Blog Archives

“Hangin’ with Henry” and talking about group solicitation strategies

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 fundraising shortcuts like the group solicitation.  

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 6 minutes, I was transported back in time to my earliest fundraising solicitations as a District Executive working for Boy Scouts of America’s Northwest Suburban Council. While part of their Friends of Scouting annual campaign pledge drive model was based on in-person, one-on-one, face-to-face solicitation, the bigger part of it was group solicitations in front of gatherings of parents at Cub Scout Pack Nights and Boy Scout Court of Honor events.

I honestly don’t miss dragging the old slide projector and screen all of the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. LOL

As I listened to Henry, everything rang true. I learned the hard way that highly capable donors lowered their philanthropic sights when solicited in a group setting.

I also remember learning that the smallest dollar amount mentioned during my presentation usually resulted in scads of pledge cards with that number on it. It was with this lesson that I re-trained myself to do the following during my group asks:

  • Stop saying: “Even a gift of $25 makes a difference.”
  • Start saying: “People who pledge $150 tonight will walk out with a complimentary Norman Rockwell coffee mug.”
  • Bring a box of donated chotskies (e.g. yo-yo’s, baseball cards, etc) and tell parents their kids were welcome to a free gift if they allowed them to bring their pledge cards to the front of the room.

Ahhhhh, those were fun days when fundraising was new to me and every day brought a new lesson.  :-)

(Note: Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m not very proud of some of the group solicitation tactics I employed even though I became one lean, mean group solicitation machine compared to my fellow co-workers. Needless to say, I was nothing more than a transactional fundraiser who couldn’t say “donor-centered” if I tried.)

Henry did indicate there can be an appropriate time and place for your organization to employ a group solicitation strategy. For example, some non-profit organizations are very successful with Terry Axelrod’s annual campaign model that you might know as Benevon.

If your organization uses a group solicitation fundraising strategy, please scroll down to the comment box and answer one of the following questions:

  • under what circumstances do you use a group solicitation?
  • what are a few “lessons learned” that you feel comfortable sharing?
  • how do you ensure that larger donors aren’t lost in the shuffle and contribute less?
  • how do you create a sense of urgency for donors to ink their pledge cards on the spot?
  • what post-solicitation follow-up strategies do you use with pledge cards that walked out the door?
  • what pre-solicitation cultivation strategies and post-solicitation stewardship strategies work best for you?

Please take a minute to share your thoughts and experiences.

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

Check out this awesome donor upgrade strategy

On January 8th, I wrote a post titled “Fundraising New Year’s Resolution — Upgrade Strategy,” which contained a few tips about how your non-profit organization can achieve this important strategy. After writing that post, I wished that I had a sample to share with you . . . and then a few weeks ago I received an email from Dane Grams at Human Right Campaign (HRC).


Did you notice the following:

  • The case for support was simply captured without saying a word? A picture is worth a 1,000 words!
  • Philanthropy is an emotional activity and the case evoked lots of emotion.
  • He didn’t bombard me with lots of stats. He didn’t try to tell me how often this type of thing happens in America. He simply pulled an emotional trigger and got out of the way.
  • He asked for a specific dollar amount increase.
  • He made it easy to say YES . . . just click the link.
  • He thanked me for my ongoing support and participation in their monthly giving program.

Tom Ahern, one of our country’s smartest donor communications experts, says all the time that good appeals contain at least one of the following emotional triggers:

  • anger
  • exclusivity
  • fear
  • flattery
  • greed
  • guilt
  • salvation

How many of those triggers can you see in the letter above?

If you want to learn how to get better at donor communications, I suggest checking out Tom Ahern’s books, videos and resources. If you want to learn more about monthly giving programs, Pamela Grow has a really nice four week distance learning online course. If you want to get better at creating upgrade opportunities, keep your eyes open because some of your peers in the non-profit sector have gotten really good at it. As I say in many of my blog posts . . . we can learn from each other!

I’m sure you’re wondering if I clicked that upgrade button. You’re damn straight I did! I didn’t even think twice about doing it, which is how I know it was a very effective appeal.

Have you seen a really good upgrade strategy (e.g. mail, email, etc)? Please feel free to email it to me, and I’ll be happy to share it with the rest of the DonorDreams blog community. I will, of course, scrub it of your personal into and protect your identity.

