The Top 10 Tech Tools for More Productive Fundraising

Technology is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to fundraising, or almost any kind of work.  It can be a huge help or it can be a frustrating time suck.  The key is making smart decisions by using the right tool for the right task at the right time.  We’re not technology experts at Productive Fundraising, but we’ve certainly been around the fundraising scene long enough to know a great tool when we see one.  Here are our ten favorite tech tools for more productive fundraising …

  1. Your Fundraising Database
    Let’s start with the most obvious place first … your database.  And I certainly hope you have a fundraising database.  Excel and Outlook are not fundraising databases, they are places to dump information … not tools that make you more efficient.  Getting information back out of your database is just as important as having a place to put it, and that is not easy with spreadsheets and contact files.  When it comes to fundraising databases there are tons of options out there.  We’re currently partial to Bloomerang and NeonCRM.  Both of these products offer monthly fees that are based on the size of your donor base, so they grow with you and do not require large up front cash investments.  The key is to make sure your database is right-sized for your organization.  You don’t need something with every feature if you’ll never have the time to use them.
  2. TextExpander
    Have you ever noticed how it seems like you’re typing the same thing over and over again … especially with emails?  Well, there’s a tool to help with that called TextExpander.  TextExpander lets you instantly insert snippets of text from a repository of emails, boilerplate and other content, as you type – using a quick search or abbreviation.  Our favorite time to use it?  When sending donor visit request emails.  If you’ve been following us for long you know that we advocate using an optimized template for these requests.  So if you’re using a template why not make it easy?  We can insert this template into our email simply by typing “\donor” in the subject line of a new email.  TextExpander handles the rest … here’s a video we compiled a few months back showing this in action.  We also use this tool for doing things like following up with potential event attendees, sending birthday greetings and reaching out to keep in touch with donors and contacts.  TextExpander is a paid service, but we’ve found it to be well worth the minimal annual investment.
  3. Pocket
    Pocket is probably our favorite tool on this list.  It is a handy tool that keeps you on task and ensures that you are always learning something new … two essential keys to productive fundraising.  Pocket lets you save all that great content you find when browsing the web and social media, without using precious blocks of time in the middle of your work day to read it.  When you find something you want to view later, you simply put it in your Pocket.  You can put articles, videos or pretty much anything into Pocket using a simple button directly from your browser or using the share feature in apps.  If it’s in your Pocket, it’s on your phone, tablet or computer. You don’t even need an Internet connection.  You can then use all those little snippets of time in your day (waiting rooms, waiting on hold, etc.) to be productive and learn something rather than aimlessly flip through your Facebook news feed.  It’s a win-win … staying on task and making snippets of dead time productive.  And it’s a free service!
  4. Evernote
    If you haven’t gone paperless, we’d encourage you to highly consider it.  It is life changing and freeing.  You are never worried about where something is, it’s simply always with you.  The tool that makes this all work is Evernote.  Evernote lets you collect what matters and find it when you need it, wherever you are.  You can write notes, capture ideas, clip pages from the web, scan statements and receipts and even record your voice. With Evernote on your computer, phone, and the web, your notes are always with you and always in sync.  Plus their easy search feature means you can find what you need when you need it, even handwriting in images.  Guess where we keep track of blog post ideas?  Yep … Evernote.  We recommend getting started by putting one type of information in Evernote.  See how that goes and then move your life there … it’s a journey.
  5. Spokeo
    So let’s say you send one of your donors a personal note in the mail and it gets returned as undeliverable, what do you do?  Yes you can search Google or the white pages but often times they are not adequate.  You need a good research tool that can pull together all the public data and let you figure out where your donor went.  Have they moved?  Are they at a seasonal address?  Our go to tool (because of its affordability) is Spokeo.  Spokeo lets you look individuals up by name, narrow in to find the right person and then access all of the public data available on them.  It’s often a good way to find a missing email address as well (but don’t just automatically add them to your list, you don’t want to be a spammer).
  6. Feedly
    There are bunch of great fundraising thought leaders out there putting out amazing content (for free) just about every day.  There’s so much quality information that it can get overwhelming and it is very easy to miss great content.  Subscribing to all of their email newsletters just makes your inbox a train wreck.  So, we recommend putting them all into an RSS aggregator like Feedly.  Then you can just spend a bit of time every few days flipping through the headlines and save what you would like to read to your Pocket (with one click).  Then when you read it in Pocket and find something you want to implement it you can save it to your Evernote (with one click).  See what we did there?  A lot of these tools work great together to optimize your workflow.
  7. Doodle
    We coordinate a heck of a lot of meetings as fundraisers.  If you’re scheduling these by sending emails back and forth to committee members you’re wasting a lot of time (and driving them nuts).  Thankfully there’s a far better option, check out Doodle.  Here’s how it works … you select dates and times that work for you using their intuitive website.  This creates a poll which you invite your attendees to view.  With the invitation, participants can select their preferences. They don’t even need an account.  Once the votes are in, you select the option that works for the most people and notify the attendees.  It’s easy as pie (and the basic service level is free).
  8. Auction Management System
    An auction management system can really streamline special event auction coordination and make it a much more enjoyable process for your guests.  After you enter your auction items into the system, it can handle time-consuming tasks like generating bid sheets, catalogs, bidder reports and preview websites with the click of a button.  On the donor’s end the addition of an inexpensive credit card reader to a laptop allows you offer real-time check out and even pre-swipe credit cards to expedite checkout.  Our current auction management system of choice is Auctria (formerly Charity Auction Organizer).  It offers an affordable annual license which is adequate for most small to midsize nonprofit organizations.
  9. Image Editing Websites
    So much of the content that we generate is much more appealing in a visual format.  Our donors are far more likely to read something if it is graphical or includes an image.  Thankfully you no longer have to be a graphic designer to be able to produce nice, simple, clean images that enhance your messaging.  There are a bunch of free websites that allow you to create sharp images with text overlays (or even your logo) on top of free stock images.  Our current favorite is Pablo, but this seems to change every few months.
  10. LastPass
    What does almost every tech tool mentioned so far have in common?  They are all websites that require passwords.  Where are you putting all of those passwords?  Hopefully you are long past the days of keeping a written password book or putting them on a post-it note attached to your monitor.  But often times we end up using the same password for everything in order to make remembering them easier.  In the process we make ourselves (and our organizations) extremely vulnerable to hackers.  What’s the solution?  Use a tool like LastPass which is an online password vault which generates and remembers incredibly secure passwords.  The best part, you only have to remember one password moving forward (your LastPass password) which allows you to make it something creative, unique and secure.

