Just imagine: what if you had a new way to increase visibility and make new friends for your cause?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had an authentic and impactful way to help donors get to know your work, build trust and establish meaningful connections with your leadership?

Then consider the power of a no-ask friendmaking event like a Porch Party.

Don’t miss our free webinar on June 7th,

“Unleash the Power of Porch Parties to Gain New Friends, Supporters, and Donors!”

You’ll discover how to stage the ultimate summer Porch Party friendraising event!

Count me in!

Even more, social gatherings for your cause can foster a wonderful sense of community.

Let’s explore how a Porch Party can help you build trust and ignite interest in your cause:

1. Getting to Know Your Organization:

Count me in!

A Porch Party provides a welcoming and intimate environment for donors to engage with your leaders on a personal level.

By hosting a relaxed social gathering, you create a space where conversations among people can flow naturally, allowing attendees to get to know you. They can also gain firsthand insights into the mission, impact, and values of your organization.

As they learn more about your cause and understand your work, typically, people’s interest will begin to grow. Before you know it, you’ve just made a new “friend” for your organization.

In this webinar, we’ll share our tips to engage your attendees in discussions about your mission.

2. Establishing Authentic Connections:

There’s another reason we like Porch Parties: a casual social gathering can create the space to foster authentic connections between potential donors and your cause.

By inviting potential supporters to engage in conversations, share stories, and forge friendships, you help to create a sense of belonging and purpose. And that is surely a lovely thing.

This is what we mean when we talk about engaging donors – you are helping them forge personal connections with your work.

As attendees connect with others who share their interests, they’ll also connect more deeply with your cause. This fosters a bond based on shared values and common goals.

All this happens before you ever ask for a gift.

In our June 7th webinar, we’ll share why friendmaking is a powerful fundraising strategy.

3. Building Relationships that Inspire Support

Just remember: Successful fundraising is based on meaningful relationships with donors. And most importantly, these relationships are based on trust and understanding.

A Porch Party allows you to go beyond the transactional aspect of fundraising and move into cultivating genuine connections.

When you nurture donor relationships, and demonstrate your organization’s community-wide impact, you inspire donors to contribute willingly. They can move on to become long-term advocates for your cause.

Making Friends First.

The Porch Party motto is “Make friends first.”

First, you help donors get to know your cause and build their trust in your organization.

Then, later, you invite them to donate. First things first.

When you prioritize relationship-building and focus on genuine connections, you create a solid foundation for long-term donor engagement.

Just imagine: your donors and prospects are becoming more familiar with your cause. They’re beginning to witness the impact of your work. And above all, they are building trust in your organization.

At that point, they’ll be more inclined to contribute willingly and wholeheartedly. You are “attracting” donors rather than “pitching donors.”

Your Next Porch Party Is a Platform for Building Trust and Inspiring Support.

Remember, a Porch Party is not just a social gathering; it’s a platform for building trust, fostering connections, and inspiring support.

Make each Porch Party gathering a memorable experience. You can showcase your organization’s values, its mission, and, most of all, your dedication to creating positive change.

We want you to embrace the power of Porch Parties to make new friends for your organization. New friends who will become deeply engaged donors.

In the June 7th webinar, we’ll share the best format for the program at a Porch Party.

BOTTOM LINE: A small social gathering is a perfect way to create a welcoming atmosphere for new friends.

You can let the porch become a stage for meaningful conversations and relationships that will propel your cause forward. Hope to see you there!

How to Get Ready for a Capital Campaign

What does it take to really be ready to start a capital campaign?

Often we see board members and leaders chomping at the bit to move quickly. And we hear from some fundraisers that they feel pushed to get going and start asking for lead gifts as soon as possible.

Your smart plan sets up the dominoes so they will fall nicely in place.

Your smart plan sets up the dominoes so they will fall nicely in place.

However, caution ahead: your organization may not be ready for our advice: Slow down and get organized now so that you can move ahead quickly later. You do not want to be charging ahead without doing your research and due diligence!

There are many steps to take in order to be ready for a capital campaign. Planning now will create a successful campaign.

Here are key steps you need to work through BEFORE you launch into the silent phase of your campaign.

1.   Decide your scope.  What exactly will you be raising money for?

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not.

Does your organization need a new building? If so, then consider this:

  • Where will the building be, and how much will the land cost?
  • Do you have a simple schematic design?
  • Do you have an idea of what the actual construction (or renovation) will cost?
  • What about the cost of building permits, new furniture, etc.?

Also, will there be additional items that your leadership may want to include in your capital campaign financial objectives?

  • What about funding for endowment?
  • Or a special building maintenance fund or money for equipment?
  • What about including start-up costs for any new programs?

It’s important to identify all the different “funding objectives” or purposes that your campaign might include – well in advance. This is not a quick – or simple – process, to be sure.

2.  Get a rough idea of your possible capital campaign financial goal.

Once your team has a sense of the proposed capital campaign’s funding objectives, they can begin putting some numbers next to each funding objective.

Once that is accomplished, they can develop a “working” campaign goal. Go ahead and set a preliminary working goal as soon as you can.

This is a key starting place for your campaign planning.

Estimating the financial aspect of the campaign is an important step forward. Once you start talking numbers, you’ll find a sweet spot: a number that impresses people but doesn’t make them gasp at your foolishness.

Regarding your financial aspirations – remember that a little foolishness is not all that bad.  It’s much easier to come down later than it is to go up, so it’s a good idea to reach on the high side at the beginning.

3.  Break down the potential capital campaign goal by gift amounts.

It’s essential for you to lay out your potential gifts in a Gift Range Chart. This little chart will be a remarkable planning tool for you and help you prepare for a capital campaign when the right time comes.

Based on your preliminary working campaign goal, create a chart that will show how many gifts you’ll need in what sizes to reach that goal.

What’s more, who do you think will be the donors who will step up with lead gifts for the campaign? You’ll want to evaluate the size of your potential campaign prospect pool:

  • How many gifts of one million will you need? Where will they come from? Or, if you have a large campaign goal, how many ten-million-dollar gifts do you think you’ll need?
  • How many of $500,000? And $250,000?
  • How much in smaller amounts will you need to cover what your major donors don’t provide?

Know that a gift range chart for the same goal will vary from organization to organization. Why? Because it really depends on the size of your prospect list and the potential of your largest donors.

4.     Get your board on board.

To be ready for a capital campaign, you’ll want to be absolutely sure that your board is well-informed about campaign strategy, donor prospects, and potential for your campaign.

Your board needs to:

  • Understand how capital campaigns work.  Major gift and capital campaign strategy is not always intuitive. Your leaders need to understand that it takes time and a lot of nurturing to close huge gifts. That’s why we slow down now, to go fast later.
  • All must agree on the campaign objectives and scope.  You can’t go forward if there is dissent about whether to do a campaign and what it will require from the board and the organization.
  • Be willing to make the investment in infrastructure that will be required to support the campaign. This money won’t just walk in the door! It takes extra staff, extra events, extra PR, and a ton of work.

