Tag Archives: Cultivation

The Key to Successful Fundraising is Stop Thinking About Your Nonprofit

Key to Successful FundraisingI have talked about this topic a bit when opining on annual appeal letters and solicitor training but after a recent conversation, I thought it should be said again. And said in a straightforward, no nonsense way.

The key to successful fundraising is stop thinking about your nonprofit. And start thinking about donor.


Finding out what motivates the donor to give.

Some people like their names on buildings. Others like the warm fuzzy feeling they get when they watch a video that includes the children who attend the community center thanking them for their support. Still others like to dress up and help create an extravagant gala. Very different motivations but all valid and all should be considered when soliciting a gift.

Discovering why the donor likes your organization. 

Is it because they feel that their child is having a good experience at your school? Or, because they think you are the best advocates in the area for animal welfare. Maybe they think their association with you is good for their image.  The key is knowing, what do they think?

Asking for the right gift

Someone who likes galas might not want to give to your annual fund. But, they may be willing to join the gala committee, increase their personal gift, and encourage their friends to join them. Another donor who gives to your annual fund may like to give to the December appeal, or they may be ready to learn how they can fund a new program.  Knowing your donors giving history/patterns, their interests, and how much they give to other organizations can help you craft the right ask.

Knowing the right time to ask

Your fiscal year end will not affect a major donor’s donation timing as much as their year-end bonus or their annual fundraising check writing session in December.  Your calendar is not as important as the donors.  No matter how much you wish it were different.

Thinking about who should make the ask

Your most successful fundraiser is not the best fundraiser for every donor. Consider who the donor knows, or might like to get to know. Create pairs of solicitors so that there is twice as much listening going on.  It is about the donor, and deepening their connection to your nonprofit.


If you want to retain donors and move then from entry level to mid-level, or mid-level to major gifts, stewardship is the key.  A planned approach that incorporates calls, emails, updates, invitations, thank yous, coffees, etc. takes time. But it is the path to a stronger relationship with the donor. Which, in turn, will help with donor retention and raising more money.

Refining your fundraising processes takes time. But if you start to considering fundraising from the donor’s perspective, you will understand it is a marathon, not a sprint. One bit of caution, if you wait another six months or year with excuses as to why you can’t start changing your fundraising yet, you are putting off your growth.  And probably losing quite a few donors along the way. Start considering the donors’ POV ASAP.   

Assessing Your Nonprofit’s Donors and Prospects: Annual Fund Segmentation Strategies

Annual fund segmentationSolicitation strategies start with assessing the current situation. Do you treat all your prospects and donors the same? Should you?

Now, more than ever, you should have a development plan for all prospects and a stewardship plan for all donors.

But, you should not plan on having the executive director “meet” with every donor. How can a nonprofit engage each prospect and donor when there are thousands? Annual fund segmentation.

Start annual fund segmentation by considering how they give.

  • Are they a Prospect or Donor
  • If a donor, are they
    • Current
    • Once-a-year Donor
    • Monthly Donor
    • Major donor
    • mid-level donor
    • mid-level donor you are trying to upgrade
    • 10-year donor
    • 25+ year donor
    • first time donor
    • LYBUNT
    • PYBUNT
    • Someone who gave to a
      • specific event
      • end-of-year mail or email campaign
      • other mail or email campaigns
      • sponsorship
      • special campaign donor
      • restricted gift donor
      • peer-to-peer campaign on behalf of a friend
      • also a volunteer
    • If a prospect or a donor, are they also a
      • Recent graduate or services beneficiary
      • 10-year alumnus\a
      • 25-year alumnus\a

Additional key points to keep in mind include:

