Monday, February 22, 2010

Understanding Donors and Their Money

It appears that there is a common misconception that nonprofits adhere to when thinking about donors and their money. This feeling, although never actually voiced, reflects an opinion that people who are wealthy must not “value money” in the same way as they might because they have so much more.

This outward perception can be verified by the fact that the vast majority of nonprofits have no system in place to thank donors who give at various levels.

It is interesting that the people wanting money for their cause have high expectations from donors. Nonprofits, however, tend to be deaf, dumb, and blind to the fact that donors themselves also have high expectations, and rightly so, they should!

Nonprofits need to appreciate every gift. Showing appreciation does not have to be expensive nor does it have to be overly time consuming but it does have to be intentional.

Donors are not going to feel appreciated telepathically!

Below are seven inexpensive ways to show you care:

1) A hand written note speaks volumes. The note itself tells donors that you took your valuable time and energy to deliberately think about the person and what they have done.

2) Taking time to stop by and visit your donors can be extremely important to stay connected. You can ask for their opinion and/or give them an update on your current programs. Regardless this tells someone you care enough about them to connect.

3) A greeting card: holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are all moments in time to stop and reflect on the moment. This moment can be personalized and yet another way you can connect with your donor.

4) Publicity: Listing donors online on your website, in a newsletter, or in a newspaper ad thanking everyone for helping make your event successful are outward ways to let the donors know their contributions matter.

5) Handmade items mean more. When we were children most of us have a memory of either making something handmade or being given something handmade. Regardless of how small or inexpensive this exudes a quality of the item being considered “special and something of value.” If possible have the clients you serve make something for donors. This act alone helps the donor quantify in their mind that a donation they might give is actually helping someone personally rather than just an organization that many times seem faceless and cold.

6) Chocolate & Candy! Again if you can make a fresh batch of homemade cookies, great! However, an inexpensive container of name brand candy is just another way to express your appreciation.

7) Create a focal point with a “wall of appreciation” at your program location as a way to publically thank donors. This will help the clients you serve understand what goes into making your programs work as well as bring proper attention to the donors. Obviously, having this wall is not enough but you need to invite the donor out to see your facility. Begin and end your tour at this special location! You honor them by letting them know that everyday their name on the wall is a reminder to the board of directors, staff and clients that without donor support the program would not be successful.

There are literally hundreds of ways to say “thank you” and connect with your donor. However, the real challenge is breaking out of the pattern of complacency and making an honest effort towards creating a donor centered nonprofit organization versus staying self centered and aloof.

To learn more visit:

Monday, February 15, 2010

From Prospect to Donor

Most small nonprofits are clueless when it comes to attracting donors! Also, sadly once they do in fact find a donor many lack the discipline to do what it takes to keep the donor interested and the cycle starts all over.

The term prospect research can be defined as the process of selecting and reviewing information gathered in order to identify potential donors. While people would like you to think this information is magical and the process itself is mysterious, the truth of the matter is that the data is gathered from public records. This information can include but is not limited to biographical family information, which gives you a snap shot of a family philanthropic history as well as a possible clue as to personal interests. Also, information can be gathered showing past and current addresses as well as the career background of an individual including his or her education. Other information such as real estate, stock ownership and ownership in items such as planes, boats, horses or art might also be obtainable.

However, let’s be totally honest! Small nonprofits can’t pay to get this information and even if they could what does it really tell you about a person other than that they have the potential to give you money, not that they want to.

So, this is where YOU come in! But first, I want you to read the following story of Sally Jenkins:

Sally was excited when her mother told her she would help her have her very own flower garden in the backyard. She was warned that she needed to start small and have a plan! Sally loved flowers and knew she might want to start planting before the snow melted but really look forward to spring. She decided to plant mostly perennials because she knew they would come back next year but also wanted some annuals as well. In picking her spot Sally knew having good sunlight was important and she wanted to make sure she has at least six hours of exposure. After finding her spot Sally made sure the soil was moist and dug down ten inches and then mixed it with special potting soil her mother gave her to establish her flower bed.

A lot of work has been done so far hasn’t it? Yet, she has not seen the first bloom and won’t for quite some time.

Sally focused mainly on plants that would come back each year i.e. current donors. However, she also wanted to make sure she has annuals as well i.e. possible new donors. A lot of Sally’s time was spent thinking about her surroundings and conditions. Likewise, you would do well to make sure where your program is located is not only inviting but also ready to receive donors so they will be impressed. Regardless, you should remember that Sally was extremely patient with her flower bed and she wanted to make sure it had six hours of exposure. I hope by now you realize that the process we call development is a long one!

