With a new year comes a hopeful new outlook.  We’re all glad to see 2020 go.

What a year it has been: we suffered through a terrible pandemic, disruption of our lives, families, workplaces, a volatile political climate, and much more. What’s worse, these issues are not over. They will continue impacting our lives – and fundraising – well into 2021.

Yet there are some silver linings.

We saw immense dedication and dogged commitment on the part of nonprofit leaders and fundraisers. And, we saw creative fundraisers take advantage of new opportunities offered by the virtual environment.

Based on What’s Happened in 2020, Here’s our Forecast for Upcoming Fundraising Trends for 2021:

1. Giving is up.  And all signs are that it will remain up.

Many nonprofits experienced critical revenue shortfalls from reduced service fees, ticket sales, and admissions. As a result, donors responded with record amounts of charitable donations.

2020 saw a surge in the entire scale of giving – from small gifts to major donors to new estate commitments. More people than ever were giving and at greater amounts than usual.

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project of AFP found that the first 9 months of 2020 saw an impressive increase of 7.6% over 2019.

Big institutional funders and foundations also stepped up to increase giving in 2020. Through September, Fidelity Charitable grant volume increased 30% over the same time period in 2019.

In 2021, we expect that donors will continue to be interested, open to nonprofit messages, and willing to help.

2. Donor fatigue is a myth.

Asks were everywhere, and donors gave.

The successful organizations laid their cases for support out plainly. In addition, they explained their financial situations clearly. Even more, they pulled appropriate emotional triggers – and donors responded.

Again and again and again, donors responded.

Even with the vast amount of political fundraising going on all year, donors continued contributing to their favorite nonprofits – and new ones too.

Why do fundraisers complain about donor fatigue? It’s because of sloppy fundraising.

Fundraisers keep going to the same donors over and over, exhausting those donors. And fundraisers talk too much about the money, not about the impact.

We predict donors will continue to respond generously in 2021, if they are approached with finesse and skill. 

3. Organizations that continue to invest in fundraising will see solid returns.

Many institutions slashed budgets early in 2020, and furloughed their fundraising staff.

These organizations forgot an important point – their fundraising teams were nurturing generous revenue streams. So what happened when fundraising staff was furloughed? The revenue quickly dried up!

On the other hand, many forward-thinking nonprofits managed to keep their staff and continue operating their fundraising programs.

These groups were able to stay in front of their donors with solid asks. As a result, they were able to ride the surge in donations and keep essential revenue streams flowing in the door.

And, these nonprofits saw a very nice ROI on their fundraising expenses.

Organizations that invest in fundraising will see an even greater growth in fundraising revenue. This will be true for 2021, and will never change.

4. New respect for digital strategies in the major gift world.

The new virtual world threatened to upend major gift fundraising.

But our clients persevered. Surprisingly, we all learned that digital could be a highly effective major donor engagement tool.

What’s more, we discovered that donors were happy to engage with us on the phone or zoom. Even more, going digital meant we could save time while connecting with donors more deeply.

Now, fundraisers could no longer rely on donor parties, lunches and committees as engagement tools. In this new world, we had to personally connect with donors, and talk to them about what mattered.

We predict that major gift fundraising will never be the same. Donor engagement does not have to be face-to-face anymore.  

5. Capital campaigns can absolutely succeed in the digital environment.

We encouraged our capital campaign clients to keep moving forward and they did, with success.

Feasibility studies went smoothly in 2020. We found that donors were just as happy (some were happier!) to talk to us over zoom or the phone as they were in person.

We helped clients stage virtual campaign events. Even more, we delivered capital campaign training to board members. And we guided major asks  – all virtually, and all successfully.

In 2021 capital campaigns will now be organized and executed with a combination of virtual and in-person strategies. 

6. Fundraising continues to become more sophisticated.

New advances in knowledge are yielding helpful new advances in fundraising.

For example, artificial intelligence is just beginning to show us its benefits, especially in the area of identifying stronger donor prospects and saving us time.

And behavioral economics is revealing how to nudge donors toward a gift rather than turning them off.

We are all coming to understand donor psychology better: what really warms our donors’ hearts?  And what emotional triggers will encourage them to be generous.

We predict that these tools will help fundraising become even more successful in 2021 and the coming years. 

7. Giving Days just keep getting stronger and stronger.

2020 saw not one, but two Giving Tuesdays – and both were hugely successful.

In December, 2020’s annual Giving Tuesday yielded a whopping 25% more than the previous year, with 29% more donors participating.

In addition, many organizations and institutions are staging their own proprietary Giving Days with solid success.

Giving Days are successful because they:

  • Add a note of gamification and fun to the fundraising process
  • Reach new donors
  • Provide urgently needed unrestricted gifts

Since Giving Days are still somewhat new, they are gaining more and more visibility. They will continue to grow as important fundraising tools in 2021 and beyond.

8. Virtual events and galas can succeed nicely. 

We continued to be surprised by so many very successful virtual events and galas.

Several organizations in our Major Gift Intensive saw higher totals from virtual events than from previous in-person events.

Many unforeseen benefits occurred when pivoting virtual, including:

  • Event costs were slashed (no more flowers, food, venue, insurance or music)
  • Staff saved vast amounts of time
  • Loyal financial sponsors pulled through
  • Many more people could attend the event on a virtual platform


Thank goodness we may never see galas like before. Virtual events will become a reliable alternative moving into 2021.  

Bottom Line: Our Predictions on Fundraising Trends for 2021

There’s a lot of opportunity hidden within a disrupted environment. Smart institutions will be opportunistic, agile and creative  – and they’ll see tremendous success.

Follow these fundraising trends for 2021, and seize the opportunity!


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

If you want to build and expand your major and principal gifts programs in 2021, keep an eye on your inbox. Applications will open soon for our 2021 Major Gifts Intensive.

Wishing you a prosperous and positive start to 2021!

Are you ready for something that happens every year-end – soliciting board members for their annual gifts?

We get many questions about how to set this delicate process up for success, so here are our recommendations.

We originally published this post a few years ago, and it’s one of the most popular on our site. So today, we are updating it and hope you enjoy:

Take Charge Behind the Scenes

Intentionality behind the scenes will make sure that soliciting board members goes smoothly and productively.

We strongly recommend that you take charge of this process. Don’t leave it to chance. You may not be the person directly making the ask to a board member, but you should be running the show in the background.

1. Show why it’s important that board members give generously.

Make the philosophy clear.

The importance of board member participation in annual giving is rarely explained properly to members.

Instead, the issue of their giving is apologized for, snuck up on, or swept under the rug.

