November 17, 2010

Happy National Nonprofit Month!

It's National Nonprofit Month, and Nolo is celebrating with a Nonprofit Sale! From now until December 9th, 2010, you can save at least 40% on all nonprofit offerings, including my bestseller Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits and the brand new -- and very important -- book Nonprofit Fundraising Registration, by Attorney Stephen Fishman. (If you're soliciting donations via a website, you particularly need to find out the rules on where you need to register.)

November 16, 2010

A One-Woman Fundraising Pitch That Worked

I always enjoy The New York TImes' annual "Giving" section, and this year one theme that stood out was the power of individual action.

Take, for example, the article, "Pooling Small Contributions Hoping for Big Results." It profiles a 20-year-old volunteer named Kelsey Warner, who got involved in a charity in Waltham, Massachusetts called Small Can Be Big. This organization tries to reach the young, wired generation, inpsiring them to solicit modest donations to help with individual cases of need, via social networks.

Warner got interested in the case of a single mom named Raquel Rohling, whose child had developed cancer. Rohling had, as a result, become unemployed and was living in a homeless shelter.

In 400 words, Warner wrote a brilliant summary of the issue and the case for support -- one that more experienced fundraisers could learn a thing or two from. Here's my annotated excerpt:

"Mrs. R was once employed, with an apartment, a car, and furniture." [Good way to make the reader think, "Oh, she's just like us, not someone looking for a handout."]

"When Little R was diagnosed with (leukemia), everything changed. Mrs. R sold all of her belongings to pay for treatments . . . " [Uh oh, she's just like us but with unimaginable bad luck -- and she's a sympathetic mother figure, sacrificing everything for her child, to boot.]

"Putting this mother and son into a safe apartment would be one step in a long process of returning to the life they once knew." [Warner points to an achievable solution -- this isn't just another hopeless news headline for us to turn away from.]

"$1,500 by December 20th gives this family a very happy New Year, and a place to call home. How can you help?" [Brilliant! A sense of time urgency, and a way to make a major change in this needy woman's life -- who wouldn't want to donate?]

In fact, this pitch was highly successful -- 18 people from across the United states donated enough to reach the $1,500 goal, and Ms. Rohling moved into her new apartment. Now, how can you craft your pitches to reach similarly achievable goals?

November 6, 2010

Fundraising Oops of the Week

This just in from a friend:

"I'm wondering what the [nonprofit who shall remain nameless] was thinking when they wrote to me to encourage me to mention them in my will, closing with the cheery, 'The great thing about this is, you don't have to pay until you die!' . . . Those three last words are haunting me. . . "

Uh oh. An apparently misfired effort to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to a heavy topic. Maybe it's better to run these efforts past a few more people before putting them into print!

November 2, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to the Atlanta Botanical Garden

. . . for its great website, in particular the section outlining volunteer positions, at

Here are some of the many things they did right when it comes to enticing volunteers:

1) Made it easy to find out about volunteer opportunities (from the homepage, a simple click on "Get Involved" and then "Volunteer" got me there).

2) Create named volunteer positions, instead of vague instructions to "call so and so" about volunteering.

3) Provide clear explanations of what's fun about each position -- as well as what's required. This helps get prospects enthusiastic while also realizing that they'll be taking on a serious responsibility -- not just something they can show up for one weekend and then forget about.

4) Include lovely photos, to make it seem real to viewers.

Gee, wish I lived in Atlanta . . . .

October 25, 2010

Charitable Events: Secure the Cashbox!

Here's a news story that's a perfect reminder of why, even though you trust your group's own members and donors, you've got to consider the worst possibilities when it comes to handling cash. Beware the passing kid on the bicycle . . . .

October 22, 2010

Fundraising Garage Sales Move Goods That the Thrift Stores Won't Take!

Have you tried donating used goods to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army lately? Having recently moved, I've done so by the carload -- and often end up carting stuff right back home.

"No, we don't take cushions." "Sorry, no stuffed animals." "Not if it needs repairs."

I'm not blaming them -- they no doubt get a lot of plain old garbage, and have to draw the line somewhere.

But that leaves some major challenges for people trying to get rid of stuff that isn't ready for the landfill. And that's where nonprofit garage sales can come in. If you can accept items that the established resale places can't, you'll be doing a service to both the donors and any interested buyers, and help the environment by reducing landfill volume. (If you really think no one will be interested in buying an item, put it in a "free" box.)

At day's end, of course, you may need to get creative about disposing of things, as you yourself realize that Goodwill and Salvation Army aren't going to take all the leftovers. Scout around your community ahead of time. The local animal shelter, for example, may have a use for bedding that others won't take.
October 13, 2010

Your Charity Benefit Events: Will They Interest People Who Don't Know Your Group?

