In early November, we had a transformative roundtable discussion – Navigating the “Big Ask” in Challenging Times.

You had so many burning questions during and after that webinar about cultivating meaningful relationships with your donors, navigating the tricky waters of meeting requests, addressing donor concerns, and even reigniting the spark with lapsed supporters.

Beth Ann Locke, Director of the Academy, and I sat down to answer YOUR top questions:

1. What questions can I ask in a discovery call that will help develop a deeper relationship with my donor? 

I’d like to find out what they are passionate about but I don’t want to come across as invasive or inauthentic.

Try this approach that Beth Ann Locke suggests: 

After calling to say thanks, you might ask how their summer went, or what their plans are for the winter. You might learn that they took the whole family for a trip to…Italy! 

You might then ask how many people, was it all grandchildren, etc. You can find a lot out about a donor when they talk about their family and their travel interests.  

If you have the opportunity, you can also ask, “What resonates most with you about our work and programs?”

2. I’m trying to schedule discovery meetings but I’m getting nowhere with my calls requesting meetings. Any ideas and suggestions?

The good news – is you don’t have to have an in-person meeting to have a discovery call. 

The truth is that you can dip into discovery questions in all sorts of donor conversations – such as a thank-you call for a recent gift or volunteer experience. 

We are finding that as the winter is approaching, with all sorts of viruses running amok, the donor may be hesitant (if you traveled over Thanksgiving, you know how many people were out and about in close quarters!). 

We always say, meet the donors where they are!

 A simple phone call is great (and please, if you are uncomfortable on the phone, let’s practice your skills!) 

Even leaving a message saying you’d love to give your heartfelt thanks to them via phone can help. 

You can also tell people that you will call back at a certain time. (then put it on your calendar and do so). 

Just because WE want the discovery info about our donors, in reality, we have to be sensitive. 

Asking for information is taking something from them, whereas inviting them to tell us what resonates most about our programs – or the impact of our work – is a warmer invitation.

3. What to do? My donor fears a recession and is canceling meetings with us.  

Our short answer is: Some donors are holding back because they are worried about instability in the economy, and you can’t do a lot about how they feel. 

Your job is to be patient and send love and attention to your wonderful donors even when they are not giving. 

Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. And, they will probably come back to give when they feel better about their investments and the economy. 

Longer answer: 

Even though you may know a particular donor has capacity, even then we cannot actually know where their resources are directed.

Beth Ann always recalls the donor who shared that she was paying for a special school for her nieces’ children, who were on the spectrum. In another country. 

So the lesson is – when we appeal to donors, we are not appealing to their wealth, but to their generosity and the impact of YOUR org and the values match. 

Beth Ann’s (beautiful) suggested response to the donor: 

“Chris, thank you so much for considering meeting with me last month to discuss your support of our work. As a current Patron you know, one of the key aspects of the arts is to nourish the soul and to reflect collectively on what is happening in our communities. 

I respect your message to me about your feelings on the continued bumpy economy. 

We have found that people are finding a special refuge in the gatherings at our theater – they are having a shared, thoughtful and positive experience. 

When you are ready, we are hoping you would consider a gift that might be less “open-ended” and one that supports a portion of our programs where you find the most meaning.

4. How can you make your organization’s year-end fundraising “urgent” when there are so many world events happening that are dire?

Remember, your donors have a personal reason that they choose you and your organization’s mission. This personal connection to your cause exists whether the world is falling apart or not. 

It’s important to talk about the work and the IMPACT of your organization. This is far more important than your year-end financial goals. It’s your mission that is so very IMPORTANT! 

This is why understanding the values match between the donors’ values and the impacts of your organization is so key. And, of course, this is why we believe that ongoing discovery calls are a vital part of major gift work. 

Best thing to say to your donors: Our Work Continues . . .

If you personally feel you need to mention other crises… which we don’t think you need to do… then say something like: 

“With all the challenges, conflicts, and crises happening close to home or on the other side of the world, the work of Global Volunteers continues. 

“You may choose a hands-on volunteering experience for yourself or your family to support our work. OR you can give and also make your impact on 17 communities in the US and abroad. The choice is yours. 

“But we ask that you say Yes today, to ensure the impact – using local solutions for local challenges – continues.

5. What is some helpful verbiage for lapsed donors/renewal?

Here’s our recommendation:

“Hi Dana, Thank you so much for your support in recent years. You’ve helped to bring magic to many children and families in the past. We hope you will remain a supporter and continue to send grace to these families who need such help today. 

