Saying ‘NO’ to donors and minimizing how often it is done

Welcome 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.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled: “I Disagree. Now What?“. In that post, he describes “the sound of righteous indignation hitting managerial prerogative,” and the lessons learned about when it is right to disobey and when it is not.

John’s post could send me off in a number of different HR directions this morning, but I am in a resource development mood and want to talk about donors — those investors in your mission.

When I read  “I Disagree. Now What?” it got me thinking about all of those times I’ve seen donors throw their dollars around. They want you to develop and launch a new program. They only want their contribution to support certain programs or certain activities.

Thinking back upon those situations reminds me a lot of the boss character in John’s post. This got me wondering: “Is there ever a situation when a non-profit organization can say ‘NO’ to a donor and use their contribution in a manner that is inconsistent with the donor’s wishes?”

To be honest, I can’t think of any situations where you can take someone’s money and disregard their expressed intent. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say ‘NO’ . . . you just need to do it by declining to accept the contribution.

While it is hard to say ‘NO’ to money, especially in today’s philanthropic environment, non-profit organizations need to know when it must happen. If you’re having a hard time thinking of when this might be appropriate, the following are a few examples of when I might do so:

  • When Bernie Madoff calls and wants to write me a big check.
  • When a company whose brand is inconsistent with your non-profit image wants to contribute (e.g. Hooters, local bar, strip clubs, the tobacco industry, etc)
  • When a donor’s wishes are not compatible with your mission.
  • When a donor’s wishes are not compatible with your strategic direction.

In my experience, the first two examples are easily identifiable and actionable for most non-profit organizations. It is the last two examples that are very challenging.

For example, it might make sense for you to accept money to develop a new intergenerational program that brings kids and senior citizens together, but it might not be a strategic priority for your organization. As a matter of fact, it might distract from other more important and pressing strategic initiatives.

Declining a donor’s contribution is really hard and should be done rarely, which is why having the right mindset, approach and tools in your fundraising toolbox is important. John does a really nice job addressing this issue in his post:

  • When John says, “Pick your battles” . . . I read this as: “Don’t over-solicit. Be very thoughtful about when and what you ask your donors to support.”
  • When John says, “Some things I can’t control, but I can influence” . . . I read this as: “Cultivate new prospects and steward existing donors significantly more than you solicit them, and only solicit when it feel right.”
  • When John says, “Craft my argument, with data and facts” . . . I read this as: “Develop an amazing case for support and train fundraising volunteers to use it as the foundation of their solicitation.”
  • When John says, “Make my case in a compelling fashion” . . . I read this as: “Convince donors to support your mission and the agency’s strategic direction. Demonstrate how doing so aligns with their philanthropic wishes and dreams.”
  • When John says, “Take my hits; the pain is temporary” . . . I read this as: “Once in a blue moon, you will have to politely turn down a donation. It will not be the end of the world.”
  • When John says, “Seek to understand even while I strive to be understood” . . . I read this as: “The listening-to-speaking ratio involved in donor interactions needs to significantly favor listening. Doing so will improve the odds of understanding, which in and of itself should minimize the number of times you have to say ‘NO’ to a donor because you are able to align the solicitation with their known interests.”

Non-profit organizations should strive to never be in the position of having to say ‘NO’ to a donor, but they need to be prepared to do so.

Have you ever been in a position of having to say ‘NO’ to a donor? If so, how did you go about doing it without damaging the relationship? What mindsets, approaches and tools are in your fundraising toolbox to ensure that you are rarely in this position? Please use the comment box below to share your answers.

If you are responsible for HR at your organization or are currently at odds with your boss, I encourage you to click over to John’s post titled “I Disagree. Now What?” and read it from that perspective, too.

Here’s to your health!

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

Add a tribute gift strategy to your fundraising plan

Over the last few days, Team Obama has come under some mocking scrutiny from media outlets. While Mitt Romney has been cultivating and stewarding fundraising “bundlers,” the President’s team launch a new online wedding registration for couples who want to encourage tribute gifts to their campaign. Of course, the harsh critique springs from the comparison of fundraising strategies. The Romney strategy will literally net hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Obama strategy might bring in thousands of dollars.

