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 post was written for and published by Qgiv in 2019. Since then, our world has been through traumatic times with the pandemic. Nonprofit organizations have been pushed even further online in terms of donor communications and “electronic giving.” To learn about the changes 2020 brought to our sector, follow the link to, “Navigating the Unknown: 2020 Findings to Future-proof Your Fundraising.”

As I noted in my original article, 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)

  • Independent Sector video discussion on YouTube about nonprofits and the economy (September 17, 2020) – be sure to check back on YouTube for updates over time in the series, “This Week in Washington.”

  • Daniela Cambone for TheStreet, “The ‘Greatest Depression’ Is Coming; This Is How to Prepare” (November 1, 2019). “Celente added that the Fed’s latest rate cut can be likened to ‘monetary methadone,’ where liquidity is pumped into a credit system that is already over-levered. ‘It’s just shooting in more money to keep the addicted bull running. It’s not boosting economies around the world, we’re looking at a global slowdown, and the numbers are there, and even people like the IMF, the World Bank, one after the other, they’re warning of a recession,’ Celente said.”

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.

Trust Your Instincts | Early Career Lessons

After visiting with a friend about an uncomfortable experience with an older male supervisor early in my career, I decided to share it with others.

I launched Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog in 2011. In all this time, I have struggled with how to broach the topic of this post, and how to share information that would be helpful to my readers, especially those new to the field of nonprofit development.

Happily, recent online research reveals there is more helpful, quality information about managing workplace relationships – both for women and their male supervisors – than ever before. This is encouraging and it makes me believe there is hope for change in the workplace, and greater understanding from all points of view.

The lessons learned from the story I am about to tell are several. First, trust your instincts. If you feel something is wrong even though you cannot “see” it, there is probably something wrong. Second, tell other colleagues you trust about your feelings and what you think is wrong. Witnesses can be essential, and for the long term. Third, remove yourself from uncomfortable work situations, and as diplomatically as possible. Often you will advance in your career if you do so.

“… Anyone, man or woman, who’s assumed to be a lightweight has a harder time getting ahead,” she says. “Of course that kind of struggle affects confidence level. Qualified women really aren’t taken as seriously as their male colleagues—many studies bear that out—so they’re more likely to have to deal with the emotional fallout of being held back, including a realistic reduction in their confidence about whether they’ll be able to fulfill their ambitions.” Adams should know about the research; she’s the former Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Maine Farmington.

– Elizabeth Harrin for A Girl’s Guide To Project Management, “6 Ways To Get Taken Seriously At Work” (2018)

Just over twenty five years ago, I worked at a university in the same college where I had secured a Master’s Degree a few years before. I was honored to have been hired, and I held a relatively new and low level position managing development activities for the college, which included several divisions. Three different deans occupied leadership roles at the college while I was there. And as Elizabeth Harrin remarks above, I was definitely considered a “lightweight.”

My work involved organizing and hosting monthly events that included advisory council meetings with alumni who were among the leading philanthropists of Texas, and broader “university” activities that were held in the college’s facilities. The university had a huge legacy of endowments that funded its faculty and programs, some 300 when I was on staff back then. One of my jobs was to thank endowment donors and to update them about activities funded with their endowments, annually. I took this responsibility seriously, and I was encouraged in my efforts by the university’s central development office.

While devoted to my tasks with a laser-like precision and eager to impress, I was admittedly young and still new to the field of nonprofit development. By the time the third dean had arrived to oversee the college, I had uncovered some concerns. One of those was being unable to find out what had transpired with the funding provided by certain endowed funds.

I always hoped to make my annual donor letters interesting and timely. But for some of them, I could not find any information. I wanted to share with each donor how that year’s investment income had been spent on such things as faculty research, new publications, programs, travel and the like, or if the endowments were unassigned, what was happening with searches to fill those positions and related efforts. But I hit a wall with some of them. I asked the endowment accountant for help repeatedly. No information was forthcoming. In fact, at one point during my questioning, the accountant grew very uncomfortable and asked me to, “please stop asking.”

Trust

I scheduled a time to meet with the dean. He had indicated he was quite disinterested in me and my work. My intuition was that he wanted to clear out the current staff of the college and hire “his own.” But finally, I gained my audience. I told him something was wrong with my thank you note process: I could not get the information I needed. In fact, the hair on the back of my neck would stand up on end, when I asked the endowment accountant about certain funds. The dean simply said with disdain, “you just aren’t doing your job.”

“Not surprisingly, a large share of women feel invisible at work, compared with male colleagues. From ordinary meetings to executive offices and boardrooms, many more women than men feel that they don’t get credit for their ideas, or that their contributions aren’t recognized—slights felt even more acutely by women of color.”

– Nikki Waller, The Wall Street Journal, “How Men & Women See the Workplace Differently” (2016)

During this time, however, I kept moving forward. I found allies in the central development office on campus. I suggested the college develop a digital system whereby each staff member in the college involved in endowment tracking – from the accountant to the department chairmen and individual faculty, to development officer – would work off one centralized computer-based system. Information about the endowed funds would be input into the system by each person, and checked and referenced by everyone else. We would all be able to see one another’s work, and would be held accountable for it. My development colleagues thought the idea was a very good one. In fact, I had already informed them something seemed awry and that I was worried. The new system would help with transparency and the flow of information.

Still, at the college level no one was listening. The feedback from the new dean and his associate dean suggested I was not very smart, and I did not know what I was doing. I actually developed a mild stutter at this time. I had wanted the job in the college so much, but I had become afraid, and I felt (rightly) that I was being looked down upon by the new dean and his entourage.

I also knew in my heart that if I stayed much longer, the problems I was uncovering might entrap me, and ruin my future development career. I decided to look for a new job. And I was surprised to receive three job offers. I flew out of the college like a lightening bolt.

Two years later, I landed in Dallas. My career was thriving. I had access to the elite philanthropic community, and my work was going exceptionally well. One evening, I received a call from a colleague still working at my former college. The endowment accountant was discovered to have been embezzling endowment funds over several years. I had been right. I received additional calls from those in the central development office confirming the news.

Now, I had retained a lingering sense of failure about that job. But those telephone calls released those feelings instantaneously. I was relieved beyond measure. I had been correct, although I was sad about the crime committed.

“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet (1803-1882)

Since that early experience, I continue to find older males occasionally fail to take me and my work seriously. But I have also found several who became (and who are) enthusiastic and supportive mentors! Which is all to say, do not assume just because you are young that you will not find strong male advocates. The plethora of stories in the media today about negative male-female experiences sometimes overshadow the good ones.

Build on your own internal strengths and be confident in your own abilities and instincts. Yes, you have much to learn. But you already know a lot. Don’t ever forget that.


About that endowment management system I suggested years ago: I understand someone (a male) at the university did eventually make it a reality. Great news! I wonder if anyone has any idea how it was conceived. Water under the bridge ….

BrainyQuote

Additional Resources

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.”

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).

« Older Entries