Five Tips to Build Relationships with Corporate Donors

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Ebony R. Lincoln, a 15-year corporate communications and philanthropy veteran who has worked on the teams deciding on and directing corporate philanthropy with major corporations, including State Farm, Ameren and Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals. Ebony had bclc_bizgivesback_skr2some tips on building strong relationships with your corporate donors and we added some of our own.

Remember that corporate giving is driven by relationships… the same as any giving relationship.  Too often, we hear the misperception that corporate giving is simply a well in which the not-for profit world needs to dip a bucket.  (For more on a creating a balanced portfolio, check out this post by my colleague, Laura.)

1)  Make it make sense!

Get to know the company by reading its website, annual report and press releases.  Ask yourself; “Does my organization align with the company’s values, mission and giving objectives?” You must know the answer to this question before seeking to establish a partnership. Corporate donors are looking to connect with organizations that can relate to their services or products. For example, it makes sense for a science-based company to partner with an organization delivering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs that work to support teachers and students. Once you know the company and understand their philanthropy objectives, guidelines and criteria present initiatives or programs (new or existing) that connect with the company. If it doesn’t fit or make sense, don’t force it.

Then go beyond to ask:  what problems or challenges does this company have that we could help solve?  A company that requires a strong, entry-level workforce who is drug and alcohol-free may seek out investment in an organization that provides prevention or treatment programs.  A corporation facing increasing health care costs, or absenteeism due to health problems in their workforce gets returned value when supporting an organization tackling research and treatment, or focusing on building health and wellness in the community.

2) Develop an authentic relationship resulting in a true partnership.

Checkbook philanthropy generally only works for the short-term. While this approach will support your bottom line, it creates a situation that allows the company to walk away whenever times get hard.  Go beyond the funding application and the company’s financial support:  giving motivation is part of the equation but not the whole thing. Go deep to uncover the values of the company and help to fulfill them.  Anchoring your relationship in their values makes your organization a partner at their corporate table.

If a company is passionate about being green or service-learning, determine if your organization can align to those topics and then make it your mission to infuse that into your partnership with them, and report back to them through your stewardship.  When you seek to connect with the company on a deeper level, you are telling the company that it is important enough for you to make an investment that supports the relationship and understand what values matter most to them.

3)  Provide meaningful opportunities that allow all levels of the company to be actively engaged and long term fixtures with in your organization.

Yes, employee engagement may feel like the “hot, new topic”, but it, too, has long been fundamental to strong corporate relationships.  Not only do opportunities for employee engagement raise morale, it enables you and your corporate donors to leverage all the assets they have available.  Meaningful opportunities can range from having someone at the company serve (not just “sit”) on your board, or speak at a career day or awareness event at your organization.  Short on marketing expertise or resources?  Tap into the corporate marketing department.  Need human resources expertise for an on-going project or short-term advice?  Get to know a corporate partner’s professionals.  Need some laptops and networking expertise to ease registration and check out at your gala?  Ask for help from the IT department of a corporate sponsor.  Look for ways to get as many employees as possible from every level of the company (not just executives) more involved and invested in the work of your organization. Your goal is to create true champions of your organization who live within the company. These champions can play a key role when it’s time for the company to make a decision about continuing funding to your organization.

4)  Build for mutual success and be accountable.

Non-profits can ensure success by developing multi-year initiatives that are mutually beneficial in partnership with the company. Approach your relationship from a long-term perspective and know what your non-negotiables are.  Make the partnership easy for the company by doing the “heavy lifting” for the company, whenever possible. For example, if the company is involved in your organization’s mentoring program, take the responsibility for managing the match process and report on the success and impact in a way that can easily be communicated throughout the company.   Most importantly, be accountable to your corporate partners in when things go well and when things go awry.  By being willing to have an open, frank and candid relationship with the company – talking about how a program has succeeded, how things have gone differently than anticipated, and what the organization is doing to “fail forward” – you build TRUST.  Every company is intimately familiar with “productive failures” and may prove to be a valued partner in helping solve your challenges.  And, of course, provide timely reports on progress as you promise…  under-promise and over-deliver.

5)  Drive exposure and recognition.

Companies don’t want to be seen as self-serving but they do want a return on investment. PR from non-profits gets picked up quicker than PR from corporations.  Look for ways to recognize and acknowledge corporate contributions, initiatives and partnership success regularly. For example, develop a PR plan when a new, significant program is created with a corporate partner or when a company participates in your organization’s major programs or awareness events.  (Not sure how to do this well?  Ask for their help and expertise in building the right PR campaign that meets everyone’s needs!)  Your goal is to demonstrate and promote your partner’s outstanding corporate citizenship, whenever possible.

It Takes More Than A Pretty Face at Fundraising Events

Does the adage, “Sex sells.”, ring true for fundraising? Last week, “20/20” featured a segment on Charity Angels,  a Los Angeles-based company that hires good-looking women to “work the room” during nonprofit fundraising events.  According to their website, The Charity Angels have successfully partnered with over 100 non-profits to help raise over $10 million dollars for organizations across the United States.

Charity Angels join a growing group “fundraisers for hire” in which individuals outside of the nonprofit organization are hired to be the face of the organization at events or make phone calls on behalf of the organization. Whether or not these “hired guns” are a growing trend, they CAN NOT take the place of professional fundraising staff especially, those who serve as major gifts and individual giving staff members.

As professional fundraising staff, you live and breathe your organization’s mission, strategic plan and impact . You are skilled at building donor relationships and securing life-long philanthropists for your organization. You are often the first one in the office and the last one to leave because you have “just one more call to make.” You have created and implemented strategies that have provided donors with the unique opportunity to save and transform lives.

It takes more than a pretty face to build lasting donor relationships. “Fundraisers for hire” don’t build a culture of philanthropy and they definitely don’t take the place of your volunteers and leadership in sustaining donor relationships.

During this season of summer fundraisers and planning for fall galas here are 5 tips to keep relationship building at the center of your work.

1) Create an engagement plan for your key guests focused on the experience you want them to  have, who you want them to meet, messages you want them to hear and feel, and the outcomes you want to achieve as a result of their attendance.

2) Have specific roles for your leadership, mission staff, volunteers and “clients” at your event.

3) Prepare leadership, mission staff, volunteers and “clients” for their roles prior to your event including a briefing on key individuals, talking points and pictures so they can identify key individuals and donors.

4) Arrange “mission stations” sprinkled around the event – pictures of the kids in your program, mission staff or “clients” demonstrating some aspect of your programs or have program volunteers answering questions.

5) Develop post event follow up plans for your guests in advance of your event-customize this follow up based upon the guest’s relationship with your organization.

So yes, in some industries sex does sell. But we are not in the business of selling. Our sector is focused on changing and transforming lives. You are more than a pretty face; for many you are THE FACE of your organization and you wear it well!



The Three Most Important Board Roles

Type “board roles” into your favorite search engine and you will come up with a wealth of topics and purveyors of The Answer.  Still the question persists:  “But WHAT should my board be DOING?”  With so much information already out there, why is there such confusion, hand-wringing, frustration on the part of the staff team – executive and imagesdevelopment –  and on the part of the board about what a high-performing board should be doing to support the fund development efforts of the organization or institution?  I don’t want to devolve into a marketing pitch here, but we strive to deliver practical solutions here – and I think the problem with many of these resources is that they are not answering the practical question being asked… and maybe we’re not always clear on what we’re asking about board roles.

Here is what the answer is NOT:  the answer is not about whether you have a “hands on” or “rubber stamp” board, whether this board is a working board or a governing board.  In reality, all boards should be hands-on sometimes – and occasionally rubber-stamp a wise strategy.  Governing is hard work so I have never understood that distinction.  The answer doesn’t come from a pretty flow chart (…and anyone who knows me knows that I love a good flow chart – though a less popular approach when making a point with my spouse.  Different post.  Different day.)

The answer is found in discerning what we’re really asking about:  are you looking to understand and agree on the board’s fund development roles or their fund development jobs

Fund Development jobs are relatively simple – and we should keep them that way.  This is not to say they don’t need support and training, but there are just five JOBS we need board members to fulfill, each in different measure, and according to their skills and abilities:

Slide1When board members support the fund development program by doing those five jobs, we’re in good shape.  No matter what size your staff is now, you’ve got “force multiplication” and the potential for peer-to-peer outreach, even if most of the solicitation is done (or supported) by staff members.  It takes training to make sure board members have the skills and abilities to those jobs well.  (Go here for an easy-to-adapt tool on engaging your board in stewardship.  And go here for a past webinar on engaging your board in fund development.)

It is true that you can focus on those jobs and still not get anywhere in your fund development program…  It causes the plaintive cry where I started this post.  In my experience, that cri de coeur often comes from the fact that board members didn’t first embrace the ROLES that enable the jobs to get done well.

We need to allocate the right people to the right specific jobs once we have them.  First we must recruit for these roles, and not be shy about stating explicitly what role every board member must play in fund development.  Lucky for us, there are only three really important roles for you to share with your board:

1)   Give generously and be willing to talk passionately and convincingly about why you invest.  To be a good “fund developer” and carry out those five jobs, every board member must identify with those they are reaching out to, know what a good donor looks like, be proud and vocal about their support of this organization.

2)   Assess the risk of your fundraising approach, creating balance and mitigating risk.  Every board member – whether you are trained in fund development or not – should be able to recognize that holding ONE fundraising event on which all or a significant percentage of the year’s revenue rides is RISKY.  That’s really, really risky.  So, do not do it.   Same goes for relying on one donor, or one source of giving.  Something happens to one donor or one sector and…. pppphhhft.  Equally, every board member should be able to recognize that doing 17 events or campaigns is probably not a good use of resources and splits attention in too many directions.  And, with a little education, most board members can embrace the wisdom of focusing on building a robust pool of leadership donors who provide significant investment each year.

3)  Be available, demand that your availability is used well.  Agreeing to take on those five roles – or some of those five roles – but then neeeeeeever quite getting around to doing what you are asked shirks this role. Promise what you will deliver.  Then, you can and should demand (Staff: talking to you now…) that your time be used well, on the right jobs with the right donors and that everyone measures the effectiveness of what they’re doing, not to punish anyone, but to see what works best and do more of that.

What should a high-performing board being doing?  Embracing three roles that lead the way to five effective jobs.  Practical?  I think so.

Letter to a Friend (About Why I didn’t Give More to your Gala)

A good friend who sits on the board of the organization that she loves invited us to their gala and then called to follow up.  Isn’t she a good board member?  I’m so proud of her!  We couldn’t attend.  But we did give… just not a stretch gift.  And look above: this is a GOOD friend… someone I’m really proud of and have great feelings about.  Why didn’t I give more?Gala X

I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve used the Tarnside Curve to illustrate why donors don’t make stretch gifts based on the relationship they have with the person doing the asking.  But my email to her spelled it out at greater length and I decided to share it with you in hopes that like her and her organization, you might find some lessons learned to apply to yours.

Dear Very Good Friend,

First, I’m so sorry that we can’t make it to the Gala.  It would have been lovely to catch up with you and see you in your new role on the Board.  Second, I wanted to share with you why I am not giving more.  I know that you asked for my input on fundraising for your organization before, and this seemed like a good moment to share my thoughts.

As I was going through your organization’s site and figuring out how much we should give, I had some thoughts.  Please know that I realize how hard it must be to run Organization X and that most of the staff are out there doing the real work of helping clients who need it.  And I don’t know any of the back story on the site, who wrote it, the politics, etc.  In any case, this isn’t meant to come off as belittling any of the work they do on the ground or who they are as people.  Not at all.  I’m sharing my thoughts with you because if Organization X were my client, it’s what I’d do.  If it’s helpful, then share and feel free to share as is.  If it’s not the teachable moment I think it could be, and/or would hurt feelings and be unhelpful, then please don’t.

I tell my clients all the time that there are plenty of great organizations out there to support.  Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find them.

I went to Organization X’s site because of you and your clear passion about the work they do.  I trust you.  I value your opinion.  I don’t know all that much about Organization X.  This is how many many donors are introduced to organizations, especially in the context of events.

So there I am now looking around on the site and trying to figure out how much to give.  Should I do what’s comfortable, or should I forgo something I want to do and stretch?   If I do the stretch, then I have to explain it.  Already, I’ve explained to the family that we’re giving to Organization X because “Aunti loves them and I respect her and want to support her cause.” 

But to go the extra mile on this, I’d have to say more. I’m looking… I’m looking… I’m not seeing much.

When I get to the “stories” page, the first thing I see is the founders page and it’s a little bit off-putting because it suggests that the organization was founded on a whim.  I am willing to bet that the founders story is an awesome one that had much more than, “had nothing better to do” as a beginning.  But this is what it says.  I stop reading.  I’ve got 10 minutes to my name here and this isn’t what I’m looking for.  So then I move on to see if there is an annual report anywhere.  What I am looking for is a breakdown of the financials, what the annual budget is and also an idea of giving levels. Here again, I come up empty-handed.  OK… what about an idea of what various levels of giving means in terms of impact?  Nope.  Nothing to be found.  I sit back a minute.  It dawns on me that there are no photos.  That the site is all text, and not even written particularly well.  Ugh.

My thoughts go back to you.  I remind myself that you are super-smart and that you wouldn’t sit on a board for no reason.  Organization X MUST be doing terrific work.  I just don’t have any sense of it.

And so… I make my “comfortable” gift.

After the gala is behind you all and you can sit and think, here are a few things that I’d do right away:

1. Create impact statements.  My son and his friends just raised money to plant trees and gave it to  Every $1 plants 1 tree.  They want to plant one billion.  Take a look.  It’s a huge goal.  But they aren’t afraid to throw it out there.  And incredibly, every $1 of that billion feels important.  When I give my gift to Organization X, what does that mean?  What can I feel good about in making this contribution besides vaguely knowing I’ve done something good because you say I have?  Create impact statements to tell visitors to your site and donors new and old the impact of gifts made at various levels.  This is going to be useful for far more than just your site.  (Sidebar:  I didn’t include this in my letter, but you can download a great resource on writing impact statements here.)

2.  Post your financials.  You don’t need to create and post an annual report in my opinion.  Hardly anyone reads those.  But what they do look for is exactly what I looked for.  To not have that information up makes you look bad.

3.  Make the site more visually appealing.  You have this know-how.  I realize you can’t post photos of the clients for safety sake.  But there are all kinds of creative images you could post that don’t show faces.  Look at what other like organizations are doing.  I know you know this already, but Facebook is ranking images and video much higher than plain text in terms of their edge rank, their news feed algorithm that determines which posts get seen and by whom.  That says it all, doesn’t it?

4.  Be sure all the content is appealing and it’s not there for political reasons alone.  If you are going to share stories, make certain that they are really strong.  And know that most visitors are looking for client stories.  It helps me feel good about giving when I see a story of a client whose life was transformed by Organization X.  When I have my consultant hat on, I talk about helping donors feel like superheros for supporting them.  Keep that in your mind as you decide what to post on the site.  Would reading it make someone feel like a superhero for supporting?

I could go on.  But I won’t because I know it’s going to take time to get through this list as it is and that is going to take commitment from more than just you.  No matter that I know how hard it is to think about these things right after going through the hard work of putting a successful event together, it’s really important that you all do this.  I’m happy to chat about this whenever.   In the meantime, good luck tomorrow night!  I’m sorry I won’t get to be there.

Good for you for being involved with Organization X.  I’m proud of you and will be rooting for you guys tomorrow… 

Love, Neesha

Have you had a friend – a GOOD friend – visit your organization’s website?  Asking for that frank assessment of the public face you are sharing with the world can offer invaluable feedback.

Three Steps and Three Tools to Jumpstart Your SEO

Guest Blogger:  Ashley Dortch, Co-Founder, Meridian Interactive

Last week, I had the opportunity to podcast with Neesha Rahim.  We had a great discussion on how nonprofits might use the SEO process to build strategic major donor relationships.  I hope you got to listen!  Neesha said many of you have put incredible effort into building a website.  Some of you have perhaps even installed your Google Analytics and figured out the basic way to use it.  But search-engine-optimizationincreasingly, we hear that some of you are finding that — gulp! —  only a few people were actually visiting those great sites.  Whether you see yourself in those words or not, if you’ve launched a website and have started to look at analytics on how visitors interact with that site, this post is for you.  It’s time to start thinking about increasing traffic and upping your game. There are options out there that can be expensive, like purchasing advertising. However, another option that all website owners should take advantage of is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.

Search Engine Optimization, by definition, is the process of increasing traffic to your website organically, or within the free (non-paid) results on the search engines. Understanding the process of SEO and educating your organization on what search engines consider when ranking websites will provide the measurable benefits of increased traffic at minimal cost AND this process presents you with an opportunity to build out your major donor relationships.  (More on how exactly how to do that in this podcast…)

Here I want to provide you with three detailed, simple steps utilizing three free tools that I referred to in that podcast on taking your SEO game-plan to the next level:

1) Decipher the Competition and See Where They Stand using “PR Checker”
Understanding your competition and where other organizations in your niche rank is important to your SEO strategy.  Think of search terms that donors, philanthropists, and other potentially interested parties may be looking for – for a youth development organization, say: “Giving to Children’s Education”. Type “Giving to Children’s Education” into Google and make a list of who appears in the search results. These are the players you want to be mindful of, analyze, and eventually appear next to (if you already don’t).  Using the PR Checker, you can see what Google thinks of your competitors as well. This gives a nice gauge as to where they stand and what you should strive for. Google ranks sites on a 0 to 10 basis.
2) Competitive Keyword Research using the “SEO Book Page Analyzer”
Once you decipher the top competitors and high-rankers in your industry, it’s time to see what keywords they are using. Find the exact page that is showing up in the results (for example,, as opposed to  Next, plug the page into the SEO Book Page Analyzer. This will show you the top keyword strings that appear on that page. Pay more attention to the two and three keyword strings, as opposed to the single-word keywords, as longer strings may produce more exact results. Once you have this list of keywords, start blogging, producing articles, and creating content using these keywords. Putting content out there on the web that is relevant to what your competitors are writing about is a great way to be found amongst them in search results.
3) Link Building using BackLinkWatch
Relevant inbound links from high ranking sites are key for improving your search rank for SEO. Think of it as the credit game.  A teenager starts out with no credit, and her parent decides to help her build credit by adding them to their credit card (with a $250 limit, of course!). Google and the other search engines rank your site in the same way. The goal is to know your page rank, and get sites with higher page ranks to link to you, therefore boosting your ranking.
So how do we go about this? Using your list of competitors (those organizations you admire who are doing work like yours), drop their websites into the BacklinkWatch tool. Now, see who is linking to them, and find creative ways to get those other sites to link to you too! Remember to be mindful of the rank for these sites (use the PR Checker tool above).  If the site who is linking to your competitor has a #1 rank, and you have a #3, it may not be worth your effort.
But why will they link to you? Because you are offering them something of value… Ask to contribute to their articles, see if they will allow you to introduce yourself to their audience, if they have a directory, see what it takes to get listed… it’s that simple. This not only increases your website rank, but it gets you in front of interested eyes and relevant readers. Syndication across the web is key… Think of the web as your “keyword highway” and you want to be on every billboard along the way.
If you would like to reach our guest blogger, Ashley, you can do so at Meridian Interactive ( Email: Phone: (347)268-4089


The Four Agreements for Development Officers

4 agreementsYears ago I read the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and was reintroduced to it a couple of weeks ago while watching “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). It got me to thinking about how these agreements are helpful not only in our personal lives but also in our lives as professional fundraisers.