Most non-profit organizations don’t have hundreds of fundraising “bundlers” at their disposal, but many of the fundraising professionals who I know are always looking around for good ideas to add to their fundraising plan. In spite of the harsh critique, I think the Obama campaign’s focus on tribute gifts might be something many non-profit organizations can replicate.

In my opinion, this fundraising strategy works for the following reasons:

  1. People like to be honored by their friends and family. It makes them feel good.
  2. Most Americans own too much “stuff” and don’t have space for more “stuff”.
  3. People like to know that they were involved in doing something that benefits the greater good.

Unlike the Obama campaign’s strategy of focusing on weddings, tribute gifts can come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. In fact, the following are just a few ideas that some non-profit organizations are asking their supporters to donate towards in someone’s honor:

  • birthday
  • anniversary
  • new baby
  • thank you
  • holidays

I am sure that your organization can get really creative, especially if you enlist the help of your resource development committee or a focus group of donors to help with the brainstorming.

The following are just a few good examples of non-profit organizations who have already added this fundraising tool to their toolbox:

It is important to remember that tribute gifts are not quite the same as regular contributions to your annual campaign. In addition to sending acknowledgement letters to those who make the contributions, you need to send a nice letter to the person who is being honored. It is also customary to tell the honoree the names and addresses of those who made a contribution in their name so that they can also follow-up with a personal note of appreciation.

I also suggest that you consult your donor database manual before embarking on a tribute gift strategy. Every software program that I’ve seen deals with this type of contribution a little differently, and it is important that you appease your technology platform.    🙂

If you’re still skeptical that anyone would ever do such a thing, please take my word that some people get really excited by this kind of opportunity. When my partner and I celebrated our civil union, we rented out a local restaurant and invited 100 of our closest friends and family and begged them not to bring gifts. Instead, we asked everyone to please make a tribute gift to Equality Illinois in honor of our commitment to each other. I must admit that I was a little skeptical, but in the end we ended up raising more than $5,000 for our charity of choice.

Does your organization have a tribute gift strategy? If so, how do you let donors know that this is an opportunity? Is it a stand alone strategy or is it woven throughout your annual campaign? Please share your ideas in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

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

Fundraising questions to ask donors and anticipate from them

Last week we started a series of blog posts focused on the art of asking questions, and this theme has carried over into this week. So far, we’ve looked at questions that executive directors should be asking themselves and their boards. We’ve also looked at questions board members should be ask of themselves and their fellow board volunteers. Yesterday, we looked at various questions you need to ask prospective board members before asking them to join your board. Today, we’re ending this series of posts by looking at 1) powerful questions that donors should be asking the non-profit agencies they support and 2) questions non-profits should be asking their supporters.

Questions that donors have of you

Over the last 15 years, I have been part of countless solicitation teams and answered more questions than I care to recall at this time of the morning. While those questions tend to be all over the place thanks in part to “unique circumstances,” there are commonly asked questions that many donors seem to ask after they’ve been asked to consider making a charitable contribution.

  • What will my contribution help accomplish?
  • Specifically, how will my contribution make a difference in your clients’ lives?
  • How financial stable is your organization?
  • There are so many worthy causes that keep asking for support. Why should I support you?
  • How much of my contribution directly supports programming and how much will underwrite administrative and fundraising expenses?
  • Tell me more about your fee structure and why are you charging your clients what you’re charging them? How do you know that is the right amount? Why not more?

The list of FAQs is much larger, but these are just questions that I recall answering over and over again. If you want a more comprehensive list of questions, you may want to read Harvey McKinnon’s book “The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks: And the Answers All Donors Crave“.

Why is it important to know what burning questions to expect? I think there are two HUGE reasons:

  1. If you do a better job “anticipating” these questions and build those answers into your case for support and solicitation presentation, I predict that your annual campaign numbers will start climbing.
  2. There is a long list of fears that get in the way of people volunteering to help your agency with fundraising. One of the top reasons is their fear of not being able to answer questions. Addressing FAQs as part of your annual campaign training program will improve volunteer confidence, reduce the amount of avoidance behavior during the campaign, and result in better solicitations (and hopeful result in better fundraising numbers).

Questions that you should have of donors

As I said earlier, I’ve been on many fundraising solicitation teams, and I’ve seen many things throughout the years. Too often, I’ve seen volunteers rush through the solicitation, get a commitment, and quickly downshift into chit-chat of a personal nature. It is almost as if the volunteer solicitor is non-verbally saying “Phew! Thank goodness that is over.”

