Category Archives: Fundraising

Quiet Time Has Been a Busy Time: Carolyn’s Update

I suspect you have been wondering what became of me. Despite being “quiet” on WordPress after my December 2021 nonprofit predictions post, I have been busy elsewhere.

In January I wrote, “Nonprofit Social Media is Essential to Attracting and Retaining Donors” for the Qgiv Blog. I hope you enjoy it. Social media has become more powerful and essential than ever. The trend shows no signs of slowing. As a nonprofit fundraiser asked to join Facebook a decade ago by a major gift donor, I have come to appreciate Facebook and other platforms that offer convenience to those seeking information of all kinds, and the opportunity to connect with friends, family, professional colleagues and favorite causes. But with the growing importance of being present on social media, nonprofits must also be careful. They must understand that how they present themselves online can make-or-break donor and potential donor confidence. Mature management of social media is essential.

If you have read about my professional background on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, you know my nonprofit career was founded on volunteerism, and on a life changing, week-long intensive grant writing course hosted by The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, California. Over the years, I have continued to keep up with the Center, and I often promote its educational programming. Early this year, I reviewed a new book by Barbara Floersch, “You Have A Hammer: Building Grant Proposals For Social Change.” Follow this link to Goodreads. A review of the book has also been posted on Amazon.com. I do recommend it.

This month, I wrote another article for Qgiv, “Fundraising Tools Every Nonprofit Needs.” You may be surprised that although being tech savvy and leading Nonprofit Tech Club Austin in partnership with NetSquared (a division of TechSoup), NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and local entrepreneurial hub Capital Factory, I suggest in my article rethinking how nonprofit staff view technology. The post may surprise you.

I am in the midst of preparing a “thought leader” webinar on grant writing for Qgiv in April 1, 2021. Check out the description for, “Adjusting Your Mindset for Successful Grant Writing Today,” and please plan on joining us! The program is free to all, and a recording will ultimately be shared online so you can also watch it later. This link also shares other upcoming Qgiv webinars. I recommend all of them.

On a personal note, I have been healthy and well despite COVID-19 raging across Texas. I have updated, “Dealing With Stress” on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog with new resources. There I share how I manage stress and also a number of resources that might prove helpful. In brief, scheduling a daily walk and changing how and what I eat has made a world of difference. I feel better today than I did twenty years ago.

You have probably heard about the arctic weather in Texas this month. Below is a photo from Bee Cave last week, looking northeast toward Austin. What an adventure! My electricity never went off, but I conserved it as best I could for the sake of others. My water only failed for half of a day. I am very lucky, and I wish to thank the mayors of Bee Cave and Lakeway for their outstanding leadership during this trying time. Read the detailed article below for updates from area leaders.

Community Impact Newspaper (Vol. 12, Issue 2 | March 11 – April 7, 2021)

Our recent polar vortex experience brings to mind climate change. Please join me on Twitter @cclatx. I have been the volunteer Twitter curator the past three years. I share a wide range of information weekly that might be of interest to you. And I urge you to consider joining the Citizens Climate Lobby secure, free conversation platform. We have a national monthly call and update, and a number of other educational programs are offered during the year. The time is nigh for our nation and the world to focus on alleviating the effects of climate change, and I for one am delighted the United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement. To view a new website for letters to the editor that I created for the Austin chapter, follow this link.

Best wishes, be safe and reach out anytime if you have questions.

Bee Cave snow - in far western Austin, Texas.
iPhone Instagram of Bee Cave at Ranch Road 620 S under snow and ice, by Carolyn M. Appleton.

Research and Writing | Ideal Tasks While Working from Home

I have worked from my home office since 2014. Austin has been for many years a fast growing metropolis. Its heavy road traffic made commuting to and from my nonprofit project’s office back then a lengthy and stressful burden. And because that project focused on K-12 sustainability education, the concept of working from home was appreciated and readily adopted.

