Blog Archives

Working with fundraising-phobic non-profit boards

boards on fireOrganizational culture is a difficult dynamic to change. After all, birds of a feather flock together, right? It is for this reason that simply changing the people sitting around your boardroom table is likely a very difficult strategy to employ (albeit not impossible or wrong). While this strategy is the most commonly suggested one by non-profit consultants, I recently found comfort and inspiration from Susan Howlett’s book Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully.

In Howlett’s easy to read paperback book, she recounts a story about working with a board that was resistant to fundraising. After trying everything, she simply asked everyone if they would be willing to call two of their friends and engage in a discussion about:

  • why they decided to serve on the organization’s board of directors
  • what the organization’s mission is and what it does
  • a recent organizational success story

At the end of the phone call or coffee meeting, board members were coached to ask their friend if they would mind receiving periodic updates (e.g. email, phone call or in-person visit) about what is going on.

If the board volunteer’s friend was agreeable, then in the subsequent months board volunteers were provided the following shareable things:

  • short emails with snippets of good news or links to online articles about the organization
  • requests to do something on behalf of the organization (e.g. call legislators or city council representatives)
  • invitations to attend something (e.g. facility tour, reception, etc)

In the end, Howlett’s strategy changed board culture and resulted in what she describes as a “board on fire.”

If you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend adding this book to your summer reading list. I suspect it will be a game changer for you if you’re grappling with the question of “how to inspire and engage your board in fundraising success?

After reading this joyful little book, I was reminded of the following basic truisms:

  • fundraising is a learned skill and not something people are born to do
  • engagement (e.g. cultivation) is important to fundraising volunteers because when it comes time to asking for money it feels like the pre-solicitation groundwork has been laid (e.g. they’ve earned the right to ask for money)
  • cultivation doesn’t happen without significant staff support (e.g. feeding volunteers materials to share, organizing informational house parties, etc)

look in mirrorIf your board is resistant to the idea of fundraising, I encourage you to first take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What boardroom trainings and generative discussions have you helped add to the board meeting agenda and support?
  • What cultivation materials have you provided to board volunteers with instructions on how to share with others? (e.g. stories, videos, articles, advocacy opportunities, newsletters, annual reports, etc)
  • What cultivation events have you organized? (e.g. lunch-n-learns, facility tours, house parties, etc)
  • What individualized coaching have you done with especially resistant board volunteers? (e.g. teaching others how to tell better stories)
  • How many cultivation visits have you gone with board volunteers on to model effective storytelling and information sharing? (e.g. modeling for others how to tell better stories)

I know it might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the reason your board might not be excited about fundraising could be because you aren’t excited about it or you aren’t supporting them effectively.

If you have done these things, you might want to ask yourself a different question, “How could I tweak these strategies to make them more effective?

Have you had success in changing your boardroom culture around the idea of fundraising? If so, what strategies did you employ to create a “board on fire?” Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

What should you do when a board member quits fundraising?

This certainly seems to be the topic of the month for non-profit people running in my circles. I’m not sure why this is the flavor of the month, but I’ve been asked this question so many times recently I took is as a sign from the universe (or the fundraising gods) that I should blog about it.

Why do board members quit on you?

quit1Oh, well let me count the reasons . . .

  1. They feel lost when it comes to asking for charitable contributions (aka lack of training)
  2. They feel uneasy about asking friends for money (aka they are asking inappropriately due to a lack of training which results in any number of FEARS and the feeling that they’re begging)
  3. They feel unsupported by staff (aka staff aren’t going out with them to help and model best practices)
  4. They sense there is a lack of organization behind their efforts (aka meetings are poorly attended or poorly organized, acknowledgement letters are sent late or sporadically, etc)
  5. Prospective donors are assigned to volunteers by staff without input from volunteers (aka they aren’t asking people with whom they are comfortable soliciting)
  6. They are busy people and there aren’t accountability tools being used by staff to keep everyone focused (e.g. report meetings, dashboards, scorecards, campaign reports, peer-to-peer phone calls)
  7. Fundraising efforts lack urgency (aka deadlines always seem to be extended, goals seem to shift/change, etc)
  8. They weren’t recruited appropriately and didn’t know what they were saying ‘YES’ to when joining the board (aka your board recruitment process lacks “expectation tools” like volunteer job descriptions, commitment pledges, etc)