5.  Involve your most important donors in your capital campaign planning.

Many people ask us, “When can we approach our major donors about the campaign?”

We recommend that you engage major donors at the very beginning – when your campaign is just an idea.

It’s always a great strategy to involve your major supporters, while the campaign is simply an idea. As your ideas evolve, get their support early on, particularly in the planning process. You could even invite their input into your plan.

You get the idea.

Don’t keep your most important donors at arm’s length through the planning process – instead, use your planning phase to draw them in. The pre-planning phase is a wonderfully exciting time to involve your donor prospects.

Bottom Line: How to Start a Capital Campaign

Pre-planning now will help you save time and money and have your campaign on the early road to success!

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 expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Here’s a wonderful Major Gifts Intensive success story from one of our smart participants.

Chris Cook, Executive Director of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, said he really enjoyed practicing his new advanced 21st-century fundraising skills.  He learned how to create magical conversations with his donors because he achieved some stellar results.  

Here’s a situation – from an amazing donor conversation – when the donor simply offered a capital campaign gift – without even being asked.  Here’s what Chris shared (with our commentary):  “I started the conversation by asking how our organization pulls on his heart.”

(Our note: You should always start every donor conversation with a question about why they give to your organization.)

“First, he told me he was very grateful that I asked.”

(Our note: Many donors are often dying to share their “donor story.” This is an easy, seamless, and polite way to establish a deeper connection with your donor.)

“Second, he revealed to me that he had never been asked this question before by anyone and that he deeply appreciated it.”

(Our note: Your donors have deep feelings in their hearts for your organization’s work. But people don’t ever ask them. It will open the floodgates and you’ll be surprised.)

“As my donor explained this, his eyes started to get teary.” 

“I could see that he was immediately thinking back about his history with the organization, and how it has impacted him, his kids’ lives, and his grandkids’ lives.”

“This is because of art he now has, in two different homes. And how that art inspires conversation and education and connection.”

Then he immediately jumped in and started explaining his big picture for philanthropy.”

“He surprised me when he shared that he has three key areas of giving that are important to him. And that our organization is one of his three priorities!”

“It was huge news to me!”

“This was not, by any stretch, a challenging conversation to have. My donor opened up in new ways that I had not seen before.”

“And then – you won’t believe this, but he made a pledge for the capital campaign that we plan in the future.”

Bottom Line from this Major Gifts Intensive Success Story

Ask your donor why they care, or why your cause resonates with them, and then watch out. Your donor will take you places you never knew, and just may offer a gift right then and there.

The annual Major Gifts Intensive opens for registration in November each year. Let us know if you’d like to be added to the waiting list!

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 expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Capital Campaign Pre-Planning: What to do Before Hiring a Consultant

How important is capital campaign pre-planning?

We see many organizations that want to move forward quickly to launch a capital campaign. They are excited about their vision and are ready to dive straight away into a feasibility study.

It’s great to be excited and enthusiastic because those qualities can generate momentum.

But you’ll also want to get as organized as you can, prior to your study. You can lay the groundwork for a successful study even before you start the search for a reputable campaign consulting firm.

Today, we’ll share a step-by-step readiness plan to help you get prepared for a successful feasibility study. This plan will help you get the most out of your study.

1.     Capital campaign pre-planning: Clarify your projects and what you want to raise money for.

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not.

Donors will have many questions about your proposed projects. They will ask detailed questions about the need for a new building, an expansion, or an endowment – whatever you are hoping to fund in the capital campaign.

You’ll need to think through all possible aspects of your project so you and your consulting team can answer these questions. It’s important to outline all possible costs – and implications – of a potential capital project.

For a new building: Donors will ask about operating and maintenance costs of new building. Donors will ask where the building will go, how large it will be, parking, costs of construction and land, and costs of upfitting the new facility. They will ask to see visuals of the proposed building.

Above all, they will want to know WHY the building is needed. Not only do you need to explain the project in detail, but you also need to lay out a clear justification for this investment.

For major programmatic expansions that you want to fund in the campaign, the most important question your donors will ask is WHY do you need it, including:

  • How will it expand your work?
  • What costs will be incurred?
  • Who will be served and why is your organization the one to do the work?
  • Why not some other organization?  Donors will ask about competition and other agencies that do similar work. They will ask about possible collaborations with similar organizations.

2.     Get a rough idea of your campaign dollar goal.

Once you have firmed up the projects to be funded in the capital campaign, then it’s time to cost everything out.

Each funding objective needs a cost number, or at least a financial range.

When your consulting team presents this information to your donors in the Feasibility Study, you’ll want to demonstrate that you’ve researched each aspect of your plan.

Thinking things through now will help you and your team show up as business-like, thoughtful and deliberate. And of course, these qualities will help to build donors’ trust in your potential campaign – and generate their investment.

Then it’s time to estimate a capital campaign goal. The simple approach is to put numbers next to each funding objective and add it all up.

We recommend that you and your team start with a tentative “working goal” for the campaign that you use as a preliminary figure. The working goal can go up or down, depending on the results of the feasibility study,

3.    Campaign pre-planning: Get your board on board.

Before you start interviewing potential consultants for a feasibility study, make sure your board is well-informed about the prospects and potential for your campaign.

That means that you will have to work with board members both independently and together during your planning process.

It’s important to get some opinion leaders behind your proposed projects and the potential campaign early in the game because they can be an indispensable asset.

We want to see the full board in agreement about what’s before them. Ideally, your board members will be:

  • Enthusiastic and optimistic about the potential for your campaign.
  • 100% behind the expansion or capital investment plan.
  • Educated about how capital campaigns work – the strategy and process that creates successful campaigns.
  • Educated about how much campaigns cost, because the money is not going to just walk in the door without a significant investment of time, energy, and resources.
  • Understanding what their role will be during the campaign.

4.    Involve your most important donors in your capital campaign pre-planning discussions.

During these beginning steps in your planning, it’s essential to engage your top donors in conversations about your proposed project.

Consider making a list of ten to twenty top donors – the ones who are most likely to make the top gifts to your capital . Then develop a plan to involve each of these donors in the planning process.

This can range from taking a donor to lunch to let her know what you’re working on, or asking the donors for their advice and input on your proposed plan.

You can also ask some donors to serve on a pre-campaign planning committee. If one of your top donors is involved in real estate, you might even ask their advice on aspects of purchasing or constructing the new new building.

You get the idea. Don’t keep your most important donors at arm’s length through the planning process. Instead, use your planning phase to draw them in.

The pre-planning phase is a wonderfully exciting time to involve these important donor prospects.

Feasibility Studies Can Be a Waste of Money, if . . .

Remember, a feasibility study interviews donors to determine their level of interest in supporting your new, bigger vision and proposed plan.