For a capital campaign donor who may renew their annual gift: 

“Your important gifts to our capital campaign helped to renew our theater, but, even more, brought new magic to patrons young and old.  Have you been down for a visit since you made your gift? I would love to offer a short tour to show you the ripples of impact your gift had.”

If the donor gave, say, at the $1,000 level, you might refer to the last gift. 

“Your generosity in last year was simply magnificent. We are hoping you will invest in our families AND the magic again this year. Might you consider another gift of $1,000?”

Bottom Line – It’s time to get back to basics and use the Conversational Ask method.

Remember to listen thoughtfully, and encourage the donor to share their feelings and deepest passions. From there, an ask should come naturally.

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Email if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

If you want to create tons of donor love, then thank your donors early and often!

You might already be actively thanking your major donors during the holiday season, but what about all your other lovely supporters?

This is a great time to go back and thank them ALL for everything they have done to make your organization successful.

Tip 1: Segment Your Donor List

I would encourage you to look at and segment your list – spread the love around.

How about thanking your organization’s founders or longtime supporters? You could run your list to see who has been donating for over 15 years.

How about your monthly donors? They deserve more than a transactional thank you! Surprise and delight them with an unexpected thank you. 

How about former board members? Capital Campaign donors from the past?

Hint: these folks are probably major donor prospects, aren’t they? So it is reasonable to invest some of your time thanking them for getting you to where you are now.

Remember that thanking donors is the first step to preparing them for the next solicitation.

Tip 2: Share a News Update

Don’t just thank your donors – give them an update. 

Tell them about the impact their gift has made.

What has happened in the last 10 years since they made their first donation?

Tip 3: Thank Your Women Donors

Women will, in fact, respond generously when they are approached correctly – and thanked properly.

Women control 32% of the world’s wealth and add $5 trillion to the global wealth pool every year.

In 2020 in the U.S. alone, women controlled $10.9 trillion to men’s $24 trillion. Currently, 45% of millionaires in the US are women.

So, don’t forget to reach out and acknowledge your female donors in particular!

Tip 4: Try a Thank-a-Thon

Even though you are in the middle of the year-end season, it’s still a great time for a thank-a-thon – it’s like a mass thank-you session.

Remember that thanking donors is the first step to asking them for another contribution.

Try a Thank-a-Thon: Gather your board members, volunteers and staff together for a fun night.

Get on the phone and call your donors. Thank them for everything they have done to help and get specific – tell them WHO they are helping and HOW.

Don’t thank them for helping YOUR organization be successful. Instead, thank them for the impact THEY are making in the world.

Your thank you helps donors feel like you care about them as real people rather than wallets or ATM machines. 

This is a great place to use your board members. Studies show that when board members thank donors, their future gifts are larger. 

Bottom Line – Remember, you have plenty of major donor prospects

Remember, you have major donor prospects – right now – buried in your files among the small gifts. The problem is that they just haven’t identified themselves as major donors yet. A little bit of donor love might change that!

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Email if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Are you familiar with that feeling of endless cultivation with a donor? Let me tell you a story:

Over the past nine months, fundraiser Kim Washington has been diligently cultivating her #1 donor, Olive Robinson. 

Kim has zoom coffees with Olive. They have lunch. Even more, Kim makes sure Olive has regular email and phone contact and keeps her informed all the time. 

In the back of Kim’s mind, she keeps wondering. “Is Olive ready for a gift conversation? Have we warmed her up enough for an ask? It feels like I’m stuck in endless cultivation.” 

Bad News – The Donor Slips Away

One morning over coffee, Kim scrolls through her phone reading the local news. . . and mulling about her next contact with Olive. 

“Oh no!” Kim is aghast.

There, in the news, is a gift announcement from another nonprofit where Olive has just made a $2 million gift, in memory of her husband.

Alas. There goes Kim’s hoped-for major gift. Her donor slipped away. How could it be that Olive, who was so interested in Kim’s organization, would surprise everyone with a gift to that other organization?

Why Does Your #1 Prospect Suddenly Disappoint You? 

Here is why this happens fairly often in the world of philanthropy. It’s because the fundraiser gets stuck in “cultivation” and does not bring up the topic of a gift.  

In reality, most donors do not fit into a clear stage in the donor journey.  You can’t pigeonhole them.

We fundraisers limit ourselves by how we define these stages. 

