Have a Fundraising Plan, Period.

You really need to have a fundraising plan.  You can’t just fly by the seat of your pants and take advantage of opportunities as they come along.  A structured plan is really the key to success.  A written fundraising plan has actually been proven to be the number one indicator of fundraising success.  Organizations that simply have a plan, regardless of what is in it, perform a lot better than organizations that don’t have a plan.  It goes back to the old Ben Franklin quote, “if you fail to plan, then you’re planning to fail.”

So you need to invest the time to put together a fundraising plan for your organization.  But it doesn’t have to be some giant 30-page document.  It can be a very simple document that outlines what you did last year, what you’re going to do this year, and the resources needed to accomplish those goals.  That’s it, end of story.  You don’t need paragraph after paragraph of detail.  Details tend to change as the year goes along anyway.

At Productive Fundraising, we have a simple fundraising plan template that we use with our clients that you can download free of charge.  So give it a download today and make sure your organization has a written fundraising plan in place.  It truly is the first indicator of fundraising success.

How to Assemble a Fundraising Go Bag


So you’ve launched a new charitable initiative and you’re ready to go out and seek support for it.  Or are you?  Before you schedule that first donor visit or begin completing that online grant application, you should assemble your fundraising go bag.

What’s a Go Bag?

Go bags are typically used for emergency preparedness.  It is a bag that you fill with everything that you would need to survive away from home and off the grid for a few days.

One key fact about go bags is that you put them together IN ADVANCE not knowing when you will need them, but knowing that if the need arises you won’t have the time to put it together then.  This is really the key for us … we need to pre-assemble all of the things that we may need while fundraising, because in the heat of the campaign there certainly won’t be time to do so.

Components of a Fundraising Go Bag

As a fundraiser what do you need to be prepared for?  What do you need to have ready at all times? I believe that you need three categories of items:  great fundraising language & programmatic info, organizational documents & financial information, and pre-printed stock to place your compelling request for support on.  Here’s a detailed list of what you may need in each category:

Fundraising Language / Programmatic Info:

  • Case for support
  • Key messages
  • Project plan
  • Description of services
  • Prioritized wish list of organizational needs
  • Testimonials / letters of support
  • High resolution images
  • Evaluation plans (how will you evaluate success?)

Organizational Documents / Financial Information:

  • Mission statement & vision
  • Organizational history / timeline
  • Tax exempt document: 501(c)(3)
  • Board list w/ affiliations & work contact info
  • Staff list / organizational chart
  • Bios for key staff members & board chair
  • Anti-discrimination policy
  • Document retention policy
  • Whistle blower policy
  • Annual budget
  • Sources of funding (% public/corporate/individual & list of top 20 donors)
  • Audited financial statements

Printed Items:

You can download our free fundraising go bag checklist here.

Once you determine what you need, I recommend assembling them in two places: one digital and one physical.  I keep all of the digital documents in one folder and I have shelf below my printer for all of the physical items. Everything is a click or reach away the second I need it, so the next time I’m completing a grant application I don’t have to stop and search for my organization’s document retention policy … it’s in my go bag (folder).

So take an afternoon to assemble your fundraising go bag.  It will save you some time and frustration down the line and will be well worth the effort.


Thank When Others Ask (Especially on Community Wide Giving Days)

Giving days are a fairly new concept in fundraising that many communities have adopted.  Essentially the entire nonprofit community comes together to get everyone in the community revved up about the causes that they care about.  We also have a national day of giving, that being #GivingTuesday in November which promotes giving on the national level.


I’m fine with the concept of these giving days.  I love the thought of encouraging new donors to give, encouraging everyone to give more and just to think about it for a day.  What I’m not fine with is the amount of time that the nonprofit participants must invest in getting ready for this one day of giving.  You know, there are 364 other days in the year where giving can be important as well.  So, putting all of your eggs in one basket for one day just doesn’t seem like a great idea.  To make matters even worse, there’s not a lot of evidence out there that these days actually grow philanthropy.  Do these days really increase charitable support at an organization or are we just rerouting dollars that would come otherwise?  I’d love it if a foundation would fund a large national study to see if these days really make a difference.  If they do, I’ll gladly hop on the giving day bandwagon and tell you to go in full speed ahead.  I’m just not there because I need evidence that it works before I’m willing to advise clients to spend their time on it.  And there is A LOT of time invested in these days.  From the community coordinators, to the participation paperwork, to the required training sessions and webinars, to the huge amount of time spent on social media, it adds up to a week (or more) of staff time at most organizations.


