Have a Fundraising Plan. Period.

Have a Fundraising Plan. Period.

You really need a fundraising plan. You can’t just fly by the seat of your pants and take opportunities as they come along. That’s reactive fundraising. You need to be proactive.

A structured fundraising plan is the key to success. It’s actually been proven to be the number one indicator of fundraising success. Fundraising shops that simply have a plan, regardless of what is in it, perform a lot better than organizations without a fundraising plan.

It goes back to the old Ben Franklin quote, “If you fail to plan, then you’re really planning to fail.” So please, invest the time to put together a simple fundraising plan which will take your fundraising operation to the next level.

Wow Your Donors with Personalized Video

Wow Your Donors with Personalized Video

Wow Your Donors with Personalized Video

Video is incredibly powerful.  It can be an amazing tool for fundraising — especially for donor stewardship.

Everybody has a video camera these days … it’s built right into our smartphones.  You don’t need fancy equipment.  You already have it.  Just turn it on and say “thank you.”

Please watch the video above if you’d like to see a sample of what this looks like.

You can do this.  All you need is a smartphone, a message to share and email — that’s it!

Imagine sending personalized video emails to your donors simply saying “thank you” and showing your program in action.  Remember to use phrases like “you made the possible” and “we couldn’t do this without you” to make the donor the hero of your video.  Have you ever received one of these?  I bet your donors haven’t either.

Top 5 Fundraising Horrors to Avoid

Top 5 Fundraising Horrors to Avoid

To help celebrate Halloween, here are my top five fundraising horrors to avoid …

#1 – Window Envelopes

Window envelopes have no place in fundraising.  What normally comes in window envelopes?  That’s right, bills!  Do you want your fundraising appeal or even worse your thank you letter to arrive looking like a bill?  Get them out of your office ASAP.

(see also: Ban Window Envelopes from Your Fundraising)

#2 – Thasking

Never ask for anything when you say thank you.  It cheapens it.   When you say thank you, speak genuinely and say what you appreciate about donors.  Don’t ask them for anything else. Don’t ask them to come in your event, don’t ask them to volunteer, and certainly don’t ask them for additional donation.  Don’t even do it subtly by doing things like slipping an extra envelope in with your letter (just in case they want to send it back with a donation).  There’s a term for that … it’s called a THASK (credit: Lynne Wester).  A thank you ask.  Don’t do it.

#3 – “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It”

Or another way it often comes up … “we’ve always done it this way.”  It’s often said by a long time volunteer or founder.  But you have to innovate.  If you don’t the law of diminishing returns will eventually kick in and your fundraising will start heading in the wrong direction.  You need a constant supply of fresh ideas and a boss/board that’s willing to support you as you implement them.

#4 – Monthly Fundraising Events

I’ve seen so organizations that can’t get ahead because they are constantly stuck in fundraising event planning.  Some organizations even have events every single month!  They think they need to do that to raise money.  In truth, they are actually limiting the amount of money that they can raise because they don’t have the time to focus on building relationships with donors.  I like to recommend that most nonprofits have no more than two big fundraising events in a year (unless they have a full time events coordinator).  This gives you the space to make them unique events, have them highly sponsored (that’s where you make the money) and still have time to build donor relationships the rest of the year.

#5 – #GivingTuesday

I’ve talked about it before. I have a love hate relationship with #GivingTuesday.  My primary issue with it is why would you want to solicit your donor on the same day that every single other organization that they support is soliciting them as well?  You’re just bombarding them.  So, what I like to do that day instead is to simply give thanks.  Don’t ask for anything.  Just reach out and thank them personally.  You’ll really stand out from the crowd and they will remember it.

Those are my “Top 5 Fundraising Horrors.”  I hope you can avoid them all this year (and every year).  Happy Haloweeen!

6 Sweet Ways to Show Donor Love

6 Sweet Ways to Show Donor Love

Jen Love and John Lepp of Agents of Good share 6 Sweet Ways to Show Donor Love …

#1 Remember that Your Donors Want to Feel Good

The part of the brain that lights up when you give to charity is the same part of the brain that lights up when you have sex and when you eat chocolate — it’s the pleasure center of your brain.  Giving feels good.  So always remember when you’re talking to your donors that they want to feel good and they want to help and fix something.  So, think of sex and chocolate and write your donors!

#2 Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Mail File

If you take 20% of your file, they’re most likely giving 80% of your revenue.  With this group, mail them something special like a bigger envelope with lots of handwriting all over it.  If you follow the 80/20 rule and you produce this mail pack in house, it will do a lot better than mailing the whole file exactly the same thing.

#3 Use Fundraising Delighters

“Fundraising delighters” are things that you don’t expect to receive from the charities that you love but change your perspective on the experience.  This can be things like photographs, postcards and quick video updates.

#4 Create Paper Clip Moments

The power of the paper clip is that computers and machines cannot paper clip.  So, when a donor sees a paper clip they feel like there was a human involved with the creation of the mail piece.  It’s a very small touch, but it’s very meaningful.

#5 Always Maintain an Abundance Mindset

This one is more for you as a fundraiser, and it’s to always maintain an abundance mindset.  There is so much information out there and so much we can look at.  So, always keep your mind open to learning new things and surround yourself with people who will challenge you and keep you open to new things.

#6 Thank & Report Back With Double the Effort

When you ask your donors to give and then do so, you must thank them with double the amount of effort that you put into asking them.  And you have to report back on what you did with their giving.  Only then can you ask them again and repeat this cycle.  Make sure you ask them, make sure you thank them and make sure you report back to them on what you did with those funds.

Don’t Sweat Your Stewardship Events, Think Simple & Unique

Don’t Sweat Your Stewardship Events, Think Simple & Unique

Today’s focus is on donor receptions.  You need to say thank you to your donors.  And one of the best ways to do that is to invite them to something, like for a tour or to an event.

But a lot of fundraisers get too complicated with this.  My advice is to go simple.  Something like bagels in the morning in your conference room with the executive director is perfect.  It’s that simple invitation to come out your facility hear an update and be appreciated that donors are after — they don’t need a fancy reception with a big dinner.  A lot of them would rather have you spend those dollars on the mission that them.  So think simple and mission-based.

What’s my favorite way my favorite way to do a donor reception?  My favorite way is to invite your donors to your parking lot on a summer Friday afternoon for a hot dog or a burger or some barbecue. You put your executive director in an apron and a chef’s hat, have them flip burgers and just talk to the donors and say thank you as they come through the line.   It’s cheap and easy.  You throw your grill in your truck and you pick up some burgers and rolls over lunch.  It’s easy but it’s greatly appreciated and it’s different.  Everything is better in fundraising if it’s different.  If you can stand out from the crowd, it’s so much better.  So take that into consideration fundraisers, how can you be different and simple with your donor receptions?

@fundraiserchad’s Ultimate Guide to Stewardship & Donor Retention

@fundraiserchad’s Ultimate Guide to Stewardship & Donor Retention

How to Build a Simple Stewardship System that Boosts Donor Retention

What is Stewardship?

So what do we mean when we say “stewardship” in the context of fundraising?  Stewardship is defined as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care” (Merriam-Webster). It’s the second part of this definition that we as fundraisers should focus on:  “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

The bottom line: we need to take care of a supporter’s donation by 1) doing what we said we were going to do with it, AND 2) telling them that we did 3) WHILE expressing gratitude.