It’s best when you can give them something meaty and exciting that they can react to. If the consultant finds too many potential donors who are not engaged or informed, then these donors might respond,

“I don’t know enough about this organization or project give you an opinion.”

When that happens, then your feasibility study will not yield any helpful information.

It’s disappointing to us consultants, too, when we interview potential donors who are simply not familiar with the project and not close to the organization.  There is nothing to talk about!

Moral of the story: Engage your donors early and often!

Bottom Line: Capital Campaign Pre-Planning: What to do before you hire a consultant.

Start your work early on the campaign by taking these steps, and you’ll save time and money and have your campaign on the early road to success.

You are laying the groundwork so that the full campaign can roll out successfully with early lead gifts and key volunteers stepping up to help.

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.

NO ASK fundraising strategies for board members? Is this possible?

Often, we find that board members are nervous about the idea of fundraising. They want to help, but shy away from the idea of “asking.”

We recently shared our favorite list of the Top 10 Fundraising Responsibilities of Board Members. Today we want to dive deeper and discuss how each board member can find a comfortable role where they can personally support fundraising, without having to solicit.

Here are just a few of the productive jobs they can do to raise friends, thank donors and help create a sustainable fundraising program.

1. Spread the word among their networks and social circles.

Your board members need to be roaring advocates for your organization; they need to talk it up wherever they go. Every organization needs their board members to be in action, spreading the word and making friends for the cause.

It’s important for all board members to enthusiastically share news about their favorite cause with their friends. Most are willing to share posts, videos or images with their social networks. For example, many board members jump in to support Giving Days by reaching out to friends via social or digital channels.

One thing board members need to remember: they have immense credibility within their communities.

One reason is because they are unpaid volunteers.  They are only supporting the organization out of the goodness of their hearts – because they care. This gives board members more stature within the community and their circles of friends than they realize.

So the job is clear: ask your board members to introduce your organization to everybody they know. Let’s start a groundswell of good news about your cause that will spread through your community.

2. Open doors by hosting Small Socials.

You can expand your community relationships and make new friends through gatherings such as Small Socials. This job is perfect for socially oriented board members who have a large network.

A Small Social can take several formats. For example, it can be a coffee, a tea, a dinner, a porch party, a cookout, or cocktails. The event can be a breakfast meeting or luncheon. It can include 3 people or 100.

Here’s our preferred format for a “door-opener” Small Social:

  1. Board members, volunteers or donors invite guests, underwrite it and serve as hosts.
  2. There is no charge, because this is a cultivation event designed to introduce new people to your organization’s work. The goal is to work the room, so to speak.
  3. There is a short presentation (max 15 minutes) in the midst of the socializing.
  4. The board volunteer host welcomes everyone, and the CEO gives a short high-impact message about the work and your results.
  5. You follow up with attendees after the event, by asking them about their impressions and if they’d like to get involved.

Small Socials are one of our favorite no ask fundraising strategies for board members. Opening doors and making connections is a most important role – one that can pay off in future major gifts. 

3. Host a tour to showcase your organization’s impact.

Board members can host tours to bring prospective friends closer to your organization. We find that a carefully scripted tour can be a powerful way to demonstrate your organization’s good work and to illustrate unmet needs in the community.

The tour lets your work speak for itself.

Your guests will hear staff members, or even clients/students/stakeholders, express in their own words their personal first-hand experiences with your organization’s mission— and the good it does—in the community.

A well-planned tour is hosted by a board volunteer. Just like in Small Socials, the CEO will share a visionary message. Use the same follow-up plan as a Small Social.

By hosting a tour of your organization for donors or friends, board members play a powerful role showcasing your organization’s work. Even more, their presence adds credibility and stature to your organization.

4. Thank you calls to donors.

One of the most powerful actions a board member can take is to make thank you phone calls to donors. This should always happen soon after the gift is received by your organization.

When board members call to thank donors, the donors are usually quite impressed. Donors will  think:

“This organization appreciates me”

“I am a real person to this organization, not just a checkbook”

“This organization is well run”

Donors who receive phone calls from board members invariably tend to give larger gifts the next time and tend to stay on board as donors longer.

Some studies have shown that donors who received a thank you call from a board member within 24 hours of making a gift, later made subsequent gifts that were 39% higher than donors who did not receive a call.

This means that board members can directly improve your organization’s bottom line without having to solicit.

Bottom Line: NO ASK Fundraising Strategies for Board Members

Every board member can support your organization’s fundraising.

There is a fundraising role for each person on your board – whether they are in an asking role or not. Opening doors, making friends and thanking donors are valuable jobs that can pay off with increased gifts to support your cause.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or launching a major gifts program – we can help. We’re with our clients every step of the way, inspiring their teams and board, building confidence, driving action and measuring success. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a strategy or consulting 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!

It’s the (hopefully) slow time of mid-summer, and it’s time when you can can step back from your day-to-day work for a breather.

AND – It’s the time when many fundraising shops look ahead and create a detailed, annual fundraising plan for the coming year.

I can assure you that a smart annual fundraising plan that lays out your strategies for the upcoming year is your road map for expanding your results!

We all know that a little planning now helps you stay sane later when things get really busy!

And helps you organize your resources so that you are both efficient AND effective!

Here’s my list of Do’s and Don’t for your Annual Fundraising Plan: 

Annual Fundraising Plan Don’ts:

1. Overly optimistic and unrealistic.

Be careful about being overly optimistic about what your team can humanely achieve.

Some overachieving teams are so ambitious that they overload their plan. They add in everything they need to do and then they add the strategies they WOULD LIKE to do.

I think it’s wonderful to be aggressive, but really now – do you want to commit to strategies that are impossible to achieve?

Do you want to run your team ragged? 

Be completely realistic about what you and your staff can actually pull off in excellence!

2. Pie-in-the-sky goals.

I am often surprised to see fundraising goals just pulled out of the air.

And I’ve seen fundraising goals set by superiors based on nothing in particular. (??!)

More than once, I’ve seen fundraising revenue goals that are just “plug figures” to make the budget balance. (What? This is no way to run a revenue-generating shop.)

Fundraising goals need to be based firmly in reality – on hard facts and concrete realities. Goals should be backed up by detailed strategies that outline exactly:

  • how the goal will be reached
  • who is responsible for reaching it
  • and most importantly – exactly what strategies and tactics will be implemented to reach the goal. 

Don’t ever commit to a goal without knowing that you can actually make the numbers.

Annual Fundraising Plan Do’s

1. Your plan chooses what your team will do and what it won’t do.

Many famous management consultants say that it’s just as important to choose what you will NOT  do.

That’s how you allocate resources to your most productive strategies (major gifts, anyone?)

Why? Because you are making choices based on a realistic assessment of your opportunities, track record, staffing and budgetary resources.

For example, if you only have staff to do 2 events, then you are not going to plan to do 4 of them.