So what I like to recommend is to still participate in the giving day if your community has one (you don’t want to be the one charity that won’t play ball), but use it as a way to get some publicity and focus on a low-level donor acquisition and renewing your lower level donors.  You’ll need to figure out what that means to your organization, but I’m thinking of around $250 and below.  The key is to shield your upper level donors from your giving day efforts.  You want a more personal relationship with them.  And they are most likely capable of giving you more than they would in a general giving day (online) appeal.  We talk about segmentation a good bit here at Productive Fundraising and this is a great example of where it needs to happen.  You might still want to contact your top donors on the giving day (so they don’t feel excluded), but be unique just contact them to say “thank you.”  They’re probably getting hammered by every other charity in town, so just reach out and say “thanks.”  Say “thank you so much for what you do for our organization, on this day of giving we just want to thank you for what you’ve already done for the people that we serve.”   You’ll be amazed at the impact of this one simple action and the responses that you will receive.

Get Permission for the Next Step, BEFORE You Leave

The tip for this week is when you’re on a donor visit get permission for what is next, before you leave.

We spend all this time trying to get the visit arranged, traveling there, listening to what the donor or potential donor has to say to see if there are a good fit for our organization.  And then we leave and we don’t know the next step.  Then we have to start from scratch.

So, get the permission for what is next before you leave.  It could be as simple as saying “would it be okay if I followed up with some more information?” or “could we can meet again next month after you had a chance to consider?” or “is it okay if I connect you with so-and-so?”  It doesn’t really matter what it is, just get permission for some sort of next step.

Then when you reach out with that information they are far more likely to respond.  This works to build an ongoing connection and engagement and takes you one step closer to a major gift or other positive donor action.

Use “Consider” and “Join Me” in Your Asks

How do you actually make an ask?  How do you get those words out of your mouth?  A lot of fundraising newbies and veterans alike get hung up on this.

I find that the easiest way to address this is to have a memorized ask structure that you use every time you make an ask.

Here is my structure … in almost every ask I make I use the phrases “would you consider” and “join me.”  It typically goes like this … “would you consider joining me in supporting this project with a contribution of $5,000.” Or perhaps, “would you consider joining me in supporting our cause by volunteering on the gala committee.”

I almost always use these two phrases because they work really well for me.  Almost everybody says YES!  Now they’re not necessarily saying yes to what I indirectly asked for — they’re saying yes that they will consider it.  That is all I really need them to do.  We will consider doing almost anything. We will consider giving a million dollars to a charity — we may not have it, but we sure will consider it.  It gets the ask conversation going with an easy YES and sets us up for success.

The other key component of my ask structure is the phrase “join me.”  We are a community, a nation, a world of joiners.  We like to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  So encouraging prospects and donors to join you lets them experience that sense of community. It also shows that you are already personally invested and gives you additional credibility (please make sure that you have already made your donation or commitment before you use this phrase).

Together, “will you consider” and “join me” make up a really nice ask.  It is a little softer and it also has a pretty high success ratio.  You’re not going to get instant replies with it (unless they were really ready to do it), but you’ll get a lot of “sure I will consider that, let me talk with my spouse / go back to the office and look at it / talk to my accountant / etc.  This is what you are really after anyway.  You do not need an instant answer, you just need them to give the opportunity proper consideration.

Having a memorized ASK structure really helps to get the ask out of your mouth, with a lot less stress.  It will eventually sound very natural and you won’t even have to think about it.  So figure out your own structure and put it into action on your next visit.

Maintain an Idea Bank

What typically happens when we go to conferences?  We hear all of those great ideas. We scribble everything down.  And then we get back to the office and those notes go on a bookshelf.  We just have so much to do on a day-to-day basis that we don’t really have time to digest those notes and put them into action.  Here is my solution …

I would encourage you to still take those notes, but as you’re doing so put a check box next to the actionable things that you think you might want to add to your fundraising someday.  Then when you get back to the office, instead of taking the time to reread all of your notes just pull out these actionable tidbits.  Put them into what I call the Idea Bank.  This is either a physical folder with slips of paper or a digital note taking app (I use Evernote). It is simply a list of ideas that you may want to try at some point.

One of the biggest problems when putting together a fundraising plan is simply not having those new ideas ready to go.  If you maintain an Idea Bank you will also have great ideas ready to go.  Furthermore, you make sure you get the maximum value out of those expensive conferences we all go to (or even from the YouTube videos that we spend time watching).   So, I encourage you set up an Idea Bank and have those great ideas ready to go.

Block Time for Donor Visits (and for Scheduling Them)

Video Transcription:

Hi everyone. Chad Barger here with this week’s Productive Fundraising Weekly Journey. This week we’re talking about donor visits.

Donor visits are one of the fundraising tactics and techniques that we all know we should be doing, but they’re so hard to do on a consistent basis.  There are just so many demands on our time and donor visits take us out of the office and away from other activities.  We need dedicated time to do them and if you’re running a small shop especially it’s just so hard to find that time.

So here’s what I do … I actually block time on my calendar each and every week for donor visits.  I’ve done the math — I’ll share that with you a little later — amount of time I need each week.  So for me, that is a four hour time block.  So I typically take two two hour blocks throughout the week and I like to do it when I am least effective in the office.  That’s usually a mid-to-late afternoon time frame for me. I will block that time on my calendar as a recurring appointment where I’m busy so nothing else can be scheduled during that time.  It is a time I hold sacred for donor visits.

But that’s not good enough.  Because if you just have that time blocked and you go through the everyday hustle and bustle of your job, you’ll get to the next week (and your donor visit time block) and you’ll still be in the office because you didn’t find the time to actually schedule those donor visits.  So, they other key thing that I do is I have a time block set aside for scheduling donor visits each and every week. I have a half-hour time block where I’m simply sending emails, making phone calls, and following up on things to try to get those donor visits scheduled for the next few weeks.

That’s the key to really make this happen.  Get out of the office and have those visits that we know are so effective.  Our free resource this week is actually the formulas that I use to calculate the amount of time needed for donor visits and for scheduling donor visits. Go ahead and give that a download. Thanks for your time, thanks for your commitment to fundraising and for your service to your donors. I appreciate you and thank you for subscribing.  Take care.

How to Find Time to Read as a Busy Fundraiser


I’m often asked by nonprofit board members, “What’s the most important skill to look for in a fundraiser?”  My answer is always the same … a relentless passion for learning.  A successful fundraiser always needs to be seeking new ideas and improving their fundraising knowledge base.  One of the best ways to acquire this knowledge is through reading.  There are so many great books, magazines, and blogs dedicated to nonprofit fundraising.  But many fundraisers state that finding the time to actually read is quite difficult.

So, here are my six hacks for fitting more reading into your daily schedule

1) Keep a list of what you want to read

When you hear about a great book or article, make note of it.  I add books I hear about to my online wishlist (at either amazon.com or paperbackswap.com).  When it comes time to look for new reading material, I have a list and don’t have to waste time browsing.  I can use that time for actual reading.

2) Save posts & articles to read later

When I’m spending time on social media, I do my best to get in and get out.  I don’t read articles or follow link trails.  But fellow fundraisers post lots of great content that I do want to read at some point.  That’s where Pocket comes in.  Pocket is a service that lets me save articles for later (in my pocket).  Then when I have a few minutes (e.g. waiting for an appointment, standing in line, before a donor meeting, etc.), I can read these articles — on ANY of my devices at ANY time.  It’s like having your TO READ pile with you at all times, but without the clutter or the weight.

3) Stop reading if you aren’t getting value

If you start reading something and it’s not what you thought it would be, STOP.  There is no rule that says you have to finish what you start reading.  We aren’t in grade school anymore.  We choose what we read.  This is especially important with books.  Reading an entire book is a big commitment – make sure it’s worth your time.  I will admit that I only finish about half the books that I start reading.  Once I can tell that I’m not going to get enough value out of it to justify the time, I’m done.  It’s that simple.