In his work, Don Miguel Ruiz describes how implementing these agreements can help us with the relationships we have with ourselves and with one another. When I think of the first agreement, “Be impeccable with your word”, it reminds me of donor stewardship at its best.

Agreement 1 – Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.  –The Four Agreements

When we speak the truth about our work and how our donors have moved our cause forward we are using the power of our words to build a more authentic bond with our donors. When we talk about the true impact our donors’ gifts are having – the lives changed, families transformed, animals saved – we allow it to come from a place of integrity and sincerity about our work and who we are as an organization.  When we use our words both written and verbal, we use them in ways that inspire our donors for continued action while demonstrating gratitude for what they have already done.  By being impeccable with our word, we also speak the truth during times of adversity or when there is an issue with a donor’s gift.

Throughout my career (and honestly, on a daily basis), I have the opportunity to practice the second agreement, “Don’t take anything personally.” As fundraisers, how often do we take it personally (even if for a minute) when a donor says no to a gift request or the donor makes a gift much lower than we asked?

Agreement 2 – Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. – The Four Agreements

Of course, there will be a period of self-reflection when a donor declines our request or a gift comes in at a lower amount. We think about things we could have done differently, such as the timing of our solicitation, or the actual program we thought this donor was passionate about. However, when this self-reflection becomes self-defeating, the concept of not taking anything personally is a tool that can help us move forward and continue to build the relationship with the donor that will manifest into a joyous, inspired gift.

I can recall clearly the day when a donor, whom I thought was ready to make a significant gift, called me “a pest” after months of what I thought was a good relationship. So yes, for a moment… actually several moments, that lasted the rest of the day… I did take her comment personally. Fast-forward three months later, after letting go of that comment and figuring out what she would say yes to, I called the donor. She enthusiastically agreed to meet and she made a joyous, inspired, generous gift of $500,000.  Of course, there was a lot of re-evaluating and strategy that happened between “The Pest Comment” and having this great experience with the donor, but the fact of the matter is, it happened when I let go and resolved to not take it personally.

Along with sometimes taking donor reactions personally, we might also fall victim to making assumptions about the donor’s passion for our organization. The third agreement, “Don’t make assumptions”, speaks directly to this.

Agreement 3 – Don’t make assumptions.  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. –The Four Agreements

Our board relationships can often be ones where we make assumptions. For example, one might assume “Of course we are our Board Chair’s top priority. After all he is the Chair.”

But I have experienced both as a fundraiser and witnessed as a consultant, that this is not always the case. When organizations have as a practice to meet with their board members individually with the purpose of engaging and asking questions about the board member’s thoughts, feelings and plans as a volunteer and as a donor, they are able to decrease assumptions and deepen their board relationships.

The Fourth Agreement, “Always do your best”, brings all the above tools together and speaks to the reality that our “Best” varies and gives us the freedom to be our authentic selves.

Agreement 4 – Always do your best.  Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. –The Four Agreements

It’s the end of the fiscal year and your annual review is right around the corner. While some may use this as a time of reflecting on what didn’t go right or goals that were not made, it can serve you to use this time to reflect on when you truly did your best. About ten years ago, I began collecting examples of when I did my best by keeping a file called “Accolades.” This is where I kept emails and notes from donors, colleagues, bosses, etc. who commented on my work or something I accomplished. I looked at this during those tough times when “to do” lists were long and time was even shorter.  Further, when it was time to do my self-review, I could pull from these examples instead of trying to remember all that I did. This file has served me well as a reminder of doing my best and the value I bring to my organization and the people around me.

I encourage you to take a look at the Four Agreements and experience for yourself how one or all of these agreements can serve as a tool both personally and professionally. You might find that many of these agreements you have already made with yourself and the mission you serve!

Raising More Money Before, After and During Your Special Events

Since special events take a lot of time and resources, let’s make them COUNT!  The Wall Street Journal reported that “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.”  In other words, the keys to raising more money before, during Eventsand after special events, especially at leadership annual giving levels ($1,000+), are holding onto to past leadership event donors and sprinkling those donors with outstanding customer service.

The added benefit of this approach is that your message of high-touch, “WOW” customer service and great stewardship becomes contagious – word gets around your community and more people want to come to your events, learn about your cause, give and get involved. In a brand new book by Jonah Berger, the author tells us that “excitement is an activating emotion” that “increases sharing.”  The author points out that only 7% of word of mouth sharing happens online.  Most happens face-to-face.  The more we “WOW” our special event donors, the more they are going to share our story with others.  The result will be raising more money than ever before!Contagious

Here are six steps for maximizing every event, raising more leadership annual gifts and setting the stage for more major and planned gifts.

