For new development staff, I advise going big. That is, starting out with an organization large enough to support your growth and development as a fundraising professional. At the early stages of your career, it’s wise to work in a place where you have access to training and other educational opportunities to round out your technical knowledge -- such as, applying statistical analysis to your donor file --as well as to acquire some level of expertise in areas like nonprofit accounting and regulations governing charitable solicitation. Like any field, fundraising has its own specialized areas; planned giving and grant-seeking are just two. Gaining knowledge in these and other areas will make you an essential player in any development office.
But you will need to commit time to expanding your knowledge base, and it will be much easier if your organization supports your efforts -- and not just in theory. A large organization ($10 million plus), in most cases, is in a better position to underwrite the training you need and to give you work time to complete it.
As someone who benefited early on from week-long courses in planned giving, marketing, and major gift development, I can attest to the benefits of early-career training. It helped me immensely as I moved among different organizations and moved up the ladder.
Of course, if you opt for small organization, you can still access lots of free and low-cost training (check out the Foundation Center), but you will still need time off to do the training. The reality is that in small shops, the profit margin is slim, the staff is stretched, and time off for career development may be difficult to manage. In a bigger organization, you may feel lost in the bureaucracy and you may sacrifice some autonomy, but the payoff in learning will be worth it. And you will be a lot more valuable to the next place you work.
Many of us our blessed with dynamic boards committed to our cause and deeply engaged in our organization’s mission. These are the people who are your best ambassadors for fundraising and outreach. You will often be working one-on-one with board members, but you may also want to gather them together for a group session to brief them on your development goals.
A weekday evening or Saturday afternoon webinar works really well. In it, you can outline the organization's fundraising goals and strategies. You may also want to provide background about where the organization's revenue comes from. New board members especially will appreciate this kind of orientation. Here is a sample slide presentation you can adapt for your own organization:
Contact me if you need any help in adapting this for your organization. Phone (703) 399-0855 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Empower Your Board to be frontline fundraisers. Check out this presentation from Mar. 25, 2014 about recruiting champions from your board and setting the stage for regular outreach and solicitation.
I have been immersed in statistics this week, so I've been thinking a lot about how best to apply the science of data to help us predict the results of our fundraising efforts and steer us toward the best chance of success.
When it comes to grantseeking, particularly from new foundations, we sometimes lose sight of how improbable it is to get that first-time grant. We may be overly optimistic. But by analyzing a couple of key variables as part of our research, we can dramatically improve our predictive abilities. At some point early in the process, try to ascertain the following:
How many grants did the foundation award last year?
What was the ratio of renewals to new grants?
How many new applications were considered?
Of course, there are a lot of factors in grant decisions, but foundations do tend to be creatures of habit. It’s safe to say that the best predictor of whether you will receive a grant is whether you have gotten one before. But where does that leave those who are going for a first-time grant?
Here’s an example of how to use the data you have collected to estimate your odds.
The XYZ Foundation receives 100 applications and awards 50 grants. So, if we submitted our grant on time, we should have a 50-50 chance, right? But what if the foundation awards 47 renewals and only three new grants. And suppose the number of new grant applications was 50. Our odds change dramatically. When it’s three out of 50, we now have only a 6 percent chance of receiving the grant.
The statistics may seem daunting, but don’t let them deter you. Use this knowledge to plan more effectively. First, expand your initial prospect list. If you started with ten, expand it to 25. Second, balance out your list with near- and long-term prospects. In some cases, the whole process may take 18 to 24 months, so plan accordingly. Third, if you are not successful on the first try, go back the following year. Persistence usually pays off.
As a development director, you no doubt will be called on to predict the likelihood of receiving a grant. By using the right statistics, let’s hope your crystal ball will be just a little bit clearer.
Blue Strike Solutions offers useful recommendations for the day-to-day tasks of a development office. This series of tip sheets is designed to help small and mid-size advocacy organizations excel at fundraising.
At a workshop I attended the other day, participants were asked to describe their management style. ‘Are you consensus-driven or top-down, permissive or autocratic?’ The way the question was posed implies that management flows in just one direction, from manager to employee. Read more. . .
A really good question came up this week during our webinar on recapturing lost donors. It was about how to re-engage donors who stop (or scale back) giving once the urgency of the moment has passed. Here are five suggestions. Read more . . .
Many of us our blessed with dynamic boards committed to our cause and deeply engaged in our organization’s mission. These are the people who are your best ambassadors for fundraising and outreach. Read more . . .
Sure, we all think the charity watchdogs are overbearing. They’re so high and mighty telling us nonprofits we spend too much on overhead. But, occasionally, they have a point. Maybe it's time to check our expenses a little more carefully. Read more . . .
Every development office has to be able to handle pulling together the all-important donor list. Whether you need it for an annual report, dinner program, or fundraising campaign, you want to be sure to get it right. Read more . . .
I'm a natural skeptic when it comes to special event fundraising. An awful lot of money gets spent on activities that often fall short of desired, or promised, results. That being said, I've also seen fundraising events work really well. Read more . .
You have better things to do than browse the internet looking for resources. The following organizations offer the best . Read more . .
I'm a natural skeptic when it comes to special event fundraising. An awful lot of money gets spent on activities that often fall short of desired, or promised, results. That being said, I've also seen fundraising events work really well -- elevate an organization’s profile, educate the community about important issues, and broaden a group’s reach.