Read a Little Every Day!
This image was used in my PowerPoint for Qgiv on prospect research. See the YouTube recording below.

It was then that I began working collaboratively in the “cloud,” researching prospective partners and writing grant proposals, uploading them to the cloud for review by our Executive Director. Fine tuning continued until the time was right to hit, “submit.” Social media writing, posting and management was easily and better done from a quiet, distraction-free work space. One weekly meeting in person in our office was part of the regimen, but that is all.

Hence, with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 and “stay-at-home” restrictions, nothing has changed for me. I have continued to work smoothly and efficiently from home where it is relatively “germ-free,” quiet, and my “desk” is located not far from the coffee pot and refrigerator. For me, this is the perfect work environment. Don’t tell: I get more work done, I work longer hours than required, and I am healthier and happier overall. 

The chagrin expressed by corporate and nonprofit leaders accustomed to working in traditional environments where office employees are housed in the same physical space falls on deaf ears here. I believe it is time to adapt and move to a remote working model for almost everyone, except of course those needing staff to greet and serve visitors in person, to conduct occasional group meetings, and to actually manufacture/produce specific items. But to get comfortable allowing more employees to work from home, society will have to let go of the basic human trait, “seeing is believing.” Our times require greater trust and faith to succeed in a remote working world.

Carolyn's Prospect Research Talks
See the links in this post to watch and learn more.

One of the ideal activities I conduct while working from home is research online and grant writing. In April and May 2020, I spoke online to two organizations about research specifically, and you might enjoy watching the recordings. The first was for Qgiv (below).

You may also have read my blog post from last March, “Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … And Remote Locations,” where I discuss my work in South Texas during the 2000s with the ranching community. In hindsight, much of what we accomplished seems quite glamorous. Certainly, the donors with whom I worked are still among the leading philanthropists of Texas. But the truth is, the majority of my work was done in a quiet office with few visitors, thinking, researching, organizing, writing and the like.

Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce is known as one of the finest automobile brands in the world. The high standards for which it is known remind me of those also expected of major gift fundraising professionals.

Major gift fundraising is often wrongly perceived by outsiders. Regardless of the quiet, methodical and hard work involved in successful major gift fundraising, people sometimes think of it as a field where one “hobnobs” with wealthy donors, attends luncheons and galas, and other superficial activities. This false impression can also give rise to jealousy. If they only knew how much “unglamorous” time is actually spent working tirelessly alone on a computer. I would say 95% of my job is actually done in this fashion.

If you are working from home now during COVID-19, this is an excellent time to fine-tune your research and writing skills. As I mentioned during my spring presentations, if you take the time to do this thoughtfully and well, it might turn your organization’s entire fundraising focus upside down, and in a very good and productive way.

I would also suggest that you take the time to learn new skills, including setting up and better managing your social media platforms. Our favorite platforms continue to evolve: learn how they may have changed (be sure to check, “the back end”). If you are already active on social media, now is also an excellent time to clean up (and clean out) old information. Request that your Facebook profile be formally verified by Facebook. Claim and update your GuideStar profile to the gold or platinum seal level. Ask volunteers, clients and board members for testimonials you can share online. Set up an online gift processing platform that provides a variety of options for making charitable donations. Make it easy to give!

Looking sharp online continues to be essential to inspiring trust and to engaging the interest of donors and potential donors in the good work of your nonprofit. And as always, make sure the messages you convey in those carefully-crafted grant proposals are mirrored on your website and on social media. In other words, this stay-at-home time is the perfect time to do some nonprofit “housecleaning.” Dare I say it: the nonprofit sector might actually become smarter and stronger if it deals successfully with the stay-at-home restrictions resulting from COVID-19.

Best wishes for your fundraising success!

Notes

For women working in the field of nonprofit development with family care giving responsibilities, I want to acknowledge working from home might be tougher for you. I fully support care giving incentives and entrepreneurial approaches as outlined by Melinda Gates in her article for The Washington Post, “How Rethinking Caregiving Could Play a Crucial Role in Restarting the Economy” (May 7, 2020). We can do this!

