Have a Fundraising Plan, Period.

Have a Fundraising Plan, Period.

For a step by step walk through of a simplified fundraising planning process, check out our upcoming webinar “How to Craft a Simple Fundraising Plan.”

What’s does your fundraising planning process look like?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear from you!

For more fundraising planning tips and templates, check out all the productivity resources in our Free Resource Library.

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?  Check out the recommended reading section of our Free Resource Library.

Have another tip to share or a favorite resource?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear from you!

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

How do you balance the WHAT and the HOW?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear from you!

Want to learn more?  Check out the our Free Resource Library.  Or attend our next productivity webinar, “How to Fix Your Productivity to Amp Up Your Results.”

Why Charities Should Only Stage 2 Big Special Events Per Year

Why Charities Should Only Stage 2 Big Special Events Per Year

Ahhhh … special events.  The bane of every development director’s existence and every nonprofit board’s solution to raising more money.  It’s no wonder that turnover is high among development staff and charities can’t seem to grow their giving.  It’s easy to burn out and really hard to make progress when you’re stuck in perpetual event mode.

When I begin working with a charity, I typically find that they have three to five fundraising events on the calendar each year.  Some are big money makers and some are things that they “have to do.”  This post is not going to be a discussion on whether or not it makes sense to conduct an event.  Anybody can run the numbers and make that call on their own.  Instead, I’m proposing a limit that every charity should adopt for their special events.  It’s plain and simple:  no more than two events per year, period.

Why?  The issue isn’t so much the events themselves, it’s the staff time commitment involved with putting them on and what is lost during that time.  Even the most modest of fundraising events will require a pretty intense staff focus for the 10 weeks leading up to the event and the 2 weeks following it.  That’s 12 weeks or basically three months.  If you do two events per year, that’s six months in “event mode” … three events per year is nine months, and if you conduct four (or more) events per year then you’re always in event mode!

Being in event mode all the time is fine if your title is Special Events Coordinator, but I’m guessing that it’s not.  You have other responsibilities, the primary one being that you are supposed to be out building relationships with donors.  Guess what the most common thing to slip is when you’re planning an event? You got it, donor visits.  If you’re stuck in the office finalizing table assignments or running around town picking up silent auction items, you’re not spending quality time with donors.

It’s really an opportunity cost issue.  It’s not so much that you’re spending your time on events, it’s that you’re not spending your time meeting with your donors.  That’s why I set a two event maximum for the vast majority of my small shop fundraising clients.  This allows them to have two big attention-getting events per year (ideally targeting different audiences), but only has them in event mode for half of the year.  This allows them to focus their efforts on donor visits and major gifts for the other half of the year.

So, how many events do you currently run?  How much of the year do you spend in event mode?  And how does your donor visit count fare during those months?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

For more special event tips, check out our Free Resource Library, or join us for our next events webinar, “How to Create Unique Fundraising Events that Excite Your Donors.”

Disrupting the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Mindset

Disrupting the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Mindset

Talk about a phrase that I can’t stand … and we hear it so often in the nonprofit sector.  I can’t even bear to type it again (just re-read the blog post title if you need to).

Why We Hear It So Often

Unfortunately in the field of nonprofit fundraising, I think this has become the mantra for some organizations.

This is especially true for those with a 50+ year history of “always finding a way to make it.” It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what has worked in the past will always work.

I find this mantra to be especially prevalent in organizations where the founders are still running the organization after 20+ years. They have a lot of mental ownership over the processes and procedures that they created from nothing — they birthed the organization and their baby is perfect!

I also think that some nonprofits actually perpetuate a culture of complacency. I’ll occasionally encounter a general sense among employees that they don’t have to put forth much effort since “we don’t have to turn a profit.” What they are really saying is that they aren’t being motivated to do anything other the bare minimum requirements to keep their jobs.

Why It’s Such A Big Problem

Allowing this phrase to be said at your organization creates a culture that makes the staff and board afraid of change. They are afraid to speak up when they have an idea or see something that needs to be fixed. Even worse it actually discourages innovation.

What’s the Solution?

But there doesn’t have to be the struggle to “always find a way to make it” each year. The answer is actually quite simple: work to develop a culture of innovation. Acknowledge that change is okay. Empower employees to seek, present, implement and TEST new ideas.

Whether you are an entry level fundraiser, the CEO of a large charity or a new board member, take it upon yourself to find new ideas for your organization. Read for an hour every day (yes … I’m serious). Attend professional development offerings both in the sector and out of it. Learn from nonprofit experts and also follow business experts — adapt what they do to the nonprofit sector and you’ll really be innovative.

As an example, a few years back a charity that I manage was contemplating implementing a new signature special event.  Those that know me know that I am not an events guy, so I was pretty skeptical but went along with the process.  Very quickly the task force came to the conclusion that it was a crowded events space and we needed to break the mold if we were going to be successful.  So, we flipped the normal question of “What kind of event do we want to throw?” around and instead asked “What do we hate about all the other events in town?”  We filled an entire white board with bad fundraising event experiences.  We in turn created a non-traditional gala that puts the guest experience first and in turn now raises over $150,000 for the arts in our community each year (here’s a link to a highlight video from a few years back).