In order to cultivate donors you have to start with a plan, just like with anything you do with a purpose, and realize that there has to be certain steps you will need to take in order to be successful.

Let’s look at three easy steps that will help you move from prospect to donor.

Step One: Be honest, what are your real motives?

If your only motive is to “get money for your organization” then you will be limited in what you will be able to accomplish. People with or without money can spot a fake or plastic person a mile away. Donors are not stupid and understand that you are getting paid to work at your organization i.e. that is your job. However, what they don’t know is if this is a passion or not. I’m sure you have at some point in time been infected with the contagious passion passed on from another. The excitement in a person’s voice and seeing their actions literally made you excited as they were as well. You felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself and you knew that by joining them big things would happen! Your motivation needs to be true, and I am a firm believer in that you yourself, the paid staff person, need to personally give if you are going to ask others to give.

In all giving, it starts with you and your commitment must come first!

Step Two: Scattering the Seeds

Finding like minded people can be difficult and at times the shotgun approach is needed. Yet, in order for someone to find you they have to first learn about you!

Unfortunately, nonprofits generally do a poor job at promoting themselves and providing opportunities for the general public to really come out and learn what their organization is all about. One of the best ways to do this is to have an open house and conduct organizational tours, coffees and even lunch meetings.

Likewise, you can’t expect people to always come to you but you have to go to them. In every community there are civic groups that have monthly meetings and most would love to have a speaker come in and talk to their group. This is a great opportunity not only to tell people, many you have never met, about your organization but also give them an opportunity to volunteer or help with specific needs your organization might have.

Step Three: Make Sure Your Board is Working

Nothing is more frustrating than to feel like you are doing it all alone. It is important for your board of directors to not only set policy for the organization but also play an active role in fundraising to help your organization grow.

Part of this growth occurs when board members are active ambassadors in both giving money and time as well as telling others about the great things the organization is accomplishing. In order for a board member to be “the best they can be” they must themselves be taught all about what goes on within the organization. A brief organizational history and a current copy of your by-laws and current financial information are just a few of the items needed in order to be able to speak intelligently about the organization they now represent.

With all this said, it is important to remember a truth in fundraising, which is: “People give to people first before they give to an organization.”

Each and every board member has a sphere of influence that includes people they work with, friends and family members. These connections will help you in finding additional prospects and donors.

Now is the time to get your hands dirty. It may take a rake or it may take a shovel, but you have the tools needed to get it done.

For more information visit:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

You Can’t Hate A Nickel, Because It’s Not A Dime!

In this economy we all feel like we are being nickel and dimed to death!

However, nonprofits shouldn’t hate a nickel, because it’s not a dime. Just be thankful you’re still getting something!

The days of going after only the “big buffalo” in fundraising are over. Billions of dollars in assets have been wiped out. Despite what you might be thinking about an economy, those dollars are gone and the mindset of individuals have changed. Notice, however, I did not say people will stop giving. I think people will continue to be generous but I do think they will be more specific in who they help.

If you will for a moment, I’d like for you chew on another phrase which is: It takes one to know one!

So, I’ve got a question for you. How many millionaire nonprofit staff members do you know? My guess is very few. So as a practical question do you think a millionaire thinks differently about giving than you might?

Let’s even unpack this more and drop down a level. Can nonprofit executive directors or professional fundraisers really appreciate what it means to give a large donation if they themselves have never given one? Does it really matter?

I am not trying to start a class warfare argument but what I am trying to do is help the reader realize that regardless of your income level I have never met a Zombie Donor!

In my job I receive phone calls or emails daily from not just nonprofit organizations but also from donors that have a specific idea of what they want to do or how they want their estate settled and are looking for answers on how best to move forward.

I am quick to tell everyone I meet that I’m not an attorney nor a CPA so I do not give legal advice. However, I am more than happy to share what I know, free I might add, as well as give links to other information or point them to other individuals I know and trust that I think can help with their individual situation.

Over the years I have talked to all sorts of interesting people including professional athletes, children of movie stars, doctors and yes even Indian chiefs. People from all walks of life and ages and almost everyone I come in contact with ultimately see as a goal to help someone else!

A real key for me taking the time to hear exactly what it is the person wants to accomplish and not pushing someone to a specific product or service.

Nonprofits might learn something from this. Instead of pushing your wants on a donor, find out what they want instead. What interests them about your organization?

Also a news flash for those that might not be aware: Just because someone has money does not mean they should give it to you just because you were kind enough to ask for it!