  1. It costs 4.5 times as much for the nonprofit to find a new donor than retain one
  2. Donors don’t usually give a major gift in the first year they give to a nonprofit. Cultivation and stewardship over years (3-5 years minimum) is what will get you to the point you can ask for a major gift. *This assumes they have the capacity and had been stewarded properly during the time since they made their first gift.
  3. When you start accounting for lifetime giving, someone who gave $50/year for 20 years gave $1,000 to your nonprofit. How would you treat someone who gave $1,000?
  4. Break it down specifically for your organization. Should:
  • major donors get more personalized interaction than other donors?
  • monthly donors get a different appeal than once-a-year donors?
  • PYBUNTS or LYBUNTS get the same letter as new prospects?
  • members get the same email as non-members?
  • alumni get same event invitation as prospects?
  • parents get the same Facebook post as the students?
  • ____ get the same ____ as _____ (fill this in for your nonprofit)

Each organization will have its own set of segmentations.

And contrary to popular belief, segmentation was not created to give you more work.  Instead, it gives you more directed work. And a path to raising more money (which is the point, isn’t it?)

It may seem easier to send the same fundraising letter to the 1000+ people on your mailing list and move on.  But what are you moving on to? If you rely on your annual fund to support your organization, this must be a priority for your development team. Even if it is a team of one.

The Nonprofit Thank-a-thon

As a board member and fundraising committee representative, I was recently asked to explain a nonprofit thank-a-thon at a board meeting.  To me, it seems kind of obvious.  But I live in the development world.

What it is
Put simply, a nonprofit thank-a-thon offers board members a way to thank donors WITHOUT an additional ask.  In an age where it is standard to attach a donation reply slip to thank you letters as well as to ask for money at events that donors have paid to attend, it is nice to have a few outlets that remain modest yet gracious methods for nonprofits to thank their donors without asking for anything in return.

The Logistics
Historically, a phone bank was required so that everyone could sit in a room and make the calls.  An office was usually donated so that the outgoing calls would have a legitimate caller ID.  That still happens from time to time (Condon Realty in Needham, MA has donated their space to my organization in the past and deserves a shout out) but it is often more feasible to have board members bring their cell phones and chargers (just in case) to a house where they can sit around and make the calls.

The Script
Armed with a list of donors – big and small alike – and a script, each board member makes calls to thank donors for their support over the past year.  Keep the script very simple.  Something like, “Thank you so much for your support of X organization this year.  You have helped us _________ (insert one data-driven fact here)___ and we just wanted to let you know that we really appreciate your support. I hope you have a nice evening.“

Why Do This?

  1. Donors will be surprised when they receive the call or hear the voice message; and they will hang up with a smile on their face and your nonprofit on their mind.
  2. Board members can do something that is helpful to fundraising but does not require them to ask people for money.
  3. And, as a bonus gift to board members, it feels really good.  Good as in the reason they first joined the board and wanted to help make it a better place and now they have made others feel that same way about the organization.

The thank-a-thon is a win-win-win-win for donors, board members, stewardship plans and, above all, donor retention strategies. Not bad for a couple hours of easy calls.

Attracting Donations from Millenials

A few weeks ago there was an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy titled, “75% of Young Donors Turned Off by Out-of-Date Web Sites.” Interestingly enough, this generation of twenty- and thirty-somethings want to see the same things that everyone wants to see: success stories, good news about the cause and highlights of the people it serves. Does this mean that they are not the self-absorbed generation we have been lead to believe? Or, does it mean that they are doing what generations and generations before them have done; grown up and realized that donating to nonprofits feels good – even if you can only give at a relatively lower level.

I, for one, hope it is the latter. And think that nonprofits that ignore this group of potential givers in exchange for larger gifts from an older crowd are missing the point of my series on the importance of donor retention (Click here to see the year-long series).

So what can a nonprofit do to encourage these gifts? Here are a some suggestions:

  • Offer monthly payments (see the Chronicle of Philanthropy article for the staggering statistics).
  • Post success stories on Facebook, images on Instagram, and anything else that will help remind this group that you are continually striving to achieve your mission. Use the same stories you would use for a newsletter but…
  • Make it a quick read. While some of your older donors may appreciate an in depth story, millenials want a brief version with images. You are competing for their attention – act like it.
  • Remind them that your success is because of all donors – great and small. (What if you mentioned that this year you were able to raise $X,XXX,XXX in gifts under $100)
  • According to the article, three out of four of these “young donors have liked, retweeted or shared nonprofit content on social networks.” In other words, provide stories and images in a way that they can share.
  • Ensure that your website can be viewed on mobile devices. Just as land lines are disappearing from homes, people no longer have to sit at a computer to read the latest and greatest about your organization. Any web designer (and many a millennial) can help you out with this one.