We didn’t just do what everyone else does.  Yes we incorporated best practices on how you throw a gala, but we also asked the hard question of “What could be better about galas?” — and most importantly we put our guests (donors) first.

That’s how you’ll really fulfill your mission … fix things that aren’t necessarily broken, but could certainly be improved upon.  Break the mold.  Be different.  Innovate.  Always.

What are your two cents? Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

For more fundraising tips, check out our Free Resource Library.

Stop Showering All of Your Donors with Love


In this guest post for fundraising expert Michael Rosen, I talk about the difference between relationship fundraising and transactional fundraising.  My biggest takeaway from the 2016 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference (in Boston) was that these two fundraising theories can, and should, coexist in the same fundraising plan/shop.

Please give it a read and let me know your thoughts (via twitter):


Michael J. Rosen, CFRE is President of ML Innovations, Inc., a fundraising and marketing consulting firm serving nonprofit organizations and the companies that assist them. An AFP Certified Master Trainer and Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), Michael is the author of the bestselling book “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.”


How to Put Fundraising Inspiration into Action

How to Put Fundraising Inspiration into Action


I find that fundraisers spend a lot of unnecessary time chasing the next great thing and worrying about how they’ll come up with new ways to raise dollars for their cause.   A productive fundraiser does not do this.  For the productive fundraiser, idea generation is an ongoing and innate process.  They are constantly collecting ideas and therefore have a fundraising tactic treasure trove constantly at their disposal.  It’s not a switch that you turn on at conferences or as your campaign year wraps up — it’s an ongoing process.

There’s a great quote by business guru Seth Godin that shows the value of this approach: “You probably don’t need yet another new idea. Better to figure out what to do with the ones you’ve got.”  [sidebar: I had the pleasure of seeing Seth live at AFP’s 2015 International Conference in Baltimore — he’s the best public speaker I’ve ever seen.  Don’t miss the opportunity if you get the chance to see him live.]

So, once you take on this mindset, you’ll never have to go searching for great ideas again.  You’ll already have them stored away somewhere for future use.  Personally, I have a notebook in my online note taking application of choice (Evernote) simply called “Idea Bank.”  It’s a collection of ideas, articles, photos, etc. taken from conferences, books, articles, blog posts, conversations, etc.  Anytime I think “I like that … that could work for us,” the idea is captured and sent to the “Idea Bank” for future consideration.

Each year I begin the fundraising planning process by scanning my “Idea Bank” for the best two new ideas to implement in the coming year.  Yes … two.  Not five, certainly not ten, not one, exactly TWO.  The key is to find the best two ideas that are immediately actionable and include them in your plan.  One should be started right away and the other a few months later.  You should also have a few ideas in reserve in case one of the first two don’t work out.  As you implement, you should constantly be testing and evaluating how things are working.  Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if something isn’t working, but have another idea in your pocket to take its place.

Every successful fundraising plan that I’ve seen has had two new innovative strategies in it … every year.  Not two ideas that didn’t work out … two ideas that successfully raised increased funding for the organization.  They might not have been the two ideas that were in the plan at the beginning of the year, but they were the two that got the job done.

When you’re always learning, have a system in place to capture great ideas, and are constantly testing new innovative ideas, your fundraising will automatically become more innovative and successful.  You won’t even have to think about putting fundraising inspiration into action — it will be second nature.


Evaluate, But Don’t Over Analyze


I often get asked about how to evaluate fundraising events, programs, mailings, etc.  Most fundraisers seem to know that they should be evaluating the results of their fundraising efforts, but they’re not quite sure how to do it.  There’s a lot that you can track and you can spend a lot of time analyzing data.  So the key is to track just a few key metrics that will provide you with clear insight, but not take a ton of time to analyze.

During the preparation for my CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) exam about twelve years ago, I came across a great tool that makes fundraising evaluation simple.  The tool comes from James M. Greenfield’s Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process and it is his Nine-Point Performance Index.  The index can and should be used to evaluate all solicitation methods for a charity.  As James puts it “Each of these nine elements is, in itself, an indicator of performance success.  Together they provide more than adequate detail to allow not-for-profit organizations to interpret their results and estimate future income with reliability based on how well each solicitation method has proven its mix of ingredients for success.”  Here are the nine performance elements:

  1. Participants (number of donors responding with gifts)
  2. Income (gross contributions)
  3. Expense (fundraising costs)
  4. Percent Participation (participants / # of solicitations made)
  5. Average Gift Size (income / participants)
  6. Net Income (income – expense)
  7. Average Cost per Gift (expense / participants)
  8. Cost of Fund Raising ([expense / income] * 100)
  9. Return ([net income / expense] *100)

There’s a good bit of math there.  Most development folks I know like to ask for money, but don’t like to count it.  You might say we’re a bit of a math averse crowd.  So, I have some good news for you … about ten years ago I developed an excel spreadsheet that does all the work for you.  You just enter your raw data and everything is computed, it’s that simple.  We have that spreadsheet (as an MS Excel file) available for download right here.

But the real key is what you do with the results.  Running these numbers will provide a lot of input, but you have to decide what is significant for your organization and ask the hard questions.  What should you stop doing?  What should you scale up?  What should you scale down?  This evaluative process should be the first step in putting together any development plan, because without good data you’re just guessing.