Any plan is important for what it chooses to get done. It’s also important for deciding what NOT to do.

2. Your plan sets priorities.

Your plan forces you to set priorities.

What are the “must do’s?” And what are the “would like to do’s?”

Some things you just can’t avoid – events, board meetings, grant proposals, and reports  – these things are already cast in concrete.

Once those must do’s are on the calendar, each team member can then take a realistic look at how much time is left over for the rest of your priorities.

Want to know one of the biggest problems I see in many fundraising shops? It’s this – the work load constantly expands, but no extra staffers are hired.

Clearly, this leads to frustration, drama and burnout of the fundraising team members – which doesn’t lead to high productivity.

With limited time and staff, you will have to raise some jobs and tasks to a higher priority level than others.

3. Your annual fundraising plan dovetails with your organization’s business plan and goals.

Clearly your annual fundraising plan doesn’t live in a vacuum.

It needs to be completely aligned with your organization’s overall activities and plans – both short term and long term.

For example, perhaps you are a performing arts organization planning to stage 4 performances this year.

Your fundraising plan will structure appeals and events around these performances.

Or you are an after-school child-care center planning to expand into an additional school district.

Your annual fundraising plan will focus around this expansion in all your appeals and events.

Base your annual fundraising plan on your organization’s operational plans for the coming year. 

4. Your plan is based on current reality.

Your fundraising should start with a thoughtful assessment of where you are, what you have to work with, your challenges, and your unique strengths and connections.

Start your planning by taking stock of how well your current strategies are doing.

How can we tweak our current work and make it more effective AND more efficient?

What’s working now? What’s not working so well?

A smart plan forces you to evaluate:

  • Your current numbers and your trends – unemotionally!
  • Your ways of acquiring new donors
  • How well you are deploying your volunteers
  • Your donor retention strategies – and your entire donor communication program
  • Your web site and donation process
  • Your staffing – including organizational structure, responsibilities, skill sets, work loads, training needs and how well everyone is working together – or not.

That’s where your fundraising plan has to start!

BOTTOM LINE: Your Annual Fundraising Plan

It’s really important now to step back and organize yourself – and your office – and ALL your strategies and tactics – for the coming year.

I can promise you that if you DO create a smart plan – you will have focused, well-thought-out and doable strategies. You’ll sleep better at night AND you’ll raise a lot more money!

If you would like my help in creating your OWN annual fundraising plan, you should check out our Highly Profitable Fundraising Toolkit video step-by-step course.

The Toolkit gives you the templates, checklists, assessment formats – all the tools you need to create your BEST plan for the coming year.

  • The Toolkit takes your through a full assessment of how well you are doing and how much money is on YOUR table.
  • Then it guides you to set financial goals and detailed action plans for the coming year so you can systematically go after all those gifts and contributions.

major gift fundraising challenges-infographic

Nonprofits clearly see the potential that major gift fundraising success might offer.

Now, we have over 550 nonprofit leaders sharing their personal challenges in major gift fundraising.

The floodgates have opened here, folks.

Read on for hopes, dreams, frustrations, struggles – that you are probably quite familiar with.

What are the challenges holding us back from major gift fundraising success?

Development directors and staff fundraisers know what is possible but the organizational support is not there.

They are given too much to do. Too much to juggle.

Major gift fundraising has to go on the back burner.

Board members think major gift fundraising is distasteful. They refuse to open doors.

Executive directors set unrealistic goals.

Budgets shortchange investments in major gift fundraising.

Volunteers want to stay focused on events instead of major gifts.

Here are the survey results:

Question 1: What’s your biggest challenge raising major gifts?

not enough major gift prospectsNot Enough Major Gift Prospects 25%

The lack of major gift prospects was the winner by a slim 1% over “not enough time to do it right.”

Many respondents said they were simply were unsure HOW to identify major gift prospects.

How do we find the people with money?

We have no idea how to research to determine who might be a prospect.

How do I recognize a major gift prospect among our current donors and also how do I find someone with money who has never given?

We are uncertain as to who to ask for donations.

This barrier showed up especially in responses from smaller organizations.

It seemed that it wasn’t that there weren’t enough prospects. Instead the issue was we don’t know how to identify them.

not enough timeNot Enough Time To Do It Right 24%

Many fundraisers have too many conflicting demands on their time.

They’re wearing too many hats, often in under-staffed shops.

They’re asked to handle a wide variety of time-consuming tasks.

Here’s where much of the frustration lives, because staffers clearly see that they are spending time on less profitable, less productive tasks, simply because there’s no one else to do them.

I spend too much time setting up processes, entering donations, getting thank you letters out, with little time to move forward to bring us to the next level.

No admin support so I spend all my time on admin tasks instead of major gifts.

I am one person doing major gifts, grants, 2-3 events, material production and editing, marketing and now have been told I need to manage the database too. Hard to get the kind of results expected with that type of workload.

Some staffers clearly saw that it was really a combination of not enough time to invest in prospecting and developing relationships.

Lack of depth in prospects is still a major issue, but it stems from not valuing the time it takes to build that prospect pool.

I wish it was a single issue, but really includes finding prospects and building those relationships, having the time to do that.

unsure or unclearUnsure, unclear of how to approach major donors 20%

There’s much confusion about how to start developing relationships with major donors.

Respondents share that they just don’t know what do to and say, and how to get donors to respond to them.

We don’t know how to approach people with money. What do we do when our donors don’t seem to want to talk to us?

Our donors are not open to meetings. Reaching the donors and securing the ask is troubling.

We need coaching on how to identify and cultivate more major donors – we don’t know where to start.

Again, Executive Directors don’t understand how it works.

Our ED thinks we can just call, get the appointment and ask. Oh! And it is my responsibility.

need structure and supportNeed Structure and Support 18%

Many nonprofits are simply not structured for major gift fundraising.

There’s no one in charge, and no clear responsibility for results.

When major gifts are just something to get to when we have time – the last thing on the list, we can’t expect great results.

Need the staffing structure to make it happen properly. We have the prospects, not enough people to reach out to them all.

Really need help in identifying donors and making a plan.

There is no internal structure and support – I have to do everything myself.

organization doesn't understand or supportOrganization doesn’t understand or support major gift fundraising 13%

Many fundraisers are operating in an organizational culture that does not support major gifts.

There’s literally no structure or support for this type of fundraising.

Or the organization is not willing to invest time and money in developing major projects.

Leadership doesn’t understand exactly what it takes – especially the time commitment required to nurture long term major donor relationships.

Board members find it distasteful to ask potential major donors to consider a gift.

No clear duties are allocated to major gift fundraising. Budgets don’t provide resources for major gift fundraising. Bosses think fundraisers should stay at their desks instead of being out of the office meeting with donors.

Everyone thinks it is someone else’s job.

Our leaders are totally unaware of how fundraising works, especially for major gifts.