When the reasoning for their giving is established in an open and straightforward way by board leaders, then staff can cheerfully and enthusiastically talk about it, without feeling awkward.

Board members know that their cash contributions lend vital credibility to your fundraising efforts. They know they are supposed to give.

But often they need a reminder, or a nudge – especially during such a busy time in the midst of such a crazy year. 

Point out the significance of their gift, and the importance of the timing. You must always make the ask.

2. Be very clear about board member expectations.

Clear expectations avoid misunderstanding.

When new board members join, always say what is expectedverbally and in writing.  And be sure board members have a say in the expectations. Above all, they should discuss and agree on the expectations themselves. When they discuss it themselves, they are more bought in.

Spell out giving expectations in the commitment letter that members sign when they join. And don’t stop there. You and your board leaders must also talk out loud about expectations for giving, and often. This isn’t a “one-and-done” conversation.

Frequent and transparent communication will make you all feel more comfortable, and feel like you’re on the same team.

3. Give the subject of board donations plenty of visibility.

Put the issue in front of them often and clearly enough.

Try these tips:

  • Report on the status of board gifts at each board meeting
  • Put pledge cards and return envelopes in every board member’s packet
  • Set a deadline for all board gifts to be completed. For example – say, “we need all board gifts to be in by March 30”

That gives you – or your board chair – an excuse to be in touch to follow-up. Don’t forget that your board members are extremely busy people and need to be cheerfully reminded of their duty to give.

4. Let the board chair be the face of it all.

The board chair or another board member can do the talking and signing of letters. As staff, you can direct the entire effort like a quarterback behind the scenes.

You can (and probably should):

  • Ghost-write the letters
  • Give the board chair talking points
  • Be sure ‘board gifts’ is on the agenda repeatedly
  • Promote the conversation
  • Publish frequent reports on board gifts to date
  • Thank the board members early and often for their generosity

Make it happen. But let a board member be your political cover, if needed.  

5. Leave soliciting of board members up to other board members.

We think it can be awkward for staff to be in the situation of making an ask of board members.

Here’s why: you work for the board, and you report to the board via the executive director. What’s worse, you may already be seen as asking for too much as it is.

It’s hard for you, as a staff member, to have a conversation with your board members about their giving, without it lapsing into the wrong tone.

We say, let the board members and board leaders be in charge of this! (But remember, you need to intentionally run things behind the scenes. It’s delicate, but effective.)

6. Give board members lots of credit and acknowledgment.

Remember the power of positive reinforcement. Praise behaviors you want to develop and those behaviors will show up more often.

Remember that board members do not get much acknowledgment – (just like you!). We like to amply give credit for all the resources that board members bring in – corporate, foundation, in-kind, public/government.

Create an environment of abundance, rather than scarcity, in your handling of board contributions.

7.  Tie the board’s gifts directly to your program results.

It’s a wonderful idea to let the board members know what they are accomplishing through their gifts, just as we do with all donors.

We like to even focus board giving on something specific that the board members can get excited about.  When they get enthusiastic about what they are actively accomplishing through their work and their personal gifts, they will invest more and more.

Like all donors, they experience joy when they see the results of their gifts. Here are a few ways to show them impact:

  • “With your leadership, support and financial contributions, we were able to accomplish X .”
  • “The generous gifts from board members funded this special project, X.”
  • “The board’s gifts made all the difference in serving X group of people.”

These are the magic words that board members (and donors) love to hear. Use them!

DON’Ts for soliciting board members 

Don’t personally solicit them as a staffer.

Never, never, never put yourself in the position of soliciting board members if you are staff.

Do not forget the fundamental fundraising rule of peer-to-peer solicitation: when it comes time to solicit the board, get out of the way and have someone else do it!

You are one-down before you start, so don’t go there.

Don’t apologize, or let your board chair apologize.

Too many board chairs apologize when they bring up the subject of board giving.

They are not definitive about what is expected or encouraging about giving.

If you doubt that your board chair can have a clear and direct conversation with board member about their full financial participation, then find another board member to make this speech.

Don’t complain.

Emphasize success – not failure.

Expect the best from your board  – and you’ll get the best out of your board.

Good luck with you – and your (generous) board!

BOTTOM LINE for soliciting your board:

Take charge behind the scenes, and you can set up a successful solicitation.

BOTTOM LINE for Soliciting Your Board:

Take charge behind the scenes, and you will set up a successful solicitation strategy. Set clear expectations, promote transparent discussion around the topic of board gifts, show impact, and thank your board. Clear and appreciative communication is all it takes.

Expect the best from your board  – and you’ll get the best out of your board.

Good luck with you – and your (generous) board!

What do you think of these ideas? What’s YOUR experience with your board? Let us know with a comment!

You might be planning a campaign for 2021, or you may be in a major campaign right now. What can go wrong?

Capital campaigns, as we all know, are huge undertakings. They are full of risks, rewards and mega gifts, too.

And sometimes capital campaigns can offer breathtaking challenges. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and you have a recipe for stress, heartburn and anxiety.

Capital Campaigns in Pandemic Times

This year has been such a challenge! You and your team perhaps had a solid campaign plan. Your leadership was recruited and in place. Your lead gifts were identified. And everything was moving along smoothly.

But out of the blue came a global pandemic. Everything shut down. You could no longer visit your donors or see your key volunteer leaders. You might be concerned about your donors’ ability to give during this time. And you had to reinvent everything. You and your entire team shifted to juggle many balls in the air.

There really is a path to a successful capital campaign, though. You can still close major campaign asks, even virtually. Our clients are closing big gifts every day, and we want to show you how you can too.

If you’re interested, our new course, Capital Campaigns in Times of Crisis: 5 Keys to a Successful Campaign Even in Today’s Uncertain World will help guide you and your team to success – even in this virtual environment.

What Can Go Wrong with a Capital Campaign Today?

Where do we start? There are so many challenges! (By the way – You’ll find solutions to these challenges in our course – that will help you accelerate your success.)

Decision Making During Uncertain Times

Making major organizational decisions during uncertain times is scary. It can seem overwhelming at best, and may bring your organization to a standstill.

But not making decisions is just as dangerous as making the wrong decision.

First, you need to craft or re-craft a workable Campaign Plan in the midst of uncertainty. What can you control, what can’t you control?

How would it feel to be able to move forward vigorously with a revamped, realistic campaign plan? You’d see success on the other side.

Planning a Virtual Campaign and Feasibility Study in a Virtual World

Are you in campaign planning mode? If your campaign is on the horizon for 2021, we will show you how to take the right steps, now – so you can successfully move forward with lead gifts next year.

