Blog Archives

How does your non-profit leverage donations to secure more funding?

Sorry for not posting anything on Tuesday morning. The internet connection from my hotel room was non-existent, which is why you’re receiving this late breaking edition. Enjoy!  ~Erik

IMG_20150802_102350339_HDR[1]A few days ago, I was in an airport trying to catch a connecting flight when I saw a poster advertisement for an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides medical services to children and families in third world countries. I took a picture of the portion of the advertisement that immediately caught my attention.

Every $1 you give will send $105 worth of lifesaving medicine and supplies.

One of the eight best practices I teach clients as it relates to fundraising is that challenge gifts are very effective and will help you reach your goal. The following are just a few reasons challenge gifts are effective:

  • it reassures donors that there are other big donors behind the campaign and lends credibility to what you’re trying to accomplish
  • it is inspirational and creates a bandwagon effect for donors
  • it gives donors the feeling their gift is bigger and more impactful
  • most importantly . . . it creates a “sense of urgency” for your fundraising staff and volunteers

There are many different ways to leverage one gift (or a pool of gifts) and secure other contributions. The following are just a few effective examples I’ve seen throughout the years:

  • Traditional challenge gifts to annual or capital campaigns where a donors says “I’ll match every dollar up to a certain level of contributions” 
  • Using a grant to leverage private sector philanthropy by telling donors that your organization secured a grant for a certain amount, but the program/project costs more which is why additional donors are needed before the grant can be ethically accessed
  • Securing in-kind contributions of supplies/materials and asking donors to underwrite the staffing and overhead costs needed to use the in-kind donation (as shown in the picture above)
  • Asking leadership giving donors to join a donor recognition society whereby their pool of donations will be used as matching dollars for other donors (e.g. national public radio does this very well)
  • Using one donor’s contribution (of any size) and asking another donor to match it (e.g. the Obama campaign did this very well with their online fundraising strategy)

In my experience, non-profit organizations reserve this strategy for BIG projects (e.g. capital campaigns, endowment campaigns, etc); however, there is no good reason why you couldn’t use this strategy to leverage additional dollars for your annual campaign, major gifts initiative (as long as it is project focused), special event, etc.

Please use the space below to share an experience where you successfully used a challenge gift or leverage strategy to raise more money for your organization. How did you identify the opportunity? How did you present it as an opportunity to the donor? What was the result?

Here’s to your health!

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

Ode to Rachael Jones: Here’s to not putting donors in boxes!

rachael jonesOne of the clients I’ve been working with for a while is located in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where I met Rachael Jones. Rachael is a transgender woman who used to own “Rachael’s Cafe”. Unfortunately, after eight years of serving coffee, food and a side of acceptance, Rachael closed her doors last month. During my last visit, the executive director handed me a copy of the June 29th edition of The Herald-Times newspaper with a front page story headline that read “Downtown gathering place closes after 8 years of fostering acceptance“. He shared the newspaper story with me because he knew I had wanted to be there for Rachael’s last day, but I just couldn’t make it work with my travel schedule.

So, what does any of this have to do with non-profits or fundraising? Well, tucked away inside of Kurt Christian’s front page article, there was an amazing story Rachael told that I think is applicable to every fundraising professional’s life. And I want to share it for two reasons:

  1. To pay tribute to an amazing human — Rachael Jones (someone I greatly admire and wish I had half her courage)
  2. To help new fundraising professionals understand something very important about their donors

In the article, Rachael tells the newspaper reporter about a life lesson she learned from one of the construction workers who had been working on the renovation of the cafe prior to it opening in 2007. After coming out to the crew as being a transgender woman, one of the guys asked Rachael if she would consider judging a chili cook-off event in a small rural town south of Bloomington, Indiana.

Rachael was hesitant to accept the invitation because:

  • small town America isn’t ready for a transgender woman
  • people would judge her
  • it might not be safe

Or so she thought.

Thanks to the insistence of the construction worker who had invited her, Rachael showed up and judged the chili cook-off. In hindsight, here is what she said about this life changing event:

“I went, and I was so sure I was going to be judged. But these people were wonderful. It was a beautiful experience, and I had a lot of fun, and I learned a great lesson. I had put them in a box that didn’t exist; they didn’t belong in that box.”

I just love how Rachael framed her experience. I’ve been thinking about these words for weeks during countless hours of windshield time driving from client to client. The more I think about these words, the more I wondered “how many people have I put in boxes during my life?

It was during one of these contemplative moments that another more interesting question bubbled to the forefront:

“How many donors have I put in a box that didn’t exist and they didn’t belong in?”

I fear that I’ve done it a lot, and I’ve justified it all in the name of “segmenting donors lists“.

Segmenting donors is a common practice in most fundraising shops, and it is a best practice. Not only does it keep you from asking people to attend events who hate going to those type of fundraisers, but it also keeps you from sending mail to people who prefer email communications. When done right, you are categorizing donors based on their feedback and their wishes.

HOWEVER . . . is it possible to take the practice of donor segmentation too far? Could we be creating boxes that shouldn’t exist? I’m inclined to think so. Here are a few confessions I’ll make when it comes to constructing boxes for donors that I probably shouldn’t have:

  • I’ve looked at a list of donors and said something like: “They wouldn’t be interested in supporting THAT program
  • Prior to a stewardship visit, I’ve decided what to share with the donor based on what I thought they were interested in hearing
  • I’ve excluded donors from receiving certain solicitations because I was fearful they might make a contribution, which could undercut another solicitation for a different project

In this era of so-called “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” shouldn’t we take a page out of Rachael Jones’ book by engaging our donors in more exploratory conversations and do a little less segmenting and box building?

I’m interested in what you have to say about this question. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health! (And congrats to Rachael on eight great years and for being an inspiration to us all)

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

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

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

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

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

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!/eanderson847

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!/eanderson847

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!/eanderson847


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,562 other followers

%d bloggers like this: