Rethinking Major Gift Fundraising

In reviewing some 30 years of work in the nonprofit sector, I look back and say to myself, “well, everyone knows that.” But in truth, no one has walked in my shoes and experienced the world in the exact same way as I have. That is why I often say, “context matters.” I can suggest ideas for nonprofit fundraising and communicating with donors all day long, but in the end, the context in which you are operating influences new concepts and how they should be applied.

Clint_Eastwood
Some have said I am the nonprofit version of characters portrayed by “tough guy” Clint Eastwood. Click to read more. (Wikimedia Commons, Franco Pagliarulo, 2011)

But from the world of, “just tell me I can’t do it, and I will,” I wanted to point out that I have continued to update several key major gifts pages on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. Foremost among them is, “Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign.” There I quote a solid, traditional professional in our field. Alongside his suggestions, I make comments based upon my 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 standard nonprofit consulting business, but I have a different take on them.

“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 in 2018. 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 a handily to tell you to do these things. #JustDoIt

Since Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog was launched in 2011, I have noticed many innovative social good entrepreneurs are rejecting traditional approaches to major gift fundraising. If you read, “Nonprofits and Startups | Birds of a Feather,” you will discover how similar major gift campaign preparation is with launching a for-profit business startup. In fact, I have suggested that 3 Day Startup, which I reference in the article, re-engineer their course with nonprofit social good enterprises in mind, and with an eye to major gift “investments.” Times are changing! I would love to see NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and AFP: Association of Fundraising Professionals team-up with 3DS for “power” sessions along these lines.

Crowdfunding

As I say on my nonprofit resources page, which includes quite a few articles by other experts on crowdfunding, many of the same principles apply to major gift fundraising as they do to launching a startup or crowdfunding. To think the latter two efforts are easier than traditional major gift fundraising is incorrect. The same attention to planning, research, communication and the like apply to all of them. 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 (without support of any kind) – 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.

From the other side of the table, I have also found some donors and potential donors like the hooplah they perceive as being involved in major gift campaigns. 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. I am in the process of merging my professional work and volunteering website with my blog, so you will see some new information added to my blog the next few weeks!

As always, best wishes for your fundraising success.

Carolyn M. Appleton

February 27, 2019

 

2019 | Nonprofit Predictions and More!

Holiday

December is here! It is hard for me to believe 2018 has come to an end.

I just published a new article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, “2019 | Nonprofit Predictions.” Follow the link to read it. I have gone into a little more depth than usual this year, and I have provided helpful links to other resources. I cover federal funding, crypto currencies and Blockchain, crowdfunding, data, donor advised funds, and more.

This is the fifth year I have attempted to predict the future. If you have questions or want to share comments, please use my secure contact form.

I agree with those quoted in my article that 2018 has been one of the most tumultuous the nonprofit sector has experienced. But despite numerous challenges, nonprofit organizations and several donors – including some leading American corporations and foundations – are stepping up to the plate. I am proud of our sector and our partners for continuing to innovate and to, “push back” against those whose actions hurt our sector.

Here’s wishing you a successful year-end fundraising season! Thank you for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. As you know, I launched the blog back in 2011 with the aim of sharing my extensive fundraising experiences for the benefit of the public. I do it as a public service, free of charge. It has been my hope that the challenges I have faced – and the ways I have overcome them – will inspire others to continue forward to make our world a better place in which to live and work.

Sincerely,

Carolyn M. Appleton | December 2, 2018

P.S. – If you have ideas for future topics you would like me to cover on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog in 2019, please let me know. Happy holidays!

 

 

 

 

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

I have read quite a few articles and watched videos featuring leading financial experts who are discussing the possibility of a recession. White opinion remains divided, the thought that several predict a recession 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 – the magnitude of which we all hope will never be repeated – my advice for nonprofits during this busy year-end fundraising season is to be prepared. Take some of those year-end charitable donations and sock them away into a savings account or other fund where you can get to them easily if and when needed.

Rainy

At the conclusion of this blog post, I include links to a few articles that gave me pause. Having said that, one of my favorite experts, Jim Cramer suggests in an article by Elizabeth Gurdus for CNBC, “Cramer explains the market volatility and why another Great Recession is not in the cards” (October 25, 2018). I hope he is right.