If you are going to get serious you have to understand that just showing up for work is not enough. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and put the time in that is required to make your organization a success. If you need help doing that just ask! Visit:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nonprofit Survival Tips

For many people it seems now more than ever that the world in which we live is different. When this change occurred is hard to pinpoint exactly. Some might say September 11th was the time that brought the world’s problems closer to home. Others might direct you to a different date.

Regardless, most people feel at the very least uneasy! It is hard to think that “this” is the new normal, but the reality is crystal clear that things will never be like they use to be in the past.

With so much uncertainty our own survival instincts slowly start to kick in and we individually think it is best if we just pull in. At this point it is paramount that you start the process of taking a mental inventory of yourself and learn what it means to: Know Thy Self.

Likewise nonprofit organizations need to take this same step as well. Go back now and look at your mission statement and make sure you are focused on what it is you said your purpose was for existing. Is the organization doing what it said it would do or has it gotten side tracked because it was able to get grant monies that sent the organization in a totally different direction?

Unlike individuals that might feel a real need to pull in and in some ways hide, nonprofits need to be the absolute opposite. This is your time to shine! The old cliché is true that “out of sight is out is out of mind” so it is up to your organization to be diligent in making sure you get all the public attention you can making sure everyone knows the programs you offer and the difference you are making daily in the lives of others i.e. Toot Your Own Horn!

Keep Your Friends Close: If you really stopped and asked a person to write down a list of all the friends they have the list might be several pages long, much like your donor list. However, if you pressed the issue a little more and ask the person to tell you who they think they could count on if they really needed help? Most people’s list would shrink to only a hand full. With that in mind, I would contend that nonprofits with small budgets probably have never heard of the term “donor cultivation” much less practice the steps needed to accomplish this task. In short, many nonprofits appear to be fair weather friends and lack the energy or will to sustain a long term relationship. This needs to be corrected if you want to have any friends at all you can really count on when you need them most!

Have you been shopping lately? Have you noticed smaller sizes but the same price? Also, have you felt like you are seeing more messages like: Save Now, Half Off or Valuable Coupon!

Granted we all want a deal and in fact we are being conditioned that the regular price is not acceptable. This prevailing attitude has and will make every consumer look closer at what we spend. As consumers we are also looking closer at the “quality” of what we spend our money on and the “quality” of what we are getting to make sure it is a good value.

A regular nonprofit is no longer acceptable! You heard me right, the survival of your nonprofit depends on how your new and improved version not only looks but how it functions. It is nothing new to nonprofits to be diligent with the money they have. Trust me nonprofits know all too well about how to live on ramen noodles! To not only survive but thrive in this environment your nonprofits must establish their: Point Of Difference.

What makes your nonprofit unique and what makes your nonprofit valuable? The standard bearer can no longer be anecdotal evidence of how good your nonprofit might be but you have to be able to back up what you are saying up with raw data and fact.

In uncertain times another point that is critical for survival is Keeping The Faith! You have to know that you can weather this storm no matter how long it might last. This is critical because nothing will kill a nonprofit faster than the prevailing attitude of its employees. If the people working for the organization think they are on a sinking ship then all the buckets will have holes.

To help you keep the faith you need to put your situation in context and for that you need to: Count Your Blessings.

Nonprofits are fluid organizations and many times the turnover in both staff and board members are so great that the long term institutional memory vanishes. A great deal of good would come if nonprofits have a social gathering and invite all the past board members and especially all the past presidents as well as others in your community that have played and currently play a vital role in not only establishing your nonprofit but making it grow. This introspective look should be a time to celebrate and really see how far you have come as well as reconnect those lost ties that bind!

Lastly, in order to survive you need to: Say Thank You! I can guarantee that if more nonprofits would commit to this one tip in a year’s time they would see a tremendous positive change in their organization.

I realize it is hard to create a habit, but I would like to challenge all nonprofit professionals to daily call a donor and tell them how much you appreciate them or write a note to a donor and mail it everyday! If you have to, place a calendar over your computer screen, on top of your phone or just somewhere you will have to look at it to remember. Mark off each day with an X when you accomplish this small but important task.

Likewise, ask your board to make a commitment and either call or write at least one donor every month i.e. assign names to specific individuals. Make it a point at your monthly meeting to reiterate how important this is to your organization and make sure to follow up with how everyone is doing.

Remember, Your Survival Depends on It!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Story of Generous Joe

As strange as it might sound Generous Joe is really concerned and confused about what he should do with all the money he has made and inherited. He has amassed quite a sum and he is not getting any younger. As the old saying goes: “You can’t take it with you!” Yet, despite what some might think, Joe has yet to see a hearse pulling a U-haul.

