Tag Archives: Fundraising

Donors Do Not Just Donate. They Invest.

Today’s donors are sophisticated. Gone are the days when they just donate to…

… a cute picture of a child or dog was enough to raise millions

… because a donor gave an amount last year, they would automatically give at least the same amount this year 

… appeal letters addressed to “Dear Friend” are seen as really coming from a friend

The list can go on. It takes a lot of effort to raise money in 2023. Or, if not effort, it takes strategy, thoughtfulness, and transparency.

Donors want to know what their investment in your organization does for the world. How their donation makes an impact. And why they should give to you… and why now.

They want infographics explaining the kids that have been helped. Images of the programs at work. And copy that makes the donor the hero. They want personalized asks and they want to know that you are paying attention to them as individuals. And recognize that they are not ATMs waiting for a withdrawal request to just donate.

They want to know that your organization is a good investment of their philanthropic dollars.

Are You a Good Investment for a Donation? 

If your first thought is, “Of course we are,” then your second thought should be, “Why?”

Why should anyone give their money or “just donate” to your nonprofit?

  • Can you tell them how their last gift was used?
  • How many people were impacted?
  • Do you know where their next gift would go?
  • Are there new goals?
  • Do you need to raise the same amount of money to offer the same level of services?
  • If the donor increased or decreased their gift, how would it change their impact?
  • Were they the only donor at that level or are they part of a valuable cohort that you want to highlight?
  • Are there any benefits to donating to your nonprofit? Will their name be listed publicly, or will they get a sweatshirt?

The “Why?” is essential. Once you have that, you can go out and ask for gifts. With specific ask amounts to specific people with specific stewardship between asks.

AI in Fundraising? The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence

By Abigail Harmon

ChatGPT writes commercials for Ryan Reynolds, papers for college students, essays written by AI detectors for professors, and can even pass MBA and med school tests. Image AI is under scrutiny for being able to gather so many images that it infringes upon copyright laws.

Meta and Google know that they are already behind with AI, so they have already begun beta testing their Chat AI. Microsoft announced it will add it to Bing. (If it is impacting Bing, you know AI is far-reaching.)

But how about AI in fundraising? 

The Pros:

  1. You are already using AI in fundraising if you use prospect research. All that amazing data you see when you use IWaveDonorSearch, and Candid is culled through Artificial Intelligence. Not to mention when they recommend your best prospects or hidden gems. 
  2. You can use ChatGPT to write a first draft for direct mail. I tried it by asking the software to create a fundraising email for a nonprofit Jewish sleepaway camp. And the result was really impressive. But, it is not ready to send. It is missing essential elements of a strong direct mail piece, like anything about the specific camp(s). But it is a nice way to start a first draft if you hate writing. Seriously, only use it for a first draft. Our client, the Cohen Camps, could send this letter, but so could 100 other Jewish sleepaway camps. 
  3. You can use ChatGPT to gather information on anything. Think about the information you could find about donors, prospects, and foundations. Could AI in fundraising be helpful for events, stewardship, and birthday card ideas? Yes, it is brainstorming without the group. Of course, that also means you didn’t use the brainstorming with board leaders and donors as a stewardship opportunity. 
  4. Online Chatbots are amazing when helpful but annoying when you want something really personalized or uniquely sophisticated. I’ll let you decide whether to use it, but Chatbots are obviously powered by AI.

The Cons:

  1. If you get lazy and overly reliant upon AI in fundraising, you will quickly become a terrible fundraiser. If 100 camps use the same prompt, they will have similar letters in a similar order with similar content. Unlike me, most people might only receive solicitations to one Jewish summer camp. But if someone is interested in youth development, food insecurity, the arts, colleges, etc., they will likely support more than one. And that same letter or email will be noticed.
  2. You will waste time. Think about a recent hour lost to a Google search (what does that prospect look like?), a TikTok binge (what is that tofu-cucumber air fryer app?), or Facebook (I just want to say Happy birthday to a friend). Like those examples, AI in fundraising can be super fun but all too often sends you down a rabbit hole for an hour.
  3. There are currently no ethical boundaries. You can receive writing or images that have a copyright without any idea that is the case. Just because you change around a few words, doesn’t make it yours. As in the Getty Images lawsuit linked in the first paragraph.
  4. I just went to test it out and received the equivalent of a busy signal. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, click here. But like any technology, we begin to rely on it and when it is not there, we start to freak out. Like when my meeting alert didn’t go off last week and I was late to a Zoom.

