Fundraising is broken. Fix it.

Good morning, DonorDreams blog subscribers. I thought I’d give you another day off from my random non-profit and fundraising thoughts by offering you an awesome article about DONOR COMMUNICATION, STEWARDSHIP AND RETENTION from a guest blogger.  This guest post is from Nathan Hand, who is a fundraising professional in Central Indiana.  Check out his blog posts at Enjoy!

relationshipsfordummiesIt happened again. And I’ve had it up to here (*as he raises his hand 2 inches above his head*).

This post may get me in trouble but this is important.

I was visiting with a community business leader yesterday. He told me that he and his wife had supported an organization several times over the years,but he hadn’t heard from them in 14 months. The communication he received yesterday was a solicitation for a significant gift. Done via email. Out of the blue.

If that doesn’t surprise and horify you, it should, but surely this will. He politely declined. In his words, he and his wife had understandably ‘moved on’. In return, he immediately received a ranting email from the fundraiser calling him out for his lack of support.

Ho.Lee.Cow. Stop it already!

What happened? Where did this go wrong? It’s an epidemic racing across the country and affecting every cause. It’s destroying the field of fundraising and the nonprofit sector. And I don’t blame the fundraiser (entirely). For those unaware, data released recently from Compasspoint should have fundraisers and nonprofit CEOs more-than concerned. (Download and read the full report)

Simone Joyeaux summarized politely:

“In summary, here’s the scoop: Development officers quit. Bosses fire development officers. Boards don’t play. Organizations don’t get it. This vicious cycle threatens financing of the sector. And, this has been going on for years and we aren’t really fixing it.”


I think it’s a lack of patience and focusing on true philanthropy. Organizations are spread too thin (few staff, barely funded), causing the organization to put undue pressure on their fundraisers who then pressure donors and send clear signals of desperation (cue the story above) and have completely unrealistic expectations on top of it. It destroys any hope of a positive relationship and future with those donors. No wonder half of all donors don’t renew!?! We’re waisting an incredible amount of time and money recruiting/aquiring folks only to treat them horribly and then we have the nerve to wonder why they don’t stick around!?!?

Phew. Enough ranting. What’s the solution?

CEOs – Realize that donors want and expect to hear from you. Fundraising should be YOUR priority, not something you hire someone to take care of. Be intimately involved in the process, in the hiring and for goodness sake, pay a competitive salary to attract and retain talent in a relationship-based position. Understand that the development director’s job is to pull levers and orchestrate you, the board and other major advocates in engaging your network to build support for the organization. Until they’ve been a part of the team for several years, they won’t have the relational credibility to be successful.  Like sales, financial advisors and other relationship-based business, the first few years are establishing repor and won’t bear fruit for some time.

Development pros – You’re more to blame than CEOs. Yes, I said it. This is YOUR profession. It doesn’t mean you should do it alone but OWN this issue. Fix it for yourself, then your organization, then help others do the same. Do your homework before taking a position. Then do it again. A strong relationship is imperative with the CEO. Spend some time with them. If you don’t get more than an hour or two – that should be a clear sign that they don’t understand the magnitude of hiring a development pro.  Meet with the Board Chair. Talk about these issues. Push them on their fundraising philosophy and how they and the board have been involved thus far and how willing they’ll be in the future. Make sure they understand there’s no money-printing press in the back.  And look in the mirror!  It’s easy to point fingers but make sure you have the patience to do this work, understand how to navigate the involvement of others and balance the slow, relationship-based part with being strategically assertive and making asks when appropriate.

It’s not a big deal. It’s just the future of the entire sector we’re talking about…

What do you think? Do you struggle with this? Is there a different problem we should be zooming in on?

5 Way to Validate Giving Decisions and Drive Retention

donor retentionGood morning, DonorDreams blog subscribers. I thought I’d give you a day off from my random non-profit and fundraising thoughts by offering you an awesome article about DONOR RETENTION from a guest blogger.  This guest post is from Matthew Mielcarek, the VP of Consulting at Charity Dynamics, who is a contributor for the online consultancy, Software Advice.  Enjoy!