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with chit-chat after the solicitation is completed. In fact, there is all sorts of important personal information that could and should be harvested from that conversation, captured on a contact report form, and entered into the donor database. However, most volunteer solicitors don’t receive training on what those conversations should look like.

While it would be easy to use that post-solicitation time to talk about family and personal things, it think the following questions might be more useful in developing a deeper philanthropic relationship with your donors:

  • If you only had one year to live, what would be most important to you to accomplish?
  • What are the issues, injustices, principles or causes in this world that get you riled up?
  • If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
  • What accomplishment or legacy would have ultimate significance to you?
  • In philanthropic terms, if you had unlimited resources, what would you set out to do?

While it is important to know the names of a donor’s spouse and children as well as where they went to school or go to church, I think it is far more important to understand a donor’s passions, dreams, and desires. Knowing and understanding these things puts you in a position of helping them achieve big things. I believe this is one of the biggest differences between transactional fundraising and donor-centered fundraising™.

I believe these types of questions can transform how a donor views you and your organization    . . . FROM fundraising vulture TO philanthropic dream-maker.

Please take a minute this morning to share a commonly asked question that you hear donors asking your volunteer solicitors in the comment box below. Or share with this online community one or two questions that you like to ask donors that helps you better understand their philanthropic hopes and dreams. We can all learn from each other and it is just 60 seconds out of your day. Please?

Here’s to your health!

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

Jazz up your non-profit agency’s annual report using online video

Every once in a blue moon I will scroll down to the very bottom of someone’s email. It has become fairly standard practice for people to tuck all sorts of things into the signature block of their email. A few days ago I received an email from Jonathan Trapp who is a Vice President at Assurance Agency, which is an insurance brokerage company. At the bottom of his email was a YouTube link to a company video they developed last year to celebrate their 50th anniversary of being in business.

I’m dropping a copy of this online video into this morning’s blog post because after watching it I had one of those “Oh-Wow” epiphany moments:

Click here ===> Assurance Agency 50th anniversary video

So, did you see it, too? Did you have the same epiphany ?

I don’t know about you, but after watching that video I immediately flashed back to those days as an executive director when I struggled at the end of every year to develop content for my agency’s annual report. It always felt like I was doing the same thing every year. There was always:

  • content about the agency’s Youth of the Year,
  • last year’s financial summary,
  • a list of the agency’s big accomplishments,
  • a letter from the executive director and board president, and
  • of course . . . the long and boring donor honor roll.

Can there be any doubt that the typical non-profit annual report needs to be “jazzed up”???

In reality, the annual report is super important. It is the perfect stewardship piece because it speaks to the return on investment that donors received resulting from the contributions they made to your agency. Additionally, it can be a great cultivation piece because it shows prospective donors what they might expect your agency to do with their future donation.

I think human beings are very visual creatures, which is what intrigues me about using online video to tell the story about where your non-profit organization has been in the last 12 months. If I were in your shoes I don’t think that I’d totally get rid of the paper version, but I would be very tempted to produce a much smaller document that is supplemented by an online video.

You’re probably asking: “How would that work, Erik?” Well, I could see a one-page, double-sided annual report with key content including:

  • financials
  • major accomplishments
  • thank you message to supporters
  • lots of pictures of your happy clients

At the bottom of the abbreviated annual report, I would print the YouTube link with a message encouraging donors to view the annual report video online. If I were in the habit of distributing the agency’s annual report at a special event, I might consider handing out the abbreviated paper report along with a CDROM or USB flash drive with a copy of the video on it.

You could easily post a copy of the annual report video on your website and Facebook page.

You could also do what Jonathan Trapp of Assurance Agency does and include a link to the video in the signature block of every email you send out for the next year.

While doing some research for today’s blog post, I came across a similar post by the good people at Socialbrite. Click here to view their post on this subject and you will see four sample non-profit annual report videos.

If today’s post generally got you excited about jazzing up your agency’s annual report, then visit Kivi Leroux Miller’s website. She is selling an e-book on this subject. She also offers webinars. You’ll also find a link to her free annual report wiki page with a few resources that you might find useful.

