“It’s Time to Dream Again”

By: Woodburn, Kyle & Company

It doesn’t cost anything to dream or have a dream, but it might cost you if you don’t.  Dreams flow through nonprofits in the form of a vision.  These statements about the future can become the forces for change and motivation or they can become the forgotten efforts of a board retreat.  The economy is improving, so will your nonprofit be ready to realize its vision or be left behind thinking that the economy isn’t quite right for us to move forward just yet?

Is the vision just a sentence of carefully crafted words, or is it something more?  We believe a vision should be absorbed into the culture of any nonprofit.  Today, that might begin with changing the conversation at board meetings to emphasize more talk about the future instead of watching the bottom line, micromanaging or being manipulated by the findings of one more economic report.  The future is scheduled to arrive, so will you be on time?

Your vision statement helps tell the true story of your organization.  It conveys ambition and focus, while establishing an overarching goal for measuring success.  In terms of fundraising, it provides the source of compelling reasons for donors to support your plans and fund your organization’s future.  The vision statement can permeate the theme of your case for support and provide the hook to create excitement, passion and motivation.

One of the best ways to begin the process of change is to determine if your vision statement supports the direction your organization needs to take – now.   If you find your vision of tomorrow has been changed by the experience of the past few years, then update it.  A way to support change is to gather the board together for stimulating discussion about the future of your organization.  A visioning session is an ideal opportunity to identify the thought leaders and those who might have undiscovered skills for leadership.

Another key is to make sure your organizational structure aligns with your vision.  When you have the vision statement you want, test to see if it is compatible with your purpose and mission statements.  These two statements describe what your organization does to achieve the vision.  The goals of your vision should also be present in your strategic plan and its influence contained within the charges of your committees and their objectives.

Once the vision is embedded into the operations of your organization, you can use its theme to support promotion, marketing, branding and fundraising.  Your vision can be present in your organization’s slogan, weaved throughout your case for fundraising support, become part of your “ask” and even be used to develop strategically supportive special events.  Most importantly, it can help to describe the future.  When you are talking with a planned gifts prospect, you will be able to use your thoughts to paint a picture of the future instead of fumbling to find the brush.

One of the most important boosts to fundraising success is the perceived value of a nonprofit.  While a strong development program can be established, fundraising success still depends upon the relevance and the success of a nonprofit’s activities, the credibility of its board, the effectiveness of its administration and the ability to mount an effective marketing effort supporting its brand.  Your strategic plan is the glue that connects the vision for your organization to the activities that enable it to attain its future effectively.

So, if you think that fundraising techniques alone can help you raise significant amounts of money without a dream – your success will be limited.  Presenting the best possible case depends upon demonstrating that philanthropic support will not only fund a new building, better equipment, improved services, or insure financial sustainability, but that the funds can be effectively utilized by the entire organization while it advances towards its vision.

We believe that dreams are worth dreaming, visions are worth creating, and nonprofits can capture the imaginations of donors – if they look to the future.  The future is scheduled to arrive, will you be on time?  It’s time to dream again!

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Before the Campaign Planning Study There’s the Business Plan

By: Keith Curtis, President, The Curtis Group (member firm)

As part of our annual webinar series, The Curtis Group hosted a discussion on “What Makes an Effective Campaign.”  During the forum, a question was posed by a participant asking us to further explain the need for a business plan.  A business plan is something our firm always recommends a client develops before moving into any type of campaign and we found this to be the perfect opportunity to elaborate on its importance during our webinar.

The simple answer is this: a campaign should be considered a new line of business for an organization; therefore a strategic plan for the particular project should be developed.  Just as a company wouldn’t launch a new product without a financial plan and marketing strategy, a capital project should be treated in a similar way.

While the feasibility or planning study is the first formal phase of a campaign and is certainly imperative to its success, before this, it is important to develop a business plan for the project itself.  This entails a thorough analysis of all aspects of your project, including: the community need, the total cost, how it will be managed, how it will be sustained (operated and expenses covered), how it fits into the organization’s mission and if your organization has the ability to execute the project simultaneously with existing programs.  It is crucial that your board thinks through these questions and outlines the answers before entering into a planning study, much less a campaign.  Going through this exercise will not only help refine your plans, but it will address any deficiencies.