After all the struggles of life it just doesn’t make sense that in making your final plans on how to settle your estate it should be this hard! All the professional advice and legal loop holes trying to keep that distant relative Uncle Sam out of the picture still has left Joe wondering what he should leave his friends, family members and even to some of the nonprofits he has supported over the years.

Joe is one of those guys driven by a combination of logic and deep feelings. He is a softy at heart and is generous with the money to a fault. However, he tends to look at the pattern of others behavior when making smaller gifts and consciously judges not only the reaction of how the money is accepted and appreciated but also what choices are made with that money when it is actually spent.

Regardless of the circumstances when it comes to Joe helping someone the last question in his mind always defaults to: Am I really helping this person or am I just being a facilitator of bad judgment? While this might appear harsh to some that don’t know Joe he would assure you that this is based on his real life examples that he can point to over and over again.

He knows more than most that many people live their life by crisis and honestly hope that their “crisis of the moment” will also becomes yours as well. Especially if you are someone that is willing to help!

For Generous Joe this often times surfaces as a person asking for money to help pay a bill or get them out of a jam that they worked themselves into. Joe realizes everyone needs help at some point but for others it is more of a lifestyle choice rather than a tragic unexpected event.

When a crisis occurs close friends and/or family members are generally open to pleas for help and for the most part honestly don’t mind helping. However, while people like to think in their mind they can give a gift that comes with no strings attached, the reality is everyone has a tendency to closely view the future actions of these individuals because when we give money to someone we are making an investment in that person. Naturally we want to feel that our choice was a good one.

Unfortunately for Generous Joe he finds himself being disappointed again and again because it seems that the pattern of behavior that got the person in trouble in the first place hasn’t changed. Nor will it change, unless the person wants to or is forced to change.

Example: Joe has a friend named Vicky and he hated to see her struggling and constantly being so stressed out. He wanted to help and saw Vicky was always in a constant crisis and never had enough money to pay her bills. She owed a ton of money on her credit card bill, her car insurance was due, she had not paid her property taxes for several years on the trailer her parents had given her and her phone was disconnected again. She had borrowed all the money she could from her parents and they could not help anymore. She had been out of work for two weeks before finding another job but her world seemed to be collapsing around her, and she was constantly crying and depressed. Joe sat down with Vicky to assess her situation and added up all her outstanding bills and wrote checks to everyone she owed to wipe out all her debt. Within a year she was back in the same situation! How could this be?

Vicky’s freedom was short lived because she had never lived without debt and no one in her family had ever been debt free. Being out of debt had no meaning or value to her and she always had a wish list in her mind. Shopping was not based on her need but on her wants and she wanted it all! Her only concern was how much was the monthly payment not what it actually cost. Since Joe took away all her payments she was free to start over. Most are not as lucky as Vicky to have someone willing to step in and be that generous. Yet, unfortunately this story has repeated itself over and over again for Joe to the point where he no longer feels as compassionate as he once did.

For Joe family is important and he has plenty of nieces and nephews he could shower with wealth but he can’t help but wonder will that just poison them in the long run. Being spoiled is one thing but being out of control is another.

Finally Generous Joe enjoys being involved in the community with various nonprofit organizations. Last year Joe gave away thousands of dollars to charity but this too felt hollow because none of the groups he supports go much further than to send a receipt and sometimes that doesn’t even happen.

It is easy to see how Generous Joe can get jaded yet for whatever reason he hasn’t given up quite yet.

To date Joe has given away over seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars with planned gifts of over a million dollars. Maybe one day soon Joe will find the answer he is looking for, but until then, it wouldn’t hurt for you to look over your donor list to see if you can find your own Generous Joe and make sure he or she feels appreciated.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Ask - How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture by Laura Fredricks

From time to time I am contacted and asked to review books and other materials from other nonprofit consultants, and I am more than happy to do so. I can honestly say that I always learn something new, and it is good to hear other perspectives on topics you know are important to the nonprofit arena.

Laura Fredricks, JD is a New York based fundraising consultant as well as a motivational speaker and best-selling author. Her latest book is titled: The Ask - How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture. Before opening up her own boutique consulting firm for nonprofits and businesses Laura served as Vice President for Philanthropy at Pace University in New York where she helped raise $92 million in six years.

Her newest books is a fast and easy read which quickly delves into unpacking the steps in great detail on how to not only ask for money for your nonprofit cause but also how to apply those same skills in asking for something for yourself, like a job promotion.