Are you happy with your annual report? What do you put in this critical document? Have you tried using online video as part of your annual report process? If so, how did it work out for you? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Donor Loyalty: Inspect what you expect

Tuesday’s post titled “Time in the office versus time with donors” begged more questions than it answered. Today, we’re going to zoom in on one of those questions and examine it more closely.

How do you measure relationship building
and the success of such activities?

It was suggested in earlier posts that a weekly contact report is one tool that can be used to track relationship building activities; however, there are other tools that you should consider using in conjunction with a contact report.

  • Dashboard
  • Scorecard
  • Annual performance plan
  • Weekly or monthly reports
  • Donor database reports
  • Moves Management reports

If you want to learn more about organizational dashboards, click here to check out a BoardSource book titled “The Nonprofit Dashboard: A Tool for Tracking Progress“. If a dashboard isn’t appealing to you, then you might want to look into a balanced scorecard approach. Click here to see what Bernard Marr at the Advanced Performance Institute has to say about this tool.

Of course, choosing the tool is probably the easiest part of this decision. The more difficult thing is determining which relationship building metrics to track. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Number of cultivation meetings with prospects
  • Increased contribution size – maintained – decreased
  • Number of face-to-face stewardship meetings
  • Number of prospects converted into donors
  • Donor loyalty rate
  • Donor satisfaction survey score
  • Renewal rates for year two, year three, year four, and year five donors
  • LYBUNT and SYBUNT renewals

There are no right or wrong answers to the question of what you should track. I believe that it really boils down to the title of this post: “Inspect what you expect”.

I suppose the best advice I can give to you is “don’t try to make decision by yourself”. I encourage you to engage fundraising staff, resource development committee volunteers, board members, fundraising volunteers, and even donors. There is nothing wrong with pulling together a small focus group, ordering a few pizzas, and engaging them with a few thoughtful questions.

If you are looking for a few good samples, the following are a few links that I think are worth looking at:

Using tools and metrics like these should help you answer the difficult question posed in Tuesday’s blog post: “How much time needs to be spent outside of the office compared to behind your desk?”

What tools does your non-profit organization use to track relationship building and resource development activities? What metrics do you hold your fundraising professionals and executive director to? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Here’s to your health!

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

Expounding upon the idea of “Quality Donor Touchpoints”

Yesterday’s post titled “Non-profit donors: “Should I stay or should I go?” built upon a recent post over at “The Agitator” blog about donor retention. One of the things they said was that retaining donors goes way beyond doing a good job of talking about your mission and your organization. They argued that every touchpoint needs to be quality and inspire a sense of satisfaction for donors.

To put this in context, let’s use a for-profit analogy.

When a consumer goes to Walmart to buy towels, their experience is affected by so much more than just the satisfaction of finding the towels they desire at the price they want to pay. While these are indeed two factors, the following things also influenced that experience and play into whether or not they come back to Walmart next week:

  • Was the store orderly and easy to navigate?
  • Was the store well-lit?
  • Was the physical environment too warm, too cold, or just right?
  • When they couldn’t find the towels that they were looking for, did the employee who helped them do so in a friendly and efficient manner?
  • Did the store smell nice?
  • Did the other customers behave and conform to the social norms of shopping?
  • Did the shopping cart wheels stick and make it difficult to use?
  • How much time did customer spend in the check-out line?
  • Was the cashier friendly and helpful?

There are countless other little details that when added together can result in a great experience which results in repeat business and customer loyalty. Or they can also add up to an unsatisfied customer who won’t return, but will likely bad mouth you to their friends and post horrible things about you on Facebook and Twitter.

The same holds true for your donors!

Non-profit donors need to hear more than just good news about your mission and programs. They also need to hear more than how efficient your organization operates.

Your non-profit organization’s goal needs to be “putting a smile on the donor’s face” every time you cultivate them . . . every time you solicit them . . . and every time you steward them.

Now that is a TALL ORDER when you start thinking about it because there are so many factors (just like in the Walmart example I used). Some factors are easy to influence, and others can be very difficult to impact.