With a third of annual donations collected in December, many by first-time donors to an organization, finding a way to keep as many of those as possible going into a new year is a retention strategy proving quite valuable over time. A 2011 donorCentrics Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report shows that 70 percent of first-time donors won’t donate again. Here are five steps Mielcarek suggests to foster lasting relationships with as many of them as possible.

1) Mielcarek says, “First time donors are qualified leads.” Therefore, consider first donations an acquisition gift. He goes on to suggest implementing a new donor conversion plan with the end-goal being to establish an ongoing relationship

2) Secondly, he says to be mindful of what a new donor may be communicating with you. He suggests the following metrics to gain insight to constituent behaviors: gift amount, billing city/state, solicitation campaign, and giving channel. He says that analyzing these key points is valuable. “Online acquired donors, for instance, generally have poor online retention; we know that a multichannel communication strategy will be important. In contrast, offline acquired donors are far less likely to cross the multichannel bridge and a single channel communication strategy may be appropriate.

3) Mielcarek also emphasizes the importance of showing gratefulness to donors. One NTEN and Charity Dynamics study shows that 21 percent of donors say there were not thanked for giving. He says that follow-up thank yous are also of immense value. Tell them how your year ended in terms of its goals. Show them they’re donation made an impact to their overall mission.

4) He adds, “Engage relevantly.” Beyond thank-yous, communicate with your donors and supporters on an ongoing basis. Personalize messages based on constituent interests, affinities, and locations. Keeping websites up-to-date and engaging is a key element to achieving lasting constituent interest too.

5) Lastly is the actual conversion to the next stage of giving, Mielcarek says. This stage involves suggesting an affinity-driven gift — whether that be a “renewal gift, or an upgrade or graduation to a monthly or mid-level giving program.”

To read more about Mielcarek’s suggestions, read the original story here.

The Chicago Cubs Convention through non-profit eyes: Part One

cubs6This last weekend I attended the Chicago Cubs Convention with my family.  As we drifted from session to session, I couldn’t help but see all sorts of blog themes and things that non-profit organizations could learn from this major league franchise. I will use the next few days to share a few of these observations and hopefully stimulate a few new ideas for you and your agency. Today, I want to drill down on the idea of stewardship.

In one of the sessions that I attended, there sat Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein and the brain trust for the entire Chicago Cubs organization. There was a lot of talk about improving the stadium, improving the product of the field, and a lot of blah-blah-blah. I’ve attended a number of these conventions, and I always marvel at how I am paying them to market to me. I also can’t believe that the script never seems to change very much.

However, something struck me as very interesting this year. It was Theo’s second convention since being hired, and I heard him say this:

“The Cubs have a covenant with the fans.”

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard him say this. I heard it at last year’s convention. I’ve heard it and read it in various media interviews. And this time it sparked the following questions and thoughts:

  • I wonder what he means by that?
  • He is emphasizing this point . . . this must be part of a larger narrative?!?!
  • This sounds and feels remarkably similar to non-profit stewardship efforts. Huh?

theoSo, I went back to the basics and looked up the word “covenant” and defines it as follows:

“cov·e·nant  (kuv’e-nent)  noun. 1. A binding agreement; a compact.”

Of course, every time I hear this word it takes me back to my childhood and confirmation classes. There are obvious Biblical connotations.

I believe that when Theo talks about this covenant with Cubs fans, he is referring to:

  • Transparency,
  • Accountability,
  • Reporting,
  • Recognition, and
  • essentially demonstrating that the team is doing what they say they’re doing.

Isn’t this exactly what non-profit organizations mean when they talk about stewardship?  I believe so.

If you agree, then this raises another  interesting question: “With whom does your agency have a covenant?

I believe that non-profit professionals and board volunteers form a covenant with many different stakeholders such as: donors, clients, collaborative partners, staff, funding partners and institutions (e.g. United Way and other foundations), and the at-large community. While there are common threads that run through each of those covenants, there are also some unique promises being made by your organization.

Have you ever thought through this part of your social contract? If not, then I suggest this might be an interesting “generative discussion” at an upcoming board meeting.