We need to change our culture to support major gift fundraising.

We all know what needs to be done, but don’t have the structure and support of the director.

We need the structure and support in the organization to do it.

It is not the organization that doesn’t understand, it is the board.

It’s hard for people to understand that it takes time. I can’t just blurt out an ask on the first visit.

My ED has no idea: Just a “get out there and go to meetings” command.

What Would Help You the Most to Raise Major Gifts?

training in what to do or sayTraining In What To Do and Say 39%

Fundraisers shared a long list of areas where they wanted training or coaching.

It appears that they are quite willing to tackle major gift fundraising but simply don’t know how to do it.

With training in what to do and say, it seems that many fundraisers could be quite successful bringing in major gifts.

I’m unsure of “how to get in the door” when we are just beginning major gift fundraising.

I need help specifically on getting the meeting.

I want training in prospecting.

I need my prospects to agree to meet with me.

How do you tactfully move to the next step with a donor?

How to best convey the “heartstring” need to donors?

I need help getting the courage to make the ask

I have a fear of flubbing up!

organizational supportOrganizational Support 24%

Many fundraisers shared that their board was an impediment.

When board members refuse to support the fundraising process, staff fundraisers are never as successful as they could be.

Board claims not to know anyone who can make major gift as there are no industries in our area. They don’t want to ask individuals who probably could make a major gift.

Board is not engaged in fundraising in the most effective way. They are very hesitant to engage.

I’m having a hard time trying to convince board members that they can help by simply setting up a coffee or lunch where I can meet the donor.

Our board has no interest in helping to open those doors.

The board does not support or understand major gift program.

accountability and coachingAccountability and Coaching 19%

Many respondents shared that they needed a clear plan and structure.

Who is responsive for major gift fundraising? Who does what? Who reports when?

Several said that they thought they could be successful if they had an effective accountability system in place to track and manage the entire process.

First, I need a system/infrastructure to organize the process and keep track of it.

I need help staying organized to make sure I am prioritizing correctly and not missing any good prospects.

I feel like I need a mentor or guide, more so than another class or training.

I need help organizing a pipeline and a tracking system.

Accountability would help with everything – we make time when we have to be accountable.

more time in the dayMore Time in the Day 18%

With overly heavy workloads, it’s no wonder that fundraisers are not successful bringing in major gifts.

I don’t have enough time to do it right because we are always rushing on to the next project that our ED wants us to do.

How do I keep up with the pace as more gets added?

I think I could be successful, but I don’t have the time to do it right.


Nonprofit staffers clearly understand the potential that major gift fundraising offers. But it’s the organization that holds them back.

With training, coaching, teamwork, systems, accountability, and a clear structure, every organization can be successful at major gift fundraising.

Would you like to overcome the challenges keeping you from raising major gifts?  My Major Gifts Coaching can help you raise the big money that is out there for your nonprofit.

  • You’ll start to bring transformational major gifts into your organization, so that you’ll finally have the funding to do your important work.
  • You’ll get an accountability system and infrastructure that will keep major gifts flowing into your nonprofit for years, so you won’t have to start over all the time.
  • You’ll get your major prospects identified, get a priority system, set up cultivation plans and make those asks, so that you’ll actually close generous gifts.
  • You’ll get your entire board and team trained by me in major gift fundraising so that you’ll all share the same language and have the same tools and skills. You won’t be alone any longer.
  • You’ll have me as your major gift coach and mentor for 10 months next year, so that you’ll have my help when you need it.

I’d love to chat with you about whether coaching is right for you! Let’s bring in those major gifts to YOUR organization!

Click here to Find Out More About Major Gift Coaching and Mentoring With Gail 

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.)


Q: Should we include a major gift prospect in our email blasts which include asks?

Yes, but you should personalize these appeals, acknowledging your prospect’s relationship with your cause, if at all possible.Hope-this-works-233x300

It’s a mistake to remove your prospect from all your communications – including appeals.

Why? Because it may take months to prep them for a really big ask- and they need those small fundraising and connecting touches all along.

Once, one of our major gift prospects said to me. “Why don’t you all ever ask me for money? It’s weird, and I’d like to give a little something right now!”

That was my lesson learned!

Q: Should the Executive Director go on major gift cultivation visits with me?

Actually I’d like to see you visit with the donor first by yourself. This helps you start developing a personal friendship with him or her.

Once you have established your own relationship with your prospect, then bring your ED in to meet them as a second step in the prospect’s cultivation.

So make it a one- two punch. First you. Then the next step is to meet your ED.

You want step-by-step moves with your prospect.  Introducing her to someone higher up on the ladder, so to speak, is a time-honored strategy.

Q: When someone cheerfully declines your invitation to get involved, how do you best keep them loosely in the loop?

Ok you have several strategies here:

1. See if you can keep snooping and find out the area they are really interested in. If you can discover their hot button, try inviting them to something related to their personal interest.

2. Just keep them on the invitation list or keep circling back with them once every month or two – ever so nicely and cheerfully.

3. Try getting a board member to open the door to them.

4. At some point, you may have to simply “bless and release” them.

Q: With multiple people in your development department, should just one person do major gifts or can you spread that through the department?

You can do it both ways, depending on the reliability and savviness of your staff members.

Are they comfortable in front of major donors? Can they handle themselves and the relationship? Can you count on them?

If so, then each person might be able to handle a few prospect assignments depending on their work load.

If you allocated 5 prospects each out to 5 people then you have 25 prospects being covered, and that works well.

Q: What’s your tool for keeping notes on your major gift donors? Do you have a form or just use a database?

When I’m in a meeting with donors, I’m scribbling on paper. When I get back to the office, I file a formal Call Report in the database system.

BOTH are essential. You MUST have your paper trail and track your work.

Q: How do you get your board to understand the importance of being seen around town? I simply can’t afford to attend all the events on my own.

1. Can you afford one event a month? Sometimes the Chamber’s Business After Hours events are low cost. There are civic events, city festivals, First Fridays, gallery openings – all manner of gatherings going on in your town all the time. Choose some of them.

2. Keep at it with your board.  Remind them that you need to be out and about nurturing relationships and that’s where you “run into” prospects.

3. Explain the importance of having close ties with the people who allocate your city’s resources. There’s the old saying: “If you are not at the table, then you are probably on the menu!”

Q: What if the volunteer (board member) you bring tends to monopolize the conversation with your major gift prospect?

Ohhh boy, this happens all the time. This is because your volunteer doesn’t understand the purpose of the visit. I bet your well-meaning volunteer thinks he or she is supposed to 1. do the talking and 2. make a presentation.


Give them these articles of mine to read:

The Fundraiser’s Kiss of Death: Talking Too Much

How to Get the Most Out of a Major Gift Visit!

Q: Do you take notes in meetings or after?

I personally like to take notes as I go. I think the donor is flattered if you furiously write down their words.