The goal is to create a legion of followers without adding a huge amount of extra work. Be strategic about your moves and be consistent. These individuals may only be able to give $50 this year, or $10 this month, but you don’t know what the future holds.

Creating the Major Gifts Plan—Be Disciplined to Succeed

Major Gifts – Beyond the Solicitation Series – Part 2

David Mersky sqThe annual fund is the foundation of every great development program.  It provides an opportunity to identify, interest, involve, engage and acknowledge generous donors.  A thoughtful approach to creating the major gifts plan, of communication and contact, solicitation and stewardship, deepens relationships and creates life-long donors.

But, we now live in the midst of unprecedented global economic and political uncertainty that has an impact on personal philanthropy. Many donors have anxiety about the future.  That anxiety manifests itself in an inability or unwillingness to undertake charitable commitments to new—at least for the donor—ventures and, in many cases, to eliminate gifts to organizations which have been supported for many years so as to concentrate giving to a few through “high impact philanthropy.”

With proper planning, however, you can retain and, possibly, upgrade your donors. In fact, when you follow systematic procedures, the annual fund program is virtually failsafe. Securing donors is obviously the first step. But then you must acknowledge promptly and effectively, show appreciation regularly and sincerely, and give priority to winning, and re-winning, the donor’s heart and mind to the cause.

The key to your success is to be found in your donor database.

Getting Started: A Step-by-Step Plan

  • Segment your existing donor database and select your best major gift prospects
  • Create a “file” for each
  • Collect easy-to-access research
  • Identify and consult with natural partners—volunteers who can help in the development of the relationship with each prospect
  • Develop strategy and gift objectives for each prospect
  • Plan five to ten moves for each prospect—a series of steps (moves), e.g., emails, letters, newsletters, phone calls, events, one-on-one encounters, for each identified prospect which will “move” prospects to their next (first) gift
  • As a result of what you have learned through each move and follow up call, you will create a plan for a “Campaign of One” with each prospect.
  • Modify the plan—it is not static, but dynamic—as circumstances and new information warrant.

Moves management is about time management.  You increase your chance for success by allocating your time and all the resources at your disposal proportionately among the four types of prospects:

  1. Those ready to make a major gift
  2. Those needing some cultivation but who would consider a major gift in the near future
  3. Those needing extensive cultivation
  4. Those with capability, but little or no reason to give

Focus on those closest to the major gift decision—the 10% who can give 90%

NEXT MONTH: Why People Give and Why They Don’t

LAST MONTH: Assuring Major Gifts Success

Pass It On Packets

100 Donors in 90 DaysI just finished listening to week 9 of 100 Donors in 90 Days.  This week, was a conversation with Pamela Grow of Simple Development Systems.  While she provided tips on success with donor surveys, monthly giving programs, testimonials and grant writing, I want to highlight her Pass It On Packet.

Pamela’s focus is often on small shops because that is where she got her start.  And while she has been in the business for quite some time, her “packets” were created at her first development job once she moved on from grant writing.

As Pamela tells the story, she was hired into a small nonprofit where it seemed as if the previous development director spent years coasting on the tails of a large capital campaign.  Many donors from the campaign were no longer engaged or even contacted on a regular basis.   An all too familiar story for those in the nonprofit world.  Her solution?

She surveyed a select group of 20 donors to learn more about their interests and to guide her way.  Eighteen responded, five with unsolicited gifts.  Each of the five gifts, as well as any other gifts that came in that year went home with a thank you note and two to three “Pass It On Packets.”  These packets (a combination of appeal brochure and press kits) were offered with a note explaining the following situation.

