Hitting the reset button

Today marked a new day in my life. Friday was my last day at Boys & Girls Clubs of America and today was my first day as the owner of “The Healthy Non-Profit LLC”.  My new small consulting practice will focus on non-profit management and resource development with a mission of helping non-profit organizations get healthy because “those we serve deserve sustainability”.

I decided to strike out on this adventurous path because the last five years “on the road” helping local Boys & Girls Club affiliates build organizational capacity has been very “unhealthy” for me personally.  So much so, that I now have 50 pounds to lose while trying to build my consulting practice. As I struggled with naming my company, I came to realize that my new life goals aligned very well with my life’s work of helping  non-profit organizations find a healthy place to live.

So, today I “hit the reset button” in life.

While on one of my two healthy neighborhood walks today, I started thinking about lapsed donors and how non-profit organizations might be able to “hit the reset button” on those expiring donor relationships. Once back in the house, I dug up an old email from an “Ask the Expert” email I once received pertaining to an organization I was working with on re-engaging lapsed donors.  Here was the advice that provided:

Regarding lapsed donors and “purging” your database, we have seen studies that show a 5-10% reactivation rate of donors 1-5 years lapsed.  That said, we think that any donors 5 or less years lapsed, especially those who have several years of prior giving history, would be worthwhile prospects for solicitation. 

You might consider sending an individualized mailing specifically targeting lapsed donors and emphasize why funds are needed now more than ever.  To make a determination on how to reach out to your lapsed donors, we recommend taking a look at the source of the name (how was it acquired).  For example, if the past gift was the result of an acquisition mailing, and the donor hasn’t given since, you may want to treat this person as a new donor and send them an acquisition mail piece.  If however, a lapsed donor’s name originally came from a board member, made several gifts, but has not given in a couple of years, you may want to make a face to face visit or place a phone call.  If calling, you may say something along the lines of “we have not heard from you in a while, would like the opportunity to tell you what we have been doing, when would be a good time to talk?”

I thought the advice to be a solid “hit the reset button” strategy, which is why I decided to share it with you today. However, I am curious if anyone has used other strategies and if so how effective they were.

Please share your thoughts and expert advice because we all need to hit the reset button from time-to-time and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Right?

Here is to your health ~ Erik

Donor perspective on targeted mail appeal

As originally promised when I first started this blog, I wanted to engage others in resource development discussions; however, I really wanted to be “donor-centered” about it.


So, yesterday I posted a question that a good friend of mine asked me about targeted mail and my opinion about including a copy of the written case statement in the mail package. Since emailing some advice to this friend, I decided it would probably be wise to ask real donors about their targeted mail and direct mail experiences and motivations.


Here is one donor’s perspective on what appealed to them when they have responded to mail appeals:


Yes, I have given to a non-profit charity through a targeted or direct mail solicitation.  It started when I was 9-years-old to an organization named “World Vision”.  I was excited to be able to make a $9.00 donation per month and get a photo to show me a kid that I was helping. I even had a kid write back to me to say thank you. In this case, I’m sure I read the letter and maybe that is what prompted me to give, but I was young and do not recall what it said.


I have also given to Easter Seals, American Heart & Lung Association as well as a few other organizations because they sent me mailing labels. Now, the only reason I gave to these entities was because I wanted to use the mailing labels and felt guilty using them if I didn’t give. I did not have any direct connection to them nor do I recall receiving a thank you letter or note from them. I know these entities are doing good things, but I was just not connected to the mission so I have no desire to give again.  Also, in these cases, I didn’t even read the letter enclosed.


Finally, I have given to several Boys & Girls Clubs across the Pacific Region….most simply because they asked. Yes, I read the letters and many are very good, some just okay, and others unfortunately were very lame…but I still give because I am familiar with and believe in the mission.


I find it interesting that this donor didn’t do a lot of reading of stuff in the envelope before deciding to contribute.


What about you? Have you ever personally contributed to a charity, political candidate or cause just based on a mailing? Please share your story and what got you hooked?

