Borrow From Old MacDonald’s Farm to Interview for a Fundraising Job

Time for Change signDid you have a New Year’s resolution to look for a new development position? Or maybe to transition to work in the social benefit sector?

Have you put your job search off, wondering how your skills translate to what you’d really like to do?

We all have an inner critic telling us super unhelpful things like:

  • You’re not ready yet.
  • You need another course or degree.
  • You need more years of experience doing x, y, and/or z.
  • You need time to prepare.
  • You aren’t good at this (math/negotiating/technical/financial/digital/sales) stuff.
  • You aren’t as confident as other people.
  • You can’t take this leap; it’s too risky.

These are all variations on the theme of “you don’t have what it takes.”

Nonsense!

This is a totally irrational fear. Your inner critic is perhaps trying to protect and defend you, but actually this critic is holding you back by ruminating on the risks and worst-case scenarios. If you always play it “safe,” you’ll never grow.

Today, I’d like to tell you what it actually takes to be an effective fundraiser.

I hope you’ll see these innate qualities and strengths are things you have already. All you need to do is formulate them into a pitch format you can use when you interview for a job.

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What Does Early Spring Mean for Nonprofit Communications Strategies?

Photo of a cobwebThis week the groundhog told us it’s going to be an early spring!

Spring is always a good time for re-awakening, rebirth and just plain dusting away the cobwebs.  And what a dreary, grave, cobwebby period it’s been.

We’ve got a lot to clean up, reorganize and rethink. So much, in fact, it’s downright overwhelming. So, as I sat down to write today’s article, I thought about what you actually have within your power to do. Right now. And all throughout the coming months.

I know it’s been pretty hard to focus with everything going on in the world.

So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to pull together the various challenges I’ve seen nonprofit leaders, fundraisers, and marketers grapple with in the past year. Actually, the past years. Through elections, pandemic, climate catastrophes, shootings, war, unprecedented demonstrations of cruelty and inhumanity, and more. It’s a LOT.

But, the show — your good work — must go on. 

In  other words, your mission must move forward. People rely on you to do the critical work of the social benefit sector.

I thought: what can people do now to set themselves up for success as we move forward into high fundraising season at the end of this coming year? It may seem early to think about this, but it’s never too soon to put your best foot forward.

I’ve ended up with four tips I hope you’ll find relevant and timely.

  1. Big Picture
  2. Your Role as Helper
  3. Practical Guidance
  4. Strategic Advice

4 Timely Nonprofit Fundraising and Communications Strategies

1. BIG PICTURE: Message Confidently During Uncertain Times

Whether it’s a marketing or fundraising communication, keep these four messaging basics in mind.

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Which Song from Fiddler on the Roof Describes a Nonprofit Fundraiser’s Job?

While you might be tempted to guess “If I were a Rich Man,” that’s not it.

Because that would be making fundraising mostly about money.

And, actually, fundraising is mostly about love.

So the correct answer is “Matchmaker.”

That’s right. Your job is to make the perfect match between the values your organization enacts and the values your donor shares.

Because when people connect, and care about one another, our world tips ever more slightly back into balance.

Right now we live in troubling times, where the world seems wildly out of whack and people seem further and further apart.

Philanthropy provides a perfect opportunity to bring people together.

And who knows the most about making people fit together?  Matchmakers!

And today’s matchmakers have more tools than ever before at their fingertips. Hence the success of online dating services. Though it would’ve been easy to assume matchmaking is such a personal endeavor technology could never touch it, that’s not the case at all.  Because the digital revolution means people today are more connected than ever. Successful matchmakers don’t eschew technology; they embrace it. So should you.

Emulate These 6 Things Matchmakers Do

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10 Strategies to Celebrate Nonprofit Donors on Valentine’s Day

Last year, you posted about sending donors valentines, which I came across a bit too late in the game, so I sent emails. But, this year, I kept that idea and planned for it, and sent handmade valentines to my top level donors. I felt like I was in 2nd grade with my glue stick and doilies, but the response has been amazing! Not only did my colleagues get in on the action, but I have received nothing but great comments via email and phone calls. Definitely a practice I’ll do every year. Thanks for the great idea! 