With the need for funding higher than ever and a lack of money for fundraising outreach, they had decided to ask friends and donors of the organization to help spread the word by giving these packets to people who might have similar interests in helping this health services organization.

And people passed it along.

Ever since, she has been advocating for this simple method of spreading the word about the organization.  It is an easy way for people to invite their friends to join their cause without any pressure.  Their friends can read it, toss it or donate to it.  And it turns out – a decent percentage of people donate.

While it takes a little work and financial support to put together the packets, it does not involve staff to find the new prospects.  Your current donors can do that work for you.  And the more advocates for the organization – the stronger you will be.

To read other pieces in this series, 100 Donors in 90 Days, click here

To purchase your own copy of 100 Donors in 90 Days, click here.

Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II

David A. Mersky imageAs you continue the planning that is vital for the individualized cultivation process, keep the following in mind:

  • Have two representatives of the organization present so that they can take turns speaking about the organization. While one is speaking, the other can listen and observe the candidate’s reactions, fill in gaps in understanding, or change the pace or direction of the meeting for better rapport.
  • Discuss the role of the board in general and in your organization. For example, a conversation about the distinction between governance and management may be appropriate. After the candidate accepts the invitation for board membership, these issues should be discussed in detail, but for now, you should clarify any confusion about the board’s responsibilities and roles in your organization, and you should cover the points contained in the board member’s agreement.
  • Keep in mind an alternative role the prospective board member could play should it become evident that a board role is not appropriate at this time (e.g., given time requirements, contribution expectations, expertise needed, etc.). More appropriate roles might be advisory committee member, volunteer, donor, or future board member.
  • Persuasion is twice as much listening as talking. Respond when appropriate, paraphrase for clarification, and draw connections between your prospect’s interests and your nonprofit’s mission. Be responsive to the candidate’s ideas and concerns.
  • Know the reasons why board candidates want to join boards.These include, among others, that the candidate:
    • relates to the mission of the organization;
    • desires to make a contribution to the nonprofit sector and to society;
    • is inspired by a dynamic leader;
    • wants to meet and network with others involved in the organization;
    • believes serving on the board is a way to advance professionally;
    • wants to build new skills and learn about new areas;
    • finds board service more fulfilling than his/her own career.

Note: The reasons board members stay on boards may differ from the original motivation. For instance, the prestige of serving on a particular board or admiration for a chief executive may pale with increased devotion to the mission of the nonprofit.

It also results from interest in candidates from “new” categories, for example, young adults in their thirties who view board service as a way to gain career-enhancing skills.

After a series of meetings with board candidates, the committee on governance and leadership development decides

  • who will make a follow-up call to assess possible interest on the part of the candidate;
  • who will complete the Prospective Board Member Recruitment Worksheet reporting on the meetings and consequent recommendations.

After all individual cultivation meetings have taken place, the committee on governance and leadership development narrows the number of prospective board members and submits the list of names with important characteristics and resumes for each candidate to the board for consideration. This is done annually or as special need arises.

NEXT MONTH: Orienting Board Members—New and Old

LAST MONTH: Planning an Individualized “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I (including an explanation of “foreground” vs. “background” cultivation)

Planning an Individualized “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I

David A. Mersky imageLast month, I introduced the concept of cultivation and recruitment of prospective candidates for leadership of your agency.  The two key concepts were to plan carefully and to create a series of “background” moves to engage all prospects as a group.  This month, I will focus upon the “foreground move”—the plan for an individualized cultivation of just one prospect.

As the committee on governance and leadership development becomes better acquainted with prospective board members, it will want to do some discrete checking on their backgrounds and on the kind of a board member they might be. The committee should plan an introductory, one-on-one meeting with each candidate it would like to recruit.