Makes them feel important, AND you want to use the donor’s OWN WORDS when you solicit their gift.

Q: Gail, can you speak to emailing instead of calling to get a meeting?

I would try both. Some donors prefer email and some prefer calling.

Personally it’s MUCH easier to get up with me via email than it is with the phone.

Everybody’s different. Try Facebook, too, with some donors.

Q: Is it okay to take in a small gift on first visit? Candy … ?

Well, personally I am a sucker for dark chocolate. :)

But I am not so sure that a gift works in the first visit – really depends on what it is.

I’d rather bring something that reflects my organization’s work.

Q: How important it is to actively engage major donors in projects? For example to do something in an organization?

It’s extremely important. A recent Bank of America High Net Worth Donor Study found that wealthy donors who volunteered gave much more.

Donors who volunteered over 100 hours last year gave their organizations an average of $78k (compared to an average gift of $39k for those who volunteered less.)

Q: When you talk about long term relationship, are you talking months, years?

I am talking about years and years and years, including even a bequest.

Donors live a long time and they have something called “Lifetime Giving Value.”

Q: How do you work with an ED who thinks he’s a good fundraiser, but does the opposite of everything you just said?

Oh boy, this happens a lot! First of all, I’m sorry!

Some EDs are impossible. When they are a complete boor, you try to keep them away from donors.

Or you can try the psychological approach: get them to come up with their specific objectives (find out this, this and this) for the meeting. Then help your ED think through how best to accomplish the objectives (i.e. asking questions and listening.)

You can try giving them some of my articles and drill into their head that if they do more than 50% of the talking, then they are dead.

Q: One of my donors said to reach out in a specific month to discuss renewing their gift. I reached out via email however have not heard back. How can I attempt to reach out again without seeming too aggressive?

Gosh, this is a toughie. I’d just keep cheerfully circling back – “You wanted me to get back in touch with you so I thought I’d just touch base and see how you were. … ”

Q: Gail, so when we first ask for a meeting, is it better not to say that we will ask them for money and just focus on fundraising strategy / program.

Yes it is much better. You don’t want to ask them in the first meeting. That’s awkward and presumptuous – you don’t know much about their level of interest  or what their hot buttons are.

So the first visit should be to introduce them to your cause and see what they are interested in. And engage them in conversation about various aspects of your work. (What do you think of . .. . What are your impressions of . . . )

Q: How do you end a phone call or meeting when you can tell that the donor is not in a good mood or is uninterested?

Great question! In these two situations, it’s best to cut off the bleeding and simply get out the door.

Invent a reason to leave quickly. (“Oh gosh, I have just gotten a text from xxx and I really need to run!”)

Say nicely, “Thank you so much, I really must go now.” How can they argue with that?

Q: As a man, I don’t think it is appropriate for a hello kiss with a female prospect – thoughts? Open to feedback!

Oh goodness, I agree. Formality is always preferred.

Let your donor make the first step toward the kiss and let’s just hope it is an “air kiss!”


There are many nuances to major donor fundraising – all these questions are typical – and you SHOULD be asking them.

And remember, if you want to raise serious money in major gifts,  you might be interested in my 6- month Step-by-Step Major Gifts Coaching program that starts on April 8.

I’ll be answering even more questions next week – keep them coming, ok?



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!

112 Tips for Profitable Direct Mail Fundraising

112 Tips for Profitable Direct Mail Fundraising

Direct mail fundraising is a major workhorse for all nonprofits. And, yes, online giving and digital appeals are important – but donors pay far more attention to a paper letter that arrives in their mailbox.

Here’s a smart guide to help you nail all aspects of your mailing package – and create generous gifts that flow back into your organization.

Here are our favorite tips based on the latest research and recommendations from our favorite direct mail fundraising gurus.

This post will give you tips for:

  • Drawing donors in to the letter.
  • Upgrading your donors’ gifts.
  • Creating a dynamite case.
  • Writing a letter your donors will actually read.
  • Creating a killer ask in the letter.
  • Asking lapsed donors to renew their gift.
  • Ending the letter with a bang.
  • Raising more from your top donors.
  • Creating a plan and scheduling your mailings.
  • Communicating when you are not asking.
  • Following up your appeals so donors say yes.
  • Welcoming new donors.
  • Signing the letter correctly.
  • Linking to and integrating with your web site.
  • Creating a mailing packet that brings results.
  • Using a reply card that sells.
  • Using the right envelope as a fundraising tool.

The Big Direct Mail Fundraising Picture: Top 10 Tips

  • Use the same appeal message and call to action in your mail solicitations, on your web site, and in your email communications – and reinforce the same message over and over.
  • Focus more on your donor and what he or she wants to accomplish than on your organization.
  • The appeal letter can have only one objective: a clear ask for support. It is not a newsletter, an end-of-year report, an update or mixed in with other communications.
  • Your top priority is always to renew your past donors. They are your customer base – your “money in the bank.” Don’t let them slip away.
  • Don’t solicit any donors until you have shown them what results you have accomplished with their first gift. Donors say they will give liberally but only after they know what their first gift accomplished.
  • Be sure to communicate with your donors frequently between solicitations, so they are up to date and feel connected to your organization. How well you stay in touch with your donors will determine whether they give again.
  • Maintain control. Don’t let a committee approve or edit your letter. If you let well-meaning but unknowledgeable people help write your appeal, they will ruin it. Guaranteed!
  • Update your web site and make your donation page easy to use. Many donors who receive a letter will go to your website to make their gift. Be ready to welcome them there with an easy to follow online donation process.
  • Create an entire campaign. Use phone, postcards, letters, emails and social media to build a series of appeals. Don’t rely on only one letter to do the work for you.
  • Create a budget and look at it as an investment. Know that, if well executed, your direct mail program should yield a 400% return. That is, if you invest $20k in direct mail to your donors, you should receive $80k back.

The appeal letter: how to draw your donors in:

  • Use the word “you” immediately in the first sentence or two of your appeal.
  • Your goal in the first part of the letter is to get your reader’s attention. (from Tom Ahern)
  • Start with a story to draw your readers in.
  • Make your first two sentences so compelling that your donor will want to keep reading. (You can easily lose them in the very beginning.)
  • Use a sad story that transforms into a happy one. The sad emotion is what will pull on your donors’ heartstrings.
  • Be sure to thank donors for their past support early in the letter. It reminds them of their partnership with you.
  • Pretend you are writing to your grandmother. The most generous group of donors are the older ladies. A recent study found that for every $100 men gave, women gave $258.
  • Don’t use a lot of photography and fancy layout in your letter or accompanying materials. Too much design makes it much less personal.
  • If you use any pictures, be sure they are of people, not buildings. It’s what happens inside the buildings that counts.