Establishing a business plan helps an organization ensure that their project is credible and well founded. This is particularly important when talking to potential donors about their gift to a campaign because it presents the project as a sound investment.  Now more than ever, donors view charitable gifts as investments.  They want to not only feel confident about the feasibility of a campaign, but they want to see the metrics that ensures the campaign has been well planned and is destined to succeed, ensuring a philanthropic return on their charitable gift.

Before you consider proceeding with a campaign, no matter what the goal amount, ensure that you’ve done the proper planning and developed a road map not only for how the campaign will be orchestrated, but how the project will be self-sustaining.  Doing this will increase the confidence your campaign leadership has in the project, it will lay a solid foundation for executing the campaign, and your donors will be more responsive to your requests for support knowing there is a plan in place once the money has been raised.

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Alumni Participation Percentage

By Devin Mathias of member firm Marts & Lundy

Three simple words, so many problems.

When you first hear these words many things may come to mind – US News & World Report, Annual Giving, Impossible Metric, etc.

Alumni participation is a misguided metric for development’s broad-based fundraising.  Annual giving leaders and experts across the globe have known and discussed this for years.  While alumni participation can provide your institution a bit of context for some of your fundraising efforts, such as reunions, student fundraising and event-based fundraising, it is detrimental to let alumni participation serve as your primary annual giving metric.

Why is alumni participation so bad that I consider it the “bane of annual giving metrics?” Focusing on alumni participation pushes an annual giving program in the wrong direction.  For the purpose of this post, I will assume you want the following from your annual giving program:

  • A pipeline of donors for leadership annual giving and, in turn, major giving
  • A broad-based approach to fundraising
  • Increased revenue from the appeals

If you focus on alumni participation, none of these goals are truly met, with the possible exception of the second bullet point.  In fact, alumni participation provides motivation to stall the pipeline and focus on gifts of any size, rather than increasing gift revenue, so as to increase the number of donors.

This focus also provides motivation to “lose” or, maybe more accurately, “not find” alumni who you’ve lost track of over the years.  This helps lower the denominator in the “alumni donors” divided by “total alumni” equation.  It also, sadly, provides incentive to fudge the numbers, as many of us have seen and the Wall Street Journal has highlighted.

So what should you be focused on when measuring annual giving?  Two primary metrics can help you meet the goals above and focus your resources more effectively:

1)      Total donors
2)      Donor counts by gift bands ($1-$100, $101-250, $251-$500, etc.)

Focusing on total donors broadens the base of your donor pyramid, provides incentive to find lost alumni and ensures that you give appropriate attention to acquiring new donors.  It also lets you focus on constituencies beyond alumni.  Community members, faculty & staff, and student families (not just parents) are just some examples of other revenue streams.

Emphasizing these donor counts in the various gift bands – which, like the definition of a “major gift” will vary for institutions – provides a reliable metric to illustrate whether or not your program is successfully moving donors through the gift pipeline towards greater support, while simultaneously tracking that you are replacing those you move to a new level.

What does this mean relative to a president who views the relatively low-weighted (5%) alumni participation as a way to boost an institution’s US News & World Report ranking?  Maybe nothing. Very few of the US News factors seem “easy” to move, so many often hone in on alumni participation.

It should, however, be a reality check for your development program and how it measures annual giving.

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What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Jeffrey D. Byrne of member firm Jeffrey Byrne & Associates, Inc.

As President & CEO of a fundraising consulting firm working with nonprofits nationally, I often get asked how I got involved in fundraising. I’ve been working with nonprofits for the last 24 years in varying capacities to assist organizations in meeting their missions. I’ve found the fundraising profession to be the one area that I can give back in a way that I never imagined possible, having worked with hundreds of nonprofits the past 12 years through fundraising consulting. Here’s my story about my first thoughts around a career and then finding the right resources to grow my career.

Mrs. Ballinger in my first grade class at Eugene Field Elementary School in Charleston, Missouri asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  Now I really can’t remember if I said a doctor, teacher, fireman or farmer.  What I didn’t’ say was “a fundraiser!”

It took a while to find what I wanted to do. First, I worked for my Governor in his office in our state capitol. After that, I went to work for a major corporation in St. Louis and gave $3,500,000 away each year for three years. After tiring of that, I decided to flip which side of the desk I was sitting on and try my hand at fundraising for Evangelical Children’s Home, a nonprofit organization providing residential treatment for girls and boys who’ve been abused, abandoned and neglected. 