  1. Fundraising for an annual event begins the minute the event is OVER.  Make sure your “thank-you-for-attending-and-giving” note and/or phone call is sent immediately after the gift or pledge is made and then again within 24 to 72 hours after the event is over.  Reiterate in the thank you the “promise” of what the leadership annual gift level will accomplish.  If the donor sponsored a $25,000 table, for example, tell the donor and all of the folks involved with securing and giving that gift what $25,000 will help you accomplish programmatically.  Be sure to include a story and let the donors know they will be hearing from you again once you’ve put the money to use. Thank you doesn’t equal stewardship.  It is only the first step.  Sharing impact and outcomes later in the year is the heart of great stewardship.
  2. Build a name-by-name realized and projected table of gifts for each eventPicture 3
  3. Wow and Engage. For the events you held last Fall, now is a great time to provide stewardship for their gifts and engage the top donors in planning for the upcoming event later this year.  For your spring events underway or about to come about, it is not too late to provide stewardship from last year. Start with your table of gifts and list of your best fundraisers. Make appointments and go see them. This is not a phone call.  It is an in-person visit.  It’s hard to wow someone on the phone.  Remember, “Customer service is the new marketing.” Bring pictures, an under two minute video on your tablet or smartphone, a story you can share, a card drawn or signed by a beneficiary, a letter from a program staff member.
  4. At the event, have impact messaging everywhere.  Loop a video. Dot the setting with posters and videos that speak to what the leadership annual giving levels accomplish. Have board members circulate at the event and personally thank donors and fundraisers.  Check out our “Hard Working Special Events” podcast for more ideas.
  5. End where we began.  Debrief immediately after the event.  Who needs a special phone call in addition to the thank you note?  Handwritten thank you notes stand out.  Make sure your best donors and your best fundraisers receive a personal, legible, handwritten thank you note that speaks to the “promise” as discussed in item number 1.  Plan how you will make your event donors say, “WOW.”
      • Exceed expectations
      • Do so in a timely manner
      • Make it personal
      • Add emotion
      • Surprise
      • Let the donors know they are valued and appreciation

by Karen Osborne

Empowering Others Through Generous Philanthropy

Picture 3Recently, I was in Albuquerque, NM speaking to 300 women and girls at Sandia Prep about the power of leadership philanthropy.  I framed the discussion by discussing the overarching goal – life-long inspired, joyful, generous giving of all our innate gifts, talents and expertise, time, networks and treasure.  The goal is important.  Too often, we only seek a volunteer’s talents and time.  Or, we think about the individual as a donor and only seek treasure and contacts.  True philanthropy is about giving one’s all so that together we change the world.

Once we all agreed on the goal, we discussed the importance of being inspired and inspiring. As philanthropy leaders, we seek causes that engender passion within us – causes that have touched us, moved us, worry us.  We look for problems we’d like to help fix.  Similarly, as not-for-profit leaders, we most offer big ideas that address important societal issues and thus inspire deep and lasting commitment.

Next, we spent time on the notion of joyful giving.  How we, as donor/volunteers, are engaged, solicited and stewarded matters. When done well, we do feel joy.  I can remember being solicited by Don Jackson when he was with national Easter Seals. The conversation was so empowering, personal and fun that I said yes with joy and gave more than he requested. A great solicitation is a wonderful thing.

But joy also comes from within each of us as leaders and donor/volunteers.  Yes, we need information, and facts, and trust.  But we must also come to the charity with an open mind, giving heart and smile.  It is an honor and privilege to help the people, animals, communities, faiths, ideals and environments the not-for-profits serve.

We then moved to the concept of generosity.  I asked the audience to share at their tables, “How did you learn to be generous (or how are you learning to be so)?” The spoke with each other for about five minutes – five minutes out of a 75 minute session.  Although we spoke about many things after this exercise, it was the discussion about generosity that received the most feedback, tears, laughter and action.

At the end of the program people queued-up to speak with me. One woman asked for advice about starting a scholarship fund for nurses. She wanted to make a difference a difference for others – the potential nurses but most importantly, all of the people the nurses would touch throughout their careers. Thinking about generosity and leadership empowered her to take action.  She didn’t have a hospital healthcare organization, medical school or community foundation in mind, but was ready to find the right place and make an investment.  That five minute conversation inspired a new and wonderful gift.

Another participant told me she was moved to tears because her colleague told her, “I learned to be generous from you.” She didn’t know her actions had been observed, admired and emulated by her colleague until they shared at the luncheon. Sometimes we don’t know we are empowering others.

A student from Sandia Prep said she learned from one of her teachers. Good for Sandia Prep. Many said their parents or grandparents taught them.  Others spoke of religious leaders, neighbors and friends. Everyone said the conversation got them thinking, feeling, wanting to do more or just made them feel proud that they already did so much.