Having trouble trusting remote workers? Turns out, remote workers sometimes have trouble trusting their Executive Directors. You might enjoy reading Adam Hickman, Ph.D. and Tonya Fredstrom for Gallup, “How to Build Trust With Remote Employees” (February 7, 2018). “Gallup asked a random sample of more than 10,000 individuals, ‘What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life?’ With that leader in mind, Gallup had the respondents list three words that best describe what the leader they named contributes to their life. The responses sorted into four categories: trust, compassion, stability and hope.”

Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … and Remote Locations

In 1999, I was recruited to South Texas by a headhunter. My task was to manage a multi-million dollar major gift campaign for three years. By myself.

While there are many affluent landowners and ranch visitors in South Texas, at the time there were relatively few people with major gift experience to work with them. Many of the office support available back then included well meaning but inexperienced staff when it comes to working with major gift donors.

Horses

I set up shop with the help of the local Walmart. A spacious rug, floor lamps and an artificial plant gave my office a quiet, comfortable and professional look. Culligan Water installed a hot-and-cold water dispenser. I brought homemade food to work for lunch and kept my office well stocked with coffee, tea and dry soup packets (and a candy jar for visitors). There were mostly fast food outlets in the area back then. However, I would like to put in a good word for the delicious potato-and-egg soft tacos with green salsa that I would sometimes pick up on my way in to the office at a local taco stand. Those were the best, and I still miss them.

With the Internet readily available, I was “good to go.” I came to call my office, “the air traffic control tower.” 

The institute for which I was working was mostly privately funded by a foundation, and minimally funded by the local university. I kept wondering – given the stellar board and advisory board members involved with this little institute – why outside consultants said it had no chance of raising major gifts. The institute had paid upwards of $80,000 for a feasibility study and case statement by a consulting firm, all of which were tossed out as being unhelpful. I had my job cut out for me.

On my own for three years, I literally lived on the Internet. I searched online and read from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every work day. My findings yielded not only major gifts for capital and endowment purposes, but also for research projects. I developed habits of mind that involved disciplined, factual research online. Many new donors were brought to the aid of the institute’s work, and many detailed grant proposals were formulated.

Cabin

I find outsiders to the field of nonprofit development mistakenly perceive people like me are focused on organizing luncheons and “schmoozing” with donors. But the fact is, organizing and managing meetings and events comprises perhaps 5% of my job. Most of my work involves thoughtful research, the development of inspiring case statements, writing and designing communications pieces, developing mailing and emailing lists, grant writing, stewardship and the like. This requires “quiet time” and a focused, detail-oriented mind. For those contemplating development as a career, this paragraph is one of the most important I have ever written for you.

The fine art of nonprofit development – honed in remote locations like South Texas – helped prepare me for other major gift projects involving little or no staffing, and for challenging “work at home” times like the COVID 19 pandemic we are currently experiencing. What I discovered is the Internet is an invaluable nonprofit development resource. I remain glued to it today. There is no such thing as being “bored” when you have the Internet at your fingertips.

Working mostly without additional staff support in prior positions means I have also experimented with technological solutions to accomplish more done with less. When told something is “impossible,” I always believe there is a solution. And I have always found one! I occasionally find traditional fundraisers who still shun technology and social media. But I have found them invaluable components of my major gift activities today.

Tech Clubs Can Help

For the past several years I have been one of the lead volunteers for NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. My involvement with NTEN began ten years ago when two nonprofit organizations asked me to help identify constituent management software to manage their donor databases. I admit, I was stumped. But I contacted NTEN and was directed to a donor management system review co-sponsored with Idealware. I was so elated by this helpful resource that I became an NTEN fan and volunteer.

A few years later when I relocated to Austin, I agreed to volunteer for #NPTechClubATX. Being involved with the club means today, I have the privilege of meeting similar problem solvers focused on social good, and learning about their innovative solutions. I am hooked.