The season of both charity benefit performances and germs is upon us, as I was unhappily reminded last night when stomach flu kept me from seeing comedian Robin Williams at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He was doing a benefit performance for the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, whose facility serving homeless dogs and cats was recently destroyed by fire.

Why look, here's one of the dogs they placed for adoption before the fire!

Anyway, as far as I know, the people who got my tickets were simply eager to see Robin Williams, no matter who the event benefited. With that kind of star power, the event itself is  practically a guaranteed success.

But the more interesting question, given that not every organization will be lucky enough to sign up Robin Williams, is whether those guests who were just there for the fun went away with some interest in supporting the Humane Society in the future? I'll never know for sure, but it's an interesting lens through which to view your own events. How do you make sure your message will reach not only your loyal supporters, but friends of friends, substitutes for people who stayed home sick, and so forth -- who may have only a dim idea of what your organization does?

Putting up posters and other visual representations of your organization's work is a good start, as is a rousing speech during intermission. I believe the Humane Society brought a dog along. In any case, remember that such an event offers a rare chance to compellingly and succinctly state what your organization does, why it does it, and why someone who just walked in off the street should care. Let your message outlive the event!

Now, back to my cup of ginger tea.
October 4, 2010

Moment of Fundraising Jealousy

There's just no getting around it. No matter how closely we examine our fundraising connections
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and assets, none of us active in U.S. fundraising will ever be able to hold a charity event quite like the one recently hosted by Bee Gee Robin Gibb and his wife Dwina (an artist and Druid) at their Oxfordshire estate, to benefit the group Against Breast Cancer.

Twelfth century mansions and former monasteries are simply hard to come by around our fifty states.

Especially ones that, according to their owner are haunted by a prank-playing ghost who mysteriously winds nonexistent clocks and fills up the chapel font with water.

Oh well. At least your major donors are less likely to face any spectral surprises.
September 28, 2010

The Over-50 Set Jumps Into Social Networking

If you've been wondering whether increasing your nonprofit's presence on the social networking scene is worthwhile -- especially if many of your donors are older, not part of the "wired" generation -- you might want to check out this report by the Pew Research Center.

Older adults are not only increasing their use of social networking tools, they're doing so at a rate that's dramatically higher than that of younger adults.

The study shows that one in five adults between the ages of 50 and 64 now logs onto social networks on a typical day, double the number that did so a year ago.

True, the young 'uns are still the biggest users of social media. But it's old hat to them. I'm thinking that, if you can become one of the earlier "friends" to these newer adopters of social media, they're likely to develop some loyalty to checking out your postings. And they might email their children and grandchildren about what they find, too!
September 22, 2010

Bringing in New Nonprofit Board Members: The Nominating Committee Approach

Finding productive, skilled, and at least in some cases, moneyed board members is an ongoing challenge for every nonprofit. So I wanted to share the positive experience a friend of mine recently had. She was one of approximately 40 people who served on a nominating committee for a nonprofit seeking new board members. (I'll put this in her words for simplicity's sake, but, full disclosure and all, I'm paraphrasing based on my memory.)

"This happens to be an organization I really respect -- and would even like to serve on the board of myself, if I had any spare time. Why did I agree  to make time to attend the meeting? A friend of mine, who's already on the board, contacted me about it personally, so how could I refuse?

"The organization made it quite clear that the purpose of the meeting wasn't to ask us for money. They were looking for community movers and shakers who'd agree to consider what their organization does, and supply names and contact information for people who'd make good board members.

"The meeting itself was very well organized. We went around the room for brief introductions, watched some videos about the organization's work -- a great reminder of why we'd want to facilitate others getting involved  with it -- and then heard from the E.D. about what exactly they're looking for in new board members. That included community diversity, connections, an interest in fundraising, and more.

Toward the end, we were each given a form to fill out, where we'd provide the names of two prospective board members, along with an indication of whether we'd be willing to make the first overture. Toward the bottom were questions about whether we ourselves might be interested in board membership, and if not, whether we'd like to become further involved in the organization in other ways.

"I came away from the meeting with renewed respect for this organization. They'd respected my time (the meeting ended just when it said it would) and created an efficient process for bringing in new volunteer help. I'll bet they get some great new board members as a result."

Sounds like a model worth copying! 
September 20, 2010

Seminar Recap: Fundraising for Startup Groups

Thanks to all the enthusiastic participants in last week's seminar at the Foundation Center in San Francisco, discussing where to start with one's fundraising efforts. My focus was on considering what assets your group already has to work with -- in other words, instead of starting out by saying, "We need to write a grant," look at what skills, knowledge, and connections your staff, volunteers, and other members have, then decide how to best match those up to likely fundraising methods.