Perhaps the above examples have you thinking.  They got me reflecting and I thought I’d share several things worth noting:

  1. The reason I love the work we do.  Everyone at The Osborne Group is a philanthropist and volunteer. We love our clients’ missions.  We love teaching.  What a gift to be able to do work that is both meaningful and enjoyable.
  2. How smart it is for an organization to open its doors to others for a conversation not about the institution, but about societal topics with broad appeal. Yes, the room was filled with friends of the school, but also with people with no connection.  The Albuquerque AFP chapter, United Way, local businesses, fundraisers and board members from other organizations filled the seats.  They all left seeing the school at its best, and the experience created social capital.
  3. Asking provocative questions and listening to understand is one of the best ways we know to inspire action.  I asked them to think about how they learned to be generous and look at the results.  Asking a question is so much more effective that pitching and persuading. Great questions get people thinking.  If you would like our latest list of strategic questions tailored for your sector, contact me at
  4. Modeling behavior is one of the best ways to teach, inspire and empower.  I remember reading an article about raising children who are avid readers.  When my children were little, I read to them every night, long after they could read the books themselves.  I attributed their excellent reading and writing skills to that nightly habit.  It turns out that reading to a child is the right thing to do, but what actually creates readers is seeing us enjoy reading. In the same way, by being joyful and generous investors ourselves, we inspire others to do the same.

So, don’t hide your generosity. Share your passion, joy and commitment.  Be an empowering, generous, joyful philanthropic leader and let your light lead.

by Karen Osborne

Working in the New Normal: Annual Fund Strategies for Today

As you read this I have probably already sat down to meet with my very first boss, who is hiring me for the second time: first as her annual fund assistant, and this time as her consultant for her school’s annual fund.  As I prepared for our visit, I have been reflecting on how the annual fund that she and I built back in 199…whatever…  has changed from the practices we see our clients implementing today.

thenAndNowFrontHere is my running list of Annual Fund Strategies:  Then and Now (Add a big, booming voice as you say “Then and Now” in your head for added effect… Nice, right?)   What would you add to your list?  How has your annual fund approach changed in the last ten years?  Or the last five?  What happened before 2008 that is just not coming back?  Post comments here or leave your ideas on our Facebook page.  We’ll collect them all and post in a future blog entry.

Then…  Segmenting your mailing was enough.  I will admit to having a 32-segment mailing once, each with their own slightly parsed difference between one letter text and another.  Everyone got fundamentally the same message and everyone was just asked to “give, give, give… trust us and we’ll do the rest.”  Unrestricted dollars that could slop around to every corner of the budget were the only thing to do.

NOW:  There are few programs today who don’t see a higher level of engagement and more inspired giving when donors are given the ability to be activists.  CFOs (and I) still need unrestricted dollars: that will always be the heart of a strong annual fund, but making tangible the impact of giving to the annual is mandatory.   No more “margin of excellence”; annual fund dollars help provide things like the manipulatives underpinning the mathematics program in the after-school experience.  Gone is “bridge the gap” talk about other revenue sources and the annual fund; the annual fund helps ensure that mission staff have the iPads and tech training they need to collect and evaluate data on the efficacy of your program in the field.  These dollars all need to hit your budget directly, but need specifics around them that make it clear and concrete what they accomplish.

An extra idea, building on this one?  Look for three to five “big buckets” within your budget toward which your annual fund gifts can be designated (not restricted!  This makes your CFO happy!).  For schools these categories are often:  financial aid, faculty salaries, library and technology, spaces for learning, athletics, etc…  What would those big budget areas be for your organization?  Allowing your donors to vote with their dollars for the things that most resonate for them not only provides one more good reason to step up giving, but also gives you a clear road map for how to steward these donors.

…which leads to “Then and Now” #2…

Then… Stewardship was something you did for endowment donors, donors of Chairs, building naming, scholarships when they became fully funded and probably only did once:  put the plaque up, name the new Chair holder, have a dinner, and wash your hands of it.

NOW:  That pig isn’t going to fly for even one second.  Not only must stewardship be a year-on-year institutional value that is woven throughout your relationship building with your donors, it is a universal.  All annual fund donors deserve WORLD CLASS stewardship.  Getting used to talking about the annual fund in tangible, specific ways is the first step.  Understanding your donors’ motivation through their gift designation is a second step.  Getting people to help you take on this project – even with its enormous value add – is the third.

Try this:  rather than just asking volunteers to “please make 10 (or 20 or 30) calls” to past donors, thank-a-thon style, let your volunteers know that you have $75,000 (or $500,000 or $5M) worth of thank you calls to make and would they be willing to take $12,000 of that.  Then keep reporting back:  “Your thank you calls valued at $75,000 last year turned into repeat gifts of $83,000 this year.”  Who wouldn’t feel great and motivated to do more?

Finally, a NOW and NOW:

Maybe you saw these two incredible stories about focused giving contests – one at Columbia that raised $7M in one day (ONE DAY!  CloEve Demmer, who spearheaded this is a friend of ours and, no kidding, one smart lady!) and the other that may have helped inspire and guide Columbia’s efforts:  Giving Days.

Among the reason these two focused campaigns worked is that they borrowed the “vocabulary” of gaming to bring fun into the annual fund.  (C’mon.  I had to.  Put the FUN back in the annual fund? A classic knee slapper.  To development officers only.)

