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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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!