The following are just a few ideas to keep in mind as you contemplate how to ratchet up your donor services:

  • Communicate with donors as often as they tell you they want to be communicated with.
  • Communicate only those things the donor has said they want to hear from you.
  • Only send fundraising volunteers and employees with whom the donor has a GREAT relationship (and this goes for cultivation, solicitation or stewardship activities).
  • Send donors( who give frequently and recently) a birthday card.
  • Celebrate anniversaries for “weddings” and “becoming a donor to your agency” (focus these activities on major gifts prospects and donors).
  • Include the donor’s spouse whenever possible and make the cultivation, solicitation or stewardship experience feel like “family experience” (as long as it feels appropriate).
  • Let the donor tell you where they are most comfortable being solicited and then solicit them there.
  • Train volunteer solicitors about the finer points of soliciting a charitable contribution by going beyond the 12-step process of “closing the gift”.

This approach is not intuitive for many non-profit organizations. So, my final suggestion to those of you are very serious about improving donor services is to invite a small group of customer service professionals to participate in a focus group. During the hour that you have them together, educate them about how you communicate and interact with your donors. Ask them how they would go about improving the experience. You might just be surprised at what you learn.

Let’s add to my list of suggestions. Please scroll down and use the comment box to share JUST ONE IDEA on how to improve donor services and increase the quality of donor touchpoints. We can all learn from each other.

By the way, thank you to all of you for helping DonorDreams blog exceed 10,000 page views in less than one year. This milestone is a testament to you and your thirst for engagement. The next big goal is to reach 300 subscribers by December 31st. In celebrating today’s accomplishment and looking forward to the next one, would you please reach out today to one friend, non-profit professional, volunteer or board member and tell them about DonorDreams and encourage them to subscribe? Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you continue enjoying this online community that we’re building together.  🙂

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-Profits Can Mobilize Slacktivists Using Social Media

Hi, my name is Marissa and I am a slacktivist. I admit to thinking I am politically active by sharing my thoughts on issues with my friends through social media without really taking any other political action. It is easier for me to “like”, “retweet”, “+1”, or “share” something than it is for me to write a letter to my Congressperson.

But is slacktivisim a bad thing? And how can you use this passive involvement of others to actually make something happen for your non-profit organization and mission?

This past week, I caught an episode of my favorite news source, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His guest was Ben Rattray, founder of a website called As the interview went on, it became clear to me that Rattray had found a way to take the simple act of a person’s “like” or “retweet” and turn it into powerful political action.

The basics behind are this: a user can create a petition about any issue and will help the user reach out through social media to get people to sign the petition for free. Petitions are simply signed with the click of a button.

If the user decides to pay for their services, they can export the list of people who have signed their petition. also offers organizations access to sponsored campaigns.

“Sponsored campaigns” are promoted to users who would most likely support your cause. The community on is growing everyday, and I can only imagine it growing even more after this week’s exposure on The Daily Show. Tapping into the already growing community of users could help your non-profit organization gain more exposure. It could also be a great way of generating a list of prospective donors who are interested in supporting your mission and issues. also connects users with local and national media outlets. Remember when Bank of America was going to charge $5/month for using a debit card? It was a user who created a petition that 300,000 people signed, which gained national media attention. This, of course, resulted in Bank of America deciding to drop the proposed fee hike.

So, what could do for your organization? You could create  a petition connected to your mission and use to engage individuals who sign your petition. A recent article on Mashable states:

“slacktivists are 2x as likely to volunteer, 2x+ as likely to ask for donations, and 4x as likely to ask others to get involved.”

If you’ve seen KONY 2012 or Bully, you know how quickly a message can spread through the internet. Projects like these have inspired many people to get involved.

Even if you choose to not use a platform such as for your agency, there are still lessons to take away from the foundation they set-up.

Make it easy for people to get involved. If you have a blog on your site, make sure you have social media buttons at the bottom of each post to allow users to share your message with their friends.

Create a community. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Use it for good. If you create a community on a social media site (e.g. Facebook, Twitter or even on your own blog), then make sure you take the time to reply back to those who leave comments as well as recognize those who are sharing your content with their social network.

Support a cause that supports yours. If there is a petition out there that helps your mission, then get involved and sign it. If people see that you care about an issue they also care about, they might take the time to visit your website to learn more.

It was exciting for me to see how makes a difference in our communities with a tool as simple as a petition. And I guess that’s the big takeaway from it all; the easier you make for people to get involved, the more people will be.

Is a network that your organization could benefit from? I’d love to hear why or why not in the comments below! Or are you using other providers or platforms to accomplish the same objectives? Please share.