A key point Laura raises at the beginning of this book is asking you the reader to step back and search inside yourself to reveal:

"What does money mean to you?" "Asking for money and raising money is all psychology, emotions, and past experiences you have had with money." Likewise this process does not end here but you also have to know how the person you are about to ask feels about money as well.

This book is broken down into ten chapters with each chapter building on the previous information you read. Chapters also have exercises to help you thoroughly think through the process. You will also find helpful summary statements to keep your mind focused on key points. As an added bonus after you purchase this book you are given web access to a downloadable resource file that has additional helpful information.

Overall I think Ms. Fredricks did an excellent job giving the reader a detailed roadmap for success in making the ask and getting the results!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speech Recognition Software

A few days ago I purchased speech recognition software. I tried this once before several years back but I could never get the software to recognize my Southern accent.

I can say now that speech recognition software has come a long way and I can see how this will really help in speeding the process up allowing you to get you ideas out on paper.

This is only the second text that I have written using this software. I still need to go back and edit a little from what I am saying but I’m amazed how well this program works!

The biggest problem for me is not always just coming up with what to say but writing it down and making sure everything is spelled correctly and all the punctuation is correct. I am hopeful that with this tool I might finally be able to write the book that I have been thinking about writing for very long time.

It think it will be great just to be a let your mild flowed freely and talk and not have to worry about spelling everything correctly. Also being able to have all your ideas captured as you are thinking about them for me will be wonderful. Lately it seems I'm having harder time sleeping and find that I have to have a notepad by my bed in order to jot thoughts down just to get them out of my head. Ugh!

So, thanks Nuance Communications Inc. for creating Dragon Naturally Speaking Version 10.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nonprofit Donor Burnout

More than likely you have read quite a bit about burnout when it comes to employees or staff of non profits. Rarely, however, do you hear about the flip side of the coin and hear someone discuss donor burnout.

As a donor to many different non profits over the years I can attest to the fact that there is a real frustration with how a non profit handles their end of the agreement.

Supporting a nonprofit as a donor is a very serious commitment I do not take lightly. I have to be sure that what the nonprofit stands for is something I can be fully committed to.

If I take the next step and join a board of directors then I am literally giving a piece of myself away. While this might seem to some as being melodramatic I can assure you that my wife of twenty-three years views this quite different! Whatever I give away of myself to supporting a non profit leaves less time and quite frankly energy for her. This is a big deal!

My gift and I do see what I give as a gift, goes far beyond just my time, my energy, my talent and what most nonprofits seem to be fixated on i.e. money. It is actually something deeper and more serious and for me part of my soul. How can you quantify the worth of self someone gives to your organization?

Unfortunately, few nonprofits I have run across have ever really comprehended this level of giving or found the way to respond to where I believe that they “got it.” So I seemed destine to repeat the same old cycle:

First I find a nonprofit I think is doing good work and get excited about what they are doing and support their cause. I might attend an event or give a donation.

Second, I learn more about what the organization does and get closer to the executive director and/or staff. I might find myself helping more by donating money or sometimes I find it more rewarding to meeting a specific need of the organization.

Eventually my level of giving and interest is noticed by others and at some point I might be asked to consider being on the board. This is the critical point! The older I get the more picky I have become and quite frankly more guarded, because I know if I join a board I will consider myself being all in.

If I join I quickly learn the good, the bad and the ugly about the organization. Sometimes this in and of itself is a huge disappointment. If however there are no hidden land mines then I quickly adjust to learning more about the organization and I gage the commitment levels of others on the board while learning about the excitement and energy level of the staff running the programs.

Many times after giving lots of time and energy and money I have found that the executive director and staff begin to take for granted past donations and get comfortable being the recipients of a generous nature and just expect it to continue forever regardless of their performance or outcomes. A disconnect begins slowly. There is not the level of excitement. Everyone still knows the reason they are there is to help the cause but at this point I generally hit a wall. I don’t see others around me willing to push as hard as I am or I begin to feel like my time is just being wasted. Staff slows down and only wants to push so far. The reason is that since they are working with an all volunteer board they do not want to have to do most of the work if the volunteer board stops pushing.

At this point if I am still on the board I will rotate off and normally my giving level drops. I also have a tendency to be reflective in nature. While I am not totally second guessing my judgment I do tend to mull over if the donations I’ve given in the past and generally draw a conclusion in my own mind if it was all worth it.

I wish I could end saying I felt good after all this but honestly answer is that of feeling more confused at times than being reassured that my personal commitment was met with an equal level of acceptance. Strange isn’t it?