Author Archives: Abigail Harmon

Making stewardship, gratitude, or solicitation calls this fall? Read this first.

If you are like many nonprofits, you are thinking about making phone calls this fall. I know I have been asked to make calls this month as a volunteer. It is a great way to connect with your members, donors, and volunteers. 

Your nonprofit may decide to call:

making nonprofit calls
  • Your entire membership to thank them for being involved (stewardship calls)
  • Previous donor calls (donation encouragement calls)
  • Previous donor calls (solicitation calls)
  • Recent donations (gratitude calls)
  • Volunteers (gratitude calls)

But, as one client reminded me, asking board members to make the calls is easy. Ensuring that someone is systematically following up on the information, questions, and comments gathered from the calls is the hard part.

In other words, how you handle the information you gain during the next few months will impact donations and retention for years to come.

The easiest way to anger a donor is ask a question, get an answer, do nothing with it, and never provide feedback to the donor.

Consider these 3 different scenarios that require 3 different responses:

  • One person asks what happened to their book donation from last year (not about how their DAF distribution for $5,000 was spent – only the book valued around $54)
  • Another asks why their favorite program isn’t running now that people are back in the buildings
  • A third person asks whether they can start volunteering in the next couple of months but not for the gala

Obviously, we can’t know what the answers are or who should answer them.

Phone Calls will be made to ___(group)___ by ___(group/individual names) ___ during ___(start date)___ to __(end date)___

  1. Assignments
    • Who is assigning the calls (and providing the call information and sample script)?
    • Who is tracking that the calls are made?
    • When should reminders be sent?
  2. Tracking the questions
    • Who will track that a comment was made or a question was asked?
    • Is there a contact report that should be filled out?
    • How will you track that a contact report was filled out? i.e. is there a central document like a Google Doc, is it entered into the CRM, or is every report sent to one person to track?
    • Will development staff be told each time a response is necessary with any comments that might be helpful? How will they be notified? Or do they need to check the tracking document? How often?
    • Who will let the appropriate person at the organization know there is a question or comment that needs to be addressed?
  3. Who can be assigned to respond? Who decides who should respond? Responders could include:
    • Fundraising Staff
    • Executive Director
    • Programming Coordinator
    • Volunteer Coordinator
    • Admin
  4. Who will check that the person was contacted a second time? Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. It is stewardship. It is logical. It is also the only way you will retain a donor. Someone needs to know that they oversee this.
  5. Who will collect and track contact reports? Each interaction with a donor provides valuable information. Don’t assume the volunteer – or even staff member – will be there to remind you of the facts in a week, a year or 3 years. Turnover is high. And memories are short.
  6. Analyzing the results
    • Did the people called have a higher donation level or retention rate after receiving a call?
    • How much time did volunteers actually spend on the calling process?
    • Did everyone make their calls?

Create a formal process from start to finish. Keep it simple. But make it an essential part of calling. 5 minutes to make the call. 5 minutes to write the call report. Or one minute and one minute if you just leave a message.

This seems to be a lot of work for a few phone calls, doesn’t it? The good news is once you create your system you may only need to revise it from time to time. So start assigning those calls.

We can’t guarantee the calls will make a difference. But, we are so confident in this follow-up process that we encourage you to use it anyway. Try it. You will raise more money and retain more donors. You’ll see.

Want to read more about End-of-year strategies? Here are a few from our archive:

Five End-of-year Segmentation Strategies

Which is Easier? Getting a Teenager into College or Getting New Donors in December?

Want to Learn a New Fundraising Trick?

Is Executive Coaching A Good Investment?

Fundraisers talk a lot about donor retention. But, what about employee retention and how it impacts donors? Many nonprofits have a revolving door of development professionals. The average tenure of a fundraiser is less than 2 years. And the donor pays the price.