Some donors may be willing and eager to make a major gift now, but fundraisers miss the signals, because they are defining the donor in a box.

Here’s how to move the donor from an endless round of feel-good conversations over into a discussion about their potential support. 

Escape Endless Cultivation – Move from Discovery to a Gift Conversation in 15 Minutes 

At Gail Perry Group, we are coaching our clients in a new approach with donors – one that helps to identify those who want to help with a gift right now. 

And let me just say that our clients are seeing remarkable results with this approach. Donors are coming forward early in the donor journey and wanting to make a gift right now. 

We have found that we can literally move a donor from a series of discovery questions – right into a gift conversation.

Here’s an example of a typical conversation flow:

Question One: “I’d love to know more about how you came to be a donor.

When you are able to get your donor to share their Donor Story, you can really open the floodgates. You’ll find your donor probably has a deeply personal reason for supporting your work – something that resonates with their personal values of what is important in life. 

This is a powerful question to ask. Your job as a fundraiser is to sit tight, and perhaps say, “Tell me more.” 

Question Two: “I know you’ve been supporting our work for a long time. May I ask, what kind of impact do you feel that you are making through your giving?” 

By asking the donor to describe their feelings, you are helping the donor literally talk themselves into the idea of giving more.

Even more, your donor will tell you what you need to know at this stage. 

Question Three: “I can see that you are deeply committed to this work. May I ask, have you ever thought about doing something even bigger?”

With this question, you politely move directly into a Gift Conversation.

Now, you are using permission to place the issue squarely on the table with the donor. And remember – they are engaged, active, excited, and sharing more and more! 

Your donor just may say, “Wow, I never thought about that. And yes, I might actually like to make a bigger impact. Let’s talk about it!” 

Bottom Line: Don’t Get Stuck in Endless Cultivation

Here is the hard truth – don’t let yourself get stuck in endless chit-chat with your donor.

Instead, ask them why they give. Ask them how much they care. Ask if they’d like to get more engaged and make an even bigger impact.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or launching a major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Everyone needs to sharpen their listening skills for fundraising in the new virtual environment.

Dealing with donors is more difficult these days. Many of us can’t get in front of our donors – so we are on zoom or on the phone.

Everyone is asking us: How do we handle a virtual virtual visit? What do we say?

It can be tough. Just imagine: there you are, chatting with a donor on zoom or on the phone – hoping to build rapport.

You’re trying to connect emotionally with the donor.

But underneath, you may be struggling with what to say.

And that’s the problem.

Just remember this: It’s more important to LISTEN than it is to speak.

Don’t forget to work on your listening skills.

When you are in a virtual meeting with a donor, your job is NOT to make a presentation.

Instead, your job is to bring the donor out.

This is a sea change in strategy.

In the past, too many people worried about what to say. They worried that the donor would ask a question they could not answer. They fretted that they’d run out of conversation topics.

Our advice is: turn around and head the other way. Stop talking!

You need to listen far, far more than speaking.

Consider this: What’s your real goal in any donor conversation?

It’s NOT to convince them of something. You are not trying impress them with your knowledge. And you certainly don’t want to blather on and on, do you?

Your real goal in any donor visit is to find out as much as you can about your donor. There’s so much you want to find out:

  • Why did they give?
  • What turns them on about your organization’s work?
  • Why they are so generous?
  • What they are trying to accomplish with their philanthropy?

If you are doing the talking, then you are not discovering anything. You might as well turn in the towel right now.

You are doing donor reconnaissance anyway.

Your job is to hold yourself back. To ask questions. To pull out the donor’s story.

How can you possibly ask for a gift if you don’t understand your donor’s timing, her motivations, her values, what she believes in?

No matter what, your ask will be very weak if you don’t know these important factors that drive her giving decisions.

Stop talking: You’re not trying to “sell” her anything.

Too many fundraisers think they need a presentation that will wow their donor.

Nothing could be more incorrect!

You want a two-way conversation. You want to hear about what’s important to her.

  • Why is she interested in your cause?
  • What does she think your organization should be focusing on?
  • What does she think about this particular challenge you are facing?

Your donor doesn’t want to listen to a presentation.

She’s not interested in listening to you go on and on about how great your organization is and what exciting work you are doing.

Your donor’s not really interested in listening to anyone. She actually expects to do the talking herself.

Why? Because she’s a VIP.  This lady is used to people seeking her advice, and hearing HER point of view.

She’s used to people calling on her to pay homage.