If you have read this far, you are wondering if you should use AI in your fundraising. I will make you an offer. If you create an email or letter using AI technology, and send it to me, I can look through and show you what I think is missing from it. That is assuming you want to make it a unique, dynamic letter that will help you raise money. 

If you have already used ChatGPT to create an email or letter and you have turned it into a masterpiece, send that too.  I am happy to ooh and ahh about it. Sometimes all we need is a little validation.

What to Do As the Year Winds Down

By David A. Mersky

Sand dropping in Timer

The year is nearly over. At this point, you have done absolutely everything you can for your direct response and mid-range donors. 

So, what do most organizations do? They send everybody home between Christmas and New Year’s.

Yes, you may still be calling some of your most important supporters. But everything else that will enable you to finish 2022 successfully is fully baked. 

Or is it? Remember that 50% (not a typo) of all online giving happens in the last week of the year; 21% occurs on the very last day.

Now is the time to be especially vigilant — making sure that online forms are functioning, checks are deposited, records are updated, and acknowledgments are sent with a personal note that tells the donor how valued they are. 

The mail and email may be scheduled (at least three emails should be sent on the last two days of the year), but this is the time to be sure the mail is opened, online gifts are processed, deposits are made, the CRM is updated, and acknowledgements are processed for those who make their gifts as the final page of the calendar turns.

A Time for Planning

The close of the year is also the time to start planning for the next. What will you track?:

  • Who gave in 2022 who had not given in 2021? Did an action you took trigger the gifts (e.g., a match, an impact report)?  
  • How can we increase the number of people who have supported us in the past, skipped a year, and then came back?
  • Who increased their gift in 2022 from what they had given previously? How can we get them to do it again and encourage more to join them?
  • Who did not give in 2022 but had given in 2021? How do we revive their affection and dedication to the work that we do?
  • Who gave for the very first time in 2022? How do we ensure that we retain their support and get them to give again?

Segmentation

In fundraising, as in marketing, the ultimate objective is to create segments of more and more homogeneous groups. Doing so allows you to develop what will feel like deeply customized approaches that connect with your donors and that encourage them to invest in your community generously and continually.

Resume your analysis with a review of the tactics used this year and the results realized:

  • Who responded to your snail mail solicitations?
  • Who was invited to join your sustainers society and became a monthly donor?
  • Who was asked to consider a legacy and informed you that they had made provisions for your organization in their estate plan?
  • Who came to a special event — a small wine and cheese in a home, a major gala in a hotel ballroom, etc. — and how did they behave philanthropically differently than they had previously?

These are just a few examples of questions that you should prepare to ask after all the results for the year are received. Overall, your objective is to understand which tactics had the highest return on investment with which segments, in order to do more of what worked in 2023.

As you sit in your office these next two weeks considering all that you and your hardworking staff have accomplished in 2022, keep in mind that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over and next year is just around the corner.

Do You Need to Increase Resources for Your Nonprofit but Can’t/Won’t/Are Afraid to Hire?

Organizations are trying their best to make do with less resources. Maybe you noticed your own reductions in:  

Need to Increase Resources
  • Funding 
  • Staff 
  • Volunteers 
  • Time without their families around 
  • Clothing that fits 

Even if you are making do with less, the need for your services has not decreased. We all want to help as many people as possible through the pandemic whether it’s providing food, arts/entertainment, or spiritual comfort.  You may even know that you need to increase resources for your nonprofit, but you can’t/won’t/are afraid to hire.  

Fundraising is essential 

Fundraising cannot hold off until herd immunity is a reality. Bottom line is that to raise more money, your need to increase resources for your nonprofit. Particularly staff to do the work. Whether you are holding off on hiring based on budgetary cuts, furloughs, or unfilled positions, nonprofits are more under-staffed than usual. But organizations have options. 

Staffing options to help you increase resources for your nonprofit 

We can, of course, help with an executive search. But, if hiring in this current environment is too overwhelming financially, mentally, or time-wise, consider interim placement from Mersky, Jaffe & Associates. 