But even if a less harmful recession comes our way in 2020 or 2021, why not be prepared? #JustDoIt

Gold Piggy

Food for Thought

  • Chris Farrell, Next Avenue for Forbes, “Is The Next Recession On Its Way?” (August 3, 2018). “Here are two safe forecasts, the kind you can count on. First, the U.S. economy will sink into a recession. Second, no one knows when the recession will arrive. Taken altogether, these two “forecasts” have critical implications for managing your finances.”
  • Quin Liu, World Economic Forum, “From Economic Crisis to World War II” (November 8, 2018). “As monetary tightening reveals the vulnerabilities in the real economy, the collapse of asset-price bubbles will trigger another economic crisis – one that could be even more severe than the last, because we have built up a tolerance to our strongest macroeconomic medications. A decade of regular adrenaline shots, in the form of ultra-low interest rates and unconventional monetary policies, has severely depleted their power to stabilize and stimulate the economy.”
  • Chris Morris for Fortune, “Alan Greenspan Warns Investors: Bad Economic Times Are Looming” (December 18, 2018).
Brainy
Thomas Fuller, English clergyman (1608-1661)

I have a primary article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, “Economy and Philanthropy” that you might also enjoy.

As time moves forward, I continue to add new articles and resources.

Other Noteworthy Discussions

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.

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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.

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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.

2018 | Nonprofit Predictions

2018 written with Sparkle firework and light bulb , abstract 2018 Happy New Year background concept.

This is the fourth year I have attempted to predict the trends of the coming year. How did I do last year, and what’s next?

With a conservative Administration in place, federal grant funding is under review and constantly in threat of reduction. Still, some nonprofits have continued to do well securing federal grants. But the smart ones have also broadened their work to incorporate more private sector fundraising and partnership-building. Many have also remarked on the current Administration’s desire to push federal funding initiatives out of Washington to individual states for “local” funding and oversight.

Bitcoin and Blockchain, alternative “digital” financial vehicles, exploded in popularity in 2017. I believe this trend will continue in the coming year. For resources that will help you understand and make use of these financial tools, follow this link to the resources section of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog.

On another front, here in Texas I continue to see undiminished interest in crowdfunding versus traditional major gift fundraising campaigns. This means many nonprofits are attempting to turn the traditional donor pyramid upside down! But as I have cautioned before, crowdfunding requires research, planning and continuous monitoring (including well after your campaign attains its goal). Many of the same factors involved in traditional major gift campaigns are at work in crowdfunding campaigns. Still, crowdfunding is a relatively “new” approach and attractive to many.

Nonprofit fundraising technologies of all types continue to proliferate. I referenced the text-to-give platform GivBee last year. This year, I’d like to put in a good word for Everybody Helping. Everybody Helping is focused on Millennials, monthly giving (which encourages donors to make small gifts monthly that add up significantly by year-end), it helps nonprofits chart impact, and it includes direct messaging. Thanks to Scott McElroy for providing an in-depth look at Everybody Helping for our local NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin Meetup this year.

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Tracking nonprofit activities with data – and donor requests to review objective data in order to better understand the success of their donations – will continue to increase. Shown above is an Instagram taken during the Social Solutions Impact Summit conference in Austin last fall. Almost every presenter talked about the increase in donor requests for objective data. But also, many noticed that the higher the caliber of their data collection processes, the more efficient and effective their nonprofits have been in achieving their goals.

My new prediction is we will see an increase in full-time, nonprofit data management professionals going forward. To collect data well, to manage it across departments, and to continually make improvements for the benefit of the whole takes time and skill. It is a full-time pursuit. Looking for a new career? Consider General Assembly and its data science courses.

Update | From Fortune CEO Daily, “The fastest growing job in America is… data scientist” (April 6, 2018).

NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network recently shared an article by Chuck Longfield for npENGAGE this fall, “New Study Monitors Dramatically Transforming Donor Behavior” (October 24, 2017). Some of my earlier nonprofit predictions are reinforced by Chuck’s article.

  • “While the value of individual giving in the United States increased about 3.4% (adjusted for inflation) in the decade from 2003 to 2013, the number of public nonprofits increased 23.4% or almost 5 times the rate at which individual giving increased
  • The impact of the Great Recession of 2007–2009 on the ever-expanding nonprofit sector still challenges recovery of giving to pre-recession levels
  • Baby boomers, infamous disrupters of all commerce, have been dominating the prime age range of giving (45 to 64) for more than a decade.”

He suggests, “There are three fundamental objectives in raising money from individuals: keep the donors you have, increase their value to your organization over time, and recruit more donors than you lose to attrition.” Toward that end, consider using a donor data management system that specifically helps you retain donors, like Bloomerang.