After a little more thinking, I started identifying ways the Chicago Cubs try to hold up their end of this covenant. For example:

  • The annual convention is in part an accountability exercise where ownership, management and players open themselves up to answering questions (e.g. ticket pricing, player acquisition, organizational development philosophy, etc).
  • The Cubs talked a lot about investing time and resources last year in fan surveys and focus groups.
  • The Cubs publish a magazine called “Vine Line” in an effort to keep fans informed.

How is this any different that what some non-profit organizations do with newsletters, annual meetings, and donor communications.

As I always say . . . “We can all learn from each other.” And I do mean ALL because the Chicago Cubs Convention proves to me that there is more commonality between for-profits and non-profits than we care to admit.

What is your non-profit agency doing to fulfill its covenant? With whom do you think you have a covenant? What tactics are you using? Where do you find your inspiration and new ideas? Who do you see doing a good job with this?

Here’s to your health!

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

Avoid 19th Century donor cultivation tactics

womens suffrageHere is a tip for all of you fundraising professionals and volunteers out there: ” Women are powerful donors in their own right, and we settled most Women’s suffrage issues almost a century ago.” Those of us who cannot understand this simple yet powerful idea are “cruisin’ for a bruisin’” as a friend of mine used to say.

You’re probably wondering where this is coming from . . . so let me provide a little context. In the last few weeks, I’ve heard people twice say something that made me wonder if we were living in 1913 or 2013. Here are the two examples:

  • Some very nice woman was receiving an award and there was a group discussion about whether or not to tell her or surprise her from the podium. The decision was to talk to her husband and ask him to make the decision.
  • One group wants to get closer to a donor because he is one of those “very influential philanthropists” in town. You know the type. So, the decision was to start cultivating his daughter’s husband.

The first example is innocent enough and didn’t raise any red flags, but when put together with the second example it just got me thinking about the concept of “Women in Philanthropy”.

Did you know that Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis’ Center on Philanthropy has an internal division named the “Women’s Philanthropy Institute“?  Here is a blurb from their website:

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) studies how and why gender matters in philanthropy. Men’s and women’s motivations for giving and patterns of giving differ.  What works for men in philanthropy may not work for women.  As women’s economic power and educational achievements continue to increase in the 21st century, women are leveraging that power to influence philanthropic decision-making and to transform the philanthropic landscape in many ways.”

When I read something like this, it makes me immediately think:

  1. Wow! Men and women make philanthropic decisions differently. I wonder how I should incorporate that from a strategic and tactical perspective into a written resource development plan? 
  2. If women are as influential as they appear to be in philanthropy, then why are we still doing these weird cultivation dances with their fathers and their husbands?

Am I off base? Maybe a little, but I know that I am close to hitting on something big.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a board volunteer who is a strong woman. She and I are working on a fundraising project together, and she talked about a conversation that she and her husband had about a particular charity. To make a long story short, here are the highlights:

  • She is concerned about the organization’s financial health.
  • He knows his wife too well and knows that she will give this organization more money to help them out.
  • He strongly stated his wishes not to let their philanthropy get out of hand because he wants to retire in a few years.

I look at this conversation and now see things very clearly. She is the person who makes charitable giving decisions in that family. He is pleading his case to “The Decider”. I wonder how many charities don’t see that and try to engage him first?

Still not convinced that your agency needs to do a better job planning for and engaging women in your resource development efforts? Then please consider what Betsy Brill wrote in Forbes magazine on August 18, 2009:

“Women now control more than half of the private wealth in the U.S. and make 80% of all purchases. According to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, women will inherit 70% of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years. In addition to controlling wealth and consumer activity, women tend to donate more of their wealth than men do. A Barclay’s Wealth study titled Tomorrow’s Philanthropist, released in July 2009, showed that women in the U.S. give an average of 3.5% of their wealth to charity, while men give an average of 1.8%.”

What is your non-profit agency doing to make this adjustment? Will the next generation of philanthropists in America be dominated by women? Please use the comment box below to share what your agency is doing about this resource development trend?

Here’s to your health!