Managing a successful feasibility study – even in this environment – is very doable. We are actively working on some virtual feasibility studies, and they are moving along nicely. Donors are more available, and are willing to chat at length.

What is the Right Case for Support in This Environment?

How are you positioning your case in this competitive fundraising environment? You are probably struggling with the right story to tell for today’s donors. Yes, you do need a different story for today and tomorrow!

In our new course, we’ll share secrets on how to develop or refine your case for this environment. It seems more daunting than it is!

Nurturing Donor Relationships

We’re in a distant world now. it’s against everything we’ve gotten used to.

And are you exhausted by zoom?

Don’t be. We now know that donors are more available than ever. They are not traveling as much; they are focused on their community, they want to help.

Zoom means that the rules have changed. The future of your capital campaign depends on mastering a new set of discovery and qualification skills for the virtual environment. Let us show you how.

Staging and Closing Major Campaign Asks – Virtually

The biggest struggle of all? It’s how to manage a major campaign ask on zoom.

Yes, it can be done. Our clients are closing 6-figure gifts often, even in this environment.

There are a few strategic shifts you can make to ensure that your major campaign asks are successful, especially in a virtual world. In our course, we’re sharing five proven approaches you can use to set up and close major campaign asks. This is crucial for your successful capital campaign.

Bottom Line

The world is changing, there is no doubt. We are excited to share that your campaigns can still move forward, and be even more successful in this new world.

We have been helping our capital campaign clients reinvent, adapt and successfully move forward, despite the current climate. And it’s been going well.

This can be your success story too.

If you’d like to be prepared for the world as it is going to be, not as it was, please join us in our new course. We hope you’ll join Capital Campaigns in Times of Crisis so you can take your campaign to the next level of success next year.

If you are not in capital campaign mode, we wish you many major gifts flowing in from your generous donors.


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

If you are planning a capital campaign, take a look at our NEW course which launched this week, Capital Campaigns in Times of Crisis:5 Keys to a Successful Campaign Even in Today’s Uncertain World

Hope you have a wonderful and safe weekend.

How a Capital Campaign Planning Committee Develops Lead Donor Relationships

If you’re planning a capital campaign, you are very likely evaluating your fundraising potential. 

How much can you raise? Who will be your major funding sources? Would a Capital Campaign Planning Committee help you raise more? 

 A few other important questions you’re probably pondering are: 

Who do you need to have involved? 

Who should be your volunteer leaders? 

Who can help open doors to gifts? 

What about your donor relationships?

  • How warm or cool are your relationships with key funders and donors? 
  • Do you have close relationships with the major donors you need in order to fund your campaign? 
  • How can you bring these major donors closer and start to re-engage them?   

What’s your situation? 

You might be with an educational institution that needs to develop closer relationships with potential lead donors with deep pockets. 

Or maybe you’re with a community organization with a big vision, but has lost touch with your major donors. 

Whatever type of organization, this plan is crucial to your success.

You’ll need to reconnect with major donors, community leaders and leading philanthropists to cultivate their interest in your upcoming initiative and run a successful capital campaign. 

Why a Capital Campaign Planning Committee is such a smart move

You need strong leadership volunteers if you want to be successful

We know from experience that many capital campaigns are won or lost based on their volunteer leadership. We find that if you have the right powerful people heading up your campaign, you are well on your way to success. 

So choose wisely.

 These key individuals help open doors and make connections. They can influence gifts, and command attention. Even more, when key donors “bless” your project, they add credibility to your campaign. 

Create the right Capital Campaign Planning Committee 

Try pulling together a group of the most powerful, wealthiest, wisest, and most influential volunteers and donors you can find. Ask them to review your plan, offer advice and help formulate your campaign. There’s no better way to draw someone in than to involve them in key strategic decisions along the way.

A planning committee gives you a wonderful chance to inform your key donors about your campaign. You gain the benefit of their advice and wisdom, and often their input is invaluable.

Inviting them to serve on this high-powered committee is a terrific way to cultivate them for their future campaign gifts. What’s more, these individuals always yield amazing new connections, relationships and assistance — from the people who matter.

If you’re you still looking for your campaign chair or co-chairs, ask a key donor to serve on the Capital Campaign Planning Committee. This provides an excellent opportunity to prepare someone for the job of campaign chair.

Why would these donors join your Capital Campaign Planning Committee? 

 Your ideal key leaders are busy people, with many commitments and interests. They may be somewhat interested in your campaign, but usually are not willing to make a long-term commitment as a campaign volunteer.

Asking them to be a part of your Capital Campaign Planning Committee is a unique opportunity to re-engage them with an invitation to help shape the campaign. When you ask them to serve on a short-term planning committee, they are more likely to say yes since it’s a shorter time commitment. 

We find that once these individuals are involved on the planning committee, they become much more interested and personally invested in your campaign’s success. 

After building their interest, they are more likely to say “yes” to the Campaign Steering Committee itself when the time comes. 

Involvement breeds investment

Throughout our time leading capital campaigns, we have found the planning committee to be a golden key to securing the involvement of heavy hitters and lead donors. 

We’re always surprised at how effective this simple strategy is. 

But it works.

There’s no better way to draw someone in than to involve them in key strategic decisions along the way.

Bottom Line: Build a Capital Campaign Planning Committee

Your Capital Campaign Planning Committee is an excellent strategic tool for engaging major philanthropists and donors early in your campaign. 

It’s not a question of if you need this committee. It’s a question of who you need on this committee.

Go forth and succeed! We are always in your corner.

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

If you are planning a capital campaign, look out for our NEW course launching next week. We will focus on Capital Campaigns in Times of Crisis and will be sharing 5 keys to success in today’s uncertain world. 

Hope you have a wonderful and safe weekend.

We know our current environment presents challenging times. You’ve had to reinvent just about everything you do – from communicating with your donors to delivering your organization’s services. 

Just about everything is different.

All of these hurdles are interesting to donors! Believe it or not, they actually want to hear about your changes, the issues you are grasping with, the shifts you are making. 

As we’ve said earlier, it’s certainly not business as usual these days. 

So we want to reiterate – you have NEWS to share with your donors. News they are open to hearing about. 

Here are three ways that the current environment opens unique opportunities for fundraising  – new doors to donors. 

1. You have a special opportunity to reengage your donors in your vision for the future.

We recently talked about the fact that a small goal and a small vision won’t cut it in this environment. Remember, the bigger your vision, the more money you can raise. 

You can inspire and reengage your donors right now with an exciting big picture vision of the impact you can make in your community. 

Tough times call for new plans, new visions, new excitement. Donors usually don’t want to give to just the status quo. They do want to give to an exciting initiative. 