That’s it …  our ten favorite tech tools for more productive fundraising.  Do you have a favorite tech tool that isn’t mentioned?  If so, head on over to our Facebook page and let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

PLEASE NOTE: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that we earn a small commission if you make a purchase (at no additional cost to you). We are VERY selective with this list.  To be included on this list it must be a tool, service or vendor that we have personally used and know that you too will have a positive experience if you implement it in your development shop.

Capture Everything

More often then not, I spend a lot of time helping my coaching clients with personal productivity issues — not just fundraising.  That’s a key tenet in my work, as I believe that productive fundraising is the product of an efficient fundraisER doing the right kind of fundraisING.

One of the biggest personal productivity issues that pops up has to do with loose ends.  There are simply too many of them and they have lots of fundraisers completely stressed out, most of the time.  In this profession we are exposed to an extraordinary number of inputs (loose ends).  By definition we are the middle man — the conduit between donors and the charities we serve.  Therefore we have inputs coming from both directions.  And the stakes are high if we drop the ball.

So, we need to be especially good at keeping track of loose ends and I’ve found that one of the best ways to do that is to make sure you have a good system in place to capture everything, yes EVERYTHING.  You can’t stay on top of everything if you don’t know what you need to stay on top of, so the first step to being an efficient fundraiser is to make sure you capture all those loose ends.

This means being prepared with an inbox or capture device at all times.  Whether you’re at your office, at a restaurant or lying in bed you need a means of capturing whatever great idea or overdue task pops into your head.  Typical capture devices include notebooks, phone apps, whiteboards, physical inboxes, email inboxes, a folder or pocket in your briefcase, voicemail, a notepad on your night stand, a bath crayon in the shower, text messages, etc.  You may need all of these, you may not.  There may be other tools that you need as well.

Personally, I operate almost 100% digitally, with two exceptions: my moleskin notebook for taking notes in meetings and when I’m on the phone (I find clicking keys & phone use rude in these situations) and a clear folder for corralling paper until I can get it scanned.  Here are just a few of my favorite capture tools:

  • Alex Toys – Rub a Dub Draw in the Tub Crayons
    Yes an odd suggestion, but keeping this in your tub or shower allows you to capture all those great ideas that you get while you’re in there!
  • Evernote – Digital Filing Cabinet
    This is the tool we use that allows us to operate completely paperless.  All paper gets scanned into Evernote and then it’s available on all of our devices, anytime, anywhere.  It’s a great, affordable option with lots of unique and powerful features (including free basic accounts).
  • Moleskin – Classic Large Blank Hardcover Notebook
    Capture everything!  You’ll never see Chad at a meeting without one of these.
  • Uniball Jetstream – Ballpoint Pens
    Chad’s pen of choice … smooth writing with no smearing (especially in moleskin notebooks)

Just make make sure you have a way (tool) to record an idea/task/anything no matter where you are.  Getting this information out of your head and into your personal productivity system will do wonders for your stress level and let you finally feel like you’re on top of things.  And most importantly, it will make you a more efficient fundraisER and therefore improve your fundraisING.

 

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

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.