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Fundraising New Years Resolution — Upgrade Strategy

new years resolutionsIn my last blog post I talked about a USA Today article from John Waggoner titled “Resolutions you can keep,“ which I came across during my New Year’s Eve Napa Valley vacation. I mentioned that there were three important fundraising concepts in the final two column inches of this article that non-profit organizations should take to heart as they start a new year. Tuesday’s blog was about sustainable giving strategies. Today’s post focuses on sacrificial giving and upgrade strategies.

So, the second notable thing that Waggoner said in the final two inches of his newspaper article was:

How much you give is, of course, up to you. C.S. Lewis noted that if your charitable donations don’t pinch or hamper you in some way, they are probably too little.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my first significant charitable contribution was a $1,000 annual campaign pledge to the Boy Scout council that employed me back in the 1990s. I used that story to springboard off into sustainable giving. The funny thing is that the same Boy Scout story pertains to the second Waggoner quote that I’m using today.

So, there I was in my Scout Executive’s office and he was debriefing me after my first ever solicitation of a donor. It didn’t go especially well, and he pointed out that I hadn’t yet turned in my personal pledge card prior to going on my solicitation appointment with another fundraising volunteer.

He helped me see the importance of “making your gift first before asking others to make their gift.” Of course, he seized the opportunity and solicited me on the spot.

First, he asked me if I had decided how much I planned on pledging. I explained that I had never made a pledge to any non-profit organization and was thinking about making a $100 contribution.

give til it hurtsThen, he launched into a story about the importance of what he called “sacrificial giving” and “giving until you can feel a little pinch in your wallet.” The following are just a few of the reasons I recall from that conversation why it is important to give until it hurts:

  • You will feel good about supporting a mission that you love
  • You will be demonstrating your passion to volunteers and donors
  • You won’t feel like you’re asking someone to do something that you aren’t doing yourself
  • The fear associated with asking people for money will melt away

While I was skeptical at first, I took the plunge with a $1,000 pledge. In hindsight, my Scout Executive couldn’t have been more right, especially about “eliminating the fear” associated with asking people for money.

With all that being said, I believe Waggoner’s second to last paragraph in the USA Today article begs the following question:

Does your organization have an “upgrade strategy”?

Fundraising analytics demonstrate that an individual’s first contribution is almost never his/her largest one. In fact, a donor’s first contribution is usually a token gift and very often a test. Uh-huh, you heard me right. The research data that I’ve seen indicates that:

  • Donors want to see what their contribution will do
  • They are interested in seeing how you engage them
  • While they likely already believe in your mission, they want to really believe and want you to show them why they should
  • Many donors are looking for signs that your organization is well-run and financially stable and responsible
  • Some supporters (and I count myself as one of these types of donors) actually look forward to hearing success stories about your clients

So, if you’ve done a good job with stewarding your donors in 2014, then you need to have a strategy to ask your donors to consider making a larger contribution in 2015.

upgradeYour strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the following is a simple upgrade strategy that one of my former employers put together:

  1. Identify donors who are ready to be asked to increase their giving
  2. Develop your case for support
  3. Identify volunteers with relationships to targeted donor
  4. Ask those volunteers to upgrade their personal contribution
  5. Solicit (making sure to involve someone they know well and who has also recently increased their giving)
  6. Steward (focusing on what the increased giving resulted in)

When developing your case, make sure to answer this simple question: “What will an X% increase in giving help your organization do and how will that in turn meet the donor’s needs?

Of course, answering this question means that you need to know your donor and their needs, which likely means you’ve been talking with them about their philanthropic dreams/desires.

If you don’t like simple, then you might want to look into developing a donor recognition society that caters to the needs of donors who increase their giving. This donor society should contain considerations like:

  • Special mention in your annual report
  • Special communications
  • Special recognition

The operative word, of course, is “special,” but the trick is to make the recognition feel appropriate and not over-the-top. Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen some organization’s use to make their recognition societies feel special:

  • Quarterly get together (usually mission-focused)
  • Routine communication specifically for members of the recognition society
  • Small gift typically designating membership in the society (e.g. coffee mug, lapel pin, etc)

You shouldn’t go out and hire a skywriter to thank these donors, but you do need to go above-and-beyond if you decide to go down this path.