Remember, nobody hardly listens anymore. It is a gift to someone to listen to them. You honor your donor by sitting at her feet, listening.

This is how a relationship is formed.

Listening skills are fundamental for virtual major gift fundraising.

And it’s such a difficult concept to master. Because too many of us default to talking.

BOTTOM LINE: Listening Skills for Virtual Visits

Take the easy way out with your donors by becoming an expert in listening. You’ll learn so much more about your generous benefactors. And you’ll raise much more money – even virtually!

Fundraising’s not about money – what did I say?

What’s more – fundraising is NOT about asking, either.

Why? Because if you just focus on the money, you’ll drive your donors away.

In fact, if you make it all about money,  you probably have just shot yourself in the foot. You’re likely to be turned down more often than not.

Taking it a step further, comprehensive capital campaigns are not about an extraordinary dollar goal.  Instead, capital campaigns are about transforming an organization’s ability to address community issues, locally and globally.

What drives major and transformational gifts in a big campaign? It’s not the ask or the money. It’s actually Big Ideas about who you can be and what you can do for the community. 

The Dark Side of Fundraising

Yup, fundraising has a dark side.  A yucky dark side.

That’s when you are all about the money.

When you treat your donors like ATMs, you dirty your work.  When you are talking money, money, money,  you are on the wrong track.

Have you ever heard a donor say, “We feel like an ATM?” That means you are doing it WRONG!

It seems so natural to ask for money, and miss the boat of championing a better world.

Board members and CEO’s – don’t make these mistakes!

Many board members make the mistake of equating fundraising with “just going out there and asking.”

I have seen, far too often, a well-meaning, enthusiastic and completely unprepared board member rush up to a major donor and blurt out a whopper of an ask.

The satisfied board member thinks they’ve done a great job “fundraising.” But the donor feels like it’s a huge affront – and recoils like someone just threw mud in her face. 

Now we are trying to clean up and repair the relationship with the donor – which may never recover from this incredible awkward and ill-timed ask. 

Some nonprofit CEO’s expect their staff to ask all the time.  They push fundraisers out the door and say “I expect you to be asking. I don’t care about donor relationships.”

The Magnificent Side of Fundraising

Fundraising has a magnificent side – where you are standing high up on the hill, white light shining all around you, taking a stand for your fellow human beings.

It’s weird:  one activity – fundraising – can be construed as awkward, demeaning, or even begging.

On the other hand, fundraising can be considered one of the most important and magnificent things a person can ever do.

You are garnering resources to relieve suffering, help people, and give them opportunity, hope, and safety. To nurture our lovely planet.

Wow. That’s where I want to spend my life’s energy! How about you?

So don’t let people get away with thinking that fundraising is all about asking. It’s emphatically NOT!

A Fundraising Lesson from my Yoga Teacher

One day, I walked into my yoga class at the YMCA. And Julie, my ethereal yoga teacher, was just chatting with the class in her lilting voice.

Julie gushed to us, “Class! Guess what! The Y is having our ‘We Build People Campaign’ right now – and we are SENDING KIDS TO CAMP.”

She was sooooo excited about these kids going to camp. And it was genuine.

Her enthusiasm was infectious. We all got excited about the kids going to camp. She was telling us these wonderful stories about kids what kids get to do at camp and how important it is for them.

Then she made a joyful, happy, hopeful ask. She said,

“I want my class to pull together and send ONE KID to camp. – It’s only $90 and I bet we can do it!”

We all just rushed to grab our wallets and make a contribution.

Did we feel like she wanted our money? NO.

Instead, We felt like we were helping someone and it felt so good.

Tip: Don’t make it about “money.” Instead make it about something happy – the impact.

Julie moved the fundraising talk away from “money” and put it in terms of “people.”

When you talk about the good you want to create in the world – the lives saved, kids healed, rivers cleaned, elderly cared for, art produced, then you make magic. 

You can strengthen any ask when you make it about the people you are helping.

Examples: Link the ask/money to a specific purpose:

  • If we can get a new staff counselor, which will cost $xxx, then we won’t have to turn kids away.
  • The school needs a new roof to ensure our kids a safe, sound place of learning. It will cost xxxx.
  • We are turning away kids who are asking for a Big Brother or Big Sister to mentor them. Will your church or organization sponsor 5 kids for $5,000?

These are all ways to frame an ask in a joyful, compelling way that connects the donor with a happy outcome or result.

Bottom Line: Fundraising’s not about money!