In 1988, 21 years after Mrs. Ballinger’s question, I began a job which would finally answer her question.

I was back in my hometown last week speaking with a local nonprofit organization – Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center.  I was asked to address fundraising for this organization, and I started by asking “who likes to ask for money?”  This is a question I’ve asked hundreds of times as a consultant. Unbelievably, most of the time in a room of fundraising professionals, only about half raise their hand. That day, between staff and Board members, all the staff raised their hands.

When I started with Evangelical Children’s Home there were scant organizations providing education and ongoing training on making the request.  I asked senior level fundraising professionals I knew for advice.  I sought out fundraising consultants for guidance. And, I got involved in professional fundraising organizations.

Today, learning opportunities are plentiful. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) offers hundreds if not thousands of educational and training sessions across the country through their chapters and conferences.   The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University offers courses and career tracks for professionals on almost every nonprofit topic imaginable. And locally in communities where we serve as fundraising counsel, I comb through newspapers and websites to locate resources for our clients.  For instance, in Greater Kansas City we have a wonderful resource, Nonprofit Connect, which serves the 6,500 nonprofits that file a 990 each year with the IRS. 

 As you look for resources to build your career, here are a few pointers that I adopted to help me. 

  • First, model behavior that you see in someone you admire.  Take the good and accentuate it and discard what you don’t like. 
  • Two, seek out mentors who are fundraising colleagues, ask for their help and keep close to them.  They are/were my best sources for me to throw out an idea and have them react. I wasn’t afraid to be on the “edge” with ideas – don’t you be either. 
  • Three, ask your volunteers and donors what has worked for them and what hasn’t. Truly seek their advice. Challenge them when you think it needs challenging. Thank them and enhance what’s worked. Give the credit to others. If you’re successful, you’ll get plenty of credit.
  • Use educational resources that are available to you locally, regionally and nationally to further your knowledge and understanding of what you need for your organization. 
  • Finally, use that information and get out from behind your desk; out of your office; go call on donors; cultivate prospects. Double up your efforts.  In the long-run these will help your organization.

Oh, and I didn’t say I wanted to be a fundraiser to Mrs. Ballinger’s question.   She’s long passed away now, but if I could talk with her, I’d say I became a fundraiser and it’s been the most rewarding and the best job and career I could have ever chosen. 

(PLEASE NOTE:  For resources on education and training go to these websites for more information:  AFP International [www.afpnet.org], Center on Philanthropy [www.philanthropy.iupui.edu], or. . . search on the web locally under fundraising training, fundraising education, etc.)

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Online Giving Grows in 2011

Blackbaud recently released its 2011 Online Giving report today. The report combines findings from The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving with additional multi-year giving data to provide the most comprehensive analysis of online giving trends in the nonprofit sector.

The report includes 24 months of online giving data from 1,895 nonprofit organizations, online major giving data from 2,397 nonprofits, and both online and offline data representing $5.1 billion in total fundraising from 1,560 nonprofits.

Here are some key findings in the 2011 Online Giving Report:

  • Online giving was up 13% on a year-over-year basis when large International Affairs organizations are removed from the analysis.
  • 54% of the organizations in the analysis experienced results at or above this growth rate.
  • Large organizations grew by 8.6% and medium organizations grew 13.1% in 2011. Smaller nonprofits grew 12.8% compared to the same time period in 2010.
  • When large International Affairs organizations are included in the analysis the growth rate drops to 0.3%.
  • The Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 had no significant effect on the overall online giving trends.
  • 34.8% of online giving happened in October, November, and December of 2011.
  • 87% of organizations had at least one online gift of $1,000 or more.
  • The percentage of total fundraising that comes from online giving decreased to 6.3%.
  • Every nonprofit sector in the analysis has had double-digit online fundraising growth since 2009.

2011 did not have the 35% year-over-year growth rate in online giving that happened in 2010. Does that mean online fundraising is losing its mojo? No. Keep in mind that every sector in the analysis has had double-digit growth since 2009. And even with a significant drop in online giving to International Affairs groups in 2011, they are still up over 75% since 2009. Healthcare organizations have the smallest growth rate over the past two years at 13%.