“The mission of Nonprofit Tech Club Austin is to help nonprofits find cost-effective tech solutions and techniques to make their work easier, more secure and efficient. That means for the past several years, we have offered educational programs that involve digital solutions to daunting challenges like being unable to hire extra staff (but needing to get the work done anyway), raising donations easily and creatively online, better managing board meetings, volunteers, accounting functions and more. We are #ready.”

Locally, we thank startup hub Capital Factory for its support in this regard. But Zoom and similar video conferencing services can also help. You can learn more about nonprofit discounts at TechSoup.

Here’s wishing you good health, a trustworthy laptop, and a strong Internet connection!

Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog includes many stories about doing more with less and technological solutions for the “remote” worker. If you have questions at any time, please let me know

Photographs illustrating this post are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

Building Your Nonprofit’s Credibility with Qgiv

This blog article was written for and published by Qgiv. I wanted to reproduce it here for my audience as well. You can find a link to it here on the Qgiv blog. Thanks to Qgiv for inviting me to contribute.

After many years working side-by-side with nonprofit staff and volunteers on major gift fundraising campaigns across Texas, I have discovered that how your organization looks online – its website, gift processing, and its social media platforms – influences how donors, prospective donors and professional advisors perceive a nonprofit organization’s ability to raise and to manage significant funding.

I once suggested to one of my prior donors that she consider supporting a nonprofit organization with which I was volunteering. It was doing critically important work across the nation—including our local community. I shared the nonprofit’s website address and sang its praises. A few weeks later, she responded. “Well, I looked at the website. It doesn’t look very sophisticated.” My heart sank. A cursory impression of the organization online did not impress this potential donor.

Building Your Nonprofit's Credibility with Qgiv

I have also found donors peruse Facebook and other social media platforms for information in advance of making funding decisions. “It doesn’t look like much is going on,” and, “whomever is managing that page isn’t paying attention,” are two kinds of remarks I have heard.

Yet as suggested earlier, these nonprofit organizations were doing quality, truly essential work in their respective communities. But the staff complained they were so busy operating their programs they didn’t “have time” to “bother” with their online presence. But today, failing to understand the importance of your nonprofit’s online presence can mean missed donations and partnerships!

Nonprofits must have a polished presence online to ensure donor and partner confidence. To make matters more complicated, a growing number of professionals like accountants, attorneys, investment, and banking professionals are being asked to assist donors in making gift decisions, nonprofits must be extra cautious. While donors may have your nonprofit in their hearts, their professional advisors are trained to review your nonprofit’s worthiness and ability to receive and manage donations more objectively. You must be prepared to meet the needs and expectations of both.

I recently worked with a nonprofit organization recovering from a natural disaster in Texas that wanted to raise more funding and attract a broader audience and donor base. Since its founding, this nonprofit had been relying on receiving mail – including checks from donors – via the U.S. Postal Service. Donors could also stop by the office to hand deliver checks or to fill out credit card forms in person, or complete a donation online using PayPal. Although PayPal has become more sophisticated and user-friendly, people chaffed at the fees involved and the nonprofit urgently needed a gift processing upgrade.

The process involved both traditional nonprofit fundraising research and grant proposal preparation, and more new social media communications. In addition to creating a more modern, plugin-free WordPress website using a free template, I created new social media profiles; cleaned up the longtime Facebook page (which was cluttered with old and outdated information) and had it officially verified by Facebook; and I suggested the nonprofit engage Qgiv for its online donation processing.

In 2018, I had the good fortune of meeting two members of the Qgiv leadership team in Austin during a Nonprofit Tech Club Austin program at a startup hub called Capital Factory. During that presentation, I learned how innovative and easy to use Qgiv is, and that Qgiv is cost effective and secure. I suggested my nonprofit client give Qgiv a try. By doing so, I felt they would provide their donors with more options for donating and registering for events via American Express, Discover, Visa, MasterCard, and eCheck. In fact, I set up their basic Qgiv system myself.