The best part for me was hearing the audience share ideas and brainstorm. Social media was definitely big on people's minds -- one participant said her group currently does ALL of its fundraising via social media, and is now facing the challenge of expanding to other fundraising methods! It's the very opposite of the position some groups are in, wondering how and whether to move into the social media realm. (I wonder which crossover is easier to make?)

Another participant was concerned about the issue of how to start charging people for information that they'd always given away for free -- a sensitive issue, but not insurmountable. Sometimes, asking for donations to cover costs is the first way in which a group actually makes the public aware that it's a nonprofit!

You can also see what one of the Foundation Center's incredibly helpful librarians posted about the event, here.

September 13, 2010

Fundraising for Startup Nonprofits: Free Seminar

I'll be speaking this Thursday, September 16th, at the Foundation Center in San Francisco, on fundraising strategies for the new or startup nonprofit.

This is partly to celebrate the third edition of my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits, having just hit the shelves.

Get details on the seminar and register at

See you there!
September 6, 2010

Catch the Magic of a Live Auction on A Prairie Home Companion

Silent auctions seem to have become every nonprofit's default -- they can be tucked away in a side room during a gala dinner, and you don't have to pay an auctioneer.

But, for, a reminder of the energy that a live auction can create, check out the September 4, 2010 edition of A Prairie Home Companion. Host Garrison Keillor interviews auctioneer Bill Berg (ever wondered how someone becomes an auctioneer?) and they auction off two stuffed chickens (as in the fuzzy, toy kind) for charity -- and bring in a whopping $220. (After clicking the link, scroll down to "Segment 3," and move the little bar to "78:25.")

As Keillor says, Berg is "capable of taking charge of a large crowd of people and extorting more money from them than they ever thought they had to spend." And he does it in such a happy voice, almost as if he's singing. If you end up wanting to hire him, however, get ready to pay his plane fare from Minnesota.

August 30, 2010

How Your Nonprofit's Volunteers Can Improve Your Image in 5 Minutes

Have you trolled the Internet lately for sites that review nonprofits? They're out there. And unless you take steps to manage what's posted there in regard to your group, your sole review may be from the person with an attitude who got a rise out of your normally charming receptionist.

Sites such as GreatNonprofits (, Guidestar ( and even Yelp ( allow people who aren't directly paid by a nonprofit -- such as donors, volunteers, board members, and customers or recipients of services -- to post their opinion. And as always, the complainers often seem to be the loudest, or the most motivated to vent.

Take a look, and don't freak out if you see any negative comments. It's as an opportunity to fix things before they bother someone else. But also get the word out to the people who know and love your work that you could use some reviews from them -- honest ones, but hopefully also bringing attention to the best of what you do. It will take them a mere few minutes for each one. That's a lot of marketing bang for the buck.  
August 24, 2010

Donors Avoiding Mailing Lists: How Serious a Phenomenon?

In the last week, I've heard at least three people expressing some version of the following: "I would've donated, but I don't want to end up on another mailing list." In one case, the person solved their dilemma by giving cash (at a benefit concert) -- but not without some grumbling, because no receipts were available, and that means no tax deduction.

This certainly isn't a new problem. But it feels like the degree to which donors are getting fed up with the volume of appeals they receive is reaching a critical point -- not too surprisingly, as the amount of information we all receive via traditional as well as social media has gone beyond overwhelming. And I suspect that nonprofits who wait around for this to be confirmed by a major study may lose out. (Or maybe there's already been a major study, but my  Google search failed to turn it up.)

It's a tough situation, because building a mailing list is a crucial task for a nonprofit. One-time donations are usually small and don't get you very far. The goal is to inspire repeat donations, hopefully of increasing size, from donors who've gotten to know your work and with whom you build an increasingly close relationship. But to do that, you've got to know who they are and how to reach them.

Okay, so how to combat this donor fed-up-ness? Unfortunately, the only answer that makes sense is to not only acknowledge the issue, but offer donors who want to opt out of your mailing list the opportunity to do so. You've probably heard this advice before, but I still don't notice many nonprofits who implement it -- or implement is successfully. (I've been trying to get off the appeals-mailing list of a major environmental organization for months now.)

This is where the wide array of communication methods can be your friend. You can offer people who make a one-time donation the opportunity to receive your newsletter, your email updates about news issues relevant to your work, or other substantive communications. Some will realize that they're interested enough to say yes. (Some of the others, you probably weren't interested in anyway -- for example, the aunts and uncles who sponsored the walkathon out of family loyalty, and would never donate to your cause otherwise.) If your content is interesting, and your messages are powerful enough, the recipients will step up and start making donations without receiving a traditional appeal.