— Rebekah Cross, Special Gifts Officer, Guiding Eyes for the Blind

I love a good celebration.

And nothing is more worth celebrating than a holiday, and your donors!

You’ve still got time to send a little love your donors’ way! It’s been a tough, and for many a lonely, isolating and “othering” few years. Chances are good we’re still in for a long season of time during which donors could really use a little extra love from you. Many folks — your donors included — are love starved right now.

Why might this be something for you to consider, amidst all the other “to-do’s” on your plate?

If you don’t do a lot more donor loving, you’re going to do a lot more donor losing.

I hope by now you know donor retention is the name of the game. It costs so much more to acquire a new donor than to keep an existing one. Yet too few nonprofits have serious, intentional donor stewardship programs in place. Because of that, on average, nonprofits lose roughly  8 out of 10 first-time donors and close to 6 out of 10 of all donors.

Don’t be one of those “take the money and run” organizations!

If donors only hear from you when you want something from them, they’re not likely to give more. Or even give again.

Be generous! Show donors how much their support means to you.

Really, donor love should be like breathing for you. In and out. Out and in.

  • They love you, and show you (usually by giving a monetary gift).
  • You love them, and show them (usually by offering an intangible “feel good” like prompt, personal and repeat gratitude).

You’ll be amazed at how a little love can go a long way.

This year why not dedicate Valentine’s Day to giving, not asking?

If you can’t send valentines to every donor, select a segment or two.

Think about those donors for whom you’d like to show some special love, because they showed you some. Show them you noticed! They could be:

  • Major donors.
  • Monthly donors.
  • Donors who’ve given faithfully for five years or more.
  • Donors who increased their giving this year.
  • First-time donors of $100+.
  • Donors who also volunteer.
  • Board and committee members.
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Are the Rich Motivated to Give Differently?

Hands giving and receiving giftNot as much as you might think.

Yet people tell me all the time how much they’re afraid to ask wealthy people for major gifts. If you share those fears, it’s time for a little “Charity Clairity:”

Contrary to what your gut may be telling you, NOT asking is not making would-be donors feel good. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In this article, I’ll let you in on:

Three major donor truths. And I’ll cover why (1) you must stop short-changing your would-be major donors by not offering them opportunities to be the change they want to see in the world, and (2) you must stop robbing would-be major donors of chances to feel good about themselves.

Six major donor triggers. We’ll explore how you can make donors feel so good they’ll want to say “yes” — and passionately — to your solicitation.

Bottom line: When you don’t make donors feel good, they’ll go elsewhere.

The Rich Are Just Like You and Me 

F. Scott Fitzgerald is famously supposed to have told Ernest Hemingway “the rich are different than you and I.” “Yes, Scott,” Hemingway supposedly retorted. “They have more money.”

It’s good to remember major donors are, first and foremost, just people.

They may have more money, yet many of them actually don’t even feel “wealthy” (just as often so-called seniors don’t feel “old.”)  In fact, a survey of 4,000 investors by UBS found that 70% of people with investible assets of $1 million or more do NOT consider themselves “wealthy.”

What most donors share (no matter their net worth) is

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How NOT to Ask for a Major Gift

Man yelling into phoneTwice at the end of last calendar year I was asked for a major gift.

Pretty much out of the blue.

Without much preparation, relationship-building or making of an inspiring case for support.

It was clear to me what the charity would get out of it: my money. It was not so clear what I would get out of it. Should I not care?

  • Perhaps not.

  • Perhaps if I were the ideal, perfect donor I would give with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

  • Perhaps if I were less ego-centric, I’d just do it because it was the “right thing to do.”

  • Perhaps if I were not on a quest for personal meaning, I’d give just because the person who asked is someone I know (though, not all that well); it would give them a feeling of success, and that would bring me some happiness.

  • Perhaps if I were not searching for a community of folks who share my values, I’d give without quite understanding the depth and breadth of values enacted by these charities or without having met more of the people involved.

  • Perhaps if I were not examining what it is that sparks joy in my life, I’d give whether or not this cause was currently at the top of my list or I’d been given opportunity for reflection and consideration.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting most of your donors aren’t either.