But the big tell with events is whether they raise enough money to fund program work that fulfills the organization’s mission. How much is really left at the end of the day for program priorities? In my experience, successful fundraising events, those that leave at least two-thirds of their proceeds to program work, share four things in common.
1. The first and most important element is the money person(s).
Why? Because you make your money in fundraising events with corporate sponsorships, high-dollar table buys, and other mechanisms that encourage people to pay 10 times the regular admission price. This money-person can be the event chair who leverages business relationships to bring in corporate sponsorships, a wealthy patron with deep pockets and lots of friends, or a mover and shaker willing to open her Rolodex. It could even be a committee. The important thing is this person or persons understands his or her role. They are essential. Recognize that your regular ticket sales will only cover your costs no matter how many tickets you sell. The base ticket price, whether it’s $75, $250, or $1,000, is designed to get people to come to the event, not to make money. As a rule of thumb, your sponsorship total will be your profit.
2. The draw. A celebrity, elected official, an accomplished artist or performer are all possibilities.
In the case of advocacy groups, it could even be Noam Chomsky. Whoever it is, this person should be interesting enough to generate some buzz. But it is very important not to confuse this person with your money person. They are two completely different roles. Believe it or not, your draw will not make money for you (no matter how big the name) without the other three elements in place. In fact, your draw is often counting on you to deliver an audience. This is a little counter intuitive, but remember the best draw in the world is only one element of your success.
3. Base of supporters.
You need a group of people who will purchase tickets and show up for the event. They are your regulars, and you will need them to encourage family, friends and colleagues to attend and generally help you fill the room. The events that are successful are often well-established, signature events that have built up a following over the years, so don’t expect a new event to draw a lot of people who have no association with your organization. Make sure you have enough supporters you can count on.
4. A logistics person.
Generally you need a paid staff person to hold a successful event. I have seen some fantastic volunteer groups handle this under certain circumstances, but it was a very well-organized group with lots of experience running events. Promotions, recruitment, program development and execution are all functions for the staff person.
If you are missing any one of these elements, I’m guessing you will find it difficult to net enough money to call your event a fundraiser. You may still value the opportunity to get your organization’s name out there, build partnerships, or network (read: face-time) with your supporters. But if you’re counting on your event to be a source of revenue, make sure you have the four essentials in place.
Blue Strike offers free and low-cost resources to help you handle a range of common development tasks. In addition to materials intended for a general audience, our services include customized staff and board training, executive mentoring, strategic planning, and transition services.
Designed for the busy fundraising professional, these 45-minute sessions are full of field-tested practices and time-saving techniques to help you manage your daily tasks. Register in advance or just join the day of. Free. See slides from previous webinars.
Recent webinars and training sessions
Filled with recommendations for how to tackle typical scenarios in nonprofit organizations, these concise one-pagers cover topics such as special events, lapsed donors, and executive transitions. Free.
Nonprofit reports for job seekers
If you're in the midst of a job search and need background information to help you prepare for an interview (or to know whether to accept a position), we can provide a complete report on the organization so you have everything you need before you walk into the interview room. Our customized report will give you an analysis of the organization's financial status, background on staff and volunteer leadership, salary information, and recommended questions. Report and consultation: $99. Report only: $49. Contact (703) 399-0855.
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Author's note: This blog was originally posted in Jan. 2014. The topic is especially relevant at this time of year.
A really good question came up this week during our webinar on recapturing lost donors. It was about how to re-engage donors who stop (or scale back) giving once the urgency of the moment has passed. Here are five suggestions for tackling this all-too-common problem:
1. Analyze data on your lapsed donors
Look for common characteristics among these donors: location, age, giving level, join date, giving method, online donors v. mail. Are they clustered in one state? Did they all join in response to a particular campaign? Are they online donors or did they come in through a special event? If you can group these lapsed donors into specific segments, it will help narrow your focus and point to possible solutions.
2. Gather feedback
Try a survey or focus group to dig a little deeper into their concerns. You may have a good handle on some of their issues or concerns, but a survey could reveal a little more about their priorities, and a series of open-ended conversations in focus groups could help generate three to five new messages that you could then test via email to see how well they resonate with a larger audience.
3. Launch a targeted reinstatement effort using custom campaign materials
Develop materials that address the priorities identified in the survey and focus groups. If there is someone associated with a high-profile issue or legal case, ask that person to be part of the campaign, to sign a letter for you, have their story told in emails, even make a few calls. In your materials, make sure to include the threats still posed by the opposition, specific efforts by your foes to roll-back progress, and the need for vigilance in protecting hard-won gains.
4. Donor engagement activities
Are there other ways for donors to be engaged? Is it possible to hold small-scale donor events in key locations or an evening program featuring an inspirational speaker? On the advocacy level, if your organization has petitions or lobbying efforts it needs help with, appeal to the lapsed donors for help. It’s not a substitute for financial support, but it might at least keep them in the fold.
5. Plan for the ebb and flow
Be prepared in the future to leverage high-profile moments into multi-year giving commitments; this will make your organization less vulnerable to the ebbs in donor attention. The urgent moment, whenever it comes, reminds everyone of the importance of your mission. It also typically puts your organization’s leaders front and center in the media and gives you an opportunity to reach out to everyone from former board members and major donors to foundation officers and long-time members. On the fundraising front, it is an opportunity to secure multi-year pledges and lock-in giving for future years. When the heat of the moment has faded, your donors will still be paying those pledges.