Consider a new development professional who starts a new job. Immediately, she wants to build relationships with major donors! But the donors have seen this cycle too often. They don’t want to spend the time gearing up to befriend another new development person. It shifts the work to the donor who has to meet more often so the development person feels comfortable. Which, let’s face it, is not why donors give to your nonprofit.

The new development person is set up for failure. Making it more likely they will leave sooner. Keeping the revolving door moving.

Then the question is, how do you get an employee to stay? One way is by helping them grow and feel successful with Executive Coaching.

Investing in your staff will help employee retention, which will help donor retention, which will help your bottom line.

Is Executive Coaching A Good Investment?

Executive coaching means different things to different people. 

  • A sounding board to enhance self-assurance
  • Short term strategy partner for new initiatives
  • Developing new skills like
    • Volunteer or board management
    • Governance oversight
    • Annual fund growth
    • Capital campaign planning
    • Prepping for a Strategic Plan
  • Building confidence so they are ready for the next challenge around the corner
  • Learning the skills to move up in the organization

If you, or someone you know is thinking about Executive Coaching and how it could help provide professional and personal development, send me an email. Or sign up for a free consultation on my calendar.

The Difference Between Fundraisers and Pickpockets

Fundraisers and Pickpockets

I can’t imagine there is a fundraiser anywhere in the world who has not heard someone say, “I could never do that.” Often feels as if they are implying you are doing something illegal or immoral.

While it’s true that I have never been described as shy, I can train anyone to solicit gifts. I could never train anyone to be a pickpocket.

Have you ever been pickpocketed? I have. My story is at the bottom of this blog. 

Pickpockets grab money when someone isn’t looking. Fundraisers make a clear ask.

Pickpockets will take anything from anyone. Ethical fundraisers won’t accept a gift larger than the person wants to give.

Pickpockets are distracting you so they can take what they want. Fundraisers are providing information and data points so donors can give what they want.

Pickpockets leave the person feeling uncomfortable after the interaction. Fundraisers want to leave every conversation with a donor or prospect feeling better than when they started.

Pickpockets try to get away with something. Fundraisers provide transparency.

Pickpockets are out to steal for personal benefit. Fundraisers benefit a nonprofit and those receiving services from the nonprofit.

Pickpockets don’t give a person a choice. Fundraisers offer multiple opportunities to support a nonprofit.

Pickpockets are looking for a quick interaction. Fundraisers are looking for a life-long relationship with a donor.

Pickpockets are thieves. Fundraisers benefit the world, or some portion of it.

If you need help training fundraisers or just want sympathy because you have been pickpocketed, click here to schedule a free consultation.

On the other hand, if you want to learn how to pick pockets, I can’t help. Sorry.

My story

When was I pickpocketed? It was many years ago in London. I walked into the Tube and saw the sign that said, “Watch your wallet!” I followed my natural instinct to feel for my wallet and make sure it was still there. Turns out, thieves stand by these signs to see where you feel. And then ask for directions. Or something else benign while their “friend” takes your wallet. Remember, mind the gap!

The Pros and Cons of an Executive Committee

Executive Commitee

When we work with nonprofits on their governance structure, we have found that the Executive Committee is often a point of contention. Term limits, board manuals, and the size of a board are the first heated discussions. But, a conversation about the pros and cons of having this committee seems to trigger the strongest opinions.

What are the Pros?

  1. The Executive Director and Staff have a strong, well-informed group of volunteers to go to for advice, help, etc.
  2. This committee can supervise and perform annual reviews for the Executive Director as well as hiring and handling transitions.
  3. A specific topic is easier to discuss in a smaller committee.
  4. Board members can look to grow into roles in this leadership group.
  5. Often there is an expectation or path within the Committee to move through one more role, leading to the Board Chair/President position.
  6. If you are having trouble with board attendance, you have a core group of people who will show up at the Committee meetings to help make decisions.
  7. They can make decisions on some smaller items that might not need the whole board’s time or consensus.
  8. It creates a group (instead of an individual) who can be responsible for problems within the board.