Be personal and informal in your direct mail fundraising letter:

  • Always (of course) send out personalized letters. (Dear Mr. Smith rather than Dear Friend). Make sure your letter is really addressed to the reader.
  • Write to only one person and not a group of people. Emphasize your one-on-one connection with the reader. Don’t use “you” in the plural sense.
  • Use contractions – it’s less formal. Formal doesn’t work, because it’s too formal.
  • Make your letter as personal and conversational in tone as you can. Make it sound like you sat down and wrote it to a friend. (~Jerry Panas)
  • Repeat the word “you” frequently: it’s most important word in your letter.
  • Use the word “I” in the letter to make it more personal and friendly. It does wonders changing your tone from “institutional” to “personal.”
  • Always make it about the donor – not about your organization. Help your donors imagine what they can achieve with their gifts.

Try to upgrade your donors:

  • Focus on more frequent gift opportunities each year as a way to upgrade your donors to higher giving levels.
  • Establish a monthly giving program. People who give monthly will give much, much more.
  • Use gift clubs to encourage higher-level donations. Ask donors to move up to the next level.
  • When you ask for an upgraded gift: talk about an increased or enhanced partnership with the donor.

Create a dynamite case for giving:

  • Talk about opportunities – it’s never about your needs. “We have the opportunity to . . .”
  • Make your message emotional. Donors give out of emotion, then justify it with logic.
  • Use stories in your copy but only one story. One story is more powerful than three stories. (~Tom Ahern)
  • Make your story SHORT but powerful. It can even be a one-sentence story such as, “Monday morning little Johnny woke up, hungry again.”
  • Flatter your donor: Tom Ahern says that you should ask (and flatter your donor) and you thank (and flatter) and report (and flatter.)
  • Neuromarketing studies say that flattery WILL make your donor love you more.
  • Share measurable results of what you have achieved with other donors’ gifts. (~Penelope Burk)
  • DON’T use the words “programs” or “services” any more than you have to. They are boring and too generic.
  • Repeat the need and its urgency – several times in the letter. That’s your case for support!
  • Use statistics to build credibility and make the cause more concrete.
  • Describe your project as “innovative,” trailblazing” or “groundbreaking,” and your work as “wide-ranging, or extensive.

How to write a letter that your donors will actually read:

Assume your reader will . . .

pick up the four page letter, look at their name in the salutation, flip over to the P.S., then shuffle the letter around in their hands, maybe start reading here, maybe start reading someplace else, jump around a bit, and then, after this ragged scanning, MAYBE start reading at the beginning. (~Happy donors blog)

  • Make your letter easy to skim and still deliver its message.
  • Break up your letter copy in every way possible. Use headings. Use bullets. Vary the indentation. Use boldface type. Use ellipses . . .
  • What will your reader really see? Artwork: 80%; photos: 75%; headlines: 56%; captions: 29%, and very little text! (~Tom Ahern)
  • Have plenty of white space on the letter, which makes it easy to read. Wide margins will help.
  • VERBS matter: Use snappy action verbs that convey action.
  • Use present tense. Never use the passive voice when you can use the active voice. (~George Orwell). I.e.: “people are being helped.”
  • Use short, concise sentences and paragraphs. Vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs for interest.
  • Write choppy, jumpy, repetitive copy. (see the reader’s profile above) (~Jeff Brooks)
  • Very short paragraphs: No more than three sentences per paragraph. (~Jerry Panas)
  • Very short sentences: No more than 6 to 8 words in each sentence. (~Jerry Panas)
  • Write on the 5th grade level for easy reading. (like these tips.)
  • Use type large enough to read easily. 12 point type is the minimum size for fundraising material. The average age of a donor in a “house file” is 67. The average age requiring reading glasses is 43 yrs old.
  • Eliminate every possible word – including adjectives and descriptive phases – in your copy. “If it is possible to cut a word out, cut it out.” (~George Orwell)
  • Write your letter. Then remove the first paragraph and see if it isn’t stronger. You don’t need a long preamble. (~Tom Ahern)
  • Longer letters with more pages are more successful than one page letters. The letter needs to be as long as it takes. Don’t make it too short. (~Harvey McKinnon)

Create a killer ask for your direct mail fundraising letters:

  • You’ve got to tell your donor explicitly: Why this organization? Why this program? Why NOW? Why me?

If your letter doesn’t lay this out – then go back to the drawing board.

  • Your call to action is the most important part of your letter. Make it clear to donors what you want them to do. And repeat it.
  • Give the donor something worth doing that is easy to do. “Restore sight for $25.” (~Tom Ahern)
  • Use the MPI formula to ask: Please consider a gift of $MONEY for a specific PROJECT that will great a specific IMPACT.
  • Ask several times in the letter. It’s ok! Especially if it is a long letter – you can ask 4 or 5 times.
  • Explicitly tell your donor exactly what THEY can accomplish with their gift. And tell them HOW you will spend the money – what project, what purpose. (~ Penelope Burke)
  • Make your ask as specific as possible. Donors will give more if they can designate their gift in some way.
  • Use a matching or challenge gift opportunity and tell your donors it will make their gifts go further. Play up the concept of “leveraging your donor’s gift.”
  • Always ask for a specific amount or “the largest contribution you can make.”
  • Place your ask in the first part of a paragraph. Don’t bury your ask at the end of a sentence or paragraph – it will get missed.
  • Don’t ask for a “gift,” ask instead for an investment, a contribution, for help, or to supply something special. (Mal Warwick)
  • Create a sense of urgency by asking for an immediate contribution or asking for help with an urgent or critical situation.
  • Use please such as “please send your gift today” or “please consider a leadership contribution of xxx.”
  • Give the donor a deadline for responding and a reason for the deadline.
  • Give the donor the option not to give. Recent studies ( have found this increases donor response. Say:
      • Please don’t feel obligated…
      • Whether you give is entirely your choice…
      • Any amount you want to give will help…
      • You are free to say no — I will understand…

Raise more from your top donors:

  • Send your Top Donors special, custom-tailored personal letters and appeals.
  • Have board and staff members write or visit them personally with an individualized appeal.
  • Thank them in the opening sentence for their continuing and steadfast support. Emphasize their partnership with your cause.
  • Be sure these donors get many warm, personal touches during the year!
  • Come right out and ask these donors to make a leadership gift.

Create a plan and schedule your mailings:

  • Set up a calendar of mailings and plan ahead.
  • Segment your mailing list and mail personalized appeals to specially targeted groups. (i.e., past donors, volunteers, people who have attended your auction, corporate sponsors, board members, past board members.)
  • Mail to donors more often than nondonors.
  • Track your LYBUNTS (people who gave “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This”) carefully and send them repeated, cheerful and enthusiastic appeals to be sure they renew. Once a donor has given for two straight years, they are likely to remain a donor for the long run.
  • Develop a series of appeals to SYBUNTS. (People who gave “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This Year”). “We’ve missed you!”
  • The letters you send to your LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS should remind them of their past support and remind them how much they have helped create your success. (“We love you, we miss you, we want you back!”)