Online fundraising is already a substantial part of overall fundraising revenue for this sector – healthcare organizations raise a higher percentage of their total fundraising online than any other sector. As with all large numbers, the bigger the overall percentage gets, the slower it tends to grow.

Lots more data, trends, and analysis in the complete report. You can download the 2011 Online Giving Report at www.blackbaud.com/onlinefundraising

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Engaging the Next Generation of Donors

By: Rick Happy, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, CCS

How to attract and engage the next generation of donors is a hot topic for many non-profit organizations…


A recent study by non-profit technology provider, Convio, titled The Next Generation of American Giving (http://my.convio.com/forms/NextGenerationWhitepaper1) cites that the majority of fundraising targets older donors, but this segment of the population is quickly shrinking. Non-profits are going to be forced to attract a new generation of donors. Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are a growing segment of the population, with more than 71 million people, compared to the 41 million Generation Xers before them.

The study also reports that Matures (born prior to 1946) give, on average, $1,066 per year to 6.3 charities, while Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) give $901 per year to 5.2 charities. Generation X (born 1965-1980) gives $796 on average to 4.2 charities, and Millennials (born 1981-1991) give $341 to 3.6 charities. In short, the total annual charitable contributions grow with age, but the difference is primarily driven by the number of charities contributed to, rather than differences in gift size. This would suggest that if you are one of those charities successful in attracting younger donors, they can be quite profitable, especially so when you consider their lifetime potential and responsiveness towards lower cost online communications.

So, the question is: “How do non-profit organizations attract and engage Millennials?”

Consider the following recommendations to help attract young donors, extracted from the aforementioned Convio report:

1. Communicate with them on their own terms and offer a variety of ways to donate. Gen X and Millennial donors are more likely to give to a charity if the solicitation comes from a friend or family member. Since most of this solicitation comes through social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, it is important for non-profits to disseminate their messages through these outlets that will reach and attract new supporters, increase awareness and potentially garner additional donations for the organization.

While direct mail dominates giving by Matures, the percentage of Boomers, Xs and Millennials who respond to postal mail declines steeply with each successive generation. The other generations report a variety of channels such as ecommerce, online giving, event fundraising, tributes, monthly debit programs and even mobile/text donations as important giving methods. The younger the donor, the greater the number of ways they give.

The Haiti earthquake provoked a wave of text contributions – 17% of Millennials and 14% of Gen X respondents to Convio’s survey said they made a donation to Haiti relief efforts via text message, while only 3% of both Boomer and Mature respondents reported making a donation via text. The American Red Cross launched a viral campaign to collect contributions, totaling more than $8 million only weeks following the disaster. Before Haiti, less than $1 million had been raised through texting for all charities, while $50+ million was raised for Haiti via text messages alone.

2. Encourage volunteering. Many fundraisers know the value of volunteering as a strategy for cultivating new donors. The Gen X and Millennial philanthropists are broadening the definition of philanthropy to not only financial contributions, but contributions of time. Keep this in mind when you think about looking for next gen donors. Volunteering is another strategy for bringing stakeholders into the inner circle of your organization and creating donors.

Volunteering is a platform that can provide a number of opportunities for both fundraisers and the donor. Volunteerism, specifically related to fundraising, can increase the capacity of the organization while also developing potential donors. The key to this cultivation strategy is being open to working with younger individuals as volunteers and hopefully, donors in the future. Building relationships with your volunteers of all ages and talents is essential.

3. Give back to your donors. Youth like to give back, but getting something in return helps sweeten the deal and their commitment. Tactics such as giveaways, promos and social events help move them to action, and if the cause really speaks to them, these individuals aren’t afraid to tap their social networks to promote the cause.


The Millennia! Donors Report 2011 (http://millennialdonors.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/MD11_Report1411.pdf) by Achieve and Johnson Grossnickle and Associates (JGA) represents findings from more than 2,200 people between the ages of 20 and 40 across the U.S. about their giving habits and engagement preferences. The report found that while giving via mobile/text and social networks is an up and coming way of soliciting gifts, when it comes to requests for their time or money, Millennial donors put high value on face-to-face communication.

Key Findings:

How they want to be asked

·     91% of Millennial donors are at least somewhat likely to respond to a face-to-face request for money from a non-profit organization, with 27% being highly likely to respond to such a request. Only 8% are highly likely to respond to an e-mail request.