These times call upon us to create new initiatives. Then we can easily offer a special project to a donor to peak their interest in funding it.

2. You have new chances to gain access to donors.

Share with donors your plan for moving your organization ahead in this environment. They are open to new kinds of communication. 

Donors are more available now, since many have cut their outside commitments and travel. They may be hungry for good news. 

So reach out to your donors. 

Hold zoom briefings on various aspects of your service area. Have a town hall with your executive director or president. Introduce key program managers to your donors, and let program staff share directly how things are going. 

We want to be clear here – you have an opportunity like no other right now. To be in communication with your stakeholders, major donors, and funders. This environment has made it easier to gain access and get their attention.

So, go for it! Be in frequent touch with your donors. Share the news they are interested in!

3. You have a unique opening to ask for what you need – NOW.

Right now, you have needs that are clear and present. There are new ways of doing business. Your institution might be shifting to digital.  Even more, your cash flow may be seriously down. 

Again, be clear with donors about how they can help. Share with them the impact they can make with their gift – right now. 

You have a unique opportunity right now to connect with donors about specific issues. However, you have to speak plainly. No jargon. No “pat” phrases you’ve been using for years. 

It’s time to reinvent your language to be more authentic, transparent, and informal. 

Can you make that change? 

It’s harder than you think, because you are used to speaking certain ways that are probably too formal and abstract for your donors today. 

You have an opportunity to shape a very powerful, urgent ask right now. Create compelling stories about how you are impacting the world. Your donors will respond! 

Bottom Line: Go forward vigorously! This is the time to step it up, and your donors will follow. 

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

If you are planning a capital campaign and would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, let us know. 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Remember April, when we were all clenching our teeth and thinking “Oh wow, this is not the year for fundraising. How will we get through it?” 

Well, it turns out recent data proves that 2020 is actually a great year for fundraising.

So if you were one of those organizations who didn’t hold back and kept at your fundraising in the spring – Good Job! 

Why 2020 is a Good Year for Fundraising 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that giving was up 7.5% in the first half of 2020 based on results from the widely respected Fundraising Effectiveness Project (AFP, 2020). This project works with over 25,000 nonprofits and donor software providers to track and identify quarterly gain/loss findings for the nonprofit sector. 

And what’s more, it wasn’t just the wealthy who were behind the rise. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported gifts of $250 or less rose 19.2%, accounting for a big part of the growth (COP, 2020).

This means that donors are pouring out contributions to their favorite nonprofits – right now. This also means that your steadfast supporters are feeling generous – and they want to help. 

And, there’s more good news in this report: 

Major gifts are up by 6.4% compared to this time last year. And mid-level gifts are up even more – by 8.1%! 

“the number of mid-level gifts ($250 – $999) and major gifts ($1,000 or more) saw year-over-year increases of 8.1% and 6.4%, respectively, compared to 2019 data.” (AFP, 2020)

Wow. That is wild. 

What Does This Mean?

The fact that giving increased 7.5% over 2019’s first half is a huge indicator that donors are motivated and feeling generous. The giving climate for the 2020 year-end giving season is projected to be robust. 

All of the signals indicate that giving is still quite solid as we move into autumn. And even with all the noise surrounding the election and the pandemic, loyal donors are stepping up for the nonprofits they support. 

This is certainly a great time to be out there, in front of your donors. Remind them about the impact your organization creates, and invite them to contribute

Why are we seeing so much generosity now?

For some time, we’ve thought that donors are simply more motivated these days, especially as we watch new gifts flowing into the capital campaigns we counsel. 

Our interviews and focus groups with donors have solidified this thought, and it seems data is now showing this trend as well.

1. Donors want to do something positive

With all the disruption of 2020, not least of all the pandemic, donors want to take action and do something positive for their community, and the world. 

They are motivated to bring forward kindness and compassion. When they are aware of the needs, especially regarding causes they care about – they want to respond.

While many have been terribly impacted, both physically and financially, many other major and mid-level donors were less affected and are still quite well-off financially. For many, they want to reach out and help others who have been less fortunate, through supporting nonprofits. 

2. The stock market is up, which is good for year-end

The US stock market took a hit, but now it continues to soar. Donors with investment portfolios are feeling flush. In our opinion, when donors feel financially secure, they tend to be more generous. TIP: remind your donors they can donate appreciated stocks! 

Even when the stock market was low, many major donors did not feel the hit and were still donating. On top of that – major donors may have more to donate in 2020 because any  traveling or larger outings were most likely cancelled. 

Bottom Line: 2020 has Shown To Be an Enormous Opportunity for Fundraising – Backed by Data

I hope you have been making the most of this generosity this year. And if you haven’t, it’s not too late to start!


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

If you are planning a capital campaign and would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, let us know. You can also join our INSIDERS community for more fundraising training and content. We would love to have you! 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.


Here’s a call to action for all board chairs!

You have a big job. Especially these days.  Many organizations are facing major decisions – about funding, staffing, service delivery – and everything else.

As we said two weeks ago, a small vision and a small goal won’t cut it in this environment.  If your board needs a wakeup call, here’s a format that will work!

Board Chairs: It’s Time to Rally the Troops.

If you need to motivate your board members and challenge them to take action, try following these guidelines. Here’s how to marshal your forces, encourage everyone to pull together, and inspire action.

1. Take the First Step Yourself

Be the first to step up to the plate. Board chairs need to personally take the first action that you are asking of your board members. Ask them to follow you.

Remind your board members that it’s really up to them. They also have a responsibility to lead by example.

2. Professional and Business-Like Tone

If you are writing to your board members, watch your tone when you ask them to take action. It’s easy to sound like you are lecturing or complaining.

Make a request that is professional and business-like –  no pleading or manipulating. Just make a request plainly and succinctly. Above all, treat your board members as the capable professionals they all are.

3. Call Them to a Higher Purpose

Rally your board members with inspirational thoughts. What’s the ultimate vision that everyone is trying to achieve?

Always remind them of their higher purpose and what they want to accomplish – in the biggest sense possible.

4. Clear Set of Actions to Take

Lay the problem out clearly. Then, point out possible solutions or steps the board can take to move forward.

By all means, give everyone clear actions they can take – and a choice of actions.

5. Ask Board Members to Personally Respond Back to You

When you write your board members, here’s a way to get their attention. Ask them to respond back to you directly – not to respond to someone else.

When you do that, you let them know that this is a direct and personal request from you, the board chair. And you can keep tabs on who is doing what.

6. A Deadline!

Absolutely, everyone performs better with a deadline. Why? Because it provides a clear time frame, and accountability to take action.