For their new website, WordPress established a much more sophisticated online image and a more meaningful presence for very little money. All plugins were removed (which meant no more updating them – that was a big problem with the former website). With Qgiv, all that was required for the various donation forms and event registrations was a secure link. No muss, no fuss, and so many more options for giving and registering online. Now, those Qgiv links take donors and event attendees to separate online pages. Once the form is completed, funds are transferred directly and immediately from the donor to the nonprofit’s bank account. There is no “snail mail” service involved, no hard copy check. This creates a seamless, sophisticated system that both ensures donor confidence and protects everyone’s security. Donors can even pay for their own gift processing fees as part of their donation (which happily, many do). This is called GiftAssist.

In addition, Qgiv donation forms look great when shared on social media. This helps set a high tone for the nonprofit, which goes back to my original thesis: nonprofits must look polished online and sophisticated in terms of their fundamental operations.

This nonprofit is now sending a clear message: it can handle a variety of sophisticated financial transactions securely online. Donors do not have to send checks in the mail nor drop them off in person. Certainly, donors can still do that, but providing online options using the most advanced gift processing technology available today shows donors, partners, and professional advisors are – or will be – dealing with a nonprofit that can also handle major gift contributions.

Qgiv has become an integral part of an innovative new approach for this nonprofit, bringing it solidly into the 21st century and poised for fundraising success going forward.

If you have an interest in Qgiv for your nonprofit, please use my blog’s secure contact form to reach me. I have installed it myself, by hand, and I would love to help you do the same!

Rethinking Major Gift Fundraising

In reviewing thirty years of work in the nonprofit sector, I look back and say to myself, “well, everyone knows those things.” But in truth, no one has walked in my shoes – nor in yours – and no one else has experienced the world in the exact same way as you or I have.

From my mindset of, “just tell me I can’t do it, and I will,” I wanted to point out articles and posts on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog designed to help with your major gift fundraising, and in some cases, to challenge standard assumptions.

“Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign” quotes another experienced fundraising professional in our field, and alongside his suggestions I comment based upon my own experiences. In tandem, some of my most important fundraising experiences are discussed in, “Are You Ready | Is It Feasible?” Feasibility studies have long been the bread-and-butter of the nonprofit consulting business, but I have a different take on their usefulness.

“Taking a Step Back Will Lead You Forward” is an article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog that I fine-tuned and gave as a webinar for ADRP: Association of Donor Relations Professionals. Yes, there are things nonprofits can do to instill donor confidence as they chart a course forward for major giving. A consultant does not need to be hired and paid handily to tell you to do these things. #JustDoIt

“Nonprofits and Startups | Birds of a Feather” notes how similar major gift campaign preparation is with launching a for-profit business startup. In fact, I suggest 3 Day Startup, which I reference in the article, create a new course with nonprofit social good enterprises in mind. Times are changing and I welcome those changes. I find more often today that nonprofits want to move away from the arrogance they perceive as being inherent in traditional major gift fundraising, toward a more egalitarian “crowdfunding” approach. For help with crowdfunding, see the resource page on this blog.

Crowdfunding

As I mention in my nonprofit prediction posts and elsewhere on this blog, many of the same principles apply to major gift fundraising as those to launching a startup or crowdfunding. But to think the latter two efforts are easier than traditional major gift fundraising would be incorrect. The same attention to planning, research, communication and the like apply to all. They are just different ways of reaching the same result: securing major gifts. Keep in mind, each nonprofit is unique. A traditional major gift campaign may not be the best option for your organization today.

Something I would like to see – having pulled major gift fundraising campaigns out of the gutter on more than one occasion – is a reduction in the condescending attitude of many in the “big box” consulting community. “You couldn’t possibly know how to work with major gift donors! We’ll do that for you.” Even the most well-meaning among them can bill you heavily, and sometimes they will walk off with your nonprofit’s contacts. I believe it is time to demystify major gift fundraising.