But also, study the personality traits of Baby Boomers, and focus to some meaningful degree on courting them. You would be smart to do so, as they will continue to be influential in philanthropy for the next several years. Boomers tend to have a more emotional reaction to charitable needs, but be careful not to err too much in that direction, because hard data is still being requested by donors of all ages, and by their professional advisors.

“Everything in moderation – that’s what I live by.”

David Gilmour, British musician

I would be remiss if I did not mention an article by Karsten Strauss for Forbes, “The Charities That Raised The Most Money Last Year” (November 1, 2017). Fidelity’s Charitable Gift Fund is at the top of the list,  United Way is second, and Goldman Sachs is third. All three are intermediary grant makers through which donors can pass donations to charities. The activities of the charity recipients can then be monitored by these intermediaries.

“One trend The Chronicle notes is the popularity of donor-advised funds (DAFs), which have seen a 106% increase in contributions in the past five years. DAFs allows donors to have control over the ways in which their money is used while also affording them anonymity. They also do not carry the high overhead and administrative costs of setting up a private foundation.”

Let’s hope in the coming year, more nonprofit support organizations will offer programs about how best to build relationships with professional advisors (as well as the donors who establish DAFs). One of the earliest posts on my blog focuses on this very issue.

Having worked with several professional advisors during my career, I would suggest nonprofits claim and fully complete their GuideStar profiles, securing the gold seal, if not the platinum. GuideStar profiles are about transparency and sharing how professionally you operate. They do not require that you have raised a lot of money.

I know some professional advisors who go straight to GuideStar to review your organization online before they take the time to meet with you in person. Best to have that profile in good order, and be ready for questions. A polished profile will help your nonprofit stand out from the rest. But, less than 1% of all nonprofits in the United States take the time to claim and complete their profiles! As noted by Karsten in his article above, although we have seen more charitable donations in 2017, there are also more nonprofits than ever before. Competition for dollars is as heated as ever.

News flash! Check out DAF Direct, “DAF Direct welcomes donors to recommend grants from their donor–advised fund, also known as a DAF, directly from your website. Neither you nor your donors will incur any download or transaction fees.” Now, this is a forward-thinking invention.

For startups or small nonprofits hoping to ramp up their fundraising success, you might enjoy my recent blog post for Bloomerang, “How Startup Nonprofits Can Break Into the Big Leagues” (November, 2017). GuideStar is one of my recommendations, and you can also read two case studies about my use of and experiences with GuideStar, by looking in the right hand margin of my professional website.

Here’s wishing you and yours a successful 2017 year-end fundraising season, and a prosperous New Year.

Carolyn M. Appleton

For digital trends, be watching Kivi Leroux Miller, Nancy Schwartz and John Kenyon in the weeks and months ahead. I also urge you to join NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and avail yourself of the latest nptech information, training and support!

 

Assumptions!

August Rodin
This sculpture came to mind when I began writing this blog post urging my readers to think carefully about nonprofit fundraising. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I am as guilty as anyone of assuming everyone knows about and understands what is involved in philanthropy and fundraising. But the truth is, most people are not well informed.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite assumptions – or infamous assumptions as the case may be – in the hope you will avoid them.

“It would be great for our nonprofit if you would agree to be paid a percentage of what you raise.”

Doing so is considered unethical by every professional nonprofit support organization and association today. It seems like a marvelous idea to some nonprofits not to pay their professional fundraiser(s) until the money comes in, despite the outlay of their time, experience, connections and personal finances. And if the fundraiser does not know the history of the organization and its prior challenges, they can be blind sighted when seeking charitable donations. In the drop-down menu of this blog (at the top), you will find a section of ethical resources that will help you steer clear of this unethical assumption. I also want to say to the uninitiated – those new to nonprofit fundraising – don’t feel bad. People ask me about percentage-based fundraising weekly, particularly those from the for-profit sector. Just do your research before you ask.

“We raised the money and we no longer need a fundraising professional on staff. Done!”

How sad I have been to invite some of my most cherished donors to support a project, to have raised substantial sums, and to be told the nonprofit no longer needs help at the end of the fund drive. The donors often feel adrift when this happens, and they question both the nonprofit for such short-sighted decisions, and sadly, the successful fundraiser. In other words, the very person responsible for your financial success is kicked out. Those who could not do the job remain on staff. The logic of this assumption is questionable. Some nonprofits are also unaware that after building tremendous energy and enthusiasm for a cause, they can frequently keep on going and raise even more. Missed opportunities abound in these cases.