Board Chairs Can Make It Happen:

Once, our local AFP chapter needed an intervention. We were facing a major event – our National Philanthropy Day celebration, and everyone needed to jump into action.

Fortunately our chair was a skilled leader. She wrote us a Call to Action email, asking us all to step it up. With only a part-time staff person, we had to rely on our board volunteers to make it happen.  So, if we didn’t pull through, we wouldn’t even have an event.

Take a look at this professional and very specific note to her board members:

Good morning,

Our event committees have been working diligently to make this occasion a great success. I’m proud of their efforts and the incredible creativity they have brought to the event planning.

However, the ultimate success of our event will depend on the community’s response and we, as board members, must lead by example.

This week, I am asking each of you to consider how you personally (and your organization) can participate. Please consider these 3 opportunities to help your donors, volunteers, your cause, and AFP shine:

* Commit to a table of 10 at the non-profit, special rate of $400 to honor an outstanding volunteer.

*Nominate one, two or more donors and volunteers for an award.  It’s so easy and you can do it online.  My organization is nominating in two categories this year.

* Help secure a sponsor at the $500 or $1000 levels.  We have turn-key packets for you to personalize for your prospect.

I would like to ask each person to either reply to all or send me an e-mail indicating to what extent you are able to commit to one, two or all three of the above.  It will boost our “ask” to others to step up. It will also help us get an early snap shot of what our board participation will be.

I appreciate all that you do to make our chapter excellent and look forward to hearing back from you by the end of the week.

Warm regards, 

Bottom Line: Board Chairs – Try this Approach When You Need to Rally Everyone.

These difficult times need us all to pull together and make it happen.  If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

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

If you are planning a capital campaign and would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, let us know. 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Okay, forewarning – this is a bit of a rant. Prepare yourself for some tough love, some hard truths, and some tangible takeaways to keep your organization on the right track during this pandemic! Trust me, a small vision won’t cut it.

Nonprofits are living in a difficult environment. That is a fact. How many various challenges have been thrown our way this year? The pandemic, societal injustice, a divisive election – and serious economic challenges for many nonprofits. 

The only way to flourish is to tackle challenges head on. You and your board have to choose to focus on the hard stuff. The difficult decisions. The scary risks. 

There are too many organizations simply hunkering down and muddling along, trying to make it through in survival mode. Will they make it? We doubt it. 

Instead, we want to see you take a strong stand for a new, expanded vision. If you want to flourish in the world to come, you need an even bigger goal – both financially and programmatically. Are you inventing new ways of serving your people? Are you inspiring your donors with an exciting vision of the future?

If your nonprofit wants to make it in the world to come – here are our do’s and don’ts for maxing the benefits of this challenging time:

1. Do expand. Don’t contract

Believe in yourselves and in your organization! This is not the time to doubt yourself, your mission, or your colleagues. Don’t stick to a small vision. Nonprofit professionals are a special breed. They fight when the going gets tough and their passion fuels their energy. 

Think outside the box, challenge yourselves, try the impossible. This is the time to expand together, not contract alone.

2. Do encourage your board to prioritize. Don’t get sidetracked by non-critical topics.

We see this every day, the larger issues looming are so frightening and confusing that board members are more comfortable talking about sideline issues. The organization’s future may be at stake, and the board is off discussing zoom meeting formats. 

Time with the board together is precious and fleeting, use it! There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s your organization’s financial future. 

3. Do reinvent. Don’t retreat. 

Do you need to revamp your business model to shift away from some types of earned revenue?  It’s a time to think big and be bold. 

Where’s your opportunity and creativity? Your board can’t get away with the same old ideas and view of the world. Wake them up with a bold challenge.  

Now is the time to create a big new vision for the future. Nothing is going back to “normal,” so do not stay tied to previous years’ plans. 

4. Do invest in fundraising. Don’t cut your revenue streams.

If you cut fundraising here is what will happen: 

    1. You will lose contact with your staunchest donor supporters 
    2. The donor newsletter that you cancelled to save money no longer keeps donors informed and feeling connected 
    3. Your thank you letters are going out late and your donors feel you no longer appreciate them 
    4. Your donors will desert you because they aren’t hearing from you 

This is brutal, but true. Remember, if you have more money, you can do more good. More money takes investing in fundraising revenue streams.

5. Do tap your reserve funds if absolutely necessary. Don’t jeopardize your organization’s future in the name of fiscal responsibility. 

“But the reserve fund is for an emergency.” This IS an emergency!

This may be the rainy day you saved for, and if you cut back too severely there might not be anything left of your staff, donors, or services to save for. 

Invest if you need to invest. Retool if you need to retool. The priority right now is to stay afloat and continue fundraising to do your work. Remember major donors are stepping up to the plate these days. 

BOTTOM LINE: There’s too much at stake right now. It’s time to step up to the plate. PRIORITIZE, COMMUNICATE, and ACT BOLDLY.

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

Planning a capital campaign? If you would like to learn about our innovative Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach – that brings in campaigns over goal and under the timeline, let us know. 

This week on Facebook LIVE we discussed common mistakes that a new major gift officer often makes. 

Now we’re following up with ideas to help you get started quickly and see some quick fundraising wins. 

Being new can be daunting, especially when you’re dealing with donors who can make very large gifts. 

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and nervous, we want you to feel excited! Get this: You’re new. And that is your ticket to getting into the hearts and minds of your donors.

Our Advice? 

1. Understand your relationship, as the new major gift officer, with the donor.

Many new major gift officers start with a misunderstanding of this relationship. Remember, the relationship is not between you and the donor, it is between the organization and the donor. 

And this is a good thing!

This means that you start your first day with an already robust relationship. You are just the new face in charge of their “customer service” account. 

Don’t be shy about inserting yourself into the relationship immediately.

2. Introduce yourself as their new contact person.

Need a reason or pretext to reach out for a visit? Introduce yourself!

“Hello Name, I’d like to introduce myself as your new donor relations contact at our organization. You have been a loyal donor over the years and we are so very appreciative of your generosity! 

If you have any questions or concerns – please let me know and I’d be happy to help answer them. Here’s my number xxxxxx.

Also, I’d love to know more about how you came to be a donor to our organization.  Would you be willing to visit a few minutes with me on the phone or zoom, and share your story with me? It would be my deep pleasure to know more about you and your interest in our work.” 

This is just one simple example of how you can use your “newness” to reach out to donors. Make sure you use language your donor is familiar with, for example you could say “I am your new assigned gift officer” instead of “donor relations contact.” 