Wow . . . Non-Profit Donors are Naked!

Yesterday, I wrote about the power of donor database software in a post titled “What can’t your donor database do?”  In that post, I marveled at the availability of powerful tools such as WealthEngine and Blackbaud’s Target Analytics that have the capability of interfacing with your donor database systems. Of course, these service cost money and for a number of non-profit organizations with scarce resources, sophisticated prospect research can feel out-of-reach.

The reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Much of the information that data mining companies provide comes from public sources of data. All your organization has to do is dedicate a little staff time to this project, and you’ll be able to develop fairly complete prospect/donor profiles.

To test this hypothesis, I selected one donor from a local non-profit organization who I don’t know very well and used online resources to find out as much as I could on him. In order to protect the innocent, I will refer to this donor as “John Doe” throughout today’s blog post. In completing my prospecting work, I used a number of free resources that are available to everyone with an internet connection.

Google. It is amazing what you can find out about a person using Google. I typed in my prospect’s name using quotation marks and plus signs. It looked exactly like this:

“John Doe” + Elgin + Illinois

Using the quotation marks and plus signs helps narrow the Google search and improves the search results. With just that simple search, I found the following information on this prospect:

  • Place of employment
  • Address of workplace
  • Phone number of workplace
  • Work email address
  • Job title
  • Number of employees in workplace
  • Company sales volume
  • Last five employers
  • Other non-profit boards upon which they serve or or or These types of sites can help you secure information like home address, phone number, estimated age, and names of relatives. You can also find information on previous home addresses, which gives you more to search on Google. Once I found this prospect’s home address, I went to and found out what those people believe his house value. (If you are feeling brave, you can check on your house’s value. I am feeling a little ill after doing exactly that. Apparently, out house has dropped $92,000 in value since we purchased it six years ago. Ugh!) Publicly traded companies are required by the federal government to disclose a lot of information. I went to this site to learn more about the company for which my prospect works. I also clicked around to see if he is a significant investor or owns large chunks of any publicly traded companies. Unfortunately, he did not. Non-profit charities are also required by the federal government to disclose a lot of information. So, I looked up the 990 forms of the non-profit organizations for which my prospect sits on their boards. I also did a search on my prospect’s name to see if there are any foundations that have been set-up in his name or his family’s name.

Facebook. Even though this prospect and I are not “Facebook friends,” many people don’t understand this social network’s privacy policies. As a result, a number of you have more personal information hanging out there than you care to know about. In this instance, I found out where my prospect graduated from high school. So, now I know where he grew up. I also found out where they went to college and what they studied.

LinkedIn. It is amazing to me what people post on their LinkedIn profiles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my prospect on this social network. However, if I had, then I probably would’ve had access to information such as: employer, past employers, job functions/responsibilities, interests/groups, and possibly even his birthday. If I was “linked” with the prospect, I would’ve likely been able to view their network of friends and business associates.

So, the point I am driving at is that you don’t need lots of money to afford the services of data mining companies because there is already a lot of information out there on your prospects and donors. All you need to do is find time to gather the information and enter it into your donor database.

Ohhhhhh . . . I can already hear many of you saying that your organization is too thinly stretched and don’t have time. OK, I get it. I’ve been there and done that. However, how many prospects and donors do you really need this level of detailed data on? For small and mid-size non-profit organizations, it might only be your Top 10, 25, 50 or 100 donors. If you set aside a few hours each week, you will have detailed donor profiles for your most important donors in a very short period of time.

Ohhhhhh . . . I can also hear many of you saying that this feels like an invasion of privacy. Or maybe stalking? I also know some of you doubt the need for this level of detail.

Let me simply end by saying, fundraising is all about relationships. The more you know about your prospects/donors, the more likely you are to deepen those relationships, connect with them, and raise money for your mission. While this might not be necessary for “transactional fundraising” programs that rely on special events and annual campaigns, it is an absolute necessity once you start moving toward donor-centered fundraising and development of a major gifts program.

Still not convinced? Birthday and age information impacts planned giving strategies. Home value is one data point that can contribute to assessing wealth and philanthropic capacity. Understanding a prospect/donor’s social network, friends, and professional relationships will help you with volunteer solicitor assignment strategies.

Online prospecting work will never replace good old fashion relationship building. It is amazing what people can and will share over a cup of coffee, but doing your homework by using free online tools or paying data mining companies certainly helps and it makes your resource development efforts a little easier.