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

Be intentionally personal with your non-profit donors

handwritten letterWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Just a Note; Just a Phone Call!” John talks about the power of a simple handwritten note or well-timed phone call.

After reading John’s post, I couldn’t stop obsessing about how many emails and texts I now get and how few phone calls and handwritten notes there now seem to be. For example, I went on a road trip on Wednesday of this week, which meant being in a car for six hours and away from my email inbox.  I spent tons of time talking to clients on the phone, but when I arrived at my destination and looked at my email inbox . . . OMG!

Maybe it is just that I am getting older, but the world seems to be moving at an insane pace. I’m also not smart enough to know if our communications tools (e.g. text, email, etc) are fueling this speed or if it is just a necessity or symptom of this acceleration. However, I am smart enough to know that people who donate to non-profit organizations are special people who deserve a little more attention than a form letter generated from your donor database, a simple text or quick email.

In my experience, being intentional and personal gets you and your organization noticed.

I believe Penelope Burk, author of Donor Centered Fundraising and CEO of Cynus Applied Research, says it better than could:

“A handwritten letter is the ultimate in personal recognition because it proves that someone in your organization spent at least a few moments thinking specifically about that donor.”

As many of you know, Penelope does a ton of survey research and looks specifically at donor and organizational behaviors.  According to the research in her book, the following reasons were cited by agencies as to when they compose a handwritten letter to a donor:

  • the donor is well-known to the writer;
  • the gift is of exceptional value;
  • the donor is a leadership volunteer;
  • the donor has been giving for a long time; or
  • the donor is prominent in the community.

A very dear friend of mine, who is the former executive director of one of my favorite local charities, used to employ handwritten note techniques with me all the time.  Here is what I saw her doing:

  • I would receive a handwritten note on my donor database, computer generated gift acknowledgement letter;
  • On my birthday, I would receive a card with a handwritten note wishing me well and thanking me for my longtime support;
  • When a donor’s name shows up in the newspaper or someplace public, she would clip it or copy it, attach a nice handwritten note of congratulations and send it to them.

Phone calls are also super effective, but I believe you need to be very careful with who you put on the phone.

phone callFor example, one local charity likes to conduct “thank-a-thon” events during the Thanksgiving season. I cannot tell you how upset I get as one of their donor when I pick-up the phone and there is a client at the other end telling me how much they appreciate my donation.

What? Huh? You’re probably wondering “Where did THAT just come from?” or “What is wrong with THAT?”

For me, it goes back to Penelope Burk’s research and the number one reason why non-profit agencies get more personal in their acknowledgement and thanks:

“. . . the donor is well-known to the writer . . .”

  • Do I know the client making that thank-a-thon phone call?   No.
  • Did I get solicited by the client?   Nope.
  • Do I want to make the client feel uncomfortable?   Definitely not.
  • Does a client, who is “obviously reading from a script,” come across to me as “personal” and “heartfelt”?    Absolutely not!

Am I opposed to thanks-a-thons as a donor stewardship tactic?  No . . . but speaking personally as a donor I can honestly say that an informal, unscripted, personal phone call from the person who had originally asked me for money would’ve been something special and memorable.

What is your organization’s policy, procedure or practice around handwritten notes or phone calls to donors? What has been your personal experience as a donor? Any thoughts on what appears to be a trend around using more and more forms of impersonal communication (e.g. text and email) and what can be done to guard against its overuse? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences.

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

And now the rest of the story . . .

forest through the treesWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Crushed!” John conveys a really funny story about an older lady and her balding fat dentist who was a fellow classmate with her back in the day. John uses this story to make one really awesome point which is “There are always, without fail, two perspectives — ours, and the rest of the world’s.

After reading John’s post three different times, a number of thoughts flooded into my mind:

  • I heard Paul Harvey’s voice echoing in my head saying: “. . . and now, the rest of the story.”
  • I conjured up the old expression: “You can’t see the forest through the trees.”
  • I thought back on a number of one-on-one interviews I did with donors throughout 2012 for a variety of clients.