Make fundraising about the end result, not the money.

OK so what do you think?

Leave me a comment or a question!

Want to create a donor-centered appeal letter?

It’s more difficult than you think, it’s not very intuitive.  It doesn’t come naturally.

When we actually sit down to write a letter, our natural inclination is to remind our donor how worthwhile and important our effort is.

We want to say nice things about our organization and our work. Unfortunately, writing about ourselves and our organization just doesn’t cut it.

So take a look at this makeover into a donor-centered appeal letter.  And check out our rewrite at the end of the post.

The “Before” Letter:

Here at the xxx, we’ve been working to raise our game since my hiring as the new executive director in June 20xx.  

This year, our Annual Auction will be held on date. This auction is going to be a very special one, and we expect 250 of the state’s leading xxx patrons to attend. We need your help to make it the biggest and best annual auction to date!

 Here is how we’ve been upping our game, how we want to continue improving, and why we need a truly exceptional work of art from you this year.

You know our mission – promoting public awareness and appreciation of the history, heritage, and ongoing tradition of xxxx in our state. The better we fulfill our mission, the more we all, as a statewide community of xxxx, xxxx lovers and supporters, benefit. 

Since June 20xx, we have been making a concerted effort to reconnect with xxxx artists across the state. There are a lot of you, so it is an ongoing process and dialogue. . . (extensive update information about interns and grants.)

We’ve assembled a dynamic auction committee consisting of xxxx, yyy, and zzzzz an influential lawyer with strong ties to our tradition, to name a few. This group has the ability to make great things happen, they are used to doing so. 

This is why we need you, our xxxx, xxxx lovers and supporters, our core bases, to step up and help us by donating something exceptional to this year’s auction. We are on a roll. Help us keep that momentum and better fulfill our mission, one that benefits us all.  

Here was our feedback:

1. Big problem: the ask is buried at the bottom of the letter.

You need to ask, and make it explicit. Don’t lose the ask in the middle of extraneous copy.

2. Too organization-centered.

Don’t start out talking about yourself as the new ED. And don’t go on and on about the organization. There are too many “we” and “us” statements in the letter.

 3. The words “we need” are a very weak ask.

It turns donors off. Donors give to opportunities . . . not needs.

4. Use the word “you” more than we.

That’s how you make it donor-centered.

5. What’s in it for the donor?

What about the smart generous artist who provides this wonderful gift – what do they get out of this?

6. Stronger opening.

Draw your reader in by using an opening starting with the word “you.” That gives the reader a reason to keep reading!

7. There’s a large unreadable block of copy in the letter.

It’s unreadable because it is too dense. Appeal letters need to have very short paragraphs because the reader is skimming.

Our roughed-out donor-centered appeal rewrite:

Dear Ms. Artist,

You’ve been wonderful to support the xxxx organization through our growth adventures. Thank you for your partnership.  (or involvement etc.) (Note: starts with the word You.)

Did you know the annual auction is coming up in September? For a change we’re having it in xxxx location, on xxxx date in the early evening so we can draw in more collectors and donors. The local collectors love to meet our artists, so please mark your calendar and be sure to attend.

There will be a special reception for our local artists – because this night is when we spotlight you and your amazing art. (Note: talks about what the donor will get out of this event.)

Our goal is to raise money – but also to introduce you to local collectors so you can expand your own market. (Note: this is something the donor wants!)

We’re writing today to ask you to donate a xxxx work to the auction. Your gift, and those of the other artists, will support the xxxx organization so we can do xxxx for you.  The center will have xxx impact etc etc etc.

Note: the ask is outright.

It is in the first part of a paragraph so people will see it. Also note that the ask is connected to a benefit and an impact. Be sure to talk about the impact your organization makes in the world and what it does for donors.

Also, you don’t need to talk about the committee and who we are. You don’t need to talk about your grants and interns. Interns are generally not interesting.  No more artist in residence update stuff.

Also eliminate every single word, phrase, or sentence that is not totally compelling.

Consider a bang-up closing along these lines:

Let’s make this year’s auction the best ever! We’ve got a great team of smart, connected volunteers working on sponsorships, a fabulous location, and all that is left is to have your partnership and participation. 

Come on and join the fun. We’d love to showcase you to a whole new community of wealthy collectors!

Can you see the difference?

It’s all in the tone, the friendliness and the camaraderie you want to create with your donors.

It’s all in the point of view.