If you can’t make headway with this type of introduction, then ask someone in your organization to make an introduction for you. Gentle hand-offs can work wonders.

3. Do your research.

Being prepared is always a must. Don’t assume, because you are new, your first donor conversation will just be informal with no chance of a gift. 

Before getting on the phone with your donor, always, always do your research. Be sure to review past giving history and timing, personality, and interests. 

Any information on file (or not on file) is useful for you to brush up on.  Your donor will be pleased that you took the time to understand their history. 

And you never know when a donor will be ready to give. So you must be ready at any time with knowledge of their capacity and interests.

4. Ask skillful questions that lead to an Ask Conversation.

      Remember: “She who asks the questions controls the conversation” 

As a new major gift officer your job is to find out as much as you can about your donor – their philanthropy, their family, their personal values and interests. Since you are new, you can ask all of these questions.

Most of all, you want to know why they are giving to your organization. That’s the path that will allow you to bring up a gift conversation.

“I’d love to know how you came to be a donor to our organization. How has your experience as a donor to our organization been so far?”

Then find out and explore your donor’s interest area:

“What is your favorite aspect of our work? What makes you so interested in this area? Would you like to learn more about it?” 

Then you can gently probe about their interest in helping more with a gift:

“Would you like to know more about the needs we have in this area? You could make a huge impact here if you might consider another gift. Is that something you might like to discuss?”

Remember that deep listening will take you all the way to a gift. Just be alert and ready to move the conversation forward! 

Bottom Line: Being a new major gift officer gives you many advantages. Leverage your newness to gain access to all of your donors – and new gifts too!

You have a wonderful opportunity here. You are qualified, you are passionate, you are smart. Be confident and authentic and your donors will love you! 


As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you.  We hope you will continue to capitalize on our years of experience by joining us Wednesdays at noon ET on Facebook Live and following us on social media. 

Planning a capital campaign? If you would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, let us know. You can also join our INSIDERS community for more fundraising training and content. We would love to have you! 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

If you’re a board member serving an institution or organization, you are probably dealing with many challenging decisions in this time of crisis.

This is a difficult time for everyone and board decision-making is not easy. Your organization may be facing serious financial issues.  Or, the pandemic may require shutting down parts of your work. Even more, your hardworking staff may need to reinvent your programming and services. 

With everything now upended, many boards face decisions that involve major restructuring of programs and initiatives.  In these times, boards are creating new strategies and policies that can have major long term impact. 

How is your board approaching decision-making in times of crisis?

We’re currently seeing some boards step up to the plate and make bold strategic moves. Because of wise decisions now, they are setting their institutions up for a successful post-pandemic future. 

Other boards are taking a slash and burn approach – cutting staff, programming and revenue streams in an effort to save the organization. Other, less bold boards are simply withdrawing from their roles, leaving their organizations adrift.

Here are three ways that brave, committed board members can approach the current crisis:

1. Step up to the plate and deal with the difficult decisions.

Board members, your time is now! Of all times, this is the time to pay deep attention. When there is a crisis, it’s urgent that the board step up and face the issues frankly.

Renew your personal commitment to your organization to support its mission, no matter what effort it takes. Educate yourself thoroughly on what’s happening.  Explore options. Look at the deeper issues thoughtfully. 

This is absolutely not a time to step aside. Bring the best of yourself to your work and your role. Thoughtful decisions take time. So, put in the time you need to ponder the implications of these difficult decisions.  

2. Commit yourself to the long-range overall health of your organization. 

Make sure that you keep the bigger picture in mind. Once the current crisis passes, then how will your organization fare? Will your nonprofit be in a position to move forward vigorously? 

Or will it be crippled with a lack of trained staff or decreased fundraising revenue? If board decision-making considers only the short term and not your long term positioning, then your organization may not make it on the other side.

3. Consider your organization’s long-term financial health.

Above all, don’t cut your fundraising program. And, don’t layoff your fundraising team. Remember the revenue relationship:  your fundraisers are responsible for a significant part of your revenue stream. 

If you cut back fundraising right now, you are cutting off major sources of current cash flow. 

And think outside the box, the pandemic has really provided some unique opportunities for fundraising!

Cutting fundraising programs right now will irrevocably hamper long-term cash flow. This is because you will lose vitally important donor relationships that you have already invested so much in. 

When your donors are no longer hearing from you or their regular fundraising staffer, they will gradually drift away to other organizations, ones who are fundraising. 

What will be the result?  Your organization will be poorly positioned to grow and flourish when times move forward.  You may have even more severe financial challenges, because your revenue streams have been irrevocably damaged.

It may be wise to consider pulling reserves out of your endowment to cover short-term cash flow issues, rather than cutting so severely that your organization is crippled when the pandemic is over. 

Bottom Line: The key decisions you make now will have long-term impact.

Adapting to this changing environment is not easy. But there are many resources out there, such as blog posts and trainings, that will help your board, and your organization, understand how to quickly pivot fundraising strategies in order to keep operating. Use these resources, and dig deep. Now is the time to move forward boldly and make key decisions.

Make these decisions carefully, considering all options – and keep the endgame in mind. 


As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you.  We hope you will continue to capitalize on our years of experience by joining us Wednesdays at noon ET on Facebook Live and following us on social media. 

Planning a capital campaign? If you would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, let us know. You can also join our INSIDERS community for more fundraising training and content. We would love to have you! 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

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.)



You are planning those fall appeals right now, during the summer months.
And it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll construct your appeal.

Please Don’t Make Your Letter the Same Old Ask

I hope you are not planning to start out with a happy list of your wonderful organization’s achievements. Will you brag about recent awards? (Hope not!) Will you want to start with a recap of all the amazing things your nonprofit has done this past year? (Hope not!) Will you talk about your upcoming 25th anniversary? (Hint, nobody is interested in that!)

OK, it’s time to fess up…conceit

Bragging is the NORM of Most Fundraising Campaigns, But Bragging Won’t Help You Raise More Money

In case you aren’t sure what bragging is, here’s what it looks like:

  • 1,850 children were served 68,450 XXX at 55 sites in 7 counties during the 2013-14 school year. (nix the passive voice! This could be a really exciting sentence, but it is negated by all the numbers.)
  • Since 1961 well over 450,000 homeless and hurting individuals were offered hope and life-changing help by XXX. (More passive voice – a serious no-no)
  • For 25 years, the XXX center has provided and supported significant and relevant experiences in the arts for the youth in our community. (passive and boring)

Instead Of Bragging, Make Your Donor the Hero of Your Story

You probably know that I’m writing this summer about the Top 10 Fundraising Strategies to Raise More Money this year. “Make your donor the hero” should be one of your top strategies. (Credit to the amazing Tom Ahern for this phrase.)