  • These initiatives had a near-term, reachable goal for which everyone was responsible.
  • They had a clear beginning, middle and end to their quest.  A 365 day campaign is the AF Director’s reality but soooooo long for a volunteer.
  • They had rules of engagement:  certain volunteers could use any of a variety of outreach tools, but had to do it themselves and accounted back to “home base” with their results.
  • They knew what winning was going to mean:  dollars, new donors, repeat donors.

We play games because we love taking on tasks that are exactly hard enough.  How can you use today’s tools – email, social media, video, podcasting, blogging, etc… to make your annual fund volunteers’ job more fun and more of a game?  And, how about using this to jump start a monthly giving program?  Europeans envy our culture of giving in many ways, but are befogged by why we don’t embrace monthly giving programs more fully.  Deploy your volunteers on a quest for new monthly donors!

Another Now:  these campaigns were terrific, engaging, generated great excitement and energy.  But what do we do the other 364 days a year?  Once upon a time, we mailed a lot of letters, made slightly fewer phone calls and almost never left the office.  Today a robust annual fund program must be anchored with personal visits to top donors in conjunction with the major gift staff (we have a great resource on boosting annual giving in a campaign here.), to leadership donors to explore their passion and focus for their giving, to new potential leadership donors, to lapsed donors and to volunteers.  If there were one more position everyone could add right now, I would vote for a solid individual giving officer who LOVES being on the road, closing $1,000, $10,000, $50,000 annual gifts three days out of five.

Are the fundamentals of annual giving the same?  Yes.  I agree that they are.  Are there so many more ways to be creative and innovative in reaching your community of supporters?  Absolutely.  The annual fund is more fun.

50+ Donor Engagement Ideas

Picture 3Engagement and involvement are critical to succesful fundraising.  As fundraisers, we must go beyond simply telling people how strong our work is, how effective the methodology is, etc.; we must show them.  Messages that are delivered by active engagement are far more credible and memorable than messages that are delivered orally or written.  People believe and remember their own experiences.  They tend not to believe or remember what they have simply been told.

Here are 50 ideas for engaging your donors and potential donors and inspiring true belief and buy-in to your mission, vision, leadership, plan and projects.

  1. Invite to have a private conversation with your CEO on a matter related to your mission or organization
  2. Do the above but with your head of program or a person in the field
  3. Invite to listen in on a conference call where your CEO discusses a matter related to your mission or organization
  4. Invite to speak at a conference or meeting
  5. Invite to attend a conference or meeting
  6. Invite to speak to the people your mission serves
  7. Ask to host a parlor or vision meeting within their home or office
  8. Ask to provide space for a vision or parlor meeting and then report back to them on the results
  9. Ask to speak at a vision or parlor meeting
  10. Ask to introduce the organization to others within their corporation
  11. Ask to provide feedback on your case for support
  12. Ask to provide feedback on your vision statement
  13. Ask to provide feed back on your website
  14. Ask to provide feedback on your Facebook page, blog, etc.
  15. Ask to provide commentary on your strategic plan
  16. Ask them to serve on your strategic planning committee
  17. Ask to serve on your stewardship committee
  18. Ask to serve on your campaign committee
  19. Ask to serve on your board or advisory board
  20. Ask to provide advice on a matter facing your organization
  21. Ask to provide expertise on a matter helpful to your organization
  22. Invite to a briefing in your office on a issue related to your mission
  23. Ask them to interview a staff, donor or board member for your newsletter
  24. Interview them for your newsletter
  25. Ask them to be a guest blogger on your blog
  26. Ask them to review your marketing materials
  27. Invite them into the field to see a demonstration of your work
  28. Invite them to take pictures of the people you serve when they are in the field- use the pictures for your marketing, send them a nice montage of the pictures too
  29. Ask them to mentor a client
  30. Ask them to meet a parent, student, or someone else you serve
  31. Ask them to volunteer at your event
  32. Ask them to review your finances
  33. Ask them to take part in a panel discussion
  34. Invite to a panel discussion that takes place of Google+ Hangout
  35. Ask to shoot video for you
  36. Ask to edit video for you
  37. Ask if they will look at a screening list and make introductions to foundation officers on the list (or individuals or corporate officers)
  38. Ask them to interview other effective organizations within your community for insight
  39. Ask to help make a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to another potential donor
  40. Invite to attend a fundraising training with your staff
  41. Invite to attend activism training with your mission staff
  42. Invite to listen in on a staff meeting
  43. Invite to be part of your campaign video or other video
  44. Ask to provide an endorsement quote for your organization
  45. Ask to start a Facebook campaign
  46. Ask to participate in a crowdfunding campaign
  47. Ask to call a list of donors to thank them for their gift
  48. Ask to organize a “thank you-a-thon” where the whole organization calls donors to thank them
  49. Ask to call a list of new donors to thank them for donating
  50. Ask to help your clients find jobs, internships or other relevant experiences
  51. Ask them to host a party for your clients to congratulate them on an achievement
  52. Ask them to visit other potential donors that live in the area on a business trip