I could go on and on and on with this list, but that wouldn’t be productive. Suffice it to say, if any of the aforementioned reasons describe your organization, you need to address it. Quickly! Otherwise, no matter how many new board members you recruit to replace the ones who quit on you, the problem will continue to recur.

All of this begs the question, “What can and should be done about board volunteers who quit on their fundraising responsibilities?

Step One: Have a heart-to-heart discussion

heart to heartI have no idea why this is so scary for so many non-profit staff and board volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Here are a few talking points:

  • Describe what you are observing (e.g. a reluctance to fundraise)
  • Assure them that it happens in the case of many board volunteers
  • Ask them what the trouble seems to be
  • Listen – Listen – Listen (empathize where appropriate)
  • Ask them how you can help
  • If there is nothing you can do to help, then ask them how they’d like to move forward

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times. Board members disengage and no one asks them if everything is OK and if they are in need of assistance.

It is troublesome when non-profit families start acting this way, which is why Step One is always to sit down and listen.

Step Two: Engage in cultivation & stewardship

quit2If the reasons given by your board volunteer aren’t things beyond anyone’s control (e.g. family member illness, work-related challenges, etc) and they simply don’t feel comfortable with solicitation, then ask them to get heavily involved in cultivation (e.g. engaging new prospective supporters) and stewardship (e.g. showing existing donors gratitude and return on investment) activities. (Note: don’t simply let them focus on other non-fundraising activities like programming or marketing)

The following is a partial list of things you can ask of reluctant fundraising volunteers:

  • Host a house party with people who don’t currently support your organization (e.g. party where staff briefly talk about the organization and the host follows up with participants to see if they are interested in learning more)
  • Invite people who don’t currently give to your organization to tour your facilities and see the mission in action
  • Invite people who aren’t donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee and simply chat about the organization (e.g. it is important for the board volunteer to share reasons why they are involved and passionate about the organization)
  • Hand write letters to donors to express gratitude for their support
  • Make phone calls to donors in the middle of the organization’s range of gifts chart to express gratitude, engage in a discussion about their reasons for support, and share a piece of organizational good news
  • Invite larger major gifts donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee, share a copy of the most recent annual report, share any recent pieces of good news or programmatic results, and talk passionately about the future

I’m not suggesting you ask a reluctant fundraising volunteer to do one of two of these things. I am suggesting you immerse them in these activities. You might try asking them to complete five handwritten letters, five phone calls AND five in-person contacts every month for the next year.


In my experience, there is something curative when board members have substantive encounters with others that focus on community need, mission, vision, and impact.

I’ve seen a heavy dose of this approach help many volunteers get over their cold feet or malaise when it comes to fundraising.

Step Three: Finding a New Seat on the Bus

seat on busSometimes we can’t fix the problem. Board members are people, too. Their parents get sick. Their marriages falter. They end up with a new boss who demands more from them.

When these things happen, the first order of business is empathy. This is what you’d do for a family member going through the same thing. Right? And board members are your non-profit family.

But whatever you do, you cannot make exceptions for individual board volunteers with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. It is an all or nothing proposition.

I’ve seen it too often where one board member is given a pass (usually for good reason). It’s a slippery slope. Others board members start identifying reasons in their life why they can’t participate in fundraising. Worse yet, a schism materializes in the boardroom between “those who fundraise” and “those who don’t.”  When this happens, resentment and ugliness aren’t far behind.