Seems great, doesn’t it? Let’s look at the cons to having an Executive Committee:

  1. It is a vicious circle, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you prefer. A nonprofit organization feels they need an Executive Committee to “get things done.” Executive Committees cause the board then to feel like they are only a rubber stamp. The board, then, is less invested in coming to meetings and getting involved. And that makes it impossible to get anything done with the board. Which is why you need the Executive Committee.
  2. It creates an insider vs. outsider mindset in a board that needs to work together.
  3. Executive Committee members get frustrated at board meetings if the board wants to dive into the same topics they have already discussed.
  4. It’s easy to rely on the Executive Committee for items that should be processed within the full board. Let’s face it, a smaller, more homogeneous group is easier to manage for staff– especially as the staff is more likely to know where the Executive Committee stands on certain topics.
  5. A strong Executive Committee can hide a weak board and/or weak Executive Director.
  6.  While it empowers the small group, it disempowers the full board if major decisions are made prior to their meetings.

So should you have an Executive Committee?

In general, we are not fans of this method of leadership.

But there are cases of nonprofits with which we work that have made a strong case for why they need an Executive Committee. For instance, one nonprofit found themselves in crisis –especially over the past few years – and really appreciated the nimbleness of a smaller group.  Another was working to strengthen its board and governance process. But they needed a high functioning group during the time the new governance structure was developed and implemented.. A third found they had confidential issues where – for privacy and protection – the Executive Committee was the best way to keep the circle of knowledge small.

In other words, it is up to you. There are ways to address and prevent potential complications. However, most Executive Committees are too busy doing the work of the board to focus on that.

Want a free 30-minute consultation to talk about your Executive Committee? Click here to schedule time with me.

Why Capacity Doesn’t Always = A Major Gift

Capacity Doesn’t Always = A Major Gift

There was an article in the Advice from Donors column in Chronicle of Philanthropy that popped up in an email. It is behind a paywall so for those of you don’t have a subscription, I will give you the gist.

  1. Tell a simple story
  2. Don’t treat donors like an ATM
  3. Donors want to be partners
  4. Big capacity doesn’t always = a major gift
  5. Be appreciative of whatever you receive

This struck a chord with me because I had a similar conversation during a recent feasibility study interview.

The donor said, “I could give easily give a million dollars. But I won’t. The last time I gave $250,000 the Executive Director looked at me as if ‘that’s all?’ And I have never felt the same way about Organization ABC.” Maybe that’s not an exact quote. The name of the nonprofit is not Organization ABC. But the story is true.

This donor is not alone in feeling like their capacity doesn’t always = a major gift. Even to organizations with which they are close.

The reasons they might not give a major gift can include:

  • Other current priorities
  • Seeing how the nonprofit responded to a previous gift
  • They don’t support the current project or vision
  • They are not as close to the organization as you think they are
  • The story was too complicated, and they didn’t understand what they were giving to at this point (Read: the case for giving wasn’t clear)
  • They felt like they were treated like an ATM
  • They were told how they should feel about the organization and then asked for the donation
  • No real research was done beyond cursory prospect screening and so the ask was not focused on what really interests the donor currently

And this is just the start of where things can go wrong. There are just as many reasons that capacity doesn’t = a major gift as there are donors who didn’t give what was expected. Because each donor is unique. And wants to be treated that way.

By following the basic guidelines to understand and retain your major donors will start you in the right direction. What are some of the basics?

  • Treat people like people, not ATMs.
  • Be in touch throughout the year – not just when you want money.
  • Thank them many times for each gift.
  • And acknowledge them in ways that they appreciate.

If you would like to talk about how we can help you deepen your connection to your major donors, give me a call 800.361.8689 x3 or email me by clicking here.


Want to Learn a New Fundraising Trick?

It’s true. I am about to reveal the best new fundraising trick for your organization. Read on, it’s in Step 2.