Keeping the case statement internal

I received an email from a very dear friend last week. She is a development professional and asked this question:

“Would you ever put a case statement inside your appeal letter?”

She qualified her question with the following information:

“I’m just wondering because I think I put together a pretty good case statement and our board loves it. They never had one, and they’re wanting to put it in the letters they send to their donors.”

In my response, I told her that I would NOT put the written case statement document for their annual campaign inside of the targeted mail envelope and I provided her with the following reasons:

  • From a philosophical stand, the case statement is an “internal document” and not an external one. We use it to develop solicitation materials, letter copy, and talking points for a face-to-face visit. Sending it out in a letter sends a bad message to board volunteers … that message is “it is OK to just hand donors this document”.
  • Reader surveys tell us that people don’t read any more. So, why send them “more to read” in the envelope? In fact, the case statement is typically all text and is not easy reading.
  • Typically, many case statements can be very dry with lots of facts, figures and program descriptions. Direct mail experts tell us that letter copy needs to be “emotional” and “engaging” and “story-oriented”. These are not adjectives I think of when I think of a case statement.
  • If you want to supplement the letter by including more material, I suggest taking key information from the case statement and massage it into a tri-fold – easy to read brochure with pictures and bullets – and include that in the envelope with the letter

I’ve taken the last few days to reflect upon this advice, and I still think it right on target.  However, I know there are many different schools of thought on the subject of case statements.

So, I’ve started asking donors for their input. I will share some of this donor input over the course of this week. However, I’m curious what advice you would’ve given my friend. Please weigh-in with your best “world class coaching” for my friend.

Campaign in the ditch

So, I just got off the phone with an organization whose annual campaign isn’t going very well. While on that conference call, I found my mind wandering back to a meeting held last December.

At that meeting, the Executive Director and I were trying to convince the chair of their board solicitation phase to meet individually with board prospects and treat them like every other donor should be treated. As you might guess, we lost that argument and he opted for a big group solicitation with a handwritten follow-up.

Long story short … this organization is still chasing down approximately half of its board members begging them to contribute and not surprisingly their community phase is bogged down. Shockingly, the volunteers are still resistant to going back to their fellow board members with a more personalize face-to-face solicitation.

As I assess their situation, I find myself thinking the problem is rooted in any one of the following issues:

  1. They have the wrong volunteers with the wrong skill sets and experiences on the bus
  2. They have some of the right people on the bus but they might be in the wrong seats
  3. They have done a poor job with cultivating new donor prospects and stewarding existing donors and volunteer solicitors know that and don’t feel right about making the ask 
  4. They are afraid of engaging donors (even those sitting around their board table) because they don’t possess the right relationships and the prospect assignment process went wrong somewhere, and/or 
  5. There is a staff leadership problem and they are relying too heavily on volunteers to do everything and not providing the right amount of support.

I firmly believe that board members are donors. In fact, in many cases they are are most important donors, which is why I get so confounded when we treat them differently that other donors. In the case of this organization, they claim that they don’t have enough time to meet with fellow board members one-on-one. I wonder how that makes the average board member feel? I suspect some feel like an ATM and not like an investor, which then creates a feedback loop and gives them permission to solicit non-board donors the same way.

Hmmmm … I wonder what you think. Are there other possible reasons that might explain this behavior? Please weigh-in with your thoughts on this situation.

Starbucks advice to non-profit organizations

I was sitting in an annual campaign committee meeting a few weeks ago facilitating a discussion about the importance of donor stewardship. I shared some data that demonstrates 1) the typical non-profit organization (esp those entrenched in direct mail) turns over approximately 25% of its donor base every year and 2) the average donor stops giving after their fifth contribution. (Thank you to Penelope Burk of Cygnus Applied Research!)

So, imagine how dumbstruck I was when there was resistance to doing personal stewardship (e.g. calling donors, sitting down with donors, etc). Everyone was all aboard with newsletters, letters and emails, but no one wanted to talk to or interact directly with donors. It was almost as if doing so was a frightful thought.