So, what does finding a new seat on the bus look like? It could be any number of things including (but not limited to):

  • Taking a short sabbatical from the board
  • Resigning from the board and moving into a new role (e.g. joining a committee, becoming a program volunteer, helping with small projects, remaining on as a donor, etc)
  • Acting as an advisor (e.g. monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly coffee meetings with the CEO or development director)
  • Becoming a community ambassador (e.g. speaking periodically at service clubs, etc)

We don’t banish or fire board members (unless of course it is a toxic/destructive situation). People who support our mission are valued and important. We keep them involved, but we do so in roles that are mutually beneficial and fulfilling.

How has your organization dealt with and addressed board members who quit fundraising (or maybe never really got started)? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

What “peepholes” exist for donors to see your non-profit organization?

For the remainder of 2015 on the first Thursday of each month, I plan on featuring a fundraising video snippet from Henry Freeman.  Why? Because I’ve come to see Henry as one of our country’s more talented and accomplished fundraising professionals. I just love his teachable point of view on most resource development topics. In this first installment of “Hangin’ with Henry,” he talks about how donors see your non-profit organization and how they extrapolate many things from those periodic “peephole” views.

I’ve embedded a YouTube video of Henry talking about “Small Windows into Life: How We Experience the World Around Us.” Before clicking through to view the video, you may want to download the discussion guide first. It will save you time from taking notes and includes thought-provoking questions to help you make this video experience more actionable for your organization.

(Note: If your email subscription doesn’t show the embedded video clip, please click the aforementioned hyperlink.)

So, what did you think? What views of your organization are you providing your donors through those “peepholes“? What can you do to improve what they are seeing? What role will technology and social media play in creating “peepholes“? What old-school, non-tech “peepholes” are you using to introduce donors to the “real you“? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. 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!/eanderson847

How do you network?

networkingA few days ago, I was Skyping with Henry Freeman, the owner of H.Freeman Associates LLC. It was a getting-to-know-you session because a mutual friend had suggested that we needed to meet and explore possible ways for our two consulting practices to work more closely together from time-to-time. During our conversation, Henry asked me a question that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. That question was:

How do you network?

As one does in a fluid conversation, I had to think on my feet and these were the examples that came out of my mouth:

  • Coffee meetings
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings
  • After-work cocktails
  • Virtual networking (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterst, Google+, LinkedIn, and the DonorDreams blog)
  • Group membership (e.g. Fox West Philanthropy Network)
  • Conferences

I’m not sure if I’m any good at networking, but I do it primarily because I like people. I love meeting new people. If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I regularly say things like “We don’t have to re-create the wheel” and “We can all learn from each other.” Both of these expressions are most likely drivers behind what gets me out of my home office and meeting with all sorts of people.

During a little windshield time yesterday, Henry’s question was still rattling around my brain when it dawned on me that “networking” is obviously a critical skill for most non-profit CEOs and fundraising professionals. If you’re good at networking, then you are probably a natural when it comes to:

  • cultivating new prospective donors
  • stewarding existing donors
  • developing collaborations with other organizations, groups and corporations
  • soliciting donors and selling sponsorships
  • recruiting volunteers
  • identifying and recruiting new prospective board members
  • engaging existing board members

The more I think about it, networking skills sound more and more “foundational” as it generally related to SUCCESS.

As this idea continued rolling around in my thoughts, I couldn’t help but wonder what skills and traits are associated with people who are good networkers. Here is an incomplete list of things I managed to come up with:

  • Sincere and genuine
  • Conversational
  • Interested
  • Engaging
  • Good listener
  • Empathetic
  • Living in the moment
  • Intuitive

I’m not sure how accurate this list is, but they were all things that crossed my mind.

The final thought that crossed my mind on this topic was “How can someone get better at networking?” Not surprisingly, this question drove me to my favorite resource in the world — Google.   😉

After clicking around a little bit, I came across a link to Huffington Post simply titled “Networking Tips.” When I clicked it, there were two pages of HuffPo articles on a variety of networking subjects like “10 Simple Rules” and “8 Ways to Amp Up Your Personality.” It looked like a treasure trove of great reading.