Donors have expectations… egos… personal meaning they’re seeking… communities they’d like to form… and cups of joy that need filling. Otherwise they wouldn’t be human.

And even if you could find a perfect donor prospect, in the instances where I was asked the case for why this was the right thing for me to do wasn’t even made all that well. The ask was about money, not impact.

There was simply an assumption that since I’d shown interest in the past, I would welcome this opportunity to demonstrate my interest even more passionately.

Okay. That’s not a bad starting place. But… you should never assume. You know what they say about the word “assume,” right?

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Philanthropy, Not Fundraising: I Have a Dream for the Social Benefit Sector 2024

Photo of moon rise

I have a dream…

Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 95th birthday. During his lifetime he challenged us to recognize the privilege of being part of the struggle for goodness to prevail. He did not live to get to the promised land, yet he saw it from the mountain top. And in his famous speech he mused on the question of what he would say were he to be given the extraordinary opportunity to live in any moment in history. His answer to the Almighty was, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.”

Today we are more than two decades in, and our challenge is whether we can approach our world with the same degree of gratitude and moral resolve. Our times are challenging.  Political division, escalating, senseless violence across the planet, threats to taken-for-granted freedoms, the spread of fake news, a deepening divide between classes, the existential threat of climate change, and a creeping sense of dread as events begin to seem out of our control.  The world can seem a cruel and barbaric place. Philanthropy – love of humankind — can seem elusive. Yet it’s right here. In each of us. And at this particular collective moment it has never been more essential for us to develop our capacity to care for one another, to show up for one another, and to love.

King challenges us to recognize that even in dark times, there is light to be found:I know that it’s only when it is dark enough that one can see the stars.” As we toil in the vineyards of the social benefit sector, it is our privilege — and responsibility — to carry Dr. King’s torch and let shine the light. To muster all our spiritual, moral, individual, and communal resources to drive out the darkness. Today, with my annual “I Have a Dream” post, I invite you to consider what you can do to cultivate loving awareness, adapt, stay positive and make a beneficial impact on the world within and around you — yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors and strangers.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a dream for 2024 – and beyond. I have a dream this is the year your organization will move beyond defining yourself by what you’re not (nonprofit) and will begin to define yourself by what you are (social benefit). I have a dream this is the year your people will move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”). I have a dream this is the year your staff and volunteers will move from enacting transactions to enabling transformation.

I have a dream you will push yourself and your organization this year. You will take the bull by the horns, fully embrace the digital revolution, look at the ways artificial intelligence can be used for good, and open yourself to the possibilities change brings. You will give up on the static donor pyramid, ladder and funnel theory of engagement and put your donor at the center of a new, active engagement model that reflects the myriad ways people connect with organizations and causes today. You will find donors where they are.

I have a dream you will learn who your best influencers and advocates are and you will embrace them.  You will recognize you are no longer your best messenger. You will understand many forces beyond you influence your donor’s decision to invest with you, and you will expand your thinking and operations from a one-dimensional to a multi-dimensional model.  You will allow your constituents to engage with you at multiple points of entry, and to move freely between these points during the life cycle of their engagement.

I have a dream you will think big, because thinking small will not get you where you need to go. 

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10 Strategies to Actively Build Nonprofit Donors Trust

trustTrust defines the credibility and legitimacy not only of your organization, but of the entire social benefit sector. Yet too few organizations make the effort to operationalize this construct into their fundraising and marketing planning.

You should.

Without donor trust and confidence in philanthropy there’s no future for social benefit organizations.

Donor retention guru Professor Adrian Sargeant has spent 20+ years researching the relationship between trust, philanthropy and continued donor commitment. And he has found, unequivocally, that trust is the essential foundation of the philanthropic relationship.

Ignore this at your peril.

Actively Build Donor Trust

The Donor’s Bill of Rights is a great starting point.  But simply using it as a checklist is not enough.  Too transactional. I encourage you to go above and beyond. Because the best predictor of future giving is when people feel good.