Does your organization use fee-based data mining companies like WealthEngine to do donor screening or compilation of donor profiles? If so, what has been your experience? Have you used some of the aforementioned free online tools? If so, please share your experiences and thoughts by using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

How to “make” an effective fundraising volunteer?

Yesterday’s blog post titled “Are fundraising volunteers born or are they made?” stirred the pot for many of you and begged the question: “How do you go about making an effective fundraising volunteer?” So, I thought answering that question would make for a great follow-up post this morning.

When I consider this question, two really goofy and childish analogies immediately come to mind. The first thought that popped into my head is that of Dr. Frankenstein stitching up his newest fundraising volunteer and pulling the switch while proclaiming “It’s alive!” Ummmm . . . maybe this would be the wrong tone for this subject.  LOL

Instead, I decided to pay tribute to my Generation X roots and take a page from an iconic 1970s television show: “The Six Million Dollar Man“. After all, don’t we all wish our fundraising volunteers were worth six million dollars or were capable of raising that sum of money for our agency? LOL

So, let me paint the scene. You and your resource development committee developed a prospect list of volunteers and recruited those individuals to help with your annual campaign. As these individuals stride purposefully through the front door of your agency for their first meeting, you hear those iconic words from the Six Million Dollar Man introduction: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic . . . fundraising volunteer.”  Or something like that.   😉

So, now what? What does that approach and support look like?

Formal training is obviously needed, but it must go beyond a simple PowerPoint slide show that illustrates the 12 steps to making an effective face-to-face solicitation. You may want to incorporate some video into this training opportunity. There are many good resources available on the market, and one of those DVD resources is Marc Pitman’s “Ask Without Fear“.

However, don’t stop with a PowerPoint slide show and a few video snippets.

I think people learn by doing, which means getting people to practice what they see. Yes, this means motivating people to do something they dislike, which is role-playing things like: 1) making the ask, 2) answering questions and objections, and 3) using the words they’re provided in the case for support document. To make this easier, don’t ask volunteers to do it in front of the large group . . . break them into pairs or groups of three and facilitate small group role-playing.

Support material
You can help improve the effectiveness of your fundraising volunteers by ensuring they have what they need to do a good job:

  • solicitation materials
  • pledge cards
  • donor profile sheet including contact info, giving history, and a specific ask amount for this particular campaign
  • letter to leave behind with the solicitation materials that reminds the donor of what they were just asked to donate (Note: this letter might act as a crutch and help the volunteer NOT leave the pledge card behind.)

The more organized and prepared a fundraising volunteers feels, the more confident they will be when it comes time to making the appointment and solicitation.

Support in-person
I cannot tell you how many fundraising professionals I’ve seen conduct a great training and provide great materials, and then think their job is done. Professional staff are not like orchestra conductors. I personally believe that they are “roll-up-the-sleeves” kind of people who get into the trenches with their fundraising volunteers and participate in solicitation meetings. It is especially critical to go along on solicitation calls with your newest fundraising volunteers. This is an opportunity to model best practices, provide support and encouragement, and coach.

However, there is a huge challenge that exists with this suggestion. Most volunteer will do everything they can to discourage you from going with them. Why? I suspect that it is because they are afraid. Afraid of what? I think they’re afraid of “doing it wrong” and being told to do it differently.

You can easily overcome this, but it will take perseverance on your part. Don’t take NO for an answer. Additionally, you can reduce their fear by easing into this approach. Perhaps, the first solicitation or two is set-up whereby they are simply sharing their passion for your mission and the information from the case statement with you “making the ask” and “closing the deal”. Then in subsequent solicitation meetings, you transition them more into asking for the contribution, answering questions, and overcoming objections.

Campaign structure
If all you do is provide training, support materials and role-modeling, you will still most likely fail in your quest to “make” an effective (six million dollar man) fundraising volunteer. There are structural things you need to develop and implement that create a sense of urgency, accountability, expectation, mission-focus, etc.

A few such structural tools-resources-approaches include: report meetings, weekly progress reports, written job descriptions, and things that remind volunteers why they’re out asking others for charitable contributions. I won’t go into detail because this topic in and of itself could be a blog post.