Does your organization have an upgrade strategy in place for 2015? If so, please scroll down and share it in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

If you want to read more about upgrade strategies, I found a really nice blog post from Joe Garecht at The Fundraising Authority titled “How to Upgrade Your Donors“.

Here’s to your health!

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

Happy #GivingTuesday everyone!

givingtuesday2Sorry about not posting something this morning, but I got to my hotel late last night (around midnight) and I was up five hours later for a 6:00 prospect identification/evaluation meeting. My request of Santa this year is more time added to the day and a few more weeks added on to the year.   :-)

However, when I got out of my early morning meetings and checked my overflowing email inbox, I was reminded that today is #GivingTuesday. I couldn’t have forgotten it even if I wanted because I had a ton of non-profit emails reminding me. I’m not kidding when I tell you that between my emails, LinkedIn messages, and Twitter  and Facebook feeds, I must have received 25 personalized solicitations.

Being sleep deprived and generally a softy when it comes to charitable giving, I decided to make my first ever #GivingTuesday donation. So, I weeded through all of the online solicitations and chose the one that I liked most and aligned with what I support.

Drum roll please?  :-)

Congratulations to United Way of Elgin!

Here is the text/copy of what they sent me in a Constant Contact solicitation:

Today is #GivingTuesday–Let’s ALL Make a Difference Today!

#GivingTuesday is an international movement to honor the spirit of giving during the holiday season. After the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday reminds us that we are part of something bigger, and that everyone plays a part in making our world a better place.

Join United Way of Elgin in celebrating this day dedicated to giving back. You can participate instantly with a $30 gift to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, which provides one free book each month to children under five in our community. Over 4,200 children received books through the DPIL in 2014–help us reach even more kids in 2015!

No matter how you choose to be a part of #GivingTuesday, remember that when you reach out a hand to one, you influence the condition of all. THANK YOU!!

I must admit that my charitable gift felt like an “impulse buy” like one I might have made on Black Friday because I obviously wasn’t planning on making this gift.

Hmmmmmm? Black Friday? #GivingTuesday?

I suspect a light just went off above my head.

dolly partonSuccessful #GivingTuesday solicitations probably utilize some of the same strategies that for-profits use to create the conditions for an impulse buy. Now it all makes sense. (I might not be quick, but I usually get there.)  :-)

So, here is what I really like about the United Way of Elgin’s #GivingTuesday solicitation:

  • It was big and colorful, which captured my attention
  • There was a picture that told most of the story
  • They asked for a specific dollar amount, which allowed me to not think about it very long.
  • It was project focused and very specific
  • The case for support was understandable in a few simple sentences
  • There were multiple links to the DonateNow page (so if I wasn’t ready to click after seeing the first link there were other opportunities late in the letter)
  • The letter was short, sweet and to the point . . . easy to read in a matter of seconds

Haven’t made your #GivingTuesday gift yet? There is still time left! Can’t figure out who to support? Why not click-through and check out United Way of Elgin’s Dolly Parton Imagination Library?  It will warm your heart to invest in early childhood education and literacy. It did mine!

Did your organization participate in #GivingTuesday? If so, what worked for you? What didn’t work? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Your agency’s fundraising program is like an iceberg

antique documentOne of the many projects I’m currently working on involves cataloging a resource development toolbox for a client. The things I’m finding in that toolbox are amazing and include: samples,templates, whitepapers, training curricula, calculators, and even an online wizard to help with resource development planning. (Cool stuff!)

However, there is one document I consider an absolute treasure for the ages. It was a speech delivered by Mrs. Leonard (Be) Haas in 1963 to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. The speech was titled “The 10 Basic Commandments of Successful Fundraising“.

(Note: In an effort to provide context and give credit where it is due . . . Haas was a fundraising consultant who helped launch Grizzard & Haas in Atlanta, GA which became a powerhouse fundraising firm in the Southeast United States. From what I can tell, the firm spun off into two powerful and influential firms today — Grizzard Communications and Alexander Haas, both of which are still located in Atlanta.)

After reading Mrs. Haas’ speech, I picked my jaw up off the ground and marveled at how on target she was about our profession more than 50 years ago.