“The economy is in terrible shape and we should stop fundraising!”

This is a tough decision to be sure, and it should be considered thoughtfully. I have seen more than one persistent nonprofit with calm and determined leadership attain their seven-figure fundraising goals during very difficult financial times. I have also seen donors one thought would be gun-shy of tanking stock markets, make extraordinary leadership donations. One of my favorite foundation executives, the late Valleau Wilkie Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas once said to me, “if you get out of line, there will be dozens of other nonprofits stepping in to take your place.” Keep going.

“We must read the news to find donors for our project.”

More than once, I have visited with nonprofit Board members convinced someone in the news not affiliated in any way with their nonprofit is a natural candidate for solicitation. But most are not. Research online is essential to gain as much background information as you can about prospective donors. But simply because someone appears in the news often (and they appear to be “rich”), this does not qualify them to be your donor. If you read my article on high tech research, you will understand how sophisticated research can be game-changing, if and when you need it. But also, take time to review your own donor records, mailing and email lists. I have found “hidden gems” in those lists often, people well worth cultivating who have been receiving information from your nonprofit over time, but who have never been cultivated for a larger gift. One organization I worked with turned a $25 annual membership into a $5 million donation, for instance. Dig deeper.

“We have tried and tried. These prospects will not give. Don’t bother.”

This is a favorite. I have visited with prospective donors prior to submitting a grant request, discovered an issue about which they are concerned, addressed that issue head-on (often it is simply an honest report about prior activities, and the resumption of regular communications), and I have secured a grant. Sometimes, I have expedited more than one grant from the same source within a single fiscal year. But other staff members were vehemently convinced I was wasting my time. Never say never.

I have a positive, can-do attitude when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. I have seen the worst and turned around several “impossible” campaigns (by hand). The advice I share comes from, “the trenches.” While my two college degrees helped me learn how to conduct research, develop a convincing argument and write coherently, real life experience provided these insights. For those new to the profession, I suggest you attach yourselves to a seasoned professional as I did at the start, to gain more in-depth knowledge along these lines.

And I urge you not to fear challenges. If you believe in a cause but there are problems, fix them and raise the money you need. Think smarter. Anything is possible.

Hurricane Inspiration on the Gulf Coast

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

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.

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. Follow this link for information and powerful photographic documentation of its work.

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

Meeting of Three

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.

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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.

Media and Nonprofits | A Worthwhile Partnership

For years, I immersed myself in nonprofit fundraising, paying relatively little attention to attracting the media to my projects. There never seemed to be enough time to do anything other than organize my campaigns, identify and solicit donors.

But as time moves forward, I have come to appreciate how media can help nonprofit organizations attract public attention to their good work, and lend credibility to their causes. Media coverage is something nonprofits can brag about. But one must consider how best to go about obtaining it.

When I moved to San Antonio in 2010, I became a regular attendee of Social Media Breakfast. There I met people from all walks of life attempting innovative approaches to advertising and to gaining media attention using social media. Everyone involved believed heartily that media attention was integral to the success of their ventures. And I learned a great deal (thank you, Jennifer Navarrete).

Karen Addis, APR wrote for GuideStar, “Breaking Through the Noise: How to Get Media Attention for Your Nonprofit” (July 8, 2013). She states the quandary well:

When it comes to pitching your organization to the media you are at a distinct advantage because everyone, including the media, loves a good story. That’s where nonprofits shine; they are never at a loss for powerful stories. The challenge, however, comes in getting a reporter’s attention for a story that often is not breaking news. In today’s competitive media market with fewer reporters to target that is becoming increasingly difficult.

I met Nancy Schwarz of Getting Attention! via NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. In her article, “Three Steps to Better Media Coverage” Nancy notes one can outsource media work, but the best is done “in house.”

Although media responsibilities are frequently outsourced to an agency or consultant(s), that’s not a must. …If possible, it’s best for a staff person to develop relationships with key media contacts. You and your colleagues are the subject experts and must be prepared to work directly with the press to ensure powerful, accurate coverage.

Nancy also provides helpful information you will want to read about crafting press releases.

Kathryn Hall discusses a contemporary approach to gaining media attention for npENGAGE in, “Five Way to Ensure Your Event Makes Headline News” (August 23, 2013).