The biggest and most important thing you need to do is RETAIN your fundraising volunteers and keep them coming back year-after-year. There is nothing worse than investing time and resources into creating the Six Million Dollar Man, and then start over from scratch next year with a completely new set of volunteers. You need to build FUN and recognition into your fundraising activities.

Every year that a volunteer keeps coming back and making more asks, the more effective they will become. After all, we’ve all heard the expression: “Practice makes perfect”.  Right?

What does your non-profit organization excel at doing to “make” effective fundraising volunteers? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your favorite training video or best practice. Or share something that you do that you believe makes all the difference in the world. As I always say, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Are fundraising volunteers born or are they made?

I have often wondered if there is an answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post. I think it is almost as classic as the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” However, unlike the chicken question, the fundraising volunteer question haunts fundraising and non-profit professionals every single day. However, I think I might have some good news after attending an annual campaign kickoff meeting a few weeks ago for one of my favorite non-profit organizations.

Before sharing the good news, I think it is important to start by looking at the question, “What traits and skill sets does a good fundraising volunteer possess?” While I probably could’ve developed this list from my 15 years experience of working with fundraising volunteers, I decided to be lazy this morning and found a great online article by Nikki Willoughby at titled “The Job Description of a Fundraising Volunteer“. The following are a few traits and skill sets that Nikki pointed out:

  • Good communicator
  • Persuasive
  • Mission-focused
  • Keen understanding of the agency they are fundraising for
  • Computer skills and general understanding of how to use the telephone (I am not kidding . . . I encourage you to click the link and read the article for yourself)
  • Being an extrovert helps
  • Salesmanship skills
  • Goals-oriented and driven

I believe Nikki generally hit the nail on the head. The only thing I would add to her laundry list is that an effective volunteer fundraiser must value the ideas of “philanthropy” and “charity”. Most importantly, they need to be a current donor to the non-profit organization to which they are asking others to make a charitable gift.

Unfortunately, this list doesn’t help us answer the question “Are fundraising volunteers born or made?” because some of the skills and traits cannot be taught such as being an “extrovert”.  (Note: I happen to know a number of “introverts” as defined by the Myers Briggs personality test who I consider good fundraising professionals. So, I’m not sure if being an extrovert belongs on Nikki’s list. However, since I am an extrovert, I’m going to pass on arguing the point)   😉

As promised in the introduction, I have some good news for those of you who think you can train anyone to be a good fundraising volunteer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to serve as an annual campaign fundraising volunteer for one of the non-profit organizations in my community. At the kickoff meeting, I bumped into someone I first met 12 years ago. In an effort to “protect the innocent,” I will refer to her as “Jane”.

When I first met Jane in 2000, she was perhaps one of the most reluctant fundraising volunteers that I’ve ever met in my life. I must admit that she doesn’t even come close to fitting that description today.

As I approached the building where the kickoff meeting was being held, we accidentally bumped into each other, hugged and exchanged warm greetings. And then it happened  . . . before I even knew what hit me, she launched into a fundraising pitch. The case for support wasn’t for the organization who was hosting the kickoff meeting. It was for a local church who was trying to raise enough money to buy a LCD projector for their sanctuary. (Note: this wasn’t even for the church she belongs to!!!)

Yep, you guessed it . . . in short order she had me signing a pledge card.

Fast forward through the meeting and training, and Jane proudly shared a story with me about a solicitation she made last year with a very reluctant donor. Without breaking confidences, let me just say: “she came, she saw, and she conquered”. She ended her story by sharing what she thought was the secret to her success:

Don’t take NO for an answer
Refuse to leave their office until you get the signed pledge card

I can only imagine how many of my fundraising friends who are reading this blog post right now are wincing. Please know that I’m not sharing this story as a “best practice”. Instead, I am point to it as PROOF . . . I am more convinced after seeing Jane’s transformation that fundraising volunteers are “made” and not “born”.

Twelve years ago, Jane had a tough time even thinking about asking others for a pledge to the annual campaign. Today, she is a grizzled fundraising veteran who won’t take NO for an answer.

I am one of Jane’s biggest fans! However, I need to remember to never invite her into my home office.  LOL  😉

So, what do you think? Are fundraising volunteers born or made? Do you have any personal stories that you’d like to share that proves your point? Please scroll down and use the comment box.

Here’s to your health!

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