From the other side of the table, I have also found some donors and prospective donors enjoy the hooplah they perceive as being involved in major gift fundraising. The hiring of expensive “consultants” is part of what they believe to be essential. #Resist

Real major gift donors do not need expensive consultants to help the nonprofit organizations they care about. Be careful.

If you have questions at any time, use the secure contact form on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog to reach me. As always, best wishes for your fundraising success!

During Good Times, Don’t Forget to Prepare for Rainy Days

“A recession is a significant decline in economic activity that goes on for more than a few months. It is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), although the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) does not necessarily need to see this occur to call a recession.”

– Investopedia

This post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog was written in fall 2018. Needless to say, in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19, stay-at-home restrictions and global uncertainly about the dramatic changes witnessed in all aspects of our lives, having a reserve fund has made sense. Now that it appears we are pulling out of the economic contraction, smart nonprofits will continue to add to their reserve funds while diversifying their fundraising techniques and conducting ever more in-depth research to identify more prospective donors. Not everyone is negatively impacted by a recession, so let cool heads and smart thinking prevail during challenging times.

See the links at the conclusion for more information.


The past few years, I have read articles and watched videos featuring leading financial experts discussing the possibility of a recession. White opinion remains divided, the thought that several predict rough waters ahead causes me to revisit the idea of nonprofit organizations establishing “rainy day,” or reserve funds.

From USLegal, “A reserve fund is a fund of money created to take care of maintenance, repairs or unexpected expenses of a business.” 

Having watched nonprofits suffer intensely during the last recession of a decade ago – an experience we all hope will never be repeated – my advice for nonprofits during every year-end fundraising season is to be prepared.

Take some of your charitable donations and sock them away into a savings account or other fund where you can get to them easily if and when needed. You might even consider a specific major gift campaign to establish a reserve fund. Regardless, having such a fund in place can help with myriad situations, from recession and lagging donations, to helping your nonprofit launch an entirely new project or fund a new staff position. #JustDoIt

Rainy day funds are important.

Noteworthy Media Coverage (Most Recent First)

National Council for Nonprofits, “Operating Reserves for Nonprofits” (timeless advice, helpful resources)

I have an article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog called, “Economy and Philanthropy” you might also enjoy. It dates back to when I launched my blog during the economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Looking back to those days, I would also say, not every business nor philanthropist suffers during a recession. Adjust your fundraising accordingly and do your research.

Summer is “Development” Time

I sometimes hear nonprofits lament that summertime is so “slow.” Nothing is happening. Most donors and prospective donors are out of town on vacation, they tell me. But in my experience, summertime is a busy time for development.

I have discovered quite a few grant deadlines occur during the summer and that requires attention. I have also found some donors actually have a bit more time to spend on their favorite nonprofit projects during the summer. Brainstorming meetings, planning for the fall, “asking” for support, database house cleaning and expansion, research, case statement drafting and year-end fundraising campaign development are all things I have done during the summer months. Don’t forget, many corporations budget late summer for social good projects they will underwrite next year. Summer is a great time to visit with your favorite corporate sponsors.

Coffee Waves in Port Aransas.

Earlier this year, I was asked to help the Port Aransas Art Center part-time. As you may know, Hurricane Harvey battered Port Aransas last year, but as the Instagram photo above from Coffee Waves suggests, the community is back on track and working hard to recover. It is well on its way.

As for me, I am helping to establish a new development program, I have been modernizing the website, enhancing social media, creating new e-newsletters so that we have regular monthly e-communication with constituents, securing a GuideStar gold seal and more. It has taken a lot of time, but when you work with a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, your work is enjoyable and inspiring.

I added a new section in the margin of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for “Quick Updates” with handy links. Please peruse my article on social media stewardship for the Association of Donor Relations Professionals’ monthly newsletter, The Hub. You might also enjoy reviewing the slide decks for my webinar and public presentations this year.