We can bridge the gap to help you: 

  • Keep your fundraising on track until you decide your next hire (or until that person is hired) 
  • Create a development or stewardship plan for 2021  
  • Execute your existing fundraising and stewardship plan 
  • Help oversee and deploy volunteers to keep them engaged and motivated to strengthen your nonprofit  
  • Analyze your current fundraising strengths and weaknesses and help you develop a model to move forward 
  • Be the leader, support, and/or hands your nonprofit needs to raise the necessary funds during the pandemic 

We understand that it’s hard to determine your staffing needs when you don’t know what the world will look like in six months. That is why interim staff helps fulfill your needs on a contract basis without added costs of employing someone and increasing your long-term expense. Let’s set up a time to talk about how we can help you raise more money in 2021.  

Read more on Interim Placement

Interim Placement (also known as Fractional Employment)

In A World That Feels Out Of Control – What Can You Control?

What can you control?

What you cannot control:

  1. Board and leadership decisions
  2. Your donors’ income or asset changes
  3. Other people’s fears
  4. Unavoidable organizational changes
  5. General economic instability
  6. Deadlines
  7. The Pandemic
  8. Child-care/school situations
  9. Shifts in funding priorities

What can you control?

  1. How you spend each day
  2. If you are making decisions strategically vs. – reactively
  3. How you prioritize your responsibilities
  4. Whether you obtain approvals before you move forward to make sure things are in line
  5. If you ask for help from fellow staff, board members or volunteers
  6. Your fears (this does take a bit of work)
  7. Whether you are currently fundraising and stewarding donors
  8. If you are looking for creative solutions to the myriad problems that arise each day
  9. Your television

Nonprofit organizations who are standing still, afraid of fundraising, and/or think they can put off planning until things settle down will go out of business. It is a harsh reality, but that does not make it any less true. I do not know of any nonprofits who can hold off fundraising for a year and hope to come back with any stable footing.

Major donors will not carry your organization for years just because they believe in your mission statement. They want to sustain organizations which are working to fulfill their mission and achieve their vision. Even now. So, what can you control? Figure it out fast. And get out there and fundraise!

As always, if you want help with any part of the process – from prioritization to creative solutions, set up a time to speak with one of us at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates. 

5 Types of Pandemic Volunteers

5 Types of Pandemic Volunteers

Furloughs and layoffs are everywhere, and nonprofits are no exception. But, since you still have a mission to fulfill and services to offer, volunteers offer an interesting opportunity. There are, potentially, more people available, but less time to train, track, and collect volunteers. Sometimes it feels like you need to babysit volunteers. But what if you could look at these prospective free workers like you would consider childcare.

Before we get into the details of the 5 types of Pandemic Volunteers, you need to do a bit of work.

Start by considering what you are not getting done. Then, think about what you are doing that could be done by somebody else (if that person were reliable.) And lastly, how much internal knowledge is required for each task.

Now, consider the 5 types of Pandemic Volunteers:

  1. Mother’s helper is someone who needs specific tasks but may need to ask a lot of questions, at least at first, to learn the ropes. The good news is if the task continues, they will get better and better. This could be a teenager looking for something to do when camp is cancelled or a volunteer who isn’t always super reliable, but you want to keep interested and connected.

    Since you don’t know how much this person will achieve, consider small tasks with short deadlines. A mother’s helper could clean out closets that got left mid-semester or prep materials for your re-opening. Printing, photocopying, and collating are also possibilities.
  2. Babysitter is someone with some experience, needs guidance for expectations on a regular basis but is mostly independent. Each “babysitter” will come with some expertise that you may be able to use.

    For instance, someone who knows Excel can create a list of all current and lapsed $250 donors and provide the lists to “Night Sitters,” “Camp Counselors,” and “Camp Directors.”
  3. Night sitter is someone who can keep things going and is independent after an initial explanation. This person is used to jumping into new situations and can give you the confidence to sleep through the night because the job is getting done.

    A night sitter has been a volunteer for you and/or other organizations and can do things like make calls on your behalf. Provide a script and a list of contacts and that person can help you steward mid-level and entry-level donors while you focus on major donors.
  4. Camp counselor is someone who can rally the troops and is ready for leadership responsibilities, meaningful tasks, and whom you know is reliable. They may have volunteered or worked with you in the past or can demonstrate their expertise.

    Camp counselors can replace you to offer trainings to “night sitters,” “babysitters,” and “mother’s helpers.” And they can be the resource for most questions that would stop other volunteers from moving forward. They can help you steward higher-level donors.
  5. Camp Director is someone who can act as an employee or colleague. They have the skills that you would hire, if you had the money and time. They can supervise for you, explain tasks to others, organize volunteers and staff alike, have specific skills that you are missing, and are 100% reliable.