While I would love to re-publish the entire speech, I’m not going to do it because:

  1. It is long
  2. While I’m fairly sure it is a public domain document (a 51 year old speech that wasn’t likely copyrighted), I want to be respectful.

However, there is one section of the speech that I can’t resist sharing. It is Haas’ fifth fundraising commandment that she titled “Consider the Iceberg”.  I encourage you to read the following passage and use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

“The actual mechanics of a fund-raising campaign all reduce themselves to very simple terms.  The job is to get the right man to make the right appeal to the right prospect for the right amount at the right time.  Guess you could call this our exclusive “Bill of Rights.” 

This objective may sound simple, but it requires as much behind the scenes planning and hard work as the part of the iceberg below the sea relates to what you see above the surface.  Getting the right people committed to work, compiling a list and evaluating the prospects so that you have the right prospects, putting those two together so that you have the right man making every important solicitation-armed with a pre evaluated request for a specific amount, this vital planning and preparation takes a lot of – time, hard work and know-how. 

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., once said, “When you have gone to all the trouble to sell a prospect on the worthiness of your project, he also has the right to expect you to answer his next question-how much should I give?”

Our experience shows that making specific, individualized requests are imperative for success.  By this we do not mean asking the prospect for X dollars.  Rather, you would say “We are seeking 19 gifts in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, and we hope you can make one of these,” or “We must have a grant of $100,000 to kick this campaign off and assure success.”

Organizing the soliciting teams, scheduling the campaign, pre-selling the prospects, backing up the solicitor with a competent office staff, these are all part of the iceberg beneath the surface of fund-raising. This thorough approach spells the difference between success and failure.”

Have some time on your hands? Click here to read the speech in its entirety.

Does your agency have a fundraising toolbox? If so, what is in it? Is there something in it that you believe everyone needs in their toolbox? What is it? Would you like to share it? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. Please also share your reaction to the snippet from Haas’ 1963 fundraising speech.

Here’s to your health!

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

Why people do and don’t donate to your non-profit agency

why1There has been lots written throughout the years about the psychology of philanthropy. Most of the stuff I’ve read has been right on target with regards to why people open their wallets/purses and give money to a non-profit organization. I’ve been asked to revise a whitepaper titled “Why People Do and Don’t Give Money” for a national organization’s online fundraising toolbox to which their local affiliates have access. So, I thought I’d ask you and the rest of the DonorDreams blog community for a little help this morning. Would you please be so kind and give me one minute (or less) of your time at the end of this post?

The fundraising whitepaper starts off with this simple opening paragraph that frames the rest of the document:

Knowing what motivates donors to make a philanthropic gift helps you determine where your prospect falls in this spectrum. Once you understand where they are coming from, you can plan your solicitation strategy accordingly.”

The following are just a few of the 17 bullet points listed, explaining the motivations of some donors:

  • They have a need to be philanthropic, to do good
  • They like your organization’s mission and believe in your cause
  • They like making a difference
  • They like and have respect for the solicitor
  • They are asked to give!

Then there is a list of another 11 bullet points listing reasons people don’t make donations. Here are three of the reasons provided:

  • They are pressured in any way
  • They are promised any kind of favor in return or there are strings attached to their gift
  • They do not have the money at the moment

Here is where I’m asking you to please take a minute out of your busy day and help me with this small project. Please scroll down and answer the following two questions in the comment box below:

  1. Please share one reason you suspect people donate to your agency. (e.g. something that motivates the donor to contribute)
  2. Please share one reason you suspect donors won’t give to your agency. (e.g. a strategy you don’t use because you know it doesn’t work)

I will take your responses and weave it into a beautiful resource development tool for countless other fundraising professionals to use.

Why should you do this?

Simply stated, this is your opportunity to pay something forward today. Many of us have been the recipients of awesome coaching and mentoring from other professionals along our career paths. I believe those “debts of gratitude” should be repaid joyfully every time the opportunity presents itself.  :-)

Here’s to your health!

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

Get over your fear and ask for a specific contribution amount

ask1On Tuesday, I wrote a post titled “Things to consider before sending your next direct mail solicitation” and there appeared to be great interest from DonorDreams readers. So, today I decided to drill down on one specific mail solicitation topic — “asking for a specific donation amount” — because it is something few people seem to feel comfortable doing.