Disclaimer: We are not professional fundraising copywriters, so this is not perfect.  There are many pros (Harvey McKinnon,  Leah Eustace, Lisa Sargent, Jeff Brooks, Tom Ahern, John Lepp, to name a few) you should follow.

Bottom Line: Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter

You absolutely can turn an organization-centered letter into a donor-centered appeal letter. But the approach is as different as night and day.

Gail Perry's interview on capital campaigns.

Is your organization looking to raise more money this year? Do you want to learn the steps to meet your fundraising goals? If so, then you are in luck.

Amy Eisenstein from Tri Point Fundraising and I recently spoke about the key steps in preparing for a successful capital campaign. You can find our introduction to the basics of capital campaign fundraising in the video below.

To discover the true secrets of capital campaign success please visit Capital Campaign Magic, a joint project between Andrea Kihlstedt and I where you will receive newsletters, webinars, and coaching that provide the building blocks to your success.

In the video interview you will learn:

  • Whether an organization is ready to start a capital campaign
  • The value of feasibility studies and how to get around them
  • 3 objectives to keep in mind when meeting major donors
  • How to develop and rate your prospect list
  • How to get your board to open the door to prospects


Bottom Line:

If you are just getting started, never fear! Start with these steps:

  • Go for your goal with great vigor
  • Have a clear, feasible and compelling vision that is supported by your board and community
  • Use a donor pyramid to run the numbers
  • Have your first 5 to 10 donors be top level gifts to get you half way to your goal

Two questions to ask yourself and your organization’s leaders before beginning a capital campaign:

  1. Can we raise this money?
  2. Where do we think it may come from? (Know your top donors.)


This image - all by itself - makes the case for

This image – all by itself – makes the case for

Are you using the new marketing and communications tools to support your fundraising?

There’s now an amazing array of techniques, formats, strategies out there for us.

New and Innovative Tools

We have more ways than ever to tell our story, connect with our donors, keep them engaged with our cause, and ask for money!

Not only that, but we have hard data about what types of communications our donors respond to.

We know what makes a potential donor open an envelope or not. What makes her read an email newsletter, or not. Or want to give again, or not.

We know exactly:

  • What donors react to on web pages.
  • How to turn a newsletter from one that makes $1400 to one that makes $42,000.
  • What types of images and pictures work best.
  • How to design and lay out a direct mail appeal for max impact.
  • What fonts work best.
  • How to shape a call to action.

We know a lot more about messaging too these days. We know:

  • How to start off a direct mail appeal letter.
  • What to say on our website donation page, and what not to say.
  • How to frame an appeal for maximum impact on a donor.

We know that “real words” are more engaging than “jargon.”  Why say “impact our programs” when you can say “help children learn to read?”

What do all these strategies and tactics have in common?

These strategies merge the “fundraising” function and the “marketing/communications” function.

Every day, fundraisers worry about which message to choose; how to shape the message, what words to use, how many words to use, which words and phrases to avoid.

All of this could be included in a communications function called “copywriting.”

So, my friend, if you want to be successful as a fundraiser, you need to also have a working knowledge of messaging, copywriting, good design and layout. You might even need a smattering knowledge of photography and videography.

You could say that these skills fall into the communications and marketing arena.

So if you want to be successful at fundraising, you gotta master some marketing skills.

There’s Plenty of BAD Marketing!

Last week when I asserted that marketing and branding can kill fundraising, some of my smart nonprofit communications friends took issue.

Let me make myself clear: BAD marketing and RIGID branding can subvert fundraising.

What does bad marketing and rigid branding look like?

Communications that:

  • Are organization-focused, not donor-focused (staff profiles for example)
  • Are beautifully designed but difficult to read
  • Too wordy
  • Promote board members or the CEO instead of donors and your work
  • Talk about the gala instead of the kids we’ve helped this year
  • Full of statistics and data and short on pictures
  • Too formal and lofty
  • Use jargon like “programs” “services” and “underserved”
  • Are all about the branding, the look and the right colors  . . . and thereby convey nothing
  • Are completely missing the all-important “Call to Action”

Let’s not waste our time and energy with bad marketing.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a marketing and/or communications staff with skilled professionals, their expertise can often help you.

One nonprofit marketing professional I know says that so often, fundraisers “ruin” letters and other copy by inserting jargon, adding “flowery,” unnecessary words or making changes upon changes.  Don’t be one of those folks, ok?

But all fundraisers need to learn these skills!

Here’s how to learn to do Fund Marketing correctly:

Follow the smartest nonprofit communications people out there.