You can make giving to you a transformational experience. How? By actualizing what you learn here into a series of multi-step plans for:

  1. Gift Acknowledgement that Satisfies Donors

  2. Donor-Centered Communications that Instill Happiness

  3. Useful Content Marketing that Offers Gifts

  4. Consistent Branding that Instills Confidence

  5. Relationship Fundraising that Creates Meaning and Builds Loyalty

If you take these five steps, implementing the 10 strategies incorporated below, I can guarantee you’ll steadily build trust and make donors happy. They may seem simple, and they are. But honestly ask yourself if you really do these things right now? Trust must be earned, and it can be fragile. So, I’m going to guess you could do better. Please read these action steps with an eye to what you might do to make your donor retention plan – what I prefer to call a “donor love and loyalty plan” – more vigorous. It’s up to you to establish trust and magnetically pull your donors toward you so they never let go.

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13 Top Secrets of Donor Thank You Letters Revealed

"Thank You You Are Essential" signLet’s begin with a question: What do you spend more time on? Asking or thanking?

You’ve probably just completed a quarter hyper-focused on asking. I’ll bet you devoted a lot of time to this endeavor.

Now… you should be devoting at least as much time to thanking the donors who responded to your appeals, with the goal of retaining and upgrading them over time.

This is especially true with first-time donors, who cost you much more to acquire than you receive (on average, you spend $1.25 to raise $1.00). The only reason to acquire these supporters is to sustain them over timeso their lifetime value to you merits your investment in them.

Alas, the lion’s share of nonprofits spend a lot more time asking than thanking and reporting back on impact.

Thank you’s are often left to the last minute. They may be delegated to a lower-level support person. They’re treated as a realtively unimportant affterthought. And they’re often carelessly written, coming across as little more than a transactional receipt or a pre-printed Hallmark card with nothing more than a signature (often, also, laser printed).

It’s a BIG mistake.

The number one reason donors don’t give again is they aren’t properly thanked!

You may think you have a proper thank you letter template. But, if your thank you looks like this, it’s not helping you bond with your supporters.

TYPICAL THANK YOU LETTER TEMPLATE

Dear [donor name],

Thank you for your generous donation of $[donation amount] to [nonprofit name].

Your donation is making a difference. Because of your $[amount] donation, we are able to [impact of donation].

[this paragraph usually gives a general description of what the organization does]

Thank you again for your contribution! [nonprofit name] relies on the gifts of donors like you to make a difference.

Sincerely,
[name and title]

Look familiar?

Wah, wah, wah (sad trombone).

Most thank you letters are simply boring.

This could come from almost any nonprofit. It’s generic, not specific.It looks like a form letter.

You can do a lot better, and it’s not hard.

To Retain Donors, Stand Out from the ‘Get Go’

Believe me, most donors aren’t sticking around. Your own retention rates may be better or worse than average (do you know them?), but generally only 19% of new donors give again. For ongoing donors, it’s just 43%.

The time to nip this in the bud is now.

Did you know a study from Charity Dynamics and NTEN found 21% of donors say they were never thanked at all? My hunch is some of these supporters did receive something from you, but it was so perfunctory they didn’t really take notice.

  • Maybe you just sent a form receipt.
  • Maybe you took them to a thank you landing page; then called it a day.
  • Maybe you sent a brief, formal email that confirmed the gift, but didn’t make them feel particularly special.
  • Maybe you sent a letter, but talked more about the ongoing need than the impact of their gift (i.e., it sounded like another fundraising appeal).

If you don’t have a killer thank you letter prepared to send to the folks you hope will be giving to you again between today and next year, now is the time to right this wrong.

If you thank well you’ll see retention rates increase significantly.

In fact, research from Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, found 70% of donors reported they would increase their giving if they received what they needed from you.

Brilliant, warm, authentic, personal communication stands out and leads to renewals. And this is a much less expensive strategy than new donor acquisition which, again, costs from $1 to $1.25 to raise a dollar. Whereas renewing a donor costs only 20 cents on the dollar  — if you prioritize this as a strategy.

By now you may be thinking: Sounds good, but how do we stand out? There must be some specific strategies that incline donors towards giving again, but what are they?

Today I share my top secrets with you. They’re simple and foolproof.

Ready?

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