Wanna see those links? Simply click here and enjoy!

Do you think that you’re good at networking? Why? What do you do to network? Which of your many skills and traits lend favorably to your ability to network?

If you end up like me and get thinking about this question, please scroll down to the comment box and share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Can we please stop talking about how bad the economy is?

recessionThat is it . . . I am fed up and can’t stop myself from saying something that has been on my mind for a little while now. Can non-profit organizations please stop running around and telling anyone who will listen that the economy is bad and the recession is hurting their agency?

I hear my non-profit friends (both staff and board volunteers) bemoaning how bad it is and how they’ve been impacted. I know that I’ve heard it at least once a month going back to the 2008 stock market meltdown, which by the way was FIVE YEARS ago.

I totally understand why people were talking about this 12 to 24 months removed from the epicenter, but as I just pointed out more than half-of-a-decade has passed since that time.

The fact of the matter is the recession officially ended in June 2009, according to Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Don’t believe me? Just go ask Google.

In fact, the Blackbaud Index just arrived in my email inbox, and they are estimating that charitable giving rose 4.9% in 2013. Additionally, online giving increased by approximately by 13.5%.

When I see numbers like these, it always stirs my emotions when juxtaposed against comments such as:

  • The economy is bad and donors just aren’t giving.
  • We can’t ask people for money while the economy is still doing so poorly.
  • Our agency hasn’t recovered from the economic downturn.
  • Our board members are afraid to ask their friends for charitable contributions as long as the economy is doing so poorly.

Believe it or not, I heard some variation of each of these comments just this last weekend!

At first, I found myself shaking my head and asking the obvious question, “WHY?” However, I quickly stopped that when I realized that I know the reasons why. Here is what I think drives those comments:

  • Fear is irrational and people believe what they believe in spite of facts.
  • Some parts of the country are taking more time to emerge from recession.
  • Some non-profit agencies never adjusted their revenue model and resource development plan to accommodate for what economists are calling “The New Normal“.
  • Some non-profit professionals are always looking for excuses to justify poor fundraising performance.
  • Some misguided fundraising professionals and volunteers think pleading poverty and pointing at the economy makes for a good “case for support” (which really works the opposite way on how donors perceive your case).

Regardless of whether or not you believe these reasons, the reality is that we need to shake ourselves out of this mindset. Our clients deserve better and whining has never been shown to solve problems.

So, what should you do to combat this mindset? I suggest the following:

  1. Involve your volunteers in developing a new resource development plan and answering this simple question: “If how we raised money before the recession doesn’t work anymore, then what should we do to secure the resources we need to fund our mission today?
  2. Involve your volunteers in developing a new case for support document and build consensus to stop talking to donors about the economy.
  3. Be the change you want to see in the world and stop talking about the economy.
  4. Take your volunteers by the hand and go with them on cultivation and stewardship visits with prospects and donors.
  5. Engage in benchmarking activities and compare your agency’s fundraising performance to other non-profit organizations (e.g. check out Blackbaud’s performance comparison tool by clicking here).

What are you doing to combat this insidious, self-defeating mindset that is still pervasive in many non-profit boardrooms? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can learn from each other.

On a side note, before you take me to task with comments about my insensitivity, please know that I know there are people out there who are still hurting. I have never said there weren’t. In fact, I know some of those people, and I am sure you do, too. However, the reality is that non-profits cannot wait until there is no more unemployment. Our agencies cannot wait until economic indicators are back to the ridiculous 1990s levels. Those who wait for that to occur won’t be in business for much longer. Let’s rediscover that often-celebrated “American spirit” of picking ourselves off the ground and doing the hard work to get our agencies moving again. 

There! I’ve said it . . . now please feel free to excoriate me.  🙂

Here’s to your health!

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

Online videos offer endless opportunities to non-profits

Mission in Motion

By Rose Reinert
Guest blogger

rose1It was years into my role as Executive Director at a youth serving agency that it became crystal clear to me that helping people see could help them believe. Hands down, I encouraged board members to bring people in for tours, which often ended in an ask for an investment in our mission.