    Camp directors can help you make sure the trains are running on time. They are volunteers who can help with marketing your services, provide human resource advice, and financial and/or fundraising expertise. You may even rely on these people already. The one problem is that this skill set is hard to find in a volunteer and may have to be a hired as an Interim (aka Fractional) Placement. It would be less expensive than a full-time employee because they could be an independent contractor, but will still add to your costs.

If you would like help thinking through your volunteer strategy, click here to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.

What Can You Do to Raise Money Today?

The pandemic’s effects do not seem to be easing. We are quarantine fatigued, still social distancing, and, even in states which are re-opening, we are confronting unemployment rates that have not been seen since the Great Depression. Nonprofits have been furloughing or laying off personnel, and, in some cases, eliminating staff positions, all in an effort to reduce expenses. There are justifiable concerns that donations will be down, membership dues will go unpaid, and pledges may go unfulfilled.

So, what can you do to raise money today?

  1. If you have not checked in with your donors, members, volunteers and other important supporters, do so ASAP. As with all stewardship, you don’t want every contact to be an ask so just call to check in.
  2. Consider donor pledges, grant applications and current grants that have yet to be paid. For each commitment due by June 30th, make a phone call. Some will tell you that everything is still on track, some will tell you they cannot honor the commitment, and some may be unreachable because your program officer or donor has been furloughed. If you cannot reach them by phone, then try an email. But remember, this is a time to make a personal connection, not just shoot off a quick note and hope they will give you the $50,000.
  3. Assess your top 50 donors. Are there any that have yet to give a gift this year? Maybe they gave last in December or, perhaps, they skipped a year? Do you know if they are still able to give a gift this year?
  4. If you are looking for immediate funds, you can consider asking this group if they could make their gift early this year to help you meet your current, extraordinary needs. The ask should still be based on the essential elements of an ask that you would use at any time of year in any financial climate. Include a story that will humanize your need and what their gift will provide. Specifically:
    1. Why should they give to you?
    1. Why should they give to you now?

General need, outside of organizations performing emergency relief, is not enough. They will want to know:

  1. What services are you currently providing?
  2. What are your service plans for the next six months – with or without opening your doors?
  3. What are your financial plans for the next six months – with or without opening your doors?
  4. Is their gift going to make an impact? That is, if you need $500,000 for the rest of the year, how do you plan on raising the remaining $490,000?

If someone can no longer give or has shifted priorities, do not take it personally or act disappointed. Today, people are split between those who can give and give more right now, and those who will give less or not at all. The only thing you can do is continue to keep a good attitude and keep stewarding, and then, asking your donors. The stronger the relationship, the more likely you will be to receive a donation.

If you have not been strong in stewardship in the past, now is the time to connect with people in addition to the donors you will ask for an early gift. Plant the seeds for long-term growth. If you only focus on the people you are asking for a gift now, you will have no one to ask down the line. In other words, consider how to “raise money today” in six months, a year or many years down the line.

Things I Like / Don’t Like / Want To Do At My Job

my job as a nonprofit consultant - teaching to fish

The new school year is another time of year I use as a check in point. Summer is over – did I binge watch too much? Yes, but I am catching up on This Is Us, so I have a good excuse. Did I spend too much time with friends? There is no such thing. Did I do all of the busy work I hoped to achieve in slow months? No, but I did have time to assess and look forward. So, here is what I thought about most recently:

Things I like about my job as a nonprofit consultant. I get to:

  1. Help nonprofits achieve their vision and mission
  2. Teach people to (proverbially) fish. You are not hiring me (and Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) to do your fundraising. You are hiring me to teach you, your staff, and board to participate
  3. Let board and staff members see that giving can be an amazing feeling for a donor
  4. Show how asking for money does not have to be a horrible, scary, gut-wrenching process.

Things I do not like about my job as a nonprofit consultant:

  1. Certain people (you know who you are) give me dirty looks when I suggest they fundraise or donate.
  2. Individuals who would be so great at fundraising won’t get past their fear.
  3. Board members who assume others should do all the fundraising
  4. When organizations don’t achieve their goals because of their fears.

Things I want to do this year:

  1. Train more people to raise more money.
  2. Help individuals and organization’s change their mindset on fundraising.
  3. Explain ways that board members can raise money without having to ask their friends (although I am not opposed to helping those who do want to ask their friends.)
  4. Consider new ways to encourage accountability of fundraising in a campaign. Maybe working with new interim deadlines to utilize the science behind urgency as a motivator.