There are plenty of experts out there who have mastered Fund Marketing. You should follow them all AND study their stuff. Take their classes too!

Take the time to learn how to shape and deliver a message well.

Ask if your marketing and communications colleagues follow any of the experts listed above.  That’s a great way to open a line of communication.

See if you can focus your organization’s full resources and skill sets to create the most toward powerful coordinated message around “WHY” our organization’s work is important.

I’ll guarantee that you’ll raise a lot more money.

What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me!

Have you tried asking your donors for feedback?

This is a huge new trend that smart fundraisers are spearheading. Why can donor feedback be so important?  feedback icon 3-Facebook-Survey-Tools-You-Will-Love

  • How can you send communications to donors if you don’t know if they like what you are sending?
  • How can you offer “donor experiences” if you don’t know what they want?
  • How can you make sure donors are happy if you don’t try to have a 2-way conversation with them?

Donor Surveys Can Tell You So Much

Consultant Jonathon Grapsas offers several smart reasons why his firm Pareto relies on donor surveys so often. His post about surveys is a Must Read.

He says that surveys can fill in important demographic information about your donors. And you can use that to develop a profile or “persona” of your typical donor – which will help you target your writing much more directly.

Surveys can also give you amazingly useful info on why your donors are motivated to give to you. What about your organization appeals to them the most? I can’t think of more valuable feedback, can you?

Try Surveying Your Donors

Many organizations are sending their donors online surveys and asking for feedback.

Why don’t you send a Survey Monkey link to your donors asking them for their thoughts.  What they say might just surprise you! But be careful how you ask!

Nancy Schwartz of the Getting Attention! Blog

Nancy Schwartz of the Getting Attention! Blog

Don’t say “our organization needs your input.”

I can’t image a better way to turn people off. Why? Because it’s narcissistic says marketing guru Nancy Schwartz of the blog.

Nancy received an email with this as the subject line. And she said she was really turned off “because it’s all about the organization’s needs and not about what members like me need.”

Nancy said she wished the organization had used this subject line: “Pls take 5 minutes to tell us what you need.” 

Now THAT speaks a donor’s language, invites her in to participate and makes her feel valued. Right?

(Check out Nancy’s entire post about this email survey she received and her reaction to it.)

What should you ask donors in a survey?

Many of these ideas are from Jonathon Grapsas –  MUST READ his advice on donor surveys!  Just think of the thing you’d love to know about your wonderful donors:

Demographic data:

  • Ask how old they are by asking for their birth date. People are used to filling out birth date forms and not thinking about it.  How old they are is KEY.
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their sex?
  • What is their occupation?feedback
  • What is their income level (ask if you dare!)


  • Have they volunteered?
  • Attended events? Which ones? What did they think of the events they attended?
  • Have they been involved in the past? If so how?

Why are they giving?

  • Or more graciously, you can ask them “how did they come to be a donor?”
  • Offer several reasons for them to check off,  for easier analysis.
  • And then offer a blank space for them to share other reasons why they give.

Personal experiences related to your cause:

  • This is information that donors hold dear.
  • When they share it with you – it is really important and meaningful to them.
  • And you need to acknowledge this in some way in future communications to them.

How do they like their experience as a donor?

  • Do they like and/or read your hard-copy newsletter?
  • Do they like and/or read your email newsletter?
  • Do they have an opinion about your overall fundraising communications?
  • Do they feel like they know the impact of their gifts?

Bequest information:

  • Is your organization in their will? (absolutely don’t forget this question!)survey1
  • Would they consider putting your organization in their will?
  • Would they like more information about bequest planning?

You’ve got the data, now what?

Now, plan your followup! Here’s how I’d approach it:

Major donors first –

Take your feedback data to your next major gifts team meeting. Discuss each major donor’s feedback with your team, and then strategically plan followup on an individual basis.

For example, you may find out something new and personal about one of your major donors. Or they have shared their dislike about something at your organization.

You MUST respond to this, correct? Sooner the better.

And when you do, you will be deepening her connection to your cause.

Get the FOLLOWUP right.

Your entire fundraising/development team needs to come together to work out what actions are required in order to respond appropriately.

For example:

  • Some donors may send in contributions with their feedback and need to be thanked.
  • Some may request information or help from the staff (like bequest info!).
  • Some may want to volunteer.
  • Others may want to change their communications preferences.

You and your team better be ready to respond, or your donors will be disappointed.