There is no argument that a story rich in description — sharing colors, smells, and sights — is gripping and engaging. There are countless opportunities for our beloved elevator speeches, and organization overviews, but there is no doubt, when you can provide someone the first hand look at the mission in motion, your sales pitch gets much easier.

This is the concept of Chapter 10 — “Got Video? (Video Sharing)” — in Lon Safko’s book, The Social Media Bible.

It is very easy nowadays to capture your “Mission in Motion” through various strategies. Consider utilizing some of these:

  • Client Testimonials
  • Board Member Orientation & Engagement
  • Donor Highlights
  • Organization Overview

It is sometimes difficult to get prospects for a tour or even to an event. So, why not utilize a short video via e-mail to share your mission and introduce them to your services? One of my favorite stories is a video that was made especially for a donor that highlighted a youth of the program thanking them for their investments.

How impactful!

Another great one was another youth agency that featured youth inviting guests to attend a benefit event through a short video invite.

Another great way to stand out to supporters!

Of course, the most simple online video is the simple case for support message like the one you see in the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) video about stopping the ivory trade and supporting their efforts to save the elephant population. Click here or on the video below to check-out this example.

In addition to reading Lon Safko’s book, here are a few additional links you might find helpful in developing your agency’s “picture” to share with prospects and donors:

So how can you capture your mission to share your story best? How have you used video to engage donors or volunteers?
rose draft sig

New Years resolutions for me and your non-profit agency

new yearGood morning everyone! Yesterday was New Years Day and I spent the first day of 2014 in a car trying to make it half way back to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. As many of you know, I am still working on a contract temporarily providing technical assistance and organizational services to 20 organizations in New Mexico and West Texas.

During the first leg of my drive yesterday, I spent lots of time thinking about New Years resolutions, which is the focus of today’s post.

To resolve or not to resolve?

resolutionsLet me first address the question of whether or not resolutions are meaningful.

There is lots and lots of talk about whether or not New Years resolutions are helpful or just a waste of time. The way I look at it, resolutions are akin to goal setting. And an  individual or organization without goals is rudderless. Right? So, where is the harm in setting a few realistic resolutions.

While driving yesterday, I came up with a few goals for improvement that I’d like to tackle in 2014. Of course, there is my annual re-commitment to health and weight loss, but I’m not going down that path with you today.

There are two other resolutions that I am very excited about and thought you might want to consider adopting for your agency.


techWhen I opened my non-profit consulting practice 2.5 years ago — The Healthy Non-Profit LLC — I did so on the cheap. I used $15,000 of savings to get everything off the ground including: branding, marketing materials, website, home office set-up, and technology.

Needless to say, I ended up making some tough decisions around technology. Case in point, I’m typing this mornings blog on a small Netbook laptop-ish looking computer that operates with an Itel Atom processor (which I think is akin to having a gerbil power the engine of my car).

One of my 2014 New Years resolutions is to invest in technology in a way where I will straddle a 3-way fence.

What I mean is that I will combine the power of the technology world’s three biggest players:

  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Apple

When I opened my business, I sold my soul to Google. I primarily did this because there was lots and lots of free stuff to be had.

I also didn’t have money to purchase Microsoft products and ended up using free productivity software like Apache OpenOffice, which is really good public domain free software that mimics Microsoft products.

However, the world is changing and technology is progressing along faster than ever. Microsoft is racing to the cloud and challenging Google for market share. Have you seen the new Microsoft Surface computers? What about Microsoft 365? These questions don’t even touch the issues associated with Google purchasing Motorola and getting into the smart phone business. Ugh!

My New Years resolution to move closer to the cutting edge of technology by purchasing a Surface tablet/laptop, subscribing to Microsoft 365, and integrating an iPad into my Google and Microsoft new world order is ambitious. But the timing feels right to me.