When conducting those donor interviews, there were a number of times I caught myself thinking: “I wonder if the non-profit organization knows that this donor holds that particular opinion of them?

As I’ve said throughout 2012, there are a number of ways for you to step back and gain a better perspective of how donors perceive your non-profit organization and the work they are funding (or may not be funding for very much longer):

  • Surveys (either online surveys or paper surveys)
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • A casual stewardship visit over a cup of coffee or lunch

Circling back to the funny story that John shared in his post, I will end my very last blog post of the year with these questions: 1) Do donors think your agency is big, fat, balding, wrinkled and ugly? 2) Do you really know if they are thinking that? 3) What are you doing (or plan to do in 2013) to hear “the rest of the story”?

Happy New Year. The next DonorDreams blog post will be January 2nd.

Thanks for your readership and your dedication to your non-profit organization’s clients.

Here’s to your health!

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

Cause related marketing 101: Educate, educate, educate!

CRM1It is that time of the year when retailers are pulling out every stop in their little bag of tricks to get your attention and hopefully your holiday dollars. One of those shiny objects that some retailers use is called cause related marketing (CRM). Wikipedia does a nice job of explaining this phenomenon: “Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a ‘for-profit’ business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.”

Joanne Fritz at recently wrote a blog post titled “Hasbro and Macy’s Invite Letters to Santa in Holiday Cause Marketing Campaigns“. She ended her post with this simple question: “Do you have a favorite holiday cause-marketing campaign? Let me know.”

As I sat here contemplating what my favorite CRM initiative has been throughout the years, I remembered that just last week my partner — John — returned from a business trip with a present for me from the Nashville airport. It was a new part of “Mens Lounge Pants” (or as I affectionately refer to them as: “Erik’s Comfortable Fat Pants”)

John purchased those pants for me because the tag said “Your purchase helps kids in need” and he knows that I love charities and for-profit business that help “those kids who need us most”. So, in his mind, this was a win-win because I needed a new pair of lounge pants and his retail purchase would also “help kids in need”.

When John went to check-out, he made an honest mistake and asked the cashier: “So, how does my purchase help kids in need? Which charities does your company support?”  Unfortunately, the cashier’s response was less than inspiring. She shrugged and pointed to a point of purchase coin box sitting on the counter top.

Needless to say, John’s enthusiasm for the brand evaporated and when he gave me the present my “blogger curiosity” went through the roof.

As I sat here contemplating Joanne Fritz’s question, I decided to do a little more research on my lounge pants.

After a good hour of clicking around, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. This cause related marketing campaign is a little unusual because it benefits the company’s own corporate foundation and not an independently owned and operated charity. I liken this to McDonald’s supporting Ronald McDonald House. 
  2.  I’m still not very sure what the foundation actually does . . . training? programming? advocacy? conferences?
  3. This campaign is very glossy and slick. It is one heck of a “shiny object” that appeals to consumers.

However, Joanne Fritz hits the nail on the head in her blog post when she says that great cause related marketing campaigns focus more on the “cause” than they do the “marketing” (which does not mean that the marketing isn’t top-notch).

The big take away lesson for me from “Life is Good” is that effective CRM campaigns  must focus on education:

  • Employees must be able to talk intelligently about the cause, and
  • Consumers must be able to understand what their retail dollars are supporting.

I’ll end today’s blog post the same way Joanne ended her’s by asking you: “Do you have a favorite holiday cause-marketing campaign? Let me know.” Please click over to Joanne’s site and share your thoughts or scroll down and do so in the comment box below. If you want to learn more about CRM, I suggest clicking over to

Here’s to your health!

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

Your donors are impressionable. Are you impressing them?

indelible2Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a recent post, John shared an experience he had 20 year ago with a housekeeping employee who helped him out as he prepared to facilitate a big meeting. This customer service oriented employee left a lasting impression on John so much so that he can’t shake the memory.

Of all the things we forget as humans, why do some things stick with us for a lifetime?

For this fundraising professional, I look at John’s blog post and my mind starts spinning on the following questions:

  • How can I leave a last impression on donors?
  • What techniques, strategies and best practices should use to increase the odds that I am leaving that indelible mark on a donor?