If you would like to help me accomplish my goal, of teaching you to fish, email me today.

If you have other ideas of things I should accomplish this year, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you just want to say hi, I would welcome that too.

I hope your fall is filled with many achievements.

We All Want To Know Why Nonprofit Strategic Planning Is Sexy

Nonprofit Strategic Planning Is SexyNonprofit strategic planning is sexy in the same way nonprofit governance, feasibility study reports and finding the perfect candidate is sexy. Oh wait, I didn’t mean sexy. I meant amazing for my nonprofit or energizing for my organization.

The title of this piece was offered by Portent’s Content Idea Generator.  And I’m pretty sure it shatters the notion that, “there are no bad ideas.”

Brainstorming

Your nonprofit may be finding something similar when you are brainstorming for ideas. Whether it is annual appeal letter suggestions from a donor (whom you thought would be helpful), gala ideas from a board member(s), or elements of a case for giving from staff, not all ideas should carry the same weight. Of course, donors (including board members), volunteers as well as staff need to be treated respectfully – whether their ideas are used or not.

Hopefully your nonprofit has criteria to evaluate some ideas.

Establish a:

  • Mission, vision and values statement(s) as an outcome of a strategic planning process. Nonprofit strategic planning may not be sexy but it is a great guide for determining new projects or whether to continue old ones.
  • Theme for your fundraising for the year or season. e. community achievements, the impact of music, the teachers at our core, etc.…
  • Call for ideas in specific areas. Focus in on areas that need suggestions, ways for people to provide their thoughts and an understanding of what you are looking for. This is a great way to see what people are thinking and can be used as a stewardship opportunity.
  • Provide suggestion guidelines. If you are asking for thoughts, a list of general, or specific “rules” the organization follows will eliminate some of the ideas you have to shut down immediately.
  • A committee to make decisions. We don’t want you to create committees ad nauseum. But at times, an ad hoc committee can take the decision making away from an individual. And, help eliminate prickly conversations that can feel personal.

And this isn’t even venturing into the pressure nonprofits feel from donors referenced in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy Article. From sexual harassment issues to donor suggestions that are clearly off-mission but will provide the donor a benefit, nonprofits are finally realizing that not every idea is a good idea.

Look for a less sexy, but more thoughtful, strategic planning piece in the near future.

#GivingTuesday Update – Development is Not Just Fundraising

#GivingTuesday UpdateOn #GivingTuesday I received 20+ solicitations.

On Wednesday, the following day, I received only 2 #GivingTuesday updates.

Only 2 organizations thought I would care about the results?

Here is a list of excuses I have heard from friends, clients, colleagues, and nonprofits around the world as to why they did not send an email letting donors know how much they raised from something like #GivingTuesday or an event:

  • We only reached 70% of our goal (let me know that and why this effort was important- maybe I will still give)
  • I don’t think anyone would notice if we did or didn’t send a #GivingTuesday update (wrong attitude)
  • We are busy writing our end-of-year letter and that has to be the priority (if #GivingTuesday is not important enough to do well, don’t do it)
  • It didn’t occur to us to do that. (that is no longer a good excuse)
  • We don’t really know exactly how much we raised yet (not confidence boosting)
  • _____your excuse here______

While I admit that I do notice details like follow up because of professional curiosity, I also take note because it shows me which organizations understand development is not just fundraising.

Please, please, please keep in mind:

  1. Development is a year-round process that includes asking, acknowledging, thanking, and stewarding donors.
  2. You should not send out a solicitation until you know how you will acknowledge donations, thank donors 7+ times and whether or not you will follow up with non-respondents.
  3. Number 2 includes online and social media solicitations. Basic development rules still apply.
  4. 7+ ways to thank a donor can include an email to everyone with an update
  5. Development is not brain surgery. In fact, most of it is common sense with a bit of creativity to make it applicable to your nonprofit. Sometimes you are not doing it because you just don’t know that it should be done, but if you have read this far, you now know. Follow up with a #GivingTuesday update (it’s not too late!). Follow up for everything. People can hit delete and they can unsubscribe, but the people who care about you won’t. The people who left you were not going to give to you anyway so let them go and focus on your real prospects and donors.

If you want to learn how Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can improve your development plan and stewardship ideas, email me

Maybe I can start a #GivingTuesdayUpdate as a trend for next year.

Want to read more about #GivingTuesday Results? The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great article about the amounts raised.