Then the answer came to me. Sitting in front of me was my Starbucks cup of coffee. Printed on the outside of the cup sleeve was this simple piece of wisdom: “Stories are Gifts. SHARE”.

My holiday gift to the resource development and fundraising universe is this. Take a tip from our friends at Starbucks. Go talk to your donors … you are just sharing a “story” which is your gift to them this holiday season.

Donors and taxes and deficits, oh my

There has been lots of discussion in the last few news cycles about deficit reduction proposals primarily because the bipartisan task force has issued their draft document. So, I’ve been doing a little reading on the subject and discovered that the tax deduction for charitable contributions is one of the things on the “chopping block”.

I started off very opposed to the idea of eliminating the charitable tax deduction. However, I slowly moved from this position because deficit and debt elimination will require sacrifices from everyone in America and not just a few of us. So, I started reading more and keeping an open mind. Needless to say, I’m not quite sure where I am at, but I do know: 1) that donors don’t give because of a tax deduction and 2) wealthier donors benefit more than middle class and working class donors from this tax break. For the average donor, the tax deduction is a nice benefit but definitely not the driving motivation.

Check out this article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy (http://tiny.cc/4arpy) and weigh-in with your thoughts. I know I am interested in hearing what others have to say.


I’ve been helping facilitate many annual campaign kickoff meetings in the last few months. As I make my rounds throughout Indiana, I’ve had the honor of meeting many volunteers who come to these kickoff meetings in hopes of making this thing they call “fundraising” a little less painful by sitting through some of my trainings.

One of the mini-trainings I’ve been facilitating this year involves getting better acquainted with their organization’s “case for support” and blending their personal stories with the case statement. So, I’ve been witness to lots of donor stories in the last few months.

Last week I attended  a kickoff meeting in Central Indiana where I witnessed the “power of alumni” at work. As I helped these campaign volunteers through a storytelling exercise, one of them pulled out their iPhone and started showing people around him pictures of when he was a kid at the Boys & Girls Club. He specifically focused on pictures from the Club’s basketball team and the year they “won it all!”

It was in that moment I realized how important it is for some people to feel like they are “giving back” to a charity that helped them gain so much. I suspect this is why so many university alumni foundations are so successful.

The look on that volunteer’s face was worth a thousand words. I suspect if he weaves his personal stories into his solicitation meetings while “making the case for support” for the annual campaign that prospective donors won’t be able to help making a contribution.


I had the privilege of speaking to the widow of a prominent philanthropist today. Her husband passed away less than 6 months ago. He was the founding board member of the non-profit organization of which I wanted to speak with her about.

Heading into the call, I was a little nervous. I guess I assumed that talking about something so important to her and her husband might be a painful discussion; however I couldn’t have been more wrong. Listening to her talk about the non-profit organization was like listening to a mother or father talk about their child. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was her husband’s legacy, and while he is no longer with us the charity lives on in our hearts and minds as testament to his vision and greatness.

I guess I walk away from this conversation reminded that some donors try to leave this world a little better than how they came into it. Legacy is a powerful idea!

Hello world!

My name is Erik Anderson and I am an internal fundraising consultant for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This is really nothing more than a fancy way of saying I work with local affiliates by helping them improve their resource development / fundraising / organizational development practices.
Over the last few years, I’ve obsessed about what does it truly mean to be a “donor centered” resource development profession. While I’ve been able to educate myself through reading books and websites and other blogs, I often find that I learn more about being donor centered simply through my interactions with donors. For this reason, I’ve decided to start this blog that I’ve titled “Donor Dreams.”  It is my hope that by sharing stories (anonymously of course) that I’ve heard from donors (with their permission of course) , I can help inspire others to change their paradigm and become more “donor centered.”
I also hope to share random thoughts inspired from my readings and stories from readers of this blog.
To get us started, here is a link to a great story from Gift Hub about the general idea of being donor centered: http://www.gifthub.org/2010/01/donor-centered-philanthropy-state-of-the-game.html. Enjoy the reading!
So, I am at the beginning and find myself very excited because every exciting journey starts with this same first step.