Step 1: Start here:

  1. Have a strong case for support – Why is your organization is worthy of the donor’s philanthropy?
  2. Be creative. You are not the only nonprofit in your space – Know and share what makes you unique.
  3. Determine institutional priorities – what you want your donors to fund.
  4. Research your donors – understand your current trends (increased donor retention or decreased first time donor lapses).
  5. Decide which segment you want to focus your energy on this year.
  6. Research why this donor segment funds your nonprofit
    1. do they have a persona?
    1. what are their priorities?
    1. how they want to be reached? email vs mail vs social media.
  7. Thank them. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
  8. Keep in touch with them throughout the year – more than just solicitations

Step 2: Use the best new fundraising trick:

Dedicate time to do each one of the steps listed above.

Before you dismiss this (or think this is an old trick) consider:

Many of you know what needs to be done. But something else always takes priority. For example, there is something that you need to send out this week or there is one major donor who takes a lot of your time.

Just as you need to schedule vacation time, or doctors’ appointments, you need to schedule time to do the work—the right work. And don’t let other work—the urgent but unimportant– become a priority.  

The real trick knowing what is your priority, what provides the greatest return on your invested time. Know what you want and stay with it for the long haul so you get the expected and best new results.

If you, or anyone in your organization, would like to talk to us about how we can help you with the proven methods and the best fundraising trick this month, email me.

5 Surprising Ways Endowment and Capital Campaigns Are Different in 2022

Surprised? Capital campaigns are different in 2022
  1. Sticker Shock is not just for gas pumps. In the past week I have seen 3 client’s jaws drop when they saw the estimated costs of their building renovation plans. Supply chain issues, lack of workers, and rising demand are causing pricing – and estimates – to rise. There is no crystal ball to know what will happen in in 2023 and beyond but we should all be prepared for when the shovel hits the ground with even higher costs.  
  1. Endowments have value to donors. Pre-pandemic the idea of raising money for an endowment was tough without a capital element. Everyone liked an organization to have a large endowment – but few wanted to support it. There were some exceptions for those who were giving enough to name their own fund or “chair.” But many of those gifts came with restrictions.  Cut to 2022, when capital campaigns are different, and donors understand that there are economic uncertainties that are out of everyone’s control and an endowment provides stability. And annual resources. As well as security. And ensures the organization can weather the next downturn.
  1. Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) can be used for pledges. Well, sort of. While someone with a DAF cannot make a direct pledge, they can offer a non-binding letter of intent. The nonprofit cannot use it as collateral for financing as a regular pledge can be deployed. But the letter of intent will still enable a donor to indicate a larger gift, payable over multiple years. Such a letter acknowledges the donor’s intent to recommend a grant from their DAF for multiple years. Read more about DAF letters of intent from Fidelity here.
  1. Competition for major donations can be a concern after 2 years of holding off on asking. Most nonprofits who started to consider a feasibility study and/or capital/endowment campaign in 2019, 2020, or 2021 are all looking to 2022 to raise money. This can be good for organizations who engaged donors during the pandemic -they remember you and still value you! And a lot harder if you held off contacting your donors. Either way, there will be a lot of nonprofits asking for capital and endowment gifts this year. In other words, if you are thinking about it, don’t hold off too long. Or you may find your donors have committed to other campaigns.
  1. Markets are unsettled which means you may have to be creative about how donors want to give. You can write a five-year gift of $100,000 as $10,000 this year, $20,000 for 3 years and $30,000 in the 5th year. Or vice versa. Maybe they don’t want to start until 2023. Or they want to give it all now. Or whatever the donor wants. We believe in “campaigns of one.” You strategically plan for the engagement, solicitation, and stewardship for each donor within a campaign. Just be aware that if they rely on financial markets for income they might not feel as secure as they did a year ago. I guess some things about capital campaigns are different in 2022, and some are not.