For your non-profit agency, I suggest you take a good hard look at technology. I suspect there there might be a New Years resolution waiting there for you.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked into a client’s office and their technology is biting them in the butt.

Many non-profit organizations are “resource poor” by definition. In environments like these, technology is typically basic and under-maintained.

Since tech has a short shelf life, most non-profits live with severely outdated hardware, software, networks, and systems.

I can almost hear you moaning and yelling into your computer: “But we don’t have the money, Erik!

OK, OK, OK . . . 2014 doesn’t necessarily have to be about buying technology for your agency. Your resolution could be all about getting the right group of volunteers around the table to help you develop a written technology plan addressing issues such as:

  • How will your organization upgrade its tech over the next three years?
  • What should your agency’s tech policies look like?
  • What does your agency want to look like from a tech perspective (e.g. network, cloud, Apple, Google, Microsoft, desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, website, blog, ePhilanthropy, databases etc)? And how will all of this capacity be maintained?
  • What is the funding model to attain and maintain what you build?

Tackling this issue is the right thing to do.

Non-profit leaders need to break out of this “starvation cycle” in which they find themselves. It isn’t healthy to under-invest in organizational capacity building because you weaken yourself and plant the seeds of your your own demise.


enewsOne of the features on my company’s website offers viewers the opportunity to subscribe to a free monthly eNewsletter.

I must confess that I’ve been woeful at keeping this promise. Over the last two years, I’ve published just a handful of newsletters.

My other New Years resolution for 2014 is to do a better job of getting my eNewsletter situation figured out and in working order.

While zipping down the interstate yesterday, I started wondering if this might also be a good goal for your organization?

Too many of my clients seem to be in the same boat as I am when it comes to finding time to publish a newsletter.

However, the reality is that you are going to put yourself out of business if you don’t get this thing figured out. That’s right . . . you heard me correcting — “out of business“!!!

Donors need to hear three big things before they make another contribution to your organization:

  1. Thank you . . . we appreciate your investment
  2. We are using your contribution in the manner in which we told you we would
  3. Your donation is having an impact and making good things happen

Your newsletter or eNewsletter strategy is focused on communicating these three things. Your inability to find the time to communicate these things drives your donor turnover rate sky high, which in turn makes raising money arduous and expensive.

Tackling this issue is the right thing to do.

As I said earlier in this post, non-profit leaders need to break out of this “starvation cycle” in which they find themselves. It isn’t healthy to under-invest in organizational capacity building because you weaken yourself and plant the seeds of your your own demise.

What are your New Years resolutions for 2014? Please use the comment box below to share. Let’s inspire each other today.

Here’s to your health!

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

A fundraising lesson in persistence and much more

university1I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with my graduate degree in Urban Planning in 1994. In the summer immediately following graduation, I received my first fundraising appeal from the university. So, this story started almost 20 years ago, and it ended last night in an Applebee’s restaurant in Roswell, NM. In my opinion, there are lots and lots of little lessons throughout this story that every fundraiser should internalize.

I graduated at the height of the Chief Illiniwek controversy. For those of you who don’t know the story, it is akin to what the Washington Redskins are currently going through. It is simply a question of whether or not a sports team mascot can be a racist and insensitive symbol.

I came down on the side of the argument that “racial stereotypes dehumanize people“.

So, when my first fundraising letter came in the mail, I responded with a letter asking the university to stop soliciting me until the board of trustees addressed the Chief Illiniwek issue.

Believe it or not, the letters stopped.

university2Almost 13 years later, The Chief danced his last dance at a football or basketball game.

I couldn’t believe it when the fundraising letters started arriving in my mailbox again. Wow … 13 years later. I kinda thought they would’ve forgotten about me.

Not only did the letters start coming, but it felt like I got something every few months.

And then the phone calls started coming.

And then the email started coming.

I almost caved at first. After all, I kind of felt obligated to give to a fundraising solicitation that was 13 years in the making. Yet, I held off on making my first contribution. Our charitable giving budget was big back then and we had lots of charities we liked to support.