A new term has emerged on the fundraising landscape in recent years to express this.  That term is #donorlove (note the hash tag, look it up on any social media platform when you need some inspiration).  According to fundraising guru Jen Love, #donorlove is putting “the donors at the heart of everything you do, at the heart of every interaction you have with them. Expressing what your donors make possible by giving to you, and making them heroes for the amazing things they achieve for your cause.”[1]

We must show our donors that they matter.  We must show them that we can’t change the world without them.  We can’t take them for granted.  We can’t view them as transactions or dollar signs.  We must constantly work to build deeper relationships with them.  We must convince everyone in our organization, regardless of their job title, to do the same.  We must build a culture of philanthropy at our organization.  Stewardship must be everyone’s first priority.

But why?

Why Donor Stewardship Must Come First

Donor stewardship must come first because it is the key to donor retention.  What is donor retention?  Donor retention simply means keeping your donors from year to year.  It is typically given as a rate or percentage.  Your donor retention rate is the percentage of donors you keep from year to year.

And now the bad news … the average donor retention for US charities was only 45% in 2017.[2]  That means that if the average US nonprofit had 100 donors at the end of 2016, they only had 45 of those same donors at the end of 2017!  Donors are leaving faster than the average charity can bring them on board.  You can do better.  You must do better.

Why are donor retention rates so poor?  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 found the time to write those thank you notes? No big deal.”  Or … “Impact letters are three months behind schedule?  That’s okay.”  For most bosses, 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.  It will also put you on a constant search for more donors, as your current ones move on to other causes.

So what’s the solution?  You need to build a simple stewardship system that puts #donorlove on autopilot and shows your donors that they are more than dollar signs to your organization.  Stewardship activities need to be routine weekly standard business practices, not something that you do when you “have the time.”  Later on in this guide we’ll outline a simple system that will do just that for your organization.

But first, let’s make sure we’re stewarding the right donors.

WHICH DONORS SHOULD WE FOCUS ON?

Contrary to what some nonprofit executives and boards believe, not all donors are actually retainable.  Specifically, transactional donors are often extremely difficult to retain from year to year.  Transactional donors are your event attendees, raffle ticket purchasers, auction item buyers and peer to peer campaign donors.  The common thread with them is that they donated to purchase something or to support someone else, not necessarily because they care deeply about your organization’s mission.  While we should certainly attempt to retain transactional donors and educate them about our mission, they don’t warrant the same amount of effort as our relational mission-based donors.  These are the folks that care deeply about our mission and  would welcome a closer relationship with us.

You may also want to set a minimum donation amount (perhaps $50 or $100 and above) for donors to go into your enhanced stewardship system.  Below that they would still receive a standard gift acknowledgment letter and organizational correspondence – just not the personalized stewardship efforts that we’ll soon discuss.  This is a bit controversial as there is always the classic story of the $20 annual donor that leaves a $1 million bequest because they were treated well by the nonprofit organization.  The key here is to figure out your stewardship capacity.  What percentage of your relational donors can you steward and steward well?  Especially in small shops, it’s probably not everyone.

THE RULE OF 7

There’s one last research-based factor we need to consider before building our simple stewardship system. Research has shown that donors need to be contacted at least seven times between asks, or they feel over-solicited.[3]  This means that you need to reach out at least seven times between your solicitations with something that is not asking for money, or else donors are going to say, “You only ever contact me when you want money.”

So, we need to develop a schedule of creative donor touch points. What’s a touch point? A touch point is a positive non-ask communication with a donor. Seven may seem like a lot, but the beauty of this is that everything counts. Your immediate thank you counts. Your gift acknowledgment counts. An invitation to a free event counts. Your donor newsletter counts (if they read it).  The key here is to develop a system of touches, and schedule them so that you ensure that at least seven happen.

So now that we know what we need to do to make donors feel appreciated and not over-solicited, let’s build a simple stewardship system designed to ensure that systematic, regular stewardship and #donorlove takes place in our nonprofit organization.

A SIMPLE STEWARDSHIP SYSTEM

So, where do we begin? Our goal is to create a donor stewardship system that is triggered as soon as a donation is received and works to make sure a donor feels properly thanked and appreciated the whole way up until the time of their next donation. It should have mostly standard touch points but leave some flexibility so we can be creative and not come across as inhuman.  But the key will be making sure we reach that magic number of at least seven touch points before our next solicitation.