Interested in learning more about a feasibility study to know if your community would support an endowment or capital campaign? Set up a time to have a free 30-minute consultation with Abigail or David

Should You Accept ANY and EVERY Donation? Why you need a Gift Acceptance Policy

By David A. Mersky

A beloved member of the community died after a long illness. Her husband and her friends wanted to honor her memory with a fund that would sponsor professional development programs. They turned to the organization on whose board the deceased woman had served for many years and suggested that they would make a gift of $100,000 to start a named fund that would underwrite annual staff training programs.

The organization’s executive director was thrilled…until she learned that the gift came with restrictions. First, the grieving husband would manage the funds.  Also, he would have veto power on any programs undertaken in his late wife’s name. Further the friends said that they would like to run two annual fundraisers exclusively for the fund among the supporters of the organization.

Our client, the executive director politely said, “Thank you, but no thank you.” She told the donors that the plan was not in compliance with the organization’s Gift Acceptance Policy. She explained that the board had tasked the foundation committee who employed professional managers to invest the assets of the organization and no individual donor would be permitted to manage any part of gifted assets. Further, the program committee and staff decide what programs to provide.

The Gift Acceptance Policy made all this very clear.

And, if your organization does not have such a statement then you should begin to create one now.

Why do you need a Gift Acceptance Policy?

  • …so you will know how to respond no matter what unexpected gift is offered.
  • …a reason to pause before you say “yes” or “no, thank you.”
  • …time and space to evaluate any donation.
  • …if the gift acceptance policy says no to a type of donation, e.g., non-publicly traded securities, it saves time and cost of considering each gift on a case-by-case basis.
  • …so you can respond more quickly and more confidently.
  • …to tell donors that gift valuations for gifts of tangible property—and the cost for appraisals—are their responsibility

What should a Gift Acceptance Policy Contain

  • Introduction—the organization solicits and accepts gifts to fulfill mission
  • What are acceptable gifts and conditions?
    • Cash
    • Checks
    • Credit cards
    • Pledges
    • Publicly traded securities
  • Which gifts require Board approval upon due diligence
    • Closely held securities
    • Real estate
    • Life insurance
    • Tangible personal property
  • What kinds of planned gifts are acceptable?
    • Bequests
    • Charitable gift annuities
    • Deferred gift annuities
    • Charitable remainder trusts
    • Charitable lead trusts
    • Retained life estates
  • What are the minimums for named endowment funds?

Above all, as you draft your gift acceptance policy be sure to check with your lawyers and accountants. But, when you write the policy statement, be sure to maintain a friendly tone, avoid legalese, and negative language.

Hopefully, you will never have to decline a gift. With a gift acceptance policy, you will be prepared for any eventuality.

You might wonder if you could regret turning down a contribution. More importantly, with a gift acceptance policy, you will never regret accepting one, either.

If you would like a free, 30-minute consultation to speak about your Gift Acceptance Policy, or anything else, Click here to schedule a time with me.

Scrambling For Your Next Board Chair? There Is A Better Way

Next Board Chair Pipeline

For nonprofits who must beg someone to become board chair, it may feel impossible to imagine an orderly transition. But, if your organization has a leadership pipeline*, you cannot imagine how any board functions without one. If you are scrambling for your next board chair. There is a better way. But, that better way is through a self-reflective, reality check. And then, you must do the work to make change happen.

Fact 1: There are people who love your nonprofit. If there were not, you would not remain in existence.

Fact 2: Becoming your next board chair is unappealing to even your closest supporters. If it were not, they would be waving their arms above their head trying to get your attention. After all, they are your closest supporters.

Fact 3: It is unappealing to become your next board chair because it is too big a job. Or there is too much baggage. Or the incumbent has made it a full-time, day job. Or it is not respected internally. Or the role is not respected externally. Or some other reason that you could easily identify if you gave it some thought.

Fact 4: Governance matters. Having up-to-date bylaws, a defined governance structure, and having a board manual creates confidence that the next board chair’s job (or any board position) has defined parameters. You can make volunteering more appealing by defining boundaries before they start.