The traditional press release has been eclipsed in the modern news cycle. Instead, we want to make it as easy as possible for journalists to see the news potential of your piece, and give a head start on writing the story you hope they will write. Include the following key items to make it easier for a reporter or blogger to develop your story into a feature, and increase the likelihood of it getting picked up.

Those items include direct quotes from “in the know” sources, original quotes that make your story read like news, and photos. “Great photos can help ensure your story gets picked up.”

Here in Austin, I have enjoyed attending a few gatherings of PR Over Coffee, a Meetup that focuses on how to gain the attention of media in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. Guest speakers include veterans of the media who disclose how they work (and they are not all alike, mind you), what they prefer in terms of communication, and other helpful tips for gaining attention.

A sometimes troublesome issue for nonprofits is the increasingly visual nature of communications combined with the failure of the email servers of the media outlets (barraged with email), to accept large image files as email attachments. One of the best ideas I have heard comes from Jan Buchholz of the Austin Business Journal: upload your images to a cloud storage platform, and provide a link to the image files in your email inquiry. Yes, reporters respond to visual imagery. Many of them are also confounded about how to develop meaningful stories without strong visual imagery.

Click to read The Social Media Reporter. I have discovered reporters sometimes follow me when I "cover" such events as Austin TechBreakfast. I enjoy that.
Click to read The Social Media Reporter for some helpful guidance. I have discovered media sometimes follow me when I “cover” such events as Austin TechBreakfast on Twitter and Instagram. The takeaway is, yes, you can become your own social media reporter.

Help A Reporter Out is a free online database that pairs media representatives with people who have information to share. I urge nonprofits to sign-up to become “subject matter experts.”

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is the most popular sourcing service in the English-speaking world, connecting journalists with relevant expert sources to meet journalists’ demanding deadlines and enable brands to tell their stories. HARO distributes more than 50,000 journalist queries from highly respected media outlets each year.

I am on the HARO list and I have shared requests for information with my nonprofit colleagues, when I spot a reporter in need of an expertise the nonprofit can provide. I do hope the nonprofit sector as a whole will become more engaged with the media via the impressive HARO platform.

Kerri Karvetski wrote for Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog a humorous but genuinely insightful way to gain attention for your nonprofit cause through “newsjacking,” “Nonprofits @ the Oscars: How to Photobomb, Newsjack and Steal the Spotlight at the Academy Awards” (February 11, 2016).

Think you can’t connect with the Oscars? Let’s look at the issues explored in this year’s nominees: The Big Short -Financial reform; Bridge of Spies – Right to fair trial; Brooklyn – Immigration; Mad Max: Fury Road – Women’s rights (click to read for more ideas)

Yes, I have been known to “newsjack” for a good cause. You might consider polite “newsjacking” for other highly visible events with a strong online presence.

Before closing, here are a few thoughts about what I call “media stewardship.”

When you secure media coverage, do you thank the reporter by contacting them directly, and by following them on social media? Why not create a separate media coverage page on your website where you can thank the media for its attention to your good work, and list links to their individual stories – whether they be video interviews or write-ups – so your nonprofit website is linked to theirs, and they are recognized for their coverage. To create your media page and manage it over time, consider creating your own Google news alert. You will sometimes discover news stories have appeared, but the staff of your nonprofit may be unaware of them. The regular alerts help you keep track, so you never miss another one!

Lots of Zeros

I was visiting with a new friend when I returned to Austin in the summer of 2013. We discussed how I came to be involved in nonprofit fundraising, in particular major gift work. Our conversation turned to how someone who wants to work in the field of major gifts learns how to become accustomed to, “lots of zeros.” My friend could not imagine it.

My story might be helpful to new fundraising professionals who have an interest in pursuing careers in major gift fundraising. Those of us who are more experienced sometimes forget, not everyone is comfortable with major gifts, which involves handling significant monetary transactions and working closely with affluent donors. We must be mindful to share our knowledge for the benefit of up-and-coming fundraising professionals, and to help them achieve success in their careers.

After securing my Bachelor’s Degree With Honors at The University of Texas at Austin in Middle Eastern Studies, I moved to New York City for six months. My fiance was a young, well-connected economics professor who had secured a semester-long appointment at Columbia University. Rather than be without him for six months, I tagged along. Some of my greatest work and life experiences occurred during that brief time, and I admit, it was hard to leave New York to return home to Texas after those intense but rewarding six months.