Everyone I’ve ever talked to about their mail appeal swears that they are good at asking for a contribution in their letter. However, the truth is that many of the letters I receive default to what I call the “passive ask.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • But we can’t do any of this without you. We need you to make a contribution today.”
  • All gifts are appreciated and needed to continue this important mission. Small or large, your gift makes a difference.”
  • Say YES to making a donation today to XYZ agency and being a special part of the XYZ family.”

These were real solicitations that I received from organizations.

Many of you are probably asking:  “What is so wrong with this approach?

The truth of the matter is that this donor (and I suspect many other donors) want to know:

  • what is a reasonable gift for donors like me?
  • what contribution amount from me will help you hit your goal?
  • what level of donation will help you make a difference with your clients?

Put me in a ballpark. Make a suggestion. Bottom line? I don’t really want to think too hard about this. Throw out a suggestion (based upon what you know about me). I’ll consider it. If it is something I can and want to do, then I’ll do it. If it isn’t something I can or want to do, then I won’t.

In my opinion, there is a darker side to this entire question . . .

Stop putting your donors on the spot and making them guess what you need.

This is, in fact, exactly what you’re doing. Right? Let’s think about this situation in a different light.

ask2What if your spouse or friend approached you and said, “I am really hungry and I need you get me food and make a meal before I starve.” However, they didn’t tell you:

  • How hungry they are?
  • How much time they had left before they starved?
  • How much food would satisfy their need?
  • What they want to eat?
  • How they like their food prepared?

You’ve been put on the spot, but you have no idea what is expected of you or what needs to occur to solve the problem.

In my book, that is frustrating! And the last time I checked, it is never a good idea to do things that frustrate your donors and supporters.

So, you’re probably wondering what’s the right way to respectfully make an ask in a mail appeal?

Here’s a few real examples:

  • Smile Train: “We hope you can send a donation of $25 that can cover the cost of sutures for one cleft surgery . . . $50 that can cover the cost of anesthesia . . . $125 that can pay half the costs of one surgery . . . or a most generous donation of $250 that can cover the cost of one complete surgery to save a child forever.
  • Council of Indian Nations: “Mr. Anderson, do you realize that for $10, we have the ability to provide over 90 servings of food to hungry Native Americans?
  • Michelle Obama: “So please, without waiting even a moment, rush your contribution of $1,000, $1,500 or whatever you can afford to Obama for America today.
  • The Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation: “But Founding Sponsors who contribute $150 or more will also receive a limited-edition, numbers photograph of Dr. King and his ‘American Dream’ speech.
  • Boys & Girls Club of Elgin: “Would you consider making a $25.00 donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin to help underwrite educational and technology programs?

ask3A few observations:

  • Technology is amazing and easy to use. Mail merge allows you to personalize every letter and change the solicitation amount for each donor and prospect.
  • If you don’t know the person receiving your solicitation letter, you can always ask for consideration in a range.
  • You can also lay out a variety of giving options with an explanation of what each option helps underwrite.

With all of this being said, I understand the following:

  1. this isn’t easy
  2. there are times when you shouldn’t ask for a specific contribution amount
  3. some people insist there is a science to these issues

If you want to explore this question in more depth (and I encourage you to do so), you might want to investigate the following resources:

How does your agency tackle the issue of setting suggested ask amounts in your targeted and direct mail solicitations? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Don’t text and drive, but please use it to fundraise!

Text messaging for solicitation (or stewardship) of donors

By Rose Reinert
Guest blogger

rose1For those of you who are new to the DonorDreams blog, I’m going chapter by chapter through Lon Safko’s book, The Social Media Bible and applying his thoughts to the non-profit sector in a blog on Monday mornings. Of course, it is Tuesday morning (because Erik just returned from his five month engagement in Texas & New Mexico and he got confused).

Last week, we explored marketing yourself through SEM — Search Engine Marketing — and this week we will explore maximizing your message through using mobile.

Do you remember back in January 2010 when The American Red Cross received an overwhelming response with text message donations after the Haiti earthquake?  Well, “overwhelming” equaled $41m! The Red Cross received 4.1 million messages valued at ten dollars each, 95% of which were from first-time donors.