Fact 5: In addition to governance and structure, there is a better way which involves a leadership pipeline*. If everything that isn’t getting done by staff or other volunteers automatically falls to the board chair, the job is too overwhelming for most volunteers. If you have a vice chair, or some similar role who helps shadows and assists the chair while learning the job, it will be easier. If you have a few people who know they are in the pipeline, they will help because they care. And because they want help when they step into the role. We are all a little self-serving even in our volunteer roles and that is okay.

Fact 6: You can get started on your own by reading MJA’s How to Engage New Board Members: Strengthening Your Nonprofit Board. Click here to learn about this invaluable resource and order your own copy—either in print or in digital format.

Fact 7: This may seem impossible, but you can turn it around for your nonprofit. If, after reading this, you still feel like you will be scrambling for your next board chair. Let’s talk.

Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation. It won’t solve all your problems, but it can send you down the right path.

*In this case I am defining a leadership pipeline as at least one person who is on deck for the chief volunteer leadership role. It could be that you have 4 vice-chairs who move up to board chair or that you have 1 chair-designate who is learning about the role before they step into it. Either way, such a process provides for an orderly transition of leadership.

Is Analyzing Year-End Numbers For Your Nonprofit Just A Distraction?

This is another strange January. Just as we thought we were out of the worst of the pandemic we are living with more cases of Coronavirus in our lives. We are all impacted by the surge whether it is in our immediate family (I hope you and yours are all well) or simply that buildings are closed, and we are back to days filled with Zoom meetings.

I find that it is sometimes hard to set aside blocks of time to concentrate on higher level projects. I think of Dug, the dog in the Pixar movie, UP, that gets distracted mid-sentence by squirrels. For me, the “squirrels” (read: calls/emails/kids/Apple Watch alert/dog/noise outside/truck passing 3 streets over/idea that I may have to reorder coffee/etc.) that I used to be able to ignore, now grab my attention faster than I can blink. But I still need to get things done. Things like analyzing year-end numbers before the end of January.

Here are some statistics to create for your nonprofit if you are analyzing year-end numbers.  And something to return to when you realize you have spent too long looking out the window at the squirrels.

Understanding annual fund trends are essential when planning for the next year. How can you create realistic goals or targets for segments if you don’t know where you currently stand. Now is a good time to calculate:

  1. Your month over month for 2020 vs 2021. Yes, 2021 was unusual. But so was 2020. It’s unclear when we will have the next “normal” year. It is time to plan for the unexpected each and every year. And you should start with your actual data.
  2. What percentage of your donations came in during December? I think it is a valuable data point when analyzing year-end numbers.
  3. Your basic donor statistics including: * If you are unsure how to do this get in touch
    • Percent of donor retention
    • Number of donors who increased their gift
    • Number of donors who decreased their gift
  4. How did your letters, emails, phone calls, social media posts, etc. impact your donations? Was one letter more successful than another? Did one topic or aspect of your end-of-year campaign attract a higher response? Has your social media affected your site traffic?
  5. Your major donors year-over-year including:
    • How many major donors did you retain? You want it to be higher than your average donor retention rate since you are spending more time focused on this group.
    • How you interacted with each donor to upgrade/ retain the gift and whether it had an impact (a good contrast is to pick someone who didn’t get the same love and attention without judgements. It’s hard to reach everyone with limited time and resources)
    • What you should plan for this year based on what provided a great return on your time/energy investment and what did not. Be honest. You may have loved your social media reminders but did they help increase results?
  6. What big projects you want to accomplish in 2022.
    • Are you thinking about a capital/endowment campaign?
    • Was your annual fund all it needed to be in 2021?
    • Do you need to talk to MJA about your needs (I thought I would throw that in here since it is our blog)

If to you, this blog was another squirrel, as a distraction from doing something else, it can be justified. Use it to help you analyze your year-end results.

If you want a real distraction, here is the first scene from the Pixar movie, UP, that started the squirrel meme.