed winning bid” to the bid form. You need to be careful about where you set that number, but I suggest setting it around 50% above fair market value.
  • I didn’t get a picture of Terry Dunning, who was the live auctioneer at the event, but it is important that you recruit someone who knows what they are doing. Terry is retired, but back in the day he was a professional auctioneer. He is a pro and knows how to maximize bids (aka donations to your organization).
  • The silent auction is typically big (however I encourage you to keep it reasonable and at an appropriate scale for how many people you have in your room), which is why you want to divide auction items into sections (e.,g. sports, home improvement, entertainment, etc). Consider closing down bidding one section at a time with 10 to 15 minutes in between closings. This strategy allows donors who lose their bids to get more aggressive with other competitive and open bids. Don’t forget to use a “countdown” to give donors notice and an opportunity to sneak in last minute bids.
  • Don’t wait to the last minute to secure silent and live auction items. Give yourself many months (maybe even as many as 12 months) to secure fun and unique items. You also want to circle back around to donors who were active in your auction and ask their thoughts about what they want to see in next year’s auction. It only makes sense, right?

 Don’t leave money on the table

pledge formWhen running a charity auction, there are always winners and losers at the end of the evening. There are donors who want to support your mission but couldn’t because they were outbid. Of course, the Community Crisis Center had a solution for this. They placed pledge cards in the middle of every table.

However, please note . . . it is NOT good enough to simply put the pledge cards on the table and wink at your donors.

The organizers of this event put together a powerful mission-focused video presentation and a group solicitation was made from the podium. As is the case with all fundraising appeals, you need to “make the ask” if you expect people to give.

Well organized checkout process

checkoutNothing is worse than having to stand in long lines at the end of the evening to figure out what you won, pay your bill and collect your winnings. I just love how this organization does their checkout.

  • It is computerized
  • There many different checkout stations which keeps lines short
  • They take credit cards (I can’t remember if I gave them my card info in advance, but I think pre-registration is always a great idea because it speeds things up at the end of the evening)

I could go on and on, but I will stop here; however, I will include just a few more pictures after my signature block without any explanations. Let’s see if you can guess why I took the pictures and what makes it a best practice for your charity auction.   ;-)    Please share your thoughts in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

PS — I just got off the phone with Pamela Grow and she reminded me of how important it is for organizations to measure the “true return on investment” after every special event. This reminded me of an awesome tool that my former employer — Boys & Girls Clubs of America — developed for their local affiliates. It is an Excel spreadsheet that helps calculate ROI. You can check it out by clicking here.

Here’s to your health!

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







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