I have always been a “hands-on” learner and I readily adopt new technologies that enable me to become even more self-sufficient. Still today, I do most all work myself. This, plus years of experience in major gift fundraising make me a good teacher for those new to the fundraising profession, for startups with big ambitions, and for nonprofits that are perhaps a bit, “overweight” that need to streamline.

Wednesday 006

Another new section of my Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is called, “A Brief Account: Short Stories.” There I share personal experiences with leading philanthropists. Some of my stories are humorous, some heart warming, but always, I try to be insightful and to share what it takes to work successfully in the field of nonprofit fundraising. Fundraising – especially major gifts – scares some nonprofit professionals. I came to the field via volunteering and a Master’s Degree in Art History. Ultimately, I hope by sharing my stories that fear will be lessened, and more interested professionals will enter our field.

Have a good summer. And now for me it is time to get, “back to work.”

Don’t forget to “refresh” your browser now and again while reading Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I have added a new series of photo “headers” from my work over the past several years.

Hurricane Inspiration on the Gulf Coast

When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.

Sea Turtle Surgery
Thanks to the Baltimore Sun for covering Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi, Texas (February 14, 2017).

In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.

Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.

Brown Pelican, Hurrcane Harvey
Click to reach Texas Sealife Center’s Facebook page and more photos illustrating its work during Hurricane Harvey and more.

As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time.

Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.

But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.

I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.

I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!

You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.

Did you know? You can donate to Texas Sealife Center directly from its GuideStar profile

Being a Bridge

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin, Texas

Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.

I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.

Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.

When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.

I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.

In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.

There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.

Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).

Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.

Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!

Understanding Prospective Donors

  • Lila MacLellen wrote for Quartz, “Science Confirms Rich People Don’t Really Notice You – Or Your Problems” (October 23, 2016). “No one can pay attention to everything they encounter. We simply do not have enough time or mental capacity for it. Most of us, though, do make an effort to acknowledge our fellow humans. Wealth, it seems, might change that.”
  • For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
  • From The Wealthy Accountant, “5 Things Rich People Do That You Don’t” (August 3, 2016). “Wealthy people have vision. They know where they are, where they are going, and how they will get there.”

Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).

You and the Donor

I have wanted to discuss this topic for a long time, but I have struggled with how best to go about it. I have not known a nonprofit support organization to tackle this topic in a realistic way, yet it is especially important for new staff, especially those in development. I do think some acknowledgement by leaders in our sector would be helpful, as would developing some “mindset” training into our industry’s regular regimen of educational conferences.

When I obtained my first nonprofit position, I bonded with the organization, its image and mission totally. To my mind, we were inseparably linked. The two did not exist apart from one another! I was young, learning at a fast pace, and I absolutely loved the organization. It felt like a perfect fit.

You and the donor.

Four years later, two supervisory changes and a decline in our local economic climate meant I had become frustrated. I started looking for a new position. Eventually I moved on (and up) with my career. But mentally, this was a tough change. My entire self worth was bonded to the nonprofit; once I departed, I felt adrift. I had also gotten to know many of the leading donors and volunteers as well. They felt like family. But I had to learn how to separate myself from that environment and those closely associated with it, and to “let go.”

Now, it is true that some of those same philanthropists are friends and professional colleagues today, more than twenty five years later. But the pain of leaving my first nonprofit family and friends was hard. But something important happened. I underwent a crucial mental change.

  • I acknowledged I had to move on for my own reasons;
  • I realized those donors still loved the nonprofit I was leaving (even though I no longer did);
  • I acknowledged that I should respect that loyalty (how could they get along without me?); and
  • I looked ahead, recognizing that it was entirely possible I would interact with my former nonprofit donors in future jobs.

Those realizations marked a significant change in attitude and helped me succeed in my future positions. The moment this shift occurred, it became possible for me to be friends with many of the philanthropists with whom I worked over the years in the sense we became comfortable talking about philanthropy more broadly, we shared general advice and personal life experiences. Mutual respect had been established. “Letting go” was a mature step forward that I needed to take.