4) Read during all the little moments of extra time

Surround yourself with things to read.  Fill your Pocket with articles.  Keep books and magazines that you want to read on your coffee table, desk, night stand.  Keep reading material in your briefcase and in your suitcase.  Make sure you are never in a situation where you have time to read, but nothing to read.

Then instead of hopping on Facebook on your phone when you have a spare minute or two, pull up something to read.  Even if you only read a page, you are making progress and being inspired.  Don’t let these little moments go to waste, they add up.

5) Schedule a lunch with yourself

When I have something that I really want to read, like a book written by my favorite speaker at a conference or the latest edition of AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy, I schedule lunch with it.  I literally go to my calendar, find an open lunch slot, and plug in “Meeting | Advancing Philanthropy.”  It’s a lunch date, with reading material.  The key is that it is blocked from any other commitments (and it looks like a real meeting to the folks that help manage my calendar).  It’s a great way to make progress on beefier items which really require time to digest (puns intended).

6) Try audiobooks or podcasts (especially in the car) 

Driving is one of the least productive uses of time, but you can change this.  Listening to audiobooks or podcasts is a great option.  Almost any book is available in audiobook format these days and there are countless podcast options — even a few about fundraising.  You can also turn up the speed on audiobook or podcast apps to have them play at 1.5x or 2x speed.  This can allow you to finish things in half the time, and it is often times still very easy to understand.

So there you have it, six tips to help you read more and grow your fundraising knowledge base.  What are your favorite reading hacks?  Need something to read?  Give my free eBook, Work Smarter: 16 Ways to Raise More Money by Maximizing Your Time & Technique, a whirl.

How to Implement a Simple, Systematic Stewardship Process


If you’ve been in the fundraising field for a while, you no doubt know the importance of donor stewardship.  But with average donor retention at only 46% for U.S. charities (according to the 2015 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project), there is clearly a lack of #donorlove taking place at most charities.

Why?  It’s hard to pinpoint an exact answer, but here’s my theory … While most established charities know the importance of stewardship, it’s hard to find the time to do it well.  And guess what?  No one ever gets in trouble for not doing stewardship.  You never find the time to write those thank you notes? No big deal.  Impact letters are three months behind schedule?  That’s okay.  As long as ASKs are going out and goals are being met, it doesn’t seem to matter.  But what you’re really doing is sabotaging your future fundraising efforts.  A lack of stewardship will prevent your donors from reaching their full lifetime value for your organization and will put you on a constant search for more donors, as your current ones move on to other causes.

So what’s the solution?  That’s easy … put stewardship on autopilot.  Here’s my simple, systematic stewardship process which ensures that EVERY donor receives at least three pieces of non-ask correspondence between donations.  These touches, combined with general correspondence (e.g. newsletters, event invitations, social media updates, etc.) should get you that magical number of seven (Penelope Burk’s research shows that donors expect seven non-ask touches between asks in order to not feel over-solicited).

The Components

  • The Crazy Speedy Personal Thank You

    A personal email (use a template) or hand written note sent to as low of a donation amount as you can handle.  If you can do it for all donors of $100+ you’re in good shape.  Here’s a sample:

    Dear Sally –

    Thank you so much for your recent donation to [insert name of charity]!
    You will receive a formal gift acknowledgment (for tax purposes) in the mail, but I wanted to personally reach out and thank you as soon as possible.
    Thank you again for your generous support of [insert mission of charity].

    With Gratitude, [insert name of fundraiser]

  • A Prompt Gift Acknowledgement Letter

    This is the piece that you are already doing (because the IRS requires you to do so).  It doesn’t have to be sent in 48 hours like many fundraising experts recommend.  That’s because the “Crazy Speedy Personal Thank You” bought you some time.  It should give all the particulars about their donation, have the required IRS tax language and talk about what you plan to accomplish with their support.  It’s one page, on letterhead, hand-signed, with a nice little “Thanks again!” scrawled on the bottom.