 Here are Some More Resources on Donor Surveys: 

Mary Cahalane shares how she used the survey as an effective engagement tool. Pamela’s Grantwriting Blog.

How to develop an effective donor survey with

Sample donor survey from Jonathon Grapsas  on Sofi

Pamela Grow writes about her experiences surveying donors:

Simone Joyaux writes in the Nonprofit Quarterly about the donor survey questions in Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value by Sargeant and Jay. (Great article and the book is a fundraising classic too!)


Are you Surveying Your Donors?  What’s working for you?

Leave a comment and let me know!


We all know that donor retention is where the easy money is for you, your team, and your organization.

It’s the key to sustainable fundraising for your organization. money on wings drawing
Getting current donors to renew is far, far easier than bringing in new donors.


So let’s focus here this week!

What can we do to improve donor retention and keep our donors giving, giving and giving again?

It’s really a matter of making them feel connected. And making them feel like we care about them.

No problem! We CAN do this!

These 6 steps are based on a webinar that Bloomerang CEO Jay Love shared with my Fired-Up Fundraising INSIDERS this week.

Jay and I both credit these ideas to Dr. Adrian Sargeant – the donor retention guru himself.

1. Drip feed your donors hard data about your successes  and accomplishments.

I love the concept of “Drip Feeding.”

You get the idea – drip, drip, drip.

A steady flow of reassuring information that you are doing your job and that you are accomplishing great things.

Drip feeding performance data builds your credibility.

It builds your donors’ confidence that they made a smart investment in you.

It makes your donors happy and satisfied that they are helping to make the world a better place.

Drip feed great info to your donors continuously!

Drip feed great info to your donors continuously!

Here’s how you do it:

“We reached this many parents in this amount of time.

“We fed this many kids this year. 

“We helped these many families with their ____ needs. 

2. Connect with your donors often, especially the first 90 days.

Jay Love said it was absolutely critical to be in touch the first 90 days.

That is, if you want to forge a strong relationship with your donor.

Your donor just sent you “love” via their checkbook, and they want some love and attention back.

So many typical boring newsletters just don’t cut it with donors.

Many donors don’t read your newsletters because they are simply not interesting.

Here’s how to do it. Just say:


“Join us and get involved!

“Thanks for joining the team!

3. Be personal with your donors by mailing about their specific interests.

This is all about segmenting your list.

You should be tracking your donors’ various interests and their participation with your organization.

Hopefully you and all your staff are feeding this kind of information into your donor database.

If you are not tracking this kind of detail, you might want to start.

It lets you send mailings tailored to your donor’s specific interest.

The most important word in every single letter to your donors is YOU.

The most important word in every single letter to your donors is YOU.

And that says to the donor “They know me and they care about me.”

Here’s how to do it.

“You are a parent, so here is parent information.

“You attended this concert, so here is info on these types of concerts.

“You responded to our survey so here are the survey results.

4. Develop like a good personal friendship.

Gosh, what does “friendly” look like?

And WHY is “friendly” so very difficult for many nonprofits?

It’s all about the words you choose and the tone you take.

Use contractions. Say things in a casual way.

Be approachable. Don’t be fussy, lofty or formal.

Don’t use your typical jargon or acronyms that donors just don’t understand!

Here’s how to do it.

Use “you” twice as many times as you use “we.”

Have a casual tone.

Invite them to participate often – like you would a close friend.

5. Have many different people connect with your donors.

Jay and Adrian call this “human connectors.”


Human connectors are different people who make contact with your donors.

What if the ballerina connected directly to donors?!!

What if the ballerina connected directly to donors?!!

You need many different people associated with your organization to be in touch with your donors in multiple ways.

Here’s how to do it.

“I’m a parent and wanted to tell you . . . 

“I’m a table captain and want to thank you for attending our event.

“I’m a ballerina and want to share my story.

6. Always communicate to donors what their monies are doing.

Ah, this – I think – its the most important!

Your donors are always a bit nervous about their investment in you.

More than anything, they want to know what their hard-earned money is accomplishing!

And this is easy . . . you can do this!

Hopefully you are doing it already.

Here’s how to do it.

“Your gift helped feed this many people.

“Your contribution helped bring food and shelter to this number of families.

“Your generosity supported 15 concerts around the state.

BOTTOM LINE on Donor Retention:

Whether your donors give again is almost entirely up to you and your team.

You CAN increase your donor retention!

And it can pay off with amazing financial returns!