Which is to say, nonprofit development professionals are not the sole spokespersons for the organizations with which they work. Directors, program officers, curators and even groundskeepers have their own relationships. Regrettably, I have experienced intense jealousy by other staff members when they see how comfortable I am with donors. Some have attempted to get rid of me entirely, feeling there is too much competition! But in truth, I have mentally separated myself in such a way that I fully understand the nonprofit with which I am currently working will go on long after I am gone. If I can make appropriate connections to benefit the project at hand, I definitely will. But I do not “own” any donor. The decision to become involved and to donate is entirely theirs.

Some staff can see you as a threat to their own (self) appointed position as, “the best friend of the donor.” I have discovered this with executive directors and department heads, for example. But I urge you, regardless and for your own well being, separate yourself from the organization mentally. You have your own life and are a person of value without or without the nonprofit.

Represent your organization in an absolutely first class fashion 24-7, even when you are not working. But also, step out of the picture if you become uncomfortable. I have discovered donors and volunteers (and the nonprofit organization) will appreciate you more if you follow this advice, and you will earn their trust for a lifetime.

Notes and Thoughts

  • Nonprofit work can inspire a stronger emotional attachment psychologically than corporate work, at least in my experience. This is especially true with those new to the nonprofit sector and in my case, with younger, inexperienced staff members. The organization’s leadership should be mindful of this dimension of their work and be sensitive to it. Today, employees change jobs fairly frequently and if you can part ways in a civil fashion, giving the less experienced staff a positive boost as they march out the door, everyone will be better off. That can be a tough assignment, but I believe it is a worthy one.
  • The Donor Relations Guru has posted a thoughtful article I enjoyed, “Team Player or Individual Contributor?” (April, 2017). I admit, I like the point of view conveyed. “They say in fundraising there’s an 80/20 rule, that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors. I have my own 80/20 rule for working and implementation and its one that may strike home for you too. 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the employees.” I have been hired a few times to do work the staff either tried to do and failed, or refused to do at all. I have also been hired to achieve “the impossible,” only to have other staff take my laurels when I am done with my work. I sometimes say in my mind, “if you could have done the job without me, why didn’t you?” I often wonder why these kinds of employees retain their jobs, but they always seem to.
  • Founder’s Syndrome is something I have encountered occasionally in my work over the years. Here is an article by Jeff Jowdy for NonProfitPRO (2013), “9 Ways for Nonprofits to Overcome ‘Founder’s Syndrome’.” Founder’s Syndrome is a bit more dangerous phenomenon than youthful attachment to an organization. “Founder’s Syndrome can be particularly devastating to fundraising. If a founder is not open to increased accountability as an organization grows, donors will become increasingly suspicious and may eventually flee.” This is where my personal “rub” has occurred in the past, when an Executive Director becomes threatened and unnecessarily jealous of my contacts and fundraising success. I have learned to step back, and if a resolution cannot be reached – despite my being the primary tie to the donors – I have removed myself from the situation. And a few times, the donors have gotten upset with me. But truly, I had no choice.
  • You might enjoy reading Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian, “Beware the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity” (2015). Sometimes when people strive for excellence, organizational strife can result. Innovators can be viewed as dangerous! And sometimes, the one achieving excellence can be seen as a threat, and they may ultimately be pushed out. I have also seen mediocre employees remain on staff at nonprofit organizations, and for decades. They are neither terrible at their jobs, nor excellent. Go figure. Personally, I think mediocrity is an underappreciated survival skill.
  • Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today, “Is It Only Natural for Us to Be Jealous?” (2014). “We humans not only have the tendency to become jealous over imagined threats, we also don’t often seem to take into account the ‘cost’ of certain behaviors.” I think educational programming for development professionals on dealing with jealousy would be an excellent idea.
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