I decided that my alma mater would have to earn it just like the other charities did.

On September 17th of this year, I blogged about the Urban & Regional Planning Department at the University of Illinois and their 100th anniversary. I used their event to talk about how your agency should use anniversaries to engage donors as well as do some fundraising.

In that post, I shared some of the activities and communication strategies being employed by the university. I openly wondered if I would attend the big weekend celebration or make a contribution.

Fast forwarding to last night . . .

I am on the road for business and find myself in Roswell, NM. Across the street from my Holiday Inn Express is an Applebee’s restaurant, which is where I found myself for dinner eating alone and reading a white paper on monthly giving campaign best practices. (LOL . . . isn’t my life glamorous?)

While I’m on the road, I forward my home phone to my cell phone because I hate weeding through tons of voicemail upon returning from the road.

In the middle of my wedge salad, my phone rings. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. Of course, it was a student from the university asking if I would like to make a contribution to contribute to a scholarship fund as a tribute to the Urban Planning Department’s 100th anniversary.

Six years of countless mail . . . a steady stream of email . . . and diligent phone calls from students . . . and it finally happened last night.

She asked me specifically for $300. I declined, but countered with my first $100 contribution to the University of Illinois. It is perhaps the hardest earned $100 contribution any non-profit organization has ever received.

Why last night? I have no idea. The spirit moved me? The ambiance of Applebee’s set the stage? The case for support language included support of a scholarship fund and had a tribute angle? Who knows!

I think this story is ripe with lessons for fundraising professions. Here are just a few

  • Persistence is an important element for a successful fundraising program
  • Donor databases (when used appropriately) are powerful tools
  • Multi-channel communication is the wave of the future (e.g. mail, email, phone, etc)
  • The case for support is important
  • What your agency does on the front line impacts donor perceptions (e.g. Chief Illiniwek impacted my charitable giving; whereas, bad press or not offering certain programs may impact your donors’ appetite for giving)

For the record, I am excited to now see how the university stewards its donors. Stay tuned!  😉

Are there other lessons that you see from this story. Please use the comment box below to share. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health! (And congrats to the university for a job well done)

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

Donors don’t donate just because they have money

Have you ever heard of the “dowsing“? No? Then what about “divining,” “doodlebugging” or “water witching“? Oh, come on . . . I am sure you have heard these terms, but you probably don’t recall. All of these words describe a process whereby someone uses a Y-shaped stick to locate groundwater. In fact, sometimes people use this process to locate gems, ores, metals, oil, and even graves. Don’t believe me . . . click here and read about it on Wikipedia.

If you want to see what water witching looks like, you can click on this YouTube video and check it out.

For the record, there is no scientific evidence that proves that water witching works.

I’ve been thinking about water witching a lot for the last few days after a conversation with a fellow fundraising professional. Here was the gist of that discussion:

  • waterwitch1Wow! We have lots of money in our community.
  • I need help identifying who has that money.
  • I need access to tools like WealthEngine and Target Analytics to identify who has money?
  • Once I get that prospect list of wealthy individuals put together, I will ask all of them for money and life will be good.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think very highly of sophisticated tools like WealthEngine and Target Analytics. Very powerful stuff!

What I am bristling about this morning is the assertion that affluent people will give to you just because you’ve identified them and asked them to share their wealth with you.

I hate to be the party pooper here. But neither tech tools or a Y-shaped stick will ever take the place of good old fashion relationship building.

networkingHere is a recipe I suggest you consider when it comes to your prospect identification strategy:

  1. Use your network, your current donors’ network, and your board members’ circle of influence to identify other individuals and companies who like your agency’s mission.
  2. Sit down with those individuals and companies. Talk about your mission, vision, goals, programs, outcomes and impact. Tell them stories about your clients and the impact you’re having on their lives.
  3. Invite these prospects to tour your facility. Help them see you in action.
  4. Ask these prospects to get involved. Join a committee. Do some volunteering.
  5. Invite them to one of your special event fundraisers. And down the road engage them in your annual campaign pledge drive.
  6. After these people renew their contribution and support a few times, then you may want to invest in a donor screening or donor profiling project using WealthEngine or Target Analytics.

magic treeOh heck . . . if you don’t want to follow this simple, sound and proven advice, then hire me. I am happy to be your water witch. Just give me a moment to run out back and pick a fresh Y-shaped stick off of my magic fundraising tree.