It’s so hard to get this right, but so important that you do. What you want to do is tell a story. And show how the donor can make everything right.

Examples of How to Make Your Donor The Hero

  • If you are a garden, say in your appeal letter that the donors are bringing the love of nature to the whole community.
  • If you are a crisis shelter, talk about how your donors are extending a loving hand to people in serious trouble.
  • If you are a school,  say that your donors are bringing the special extras that help kids learn faster.
  • If you are a sports organization, say that your donors are helping young people develop new skills and confidence that will help them succeed in life.

In short, give your donors credit for what your organization does.

Here’s an example of a terrific donor-centered invitation to give on the Raleigh Rescue Mission’s online donation page:

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 10.20.58 PM

photo credit:

This is the way to tie the donor’s own personal gift directly to the work. The donor is becoming part of the solution. They make it clear how a gift from just one individual will make a big difference. And when I visit the Raleigh Rescue Mission’s website, here’s the headline:


This is amazing because it is so rare to see a nonprofit with a web landing page that speaks directly to visitors. This headline is big, it’s eye-catching, and it invites me in to take action and get involved. It talks about actions that I can take as an individual person to make things better in my own community. Notice that this site is NOT a recitation of successes, awards, history or number of people served. No bragging. Love it!


  1. Words are so important! All you have to work with are words, pictures and layout.
  2. Choose the right words.
  3. Don’t get stuck in what your boss or your board want.
  4. Be creative.
  5. Speak directly to the donor in no-nonsense language.
  6. Make your donors the heroes and give them credit for everything!

Need help?

If you want some help crafting a donor centered appeal letter, I can help! 

Also, on September 10, the amazing John Lepp and Jen Love will present a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter Workshop for us – more details to come!

Comments please!


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?



How do we attract, develop and retain good fundraisers?young_leaders_stock

At last week’s International Fundraising Congress, many of us were transfixed by a provocative conversation about “The Emerging Fundraising Leadership Challenge.

International fundraising guru Tony Elischer, managing director of Think Consulting Solutions, and 5 dynamic women:  Rory Green,  Maria Ros Jernberg,  Joanne Warner,  Elise Ledsinger, and  Lucy Gower led the conversation.

(By the way, if you have not discovered Rory Green’s hilarious Fundraiser Grrl Tumbler feed, go there right now and subscribe for some much-needed laughs!)

The presenters bemoaned what it’s like for emerging fundraising leaders who are looking for a bright future.

How do we spot, train and develop young talented  – and especially tech-savvy –  fundraisers?

Is fundraising leadership “pale, stale and male?”

Do you agree? Let’s talk about the “stale” part of the above sentence.

Everything is changing about fundraising today. (You’re probably tired of hearing me say to you, “fundraising has changed.”)

Our industry is being blown apart by new technology and new ideas.

Our industry is being blown apart by new technology tools.

Our industry is being blown apart by new technology tools.

The way we communicate is changing drastically.

What donors expect and respond to is very different.

So the stale ideas that are prevalent in so many boardrooms and executive suites are clearly not going to take us where we need to go.

And stale ideas are not going to keep talented fundraisers around.

31% of fundraisers left their jobs because of an “old-school culture of fundraising.”

What’s the old school culture look like?

  • It’s when the president of a college tells me “I don’t know whether to believe my staff.” (This has happened to me more than once!)
  • It’s when the board members think they know more about fundraising than staff does.
  • It’s when your leaders aren’t willing to try out anything new – just sticking with the same old stale fundraising efforts year after year.
  • It’s when a toxic culture squashes young fundraisers’ ideas and dreams.

Penelope Burk found that 40% of fundraisers said that conflicting opinions  on HOW to raise the money was making them leave their jobs. 

Try a “Risk” or “New Strategies” Fund as part of your development budget.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had a budget item for new technology or to try out new ideas?

Remember, this small pool of money will very likely pay itself back before you know it!

Does your organization have a "stuck in the past" attitude toward fundraising?

Does your organization have a “stuck in the past” attitude toward fundraising?

I like fundraisers who say “give me one dollar and I’ll give you $4 back within two years.”

That’s what a risk fund can help support.

This way you won’t have to deal with the perennial, “We don’t have it in the budget.”

If you have an innovative culture, your staff feels supported to try out new technologies.

And you’ll probably emerge on top in a few years too.

Could it be that the leaders of charities do not appreciate fundraising or talented fundraisers?

Whoa! They don’t appreciate fundraising?  And/or they don’t appreciate “internal fundraising competence?”

Could it be that there is something “fundamentally wrong with the internal culture of many organizations,” in that fundraisers, and particularly talented young women fundraisers —  are not respected, appropriately rewarded or listened to?

(I have to say, what else is new here?)

The presenters called the situation “shameful at every level.”

If you want to be successful, fundraising needs to be integrated into every aspect of your organization.

Everyone needs to understand fundraising and their role in supporting donors and the overall fundraising effort.

I’ll be writing and speaking more in the coming months about how to develop a stronger culture of philanthropy at your organization.

Screen shot from the Fundraisergrrl tumbler feed!

Screen shot from the Fundraisergrrl tumbler feed! Our go-to place for humor!

Can you create a culture in your organization that inspires risk and change?

  • Can you make employees feel important and valued?
  • Can you set a good example of work-life balance?
  • Can you create a culture that values the work fundraisers do?
  • Can you make your employees feel safe and supported?

Do you want to keep your best young talent?

Then make sure you appreciate and recognize “the skills and insights of the next generation of leaders.”

I’m willing to bet our sector could do a much better job than we are doing.

Finding and cultivating new talent has got to be a priority to help lead us to a powerful and productive future.

If you agree, leave a comment!


So come on everybody – let’s make a pledge to the new ‘Grow it, Be it, Value it’ Campaign.

Join the movement to value talent, invest in the next generation, be open to change, look for and nurture new fundraisers coming up in the ranks!

Read all about the Leadership Crisis in Fundraising here. It’s worth your time but it might make you angry!

Give me a comment! Do you agree or NOT?

I’m going out on a limb here to challenge one of the oldest and most cherished fundraising habits in our sector.

Not to fear! I’m also showing you how to take that blah-290x300general ask and make it sharper, more urgent, and more compelling.

I remember when everyone’s fall appeal letter was a General Unrestricted Ask. Is yours still? Is your ED or boss still insisting on it?

Here’s the problem: In 2014, a General Unrestricted Ask is not going to light a fire in your donors.

Your donor has changed.