Luckily for our personal finances, while in New York I managed to secure a full-time secretarial position with a bank on Wall Street in its Middle Eastern division. Part-time office jobs on campus had helped pay for my college education at UT Austin, and they gave me additional skills than those acquired from, “book learning.” Those very office skills helped open doors to my first jobs, like this one!

At the bank, the staff helped investors manage and occasionally “move” their money on a moment’s notice to other banks and/or investment houses across the world, for more favorable interest rates and the like. I was humbled by the daily telephone conversations occurring in our office, along these lines:

“Yes, I understand. You want me to transfer $1,486,633.57 from your account to (another location). I will do that right now. No problem. We will send you a confirmation shortly. Thank you.”

I knew if I tried to handle that kind of transaction myself and I was “off” by one penny, I would be fired. The thought of handling those transactions terrified me. It took me a few months, but then I got used to, “lots of zeros.” I could stand-in for the primary point person on our floor and handle those calls.

The responsibility of handling seven-figure transfers made me literally shake at the start. But by the conclusion of six months, I had crossed the psychological hurdle and it became easier and more routine.

What does this suggest about serving as an intern (or a low level employee) in a bank or investment house early in your nonprofit fundraising career? Looking back on it today, working on Wall Street was one of the best experiences I could have had in my early 20s.

When I returned to Austin, however, I decided to pursue a new focus of study in art history (rather than in banking). The bank executive I had worked for in New York ushered me off kindly, suggesting I secure an MBA. But I was hesitant and decided to change focus. After all, while living and working in New York, I had visited each and every one of the many art museums the city has to offer. I loved them, which makes sense given my family’s predilection for the arts (my namesake and paternal grandmother was an artist in Santa Fe).

Click on the photo to read about the House of Medici. Medici Family members were great art patrons.

It was while securing my Master’s Degree in the 80s that I began volunteering for a local art museum. What I learned fairly quickly was the study of art history is also the study of patronage. Great works of art and architecture have come to life through the financial and political backing of wealthy benefactors for centuries, and they would not have been possible without them.

For a personal tale about my experience with the noted late Western Art collector and founder of American Airlines, C. R. Smith while I was a “work study student” in graduate school, follow this link.

A tale of patronage I enjoyed reading about is, “Larry Ellison’s Art at Asian Art Museum” by Robert Taylor for The Mercury News (2013 and updated 2016). “It’s a fact of life that well-heeled collectors make museums possible, from the Rockefellers to a Wal-Mart heiress. Among the welcome exhibits in San Francisco recently have been William Paley’s vast collection of paintings at the de Young Museum and a sampling of Jerry Yang’s Chinese calligraphy at the Asian Art Museum.” If you have studied art and art history seriously, this will be obvious. Coincidentally, the chief curator at the Asian Art Museum was one of my former graduate school supervisors and mentors (another reason I wanted to mention this specific article).

I encountered “lots of zeros” again in the context of my work with the local art museum. One day, I happened to be the only staff member in the development department one lunch hour, and I received and opened an overnight package, only to come face-to-face with a $1,000,000 check. Although my experience on Wall Street had made me more accustomed to large figures, holding the actual check in my hands quite literally took my breath away. Luckily the executive director happened to stop by my desk, and he calmed me down and retrieved the check for deposit at the bank.

After many years of developing and implementing major gift campaigns since those early days, large numbers no longer phase me (although I respect them greatly). I have since been invited to speak about how to write grants and how to work with donors, including asking for major gifts. A few of my experiences may be seen in a PowerPoint created a few years ago for the Texas Historical Commission, “Writing Winning Grants” (you won’t want to miss the “Memorable Conversations” section).

You might also enjoy an article posted in Forbes by Vivek Ranadive, “A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Valuable Than Learning Any Trade” (November 13, 2012). In brief,

“If you teach students one trade, that skill might be obsolete in a few years. But if you teach people how to think and look at lots of information and connect dots – all skills that a classic liberal education gives you – you will thrive.”

While securing my two university degrees in the college of liberal and fine arts, I knew those areas of study were my passion. But I also suspected they would land me in jobs valued less by society, perhaps in academia teaching the same freshman course over-and-over again. But happily, my experience working with the museum led me to something very fulfilling: the nonprofit sector and a career in professional major gift fundraising. And, I have been at it for more than 30 years.

Best wishes for success in all your endeavors, and if you have questions as many do, use the secure contact form to reach me.

This article is dedicated to my best friend on Wall Street, Tina. #Sassy

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Click to read more about Wall Street.