How does your agency find new prospective donors? There are many different strategies. Please use the comment box below and share. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

How will you celebrate your non-profit’s next anniversary?

anniversary1Every year, it seems like one of the charities I support is celebrating some kind of anniversary or milestone. Most of the time, it relates to the age of the organization, and it is typically a milestone like 25, 50, 75 or 100 years of existence. Sometimes it is a different kind of anniversary, where they’re celebrating a board member’s years of service or the age of something physical like a building. Regardless of the opportunity to celebrate, a fundraising solicitation is never far behind; however, anniversary celebrations can be so much more than just putting your hand out.

I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with both a BAUP (1992) and MUP (1994).

I know most of you are thinking “HUH?

BAUP is a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Planning, and a MUP is a Master’s degree in Urban Planning.

I spent six amazing years learning about the ins and outs of planning from some of the most amazing professors. In hindsight, I was laying a foundation of knowledge and practices that would serve me well as a non-profit consultant almost 20 years later. I have literally lost count of how many plans I’ve facilitated and written since graduating (e.g. strategic plans, tactical plans, succession plans, resource development plans, board development plans, marketing plans, business plans, etc).

anniversary2A few weeks ago, I started getting email and snail-mail announcing the 100th anniversary of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) at the University of Illinois.

Wow! 100 years . . . how could that be possible?

After some head scratching, I vaguely recalled the University of Illinois was only the second school in the country to offer urban planning curriculum back in the early days when planning was just getting off the ground as a profession.

Normally, I am not influenced by most non-profit organizations’ anniversary efforts to get money out of me as a donor. However, I am amazed at how many times I’ve found myself thinking about writing a small check to my Alma Mater in honor of the department and the people who gave me so much.

After the second or third time of almost making a contribution, I started wondering what DURP and UIUC are doing differently from so many of the other non-profit organizations in my life. So, I went back to the communications materials and mail solicitations and looked for clues. Here is what I found:

  • Their fundraising effort isn’t front and center. They don’t beat you over the head with their hand out. It is subtle.
  • Their focus is on sharing nostalgia and memories, and they want this to be a two-way experience.
  • They’re using this as a donor engagement activity by asking alumni to help them in a variety of ways.

anniversary3For example . . .

  • I’ve been asked if I have any interest in becoming a mentor to a student.
  • They’re conducting a remembrance activity and asking alumni to submit stories about their time on campus with the department.
  • They’re looking for old pictures for their archive.
  • Of course, there are two days worth of celebrations and activities on campus in early November where you can walk down memory lane and reconnect with faculty and friends.
  • Oh yeah, just as a side note, they’re announcing the start of a new scholarship fund for planning students.  😉

Over the years, I’ve read tons of fundraising articles, papers and books. In addition to considering myself a “planner” by education and trade, I also proudly consider myself a “non-profit and fundraising professional“. While my recall isn’t working well this morning, I have some vague recollection of someone once saying that “good fundraising” is 95 percent about listening and engaging versus 5 percent solicitation.

Will I write a small check? Will I attend the anniversary festivities? Will I take the time to submit a remembrance story?

I dunno. Maybe.

What I do know is that your non-profit organization can learn a lot from my Alma Mater with regards to using an anniversary celebration to deepen the level of engagement with your donors and raise a few bucks along the way.

The following links are additional resources I dug up for your review on this subject:

Is your agency planning a big anniversary celebration? If so, please share your plans. Have you ever been a part of another institution’s milestone celebration? What did you like? What didn’t you like? How did they weave resource development opportunities into the mix? Please share your thoughts using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

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