She has trust issues with you — and all her favorite nonprofits.

One of her greatest worries is that her money will go into the black hole of General Administrative and not used for the greatest good.

You and I know this is a fallacy – that all monies to the cause are well used, and so very needed.

But your donor doesn’t know this. So let’s change the way you frame your appeal.

The General Unrestricted Ask is so very blah.

It has no urgency. No specificity. No oooomph. No real reason to give. It’s not compelling.

It certainly is not exciting. (Remember Tom Ahern’s great words: “If you want to raise more money, add drama!”)

Who wants to pay to keep the lights on or to maintain the buildings? Not many people.

Instead, they want to help the kids, feed the hungry, make art, cure diseases, save the world. So why don’t you let them fund what they want to fund?Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 11.37.33 AM

It’s all about your donor and what she wants to accomplish anyway isn’t it?

It’s not ever about you, your organization OR what you need, correct? (I know, I can hear the protests right now! Just read on, ok?)

Writing people with a general amorphous ask dismisses the power of your appeal. It is lazy fundraising.

Roger Craver, one of our sector’s great pundits, agreed when I ran this idea by him. He said it is not only LAZY fundraising but it’s also a bit stupid – because it’s a very weak ask that will not yield a high return.

Why are you asking donors to pay for something they don’t want to pay for? (overhead and maintenance). No wonder they don’t respond!

Make your Ask specific and you’ll raise more money.

You probably know that your donors will give you more money if you make your ask specific.

For example, many nonprofits are starting to shape their asks in terms of “$xxx money will do yyyy work.” That’s a good start. Way to go!

You should also use our IMP Fundraising Formula: Ask for xxx Money for yyyy Project that will bring about zzzz Impact. Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 11.37.16 AM

How to take the General Unrestricted Ask and give it sizzle.

First of all, money is “fungible.”  Money can flow from one purpose to another.

For example, you may have unrestricted monies coming into your organization such as general admission, tuition, earned income, product sales, ticket sales or unspecified website gifts,.

Can’t you “designate” those funds to pay for the lights and maintenance?

I don’t want you to be unethical about where the money is going. Ever.

BUT surely you have some undesignated funding that can go to cover the boring stuff.

Take your most exciting projects and raise money around them.

  • For a school – make it about the kids, teachers, sports, art, tech.
  • For an environmental organization, make it about your field work.
  • For an advocacy organization, make it about your PR and public media campaign. Or your important lobbying.
  • For a social service organization living on grants and starved for unrestricted money, make it about the people you are helping.
  • For a historic preservation organization, make it about the buildings you need to save.

You can take that General Unrestricted Ask and make it specific without being dishonest or unethical.

What you are doing is putting spin on the message. You are shaping your ask to meet the needs of your donors.

Here’s how to give a classic General Unrestricted Ask some sizzle.

Ask for money to “run” your programs:

Mr. Donor, it costs $xxx to run these urgently needed programs. Your gift will help bring these wonderful services to our community . . . “

You are not asking for restricted money to fund the programs — instead you are asking for help to “run” the programs.

This is how you reframe a completely unrestricted ask into something appealing to your donor.

Caveat: If you want to be sure and make a compelling ask, don’ use the words “programs,” “services,” or “underserved.” They are the most BORING words in fundraising! :)


YOU can do a much better job shaping your fall appeal.

Make it as specific as you can! And you’ll raise more money!

What would you MOST love your board members to do?

Many nonprofit ED’s tell me that  – of all possible things – they wish their board members would simply open doors. That’s all.

Just open doors.

But what happens when you ask board members to make introductions and open the door to prospects?

They shy away from it. They just don’t like it.

Lots of times they say they will help and then what happens?  Nothing!

They chicken out at the last minute!

SOOOO how do you get your wonderful board members to help in this ALL-IMPORTANT area?

You have to help them learn how to open the door happily and successfully.

My workshops in November are all about this topic: “Fire Up Your Board for Fundraising: How To Turn Their Passion into Action!”

Bring your board members and find out more here!

Here are my 4 steps to help your board members learn how to open the door.

These 4 steps WORK!

Board members tell me that this approach is easy and very doable.

Even enjoyable!

So give them a try with your own board and let me know how they like it too!

What we are doing is teaching them how to use their elevator speech to start a conversation with the prospect about the cause, and then create a followup next step.

Presto the door is open!

1. Develop their elevator speech/personal message.

Board members all need a personal message that is inviting and inspiring.

They need practice with an elevator speech – but it can’t be learned or memorized.

It has to be their OWN PERSONAL STORY of why they care.Gail Perry 2 and the Central Ohio Symphony

Here’s a powerful morale-boosting exercise/game you can play with your board members to help them create and rehearse their personal story.

It is one of the most powerful activities you can ever do with your board.

It inspires them with their own personal passion for the cause and WHY THE CAUSE IS SO IMPORTANT.

2. Create contagious energy by removing the fear of soliciting.

Your board members have to be happy, fired up and passionate.  You have to get their mind-set right before they can make anything happen in the world.

If they are like that, then they’ll be engaging.  To anyone!

If they are embarrassed about what they are up to, then they put people off.

Energy is, in fact, contagious. (as we all know!)victoria symphony copy

Great energy is catching – and awful energy is catching too.

Be sure your board members are excited, and totally standing in their passion for the cause.

If you take the emphasis AWAY from soliciting, then they will relax and be amazing.

3. Create a conversation.

Once your board members learn how to share the wonderful story of your organization’s work with their friends, they need to learn how to create a conversation.

They need to learn how to “shut up” and let the other person react and comment.

I teach board members to ask my favorite fundraising question: 

“What are your impressions? . . . ”

They need to learn listening skills and how to develop their prospect’s interest by staying quiet and asking questions.

This is NOT intuitive, but board members welcome the training!

4. Invitation to followup for a next step.

Say your wonderful board member has inspired a friend with her passionate story about what you are up to.

She has contagious energy and an enthusiastic attitude.IMG_2568

All this is wasted unless she can say,

  • “Can you come down for a tour?”
  • Or “I”m having a small group over to my house next week to meet the new director, can you come?”
  • Or “Can I take you out for coffee and get your own ideas on how we tackle this huge community problem?”

That’s how you follow up. You have to show your board members how to conclude their elevator speech with an invitation.

Somehow, someway, they need to get the door open for a second conversation.

Then you’ll be on your way.

And if you want encouraging help with your board, register for my workshops this month that will share my secret, motivational tools that create happy board members willing and ready to get those doors open!

Find out more about the Board Member Workshops here.

What is your own biggest problem helping board members understand how to open the door?

Leave a comment and tell me!