How to followup your direct mail fundraising appeals:

  • Send a followup letter a few weeks after your appeal: “we didn’t hear from you and we hope you will respond.”
  • Studies show that followup letters are the most important factor in securing the donor’s gift.
  • Followup letters need to be short and play on urgency and the emotions.
  • Write your followup letter at the same time you write the first letter.
  • Organize the board members to make phone calls to follow up appeals to donors. You can’t lose by following up with a personal call.

How to welcome new donors so that they will give again:

  • Your brand new donors are the least likely group to renew next year. Only 23% of new donors will typically renew. (~Blooomerang data). Go all out to welcome them!
  • So create a dynamite welcome packet for new donors. This will help them feel closer to you and more likely to renew when the time comes to ask again.
  • Craft an ENTIRE special thank you and communication program for first-time donors. Celebrate the beginning of this partnership!
  • Invite new donors to get involved. Move quickly to develop the relationship to keep them on your bandwagon.
  • Go all out to welcome online donors just like your mail donors. New online donors are even less likely to renew their gifts than paper donors. Don’t let them fall thru the cracks.

How to link to your website.

  • Include your website address. Donors, even when they give with a check in the mail, will probably check out your website.
  • Use different landing pages and urls to track donors’ responses to individual appeals. It’s easy and it’s important.
  • The most important page on your web site from a donor’s perspective is “your gift at work.

Create a mailing packet that brings results.

  • Try bright colors. Target Marketing says “using standard #10 white envelopes will guarantee a low response rate, unless you are giving away money.”
  • Size matters. Try larger sizes to get your reader’s attention. Or smaller sizes.
  • Everything in your mailing should be easy to read and understand.
  • Your mailing packet should include four pieces:
      • The solicitation letter
      • A reply/pledge card
      • A return envelope for the reply card
      • The outside envelope.
  • Your outside envelope needs to grab your reader’s attention. Put something attention-getting or startling on the outside. NOT a self-serving tagline though.
  • Try putting teasers like these on your outside envelope: (~Jeff Brooks)
      • DO NOT BEND
      • TUESDAY
      • DEADLINE
  • Always include a return envelope. It is critically important to make sure it is easy for people to give.
  • Be sure your mailing label is attractive and not full of computerized numbers. A “mass market” look to your mailing label can put your letter in the trash immediately.
  • The reply slip needs to stand out in the package.
  • Put a headline on the reply card such as “Yes! I want to help!”
  • Don’t give your donor more than four choices to consider. More than that will drive your donor away.
  • Use checkboxes on your reply slip, rather than fill in the blanks.
  • But limit the amount of information you request. The more boxes on the reply card, the more confusing it is to your donor. If you confuse your donor, the more likely she is to abandon your donation card.
  • Make sure there is room for handwriting on the reply card. Don’t make your donor cramp to write on your card.
  • Make the reply card paper easy to write on. And remember to have a large font so your donor doesn’t have to reach for her reading glasses!
  • Circle the amount you are requesting from the donor on the reply card.
  • Offer as many payment options as possible without confusing your reader: All major credit cards, checks, recurring monthly donations.

Here are two reference articles you may enjoy:

“How Brochures Kill Direct Mail Fundraising”

Does Size Matter? By Target Marketing

Now use this list as a checklist – review your direct mail fundraising program against it and then highlight the tips that you need to implement.

GOOD LUCK and may you raise tons of money!

Your donor has just sent in another gift! Hurray!donor love Heart

So you reply with a wonderful, personal thank you note. And then you call her to say thanks. In addition to the paper letter that you send.

Then what?

You have to communicate with her . . .  so you can continue to build that warm, close relationship with her.

You’ll send your newsletter. And you’ll send email alerts and updates.

But will it matter? Will she pay attention? Will she care?

Here are 5 smart tips from my favorite communications expert Kivi Leroux Miller on how to make her pay attention and love you even more.

1. Ask donors to do something besides give money.

One of our great rules in fundraising is “Involvement breeds investment.”infographic people who volunteer

You and I both know that involving our donors is an important goal. But how many organizations really pull this off?


  • Inviting your donors to volunteer – then they’ll experience your work in action – and everything just may change.
  • Asking your donors for feedback about your organization. (try a survey)
  • Asking your donors to take some sort of action to help the cause.


2. Use a clear call to action.

When you are inviting your donors to get involved – don’t be vague.

Ask your donors to DO SOMETHING in a clear call to action!

Ask your donors to DO SOMETHING in a clear call to action!

Kivi says that these words are not clear enough: Participate, Engage, Believe, Understand, Support, Help, Promote, Share . . .

Instead, be extra specific about what your donors can do to help.


  • Making your call to action so specific that you could take a picture of someone doing this.
  • Giving your donor step by step instructions on what to do: Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Informed in an Emergency.


3. Don’t bore them!

Want to know what bores your donors? Lengthy articles! Dense print. Kivi says that the days of 1000 word newsletter articles are over.

Will your donor even read your stuff?

Will your donor even read your stuff?

You and I both know that long, complex communications don’t really fly with donors. But how many people are tackling this seriously?

How many traditionally long newsletters am I seeing both in snail mail and email? Wayyyy too many!


  • Sharing short videos. (I’m really intrigued with this idea!)
  • Sending short, sweet and interesting news tidbits.
  • Breaking up your newsletter into 3 or 4 different pieces that go out at different times.
  • Sending a tiny infographic to your donor.

4. Send them snail mail in addition to emails.

Are you cutting back on your print mailings in order to save money? I’ve seen too many nonprofits who have eliminated their print newsletter so they can cut down on their expenses.

Many donors WILL read your snail mail - don't cut it out to save money!

Many donors WILL read your snail mail – don’t cut it out to save money!

We both know better – but the urge to save all those postage and printing costs is just too great! PLEASE don’t cut back too much on your print materials!


  • Many donors will read both types of communications – building up your wattage in their attention span.
  • Older donors tend to actually read print materials – and they are the ones who give the most.
  • Communicating via different media channels reinforces and amplifies your message.

5. Find the stories.

Kivi says that telling a story in a series of different communications is a wonderful way to draw your donors in and keep them interested.

We all know that humans are wired for stories – look at the success of People Magazine! I know whenever I’m giving a workshop and my audience looks tired – then I switch to telling a story and every eye in the room is riveted to me. Everyone just wants to know what happens next!


  • Finding the funny moments and sharing them with your donors.
  • Creating a “story arc” – that you spin out slowly over time. (Love love love this idea!)
  • Find clients and people you’ve helped to tell their own story.


You as a fundraiser need to get much better at how you communicate – because it’s these happy touches that will prime the donor to be ready to give again.

Fundraisers these days can NOT rely just on a strong appeal letter!! Instead you have to give your donor an entire experience via your communications.

Then you can create your pool of consistent donors who provide ongoing sustainable funding to your nonprofit. Hurray!

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!