Text Message Donations

Simply put, you advertise the fundraising phone number to potential donors. The donors send a text message, and 60 to 90 days later you receive the donation. Seems simple right?

There are some common frustrations that surround that simple equation, which are important to explore. Many non-profits have and are running similar campaigns as The Red Cross, but there are some large hurdles including the cost of processing.

Mobile Site Donations

As we have discussed through our journey in this blog, ensuring that your website is mobile friendly is critical. It also can provide the opportunity to raise funds. A downfall of text message donations is that there is a limit of $10. This, of course, can leave money on the table for your non-profit.

You can utilize similar methods as text message donations, but direct people to your website’s Donate Now button.

Text Message Cultivation

Beyond the usage of text messaging for the end result of raising money, you can utilize it to build your relationship with your donors to position them for larger solicitations in mind.

Send your donor a few quick messages every month (or even once a month) focused on how their contribution is making a difference. Using text messaging in this manner can keep your donors excited and engaged with your mission.

In a year-end campaign for the Humane Society, donors who periodically received stewardship messages via text contributed online with an increased response rate of 77%.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get texting!

I am very interested to hear your experiences (both good and bad) with utilizing text messaging for donations or engagement for your agency. Additionally . . . have you used text messaging to donate to an organization? Please share what you liked and disliked in the comment box below.
rose draft sig


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

What have you done to increase individual giving?

Events, Grants and Individual Giving

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofitevolution blog

eventI was having breakfast this week with a friend and fellow consultant and we were discussing resource development efforts, including events and grants. By now I’m sure you are well aware, I’m not a huge fan of organizations hosting multiple events. Events are expensive, labor intensive and don’t usually generate a lot of income.

I can hear you out there saying “No Dani, they’re fun!” And they are, at least some of them are.

One signature event a year is a wonderful way to engage new donors, connect with current donors and showcase your programs while raising significant money. Even signature events that don’t raise significant money may still be a good use of your resources. However, more than one signature event is too much.

More than one event (two, if you must) may be a sign that your leadership, board or executive, is reluctant to raise money in other ways.

Leadership that doesn’t want to embark on an annual appeal or a major donor campaign will often advocate more grants be written or additional events be introduced. Not only will more events not raise more money, more events will cannibalize your signature event and may yield less income for more work. Any process that doesn’t get you to your goal is a bad process.

The Executive Director is the Chief Development Officer” of any non profit that seeks contributed income. (Erik Anderson Donor Dreams blog) Whether they want to or not; whether they’re good at it or not; whether they have a development director whose job it is or not, the Exec is still responsible for fund raising and one of the responsibilities of a governing board is to raise money. Neither is a role that can be abdicated.

Events are often 5% to 15% of an agency’s budget and generally net 50% of what they cost, sometimes less. Most attendees would be appalled to know that, but it’s true. It’s too high! I recommend events net 75% of what they cost. There are other, better, avenues to raise money.

grantsGrants, which are often 30% to 50% of an agency’s budget, more if they receive United Way funding, are one way. Yet, they too come with a cost. Most agencies get somewhere between 50% to 80% of the grants they submit. That means that the time spent on writing the 20% to 50% of the grants that don’t get funded is time lost. For the grants that are secured, there are reports to be written, dollars to be tracked, objectives to reach and programming to introduce. All of which is as it should be, and none of which is without cost.

As I mentioned in the Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising post, according to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) individual giving offers the highest rate on return for the lowest cost (5% to 10%) to the organization. It is also the largest post of money given in this country and usually only reflective of the percentage special event income in most agencies’ budgets. In other words, 80% of the philanthropic dollars in this country are given by individuals yet 10% to 15% of most agencies budgets are received from individuals. Like the post says, “opportunity is knocking. Get the door!”

Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any individual giving program and the program should be introduced in just that order: Board giving should come first with the Board setting and then meeting a giving goal. Staff should then be asked and then major donors. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated — and later, stewarded — and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.

Once those asks are made, as mentioned in the Sustainability by Descending Order of Love post:

“If you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization.  While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally.  If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go.  It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls.”

There are a lot of ways to raise money and some will generate more money in less time than others. Nonprofit leaders are busy. Get the best bang for your buck and get on the individual giving path. It will be scary, and also worth it!

What have you done to increase individual giving?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.

A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig


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