As a newly minted executive director way back in 2001, I made the decision to change the format of my agency’s annual dinner special event fundraiser. As part of the event format, we had our Youth of the Year recipient speak for a few minutes about how the agency impacted her life.

Her name was LaShaunda. As I recall, she was a junior in high school at the time, and she was a reluctant public speaker. Prior to the event, we polished and practiced her speech.

As she stepped to the podium, I paced the back of the room. I was nervous for LaShaunda and I was rooting her on because this was her big moment. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just her moment . . . it was also one of those “lasting and impressionable” moments for the agency and a group of very important donors.

LaShaunda spoke eloquently about her parent’s divorce, running with the wrong crowd, street violence, teen pregnancy and racism. Most importantly, she talked frankly about how the agency helped her through a tough time in her life.

indelible1In that five-minute period of time as I paced the back of the banquet hall, there was a moment where I stopped listening and worrying about LaShaunda and I focused on what was happening in the room:

  • You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was locked-in on what this 16-year-old was saying.
  • I saw the former police chief, who helped found the agency, fighting back tears.
  • I saw a bank president and one of our biggest donors at the time, wiping tears from his cheek.
  • At the end of the dinner, the city manager made a bee-line across the room (she literally looked like a salmon fighting upstream as the room emptied) so that she could ask LaShaunda to take a picture with her.

I wish I could say that I was the evil genius who engineered that evening to unfold the way it did. I’d be over-stating things if I took that much credit.

I still periodically come across donors in my community who talk remember that special evening and talk about how moving LaShaunda’s five-minute speech was.

Truth be told . . . I learned a huge fundraising lesson that evening and it echoes what John is talking about in his OD blog:

  • Donors are people and they are impressionable.
  • Good fundraising professional should always be focused on how to leave that lasting impression.
  • This isn’t about manipulation. It is about showing people “how” we’re using their contribution, and “what” the return on investment actually is in human terms.
  • Facts and figures (e.g. program outcomes data and community impact statistics) are important, but people want to hear about those things as part of a story. Individuals give for emotional reasons. So, you need to connect with them on that emotional level if you want to leave a lasting impression.

What are you doing to make a lasting impression with your donors? The following are two interesting resources I found online that speak to the issue of “making an impression”:

Do you have a story to share with your fellow DonorDreams blog readers about a time you made a lasting impression (aka a transformative moment) with a donor? In sharing that story in the comment box below, would you also share what you think you did right to make it an impressionable moment?

Here’s to your health!

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

Does your non-profit really give thanks at Thanksgiving?

Let me start off on a positive note by saying Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful to those of you who subscribe to this blog as well as those who participate in the discussions using the comment box. The last few years have been lean years for the non-profit sector, and I know many of you are thankful for donors, board members, staff, clients, and volunteers. We should all give thanks today as we sit down to enjoy a nice plate of turkey.

Over the last few days, I have been bombarded with stewardship emails, eBlasts, snail-mail, social media posts, text messages, and thank-a-thon calls from various charities and non-profit friends.

If you go back and look at my blog archive, you can see that I am a HUGE fan of these kind of activities. However, I can’t seem to get this one simple thought out of my head this year:

Are we just going through the motions?

Are we conveying heartfelt thanks this way?

I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. As more and more non-profits engage in these types of stewardship activities, I wonder if they lose their impact and luster? I used to love getting a thank-a-thon call from a charity I support. Now those thank-a-thon messages line up one after another on my voicemail like planes at O’Hare airport.

If board members, staff and donors are part of our “extended non-profit family,” then maybe the test for our stewardship activities should be this simple question: “Is this how I would engage a member of my family?”

For example, would you send you Mom & Dad a Thanksgiving card and be done with it? Maybe some of you would, but I’m guessing many wouldn’t.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for the Boys Scout district for whom I served as their scouting professional. That seemed to feel right to me because it is what I planned on doing with my biological family.

I understand that non-profit organizations cannot host a number of different dinners to give thanks with all of their stakeholder groups. I guess that I am suggesting we need to all be vigilant and mindful that giving thanks should never become a rote activity.