The other side of this is how are we going to do all of this if we work in a small shop?  What if your fundraising operation consists of just one person?  Or maybe it’s a volunteer that completes these tasks for your organization.  We need to organize our system in a way that there are scheduled daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that anyone can complete. This will allow us to put the system on autopilot so we can ensure that donor stewardship is always happening.  We’ll also know that we’re doing everything we can to boost our donor retention rate while we focus on finding new support for our organization.

So, let’s get started. Let’s say we receive a $100 donation from a new donor. What do we do next?

Amp Up Your Donation Thank You Page


You need to think about the experience that your donors have when they see your donation thank you page. These are often pretty standard: “Thank you so much for your support, we’ll mail you a gift acknowledgement in a couple days, we couldn’t do this without you …” That’s the bare minimum. Don’t just do the bare minimum.

For the next level up, some fundraisers will share a story on there. They show impact. They show how this donation will make a difference by change someone’s life. That’s a step in the right direction. Some folks will include a video in there saying thank you. Sometimes they even have the beneficiary saying thank you in that video.

But here’s something you can really do to stand out. Instead of a thank you video from a beneficiary, what about a handwritten thank you note from that beneficiary, scanned in and plopped right onto that donation thank you page? Wouldn’t that be neat? As soon as you make your donation you instantly get a thank you from one of the people that will benefit from your support.

So amp up that donation thank you page. Make it impactful. Make it unique. Whether it’s a video, a thank you note or something else, include a word from the beneficiaries. They’re not paid to say thank you, you are. So anytime you can let them speak for you, it’s so much better.

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.

The WHAT

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.

The HOW

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.

Make the Donor the Hero of Your Organization’s Story

Make the Donor the Hero of Your Organization’s Story

This post is a shout out to my fundraising writing mentor, Tom Ahern.  Tom specializes in applying the discoveries of psychology and neuroscience to the day-to-day business of inspiring and retaining donors.

About three years ago, I heard Tom say “your donors don’t care about your campaign goal” and it was transformative for me.  I had been putting campaign goals in my appeal letters for years (e.g. “We’re only $15,000 away from our goal, with your help we can meet it before our fiscal year ends!”).  But research has shown that donors don’t really care about our fundraising goals — especially prospective donors.  Yes, helping an organization reach their goal might be nice, but the goal doesn’t belong to the donor so in the end they just really don’t care about it that much.

But Tom has found that it goes a bit further than just your goals that donors don’t care that much about.  They don’t care all that much about organizational accomplishments either.  Things like be re-accredited, finalizing a new strategic plan or hiring a great new staff member seem like big reportable news stories, but in the end donors aren’t that interested.  Thanks for crushing our dreams, Tom!

So what do donors care about?  They care about themselves.  Not in a selfish way, but in how they help your organization succeed.  They want to know what difference their support makes.  The impact their donation has on your ability to fulfill your mission.

Another great line and tactic by Tom is to “make the donor the hero of your organization’s story.”  This is actually pretty easy to do, you just use the word “you” a ton throughout your correspondence.  Lines like “With your support …” and “Because of you  …” are great ways to say what happened, but to clearly state that it’s the donor that made it happen.  They are the hero of this story, not you or your organization.  Without them, none of it would be possible.

So take a look at your last appeal letter and see how you did.  When I review letters for clients, about 50% of them still talk about the campaign goal and 80% of them don’t have enough “yous” in the text.

Stop Showering All of Your Donors with Love

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:

https://michaelrosensays.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/stop-showering-all-of-your-donors-with-love/

Twice a week Chad sends out quick tips, free fundraising templates/samples, links to articles by industry gurus and top notch recommendations.  Want in? Subscribers are also eligible to win his monthly swag bag drawing featuring great fundraising books, gear and a $100 donation to your cause!

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