How they want to be involved

·     Millennial donors want to know details about the organizations they support: 86.3% want updates on programs or services, and 54.6% want information about the organization and its financial condition. 68% want information about volunteer opportunities.

·     75% of Millennial donors are at least somewhat interested in working closely with the board or organization leadership to define the direction of the organization (strategic planning) or helping the board create solutions to challenges.

·     Asked who could get them to donate to an organization, most Millennial donors say they would be likely or highly likely to give if asked by a family member (74.6%) or a friend (62.8 %). Only 37.8% would be likely or highly likely to give is asked by a coworker.

·     71.7% of Millennial donors said they’d be willing to communicate with friends and family about ways to be involved in an organization they support.

Communication preferences

·     Email is Millennial donors’ most preferred communication method, with 93% of respondents favoring it for receiving information from organizations; Facebook and print lag behind at 23.8% and 26.9%, respectively.

·     When a Millennial donor uses technology to find out about a non-profit organization, Google is the donor’s first stop, with 86.4% of respondents citing the search engine, 71.5% rely on email, and 51.2% use Facebook to find information on organizations.


In light of these findings, Achieve and JGA believe non-profit organizations need to shape a strategy now for engaging Millennial donors. Concrete steps could include:

1. Realign development staff to be more focused on face-to-face work and relationship building.

2. Work with donors who are willing to build networks with friends and family.

3. Create more specific requests for giving and volunteer opportunities, rather than general requests.

4. Develop a multichannel approach to communication and solicitation methods, recognizing that technology is a tool not a solution.

5. Plan for a long-term return on investment for relationship-building efforts with Millennial donors, rather than a quick result.

6. Align fundraising priorities for all donor audiences, but when it comes to Millennials, focus on engagement in ways traditionally reserved for donors with greater means.

7. Incorporate Millennial donors into strategic planning.

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10 Lessons Learned from the Great Recession

By David H. King of member firm Alexander Haas

September 15, 2008 – a date that is will be infamous for generations.  It was the date that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and we came to realize that the recession was real and that with this, the largest bankruptcy in US history, perhaps there was no such thing as “too big to fail”.  The decline in the stock market that followed was unprecedented with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling from 11, 421.99 on Friday, September 12, 2008 to 6,626.94 by March 6, 2009 – losing 42% of its value.

We all know what happened and it has been well documented elsewhere.  The reaction of nonprofits to this collapse was inconsistent.  None of us had any experience with this kind of economic meltdown.  Many, if not most, nonprofit board members were pouring their energy, intellect and creativity into saving their own businesses and jobs.  Nonprofit executives, who often come to their jobs with limited formal financial management education, were largely left to fend for themselves in charting their course through the storm.  On the fundraising side of this equation, there were three courses that could be and were taken – Stay the Course, Redouble our Efforts or Shut Down and Wait it Out – and each of these decisions proved to have long term implications.

In the aftermath of the great recession our economist and financiers have learned a great many lessons.  Among these are 1) property values cannot keep rising in perpetuity, 2) your home is probably not your single largest “investment”, 3) there is no such thing as too big to fail, 4) there is no such thing as a “risk free” investment, 5) no matter how much money you throw at it the government cannot stop or prevent a recession, any more than it can prevent an earth quake, hurricane or any other naturally occurring force of nature.

In this aftermath we have also learned some lessons in the nonprofit sector, in addition to knowing, for sure, that “shut down and wait it out” is a bad survival strategy.  The great recession and the lessons it taught us have changed the way that nonprofit organizations will operate and raise funds for years, perhaps decades to come.  From governance, to staffing, to growth rates, business planning, the nonprofit sector is adapting to a new normal which includes 10 major lessons learned that have long term ramifications for the nonprofit sector moving forward.

1)      Relationships matter more than causes

2)      Serving on a board in not an honor, it is a real job with real responsibilities

3)      If you stop fund raising, you will stop raising funds

4)      Endowment is not an insurance policy against declines in earned and donated revenue

5)      Take donors for granted and they will take their donations elsewhere

6)      Financial acumen is, in fact, a requirement for nonprofit executives

7)      Your next campaign does not “have” to be larger than you last campaign

8)      We have a new definition for what we “need”

9)      The donor pyramid has been pinched in the middle (think hour glass)

10)  Fear of multi-year pledging has reshaped how capital campaigns are executed.

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