  • The Impact Letter

    This letter (or email, if and only if it was an online donation) should arrive halfway between the date of their donation and the date you plan to solicit them next (6 months for an annual appeal, 3 months for organizations that solicit twice per year, etc.).  This letter is similar to the gift acknowledgement in format and appearance; however, it doesn’t have any IRS mumbo jumbo.  It starts out with “It’s been six months since you so generously supported [name of charity], and we wanted to let you know what we’ve done with your support.”  It’s best written in the first person, telling a story about ONE specific person that benefitted from their support.  If you can include a photo of that person (or the project, or almost anything), even better.

Automating the System

Now that you know what to do, here’s how you actually do it.  You simply put these tasks in your task management system and set them up to repeat as indicated:

  • Every Day
    • Send crazy speedy personal thank yous (emails & hand-written notes)
  • Once a Week
    • Run gift acknowledgement letters (you get the efficiency of batch processing these since you already sent he crazy speedy personal thank you)
  • Once a Month
    • Run impact letters (these are not expected so again you can be efficient and batch process them)
  • Once Every 3 Months
    • Update your templates with new stories & organizational details

There you have it, a simple, systematic stewardship process that any charity can implement.  Sure, groups with bigger staffs can certainly do more.  But this simple system is far more than most charities do, and implementing it will help your organization stand out from the crowd and have far better than a 46% retention rate.  So give it some thought, don’t your donors deserve it?

Productive Fundraising: It’s Both WHAT You Do and HOW You Do It


Productivity is a two part process.  It requires the perfect balance of efficiency and effectiveness.  It’s not only the outcomes that matter, but also the process for reaching those outcomes.  It’s both WHAT you do, and HOW you do it.


As a professional fundraiser, there is a constant temptation, and sometimes expectation, to try to raise funds every way possible.  The suggestions come from everywhere:  articles, blogs, conferences, etc.  My favorite is the “helpful” (and insistent) board member …  “I’m involved with XYZ organization and they just held this great event that raised a lot of money, we’re going to do that too!”  Don’t get me started on non-strategic special events!  Regular readers of this blog know that I recommend holding no more than two big special events per year.  The flip side of this board member is the one that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” at every single meeting.  One wants to do the wrong thing and one doesn’t want to try anything new at all.

So what’s the problem with these two mindsets?  Whether you try every tactic possible, or try nothing new at all, you will get the same result … mediocrity.  Things will be fine, but you’ll never really fulfill your mission and change the world.  You’ll be stuck in slow growth mode or maybe even stagnancy.

So how do you do better than mediocre?  The key is to figure out what will work best for your organization, and to do it well … really well.   Buy how? In my opinion, the number one skill for today’s fundraiser is the desire to always be learning.  Read every day … make it a priority.  Keep up with the latest trends.  Attend industry leading conferences.  Expose yourself to other sectors and see what’s working there.  Then bring those ideas back to your office and apply them to your work … INNOVATE.

But don’t just blindly innovate, you have to test what you put into place.  Is it really working, or is does it just make your organization look good?  Charities don’t fulfill their missions by looking good … they do it by raising vital funds and delivering programmatic results.  So, make a commitment to innovation.  Try one or two new strategies at a time.  Keep the ones that work and kill the ones that don’t.  After a few development cycles, you’ll find a few strategies that really elevate your fundraising and charity to the next level.  And you’ll get really good at saying “NO” to the things that you know will take you back  down to the land of mediocrity.


Something must also be said for HOW you work.  Are you an efficient worker?  If meeting your goals requires that you put in 60 hour weeks every single week, there’s a problem.  It could be unrealistic expectations or it could be bad work habits.  It’s most likely a combination of both.  By being in touch with your personal productivity habits and constantly seeking ways to improve them, you can take back your life and still be an effective fundraiser.

Developing a personal productivity system that you can trust is a key to success (and sanity).  Managing time, email and social media use are also key skills.  You also need to know how to limit and maximize meetings, travel smart and properly integrate your work and home lives.  And finally, you have to do it all with a great attitude by managing your mood and energy level.

And let’s not forget … you have to actually leave the office to meet with donors, network and build the pipeline.

This has been my framework for success in the nonprofit sector: constant innovation (and testing) with a major focus (okay, addiction) on working efficiently.  All of my blog posts center around these topics and if you’d like a deeper dive, I invite you to join me on the Productive Fundraising Weekly Journey.  Happy fundraising!

This post first appeared on August 3, 2015.