My Thanksgiving recommendations for your consideration are:

  1. Keep doing what you’re doing
  2. Evaluate & critique your efforts afterward
  3. Engage a small group of donors in a post-Thanksgiving Day discussion about what should change with next year’s efforts
  4. Pick-up the phone and call each of your board members and personally say thank you to them one-on-one (no voicemail and no group speech in the board room)
  5. Start thinking about who you might invite to your non-profit family Thanksgiving dinner next year. Host it the week before Thanksgiving 2013. See how it goes and how it feels. You may just like it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Remember that this day can be more than just being thankful. It can be about showing people you’re thankful.

Here’s to your health!

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

Echoing Penelope from the trenches. Do your volunteers “get it”?

As all of you know, I am a Penelope Burk fan from my head down to my toes. Her book Donor Centered Fundraising is a resource development manifesto for me. I’ve dedicated a number of blog posts to various donor-centered topics ranging from cultivation and stewardship strategies to newsletters and gift acknowledgement letters.  I just love blogging about these topics. So, it is especially thrilling for me when a volunteer picks up on these themes and joins the ranks of people spreading the donor centered fundraising message and Penelope’s work.

Last week, an old Boy Scout friend and volunteer who subscribes to this blog sent me an email. Jim is still a volunteer at Northwest Suburban Council in Mount Prospect, Illinois and he is very involved in the parent-teacher organization at his child’s school. Needless to say, he has been involved in countless fundraising activities throughout the years.

Jim’s email was simply him forwarding me an eBlast from Guidestar that was titled “More Money For More Good” and promoted one of Guidestar’s free guidebook resources that they call “More Money for More Good: Your Nonprofit Guidebook to Fundraising with Impact“.

I always love it when friends, family and blog subscribers send me stuff because I am always on the lookout for topic ideas. So, I read the Guidestar eBlast and it echoed all of the good teaching of Penelope Burk on the subject of donor centered fundraising (e.g. impact, donor communication, etc).  I even clicked on the cute, informational YouTube video about “How Nonprofits Can Improve Fundraising, Increase Effectiveness, and Better Engage with Donors“.


Guidestar is great. They are smart. Their stuff is always quality, and I hope you click-through and access some of their resources because it will surely help your agency with its year-end fundraising efforts.

However, it was the words from my friend, Jim, that resonated most with me because it was straight from a volunteer’s mouth and his point of view (which I think is much more powerful than what any professional organization can communicate).

Here is what Jim said in his first email that included that Guidestar eBlast:

“We know what we’re doing because we do it (almost) every day, but our donors don’t necessarily live and breathe our mission/passion. They’re more apt to help if we remind them what we’re doing & how they could help.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Jim!

In his second email responding to my request to use his name and story as part of this blog, he elaborated more on his original point:

“The reminder about having donors understand my organization’s impact is what jumped out at me. I have people who are so involved and they are my organization’s best cheerleaders, but they do not realize that the people they are soliciting do not really know what we do. Making people understand what we do and why we exist is the key to making them care.”

Again, I think Jim hits the nail on the head with this last statement and it should give every fundraising professional a tingling sensation when they hear one of their fundraising volunteers or board members vocalize such powerful points of view.

Perhaps, at this point, you’re wondering how close Jim might have nailed the concept? Well, here is something Penelope Burk said on page 87 of her book about her donor research and this topic:

“23% of study donors always or most of the time receive measurable results of their gifts at work; 29% receive this information sometimes; 55% never or rarely get this information. A number of other questions in the study confirmed that measurable results influence donors’ future support more than anything else.”

How much would you pay to be in the trenches with a fundraising volunteer who ‘gets it’ like Jim? The better question is “what are you doing to help your volunteers achieve these ‘ah-ha’ moments? Once one volunteer has this epiphany, how do you position that same volunteer to become an advocate and help their fellow volunteers have similar revelations?

I think there is an important lesson for all fundraising and non-profit professionals to be learned from Jim’s story. Please scroll down and share a few quick thoughts and answers to the questions above in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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