The introductory meeting is the first of several that may take place between the candidate and members of the committee, other board members and the chief executive.  Both the candidate and the organization have a stake in ensuring that s/he understands key issues such as role, workload, frequency of meetings, and expected levels of financial donation. No formula exists for determining how many meetings are necessary for achieving clear understanding.

Those who contact the candidate should scrupulously avoid committing the organization ahead of time. The decision to invite a candidate to join the board is a serious one, and should be made in consultation with the committee, the board chairperson, the chief executive, and the senior development officer. Similarly, all persons who contact the candidate should go out of their way to be sensitive to the candidate’s feelings, and should understand the need for dignity and formality in such a recruitment process. After all, some candidates may not be asked to join the board, and other candidates may decline an invitation. All parties to these delicate transactions should emerge with the feeling that everyone behaved in a sensitive and businesslike manner.

Cultivation Meetings

Here are a few recommendations for these meetings:

Plan in advance for the meeting. Naturally, you want to have a relaxed and enjoyable meeting, but even so, you will find that your meeting goes more smoothly if you think about it beforehand. Get input from the chairperson of the board, chief executive, senior development officer and/or the chairperson of the committee on governance and leadership development.

  • Decide who will talk about what, and in what order. Consider role-playing the meeting with an experienced person if one of the individuals representing your organization has not participated in such a meeting before.
  • Decide what organizational material to bring (both material that has and has not been sent before). Create a checklist to help you keep track of available materials and of what has been sent to prospective board members.
  • Decide when to give the material to the prospective board member. A comprehensive calendar should include this level of detail to ensure you show your organization to be organized, consistent and attractive to a candidate.

We emphasize the importance of well-prepared cultivation meetings because you will increasingly be facing competition for good board members. Competition is the result of tremendous growth in the nonprofit sector.

NEXT MONTH: Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II

LAST MONTH: Cultivate and Recruit New Board Members

Cultivate and Recruit New Board Members

David A. Mersky imageAs I wrote last month in Criteria for Board Member Candidate Consideration, “every board member should play an important role in introducing prospective board members to the nonprofit.”  Once a prospective leader for your nonprofit has been identified, and, if after reviewing a completed Prospective Board Member Referral Form, (Click here to download the form), you have decided that they meet the criteria for engagement, the committee on governance and leadership development should develop a plan to cultivate and interest them in serving in the volunteer leadership of the agency.

A different kind of cultivation is necessary for board prospects who have already worked with your nonprofit and those who have not.  Regardless, the key criterion that a prospective leader should meet is that you can conceive of them someday rising to serve as the chair of the board—the chief volunteer officer of your organization.

Further, there is a close relationship between the capacity and willingness of nonprofit board members to give generously as well as to help open doors for the cultivation and solicitation of other major gifts. When seeking prospective board members, you may appropriately and simultaneously be cultivating some candidates who are also prospective major donors.

The committee on governance and leadership development should consider the following approaches:

  • Draft a plan for regular and ongoing communication to help potential board members and other community leaders learn more about the organization.
  • Invite potential board candidates to events where you can get to know them better. At the same time, they can become better acquainted with the organization and decide about committing themselves to it. Annually, the committee on governance and leadership development might decide which events would serve best as “background” moves, designed for all prospective new leaders.
  • Entertaining prospective board members may be important for your organization. You might invite prospects to various activities, such as:
    • a performance, special event, benefit, open house, workshop, tour of your facility, or other event such as the grand opening of a new facility;
    • an event at a board member’s home with current or potential board members, major donors, and community leaders; or
    • part or all of a board meeting.

Remember, planning—as in all matters—is the key to the successful cultivation of prospective leaders who might become board members.

NEXT MONTH: Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I

LAST MONTH: Criteria for Board Member Candidate Consideration

Challenge: Major Gifts Moves Management

Last week we published a Major Gifts Moves Management Field Guide.  This week, we challenge you to pick 3 donors or prospects on your list with potential for growth.  Create a full year of moves for each individual or couple.  Use the Field Guide to help with provide suggestions.  Remember to track your results.  We promise that if you do this in earnest, the results will amaze you.