Tag Archives: Stewardship

Stewardship in the time of COVID-19

Stewardship in the time of COVID-19

Different nonprofits have handled the coronavirus pandemic in different ways. In addition to having most, if not all staff, working from home, many have had to furlough, reduce salaries and/or shift around job descriptions among the people who are still working. Times are tough and it is unclear when things will return to any semblance of normal.

But we are weeks into the pandemic and if fundraising is still on the back burner, it is time to move things around. Otherwise it will be impossible to get up and running once things turn around. And stewardship in the time of COVID-19 is a place to start.

We must acknowledge that the news is horrific. People are sick, losing their jobs, and going stir-crazy. And that doesn’t include the issues of gaining weight and drinking too much while somehow overwalking our dogs. How could a nonprofit ask for non-emergency money? Many funders are honoring their commitments. Non-galas will be all the rage this spring. And asking exactly how your major donors are faring during this time will be more important than any prospect research from the past.

In other words, nonprofits will have to find a way to connect with volunteers, members, and donors if they ever want to reopen their doors. And whether you are asking for donations or not, stewardship in the time of COVID-19 should be a priority at every organization.

What are other nonprofits doing for stewardship in the time of COVID-19?

Not counting healthcare or human services organizations and others that provide emergency services, I have seen:

  • religious organizations offer virtual spirituality, classes, and community
  • arts organizations provide access to recordings and articles, lunches with famous actors, playwrights, novelists, etc., and creative connections
  • athletic nonprofits offer classes, book groups, and workouts
  • business associations offer ways to learn from peers and virtual classes
  • other organizations offer resources such as virtual book clubs, virtual coffees and podcasts

What is the one thing they have in common?

They are reminding their supporters that they serve a purpose in our world. There are donate buttons on most emails.

Even if no one clicks through now, these organizations are making the case for their intrinsic value and are asking for support. Organizations which are afraid to remain in touch with their volunteers and donors and only resurface months from now to ask for money will not survive. Nonprofits need to maintain contact all along the #StayHome way, stewarding donors – while providing us all with a combination of programs and learning opportunities to demonstrate their value.

We will remember the plays we watched or the class we took and think of the organizations which shared them with us with a smile. And, we will want to donate to them, if and when our funds allow. Because, when we emerge from this chaos, we will need connections, and nonprofits, more than ever.

10 Ways for Nonprofits to Survive CoronaVirus Shutdowns

Whether you are concerned about your upcoming event, major donor appointments, or board meetings, the future is unknown. Here are some suggestions on what you can do if you and your nonprofit staff are working from home due to CoronaVirus Shutdowns. (And if you read this list and are still unsure what to do, we are offering free 30 minute consultations)

Stewardship during CoronaVirus Shutdowns

  • If we are all quarantined, donors may be easier to reach by phone. Use this time to call donors, check in on them. If they are in a good headspace, update or thank them. If they are worrying about a loved one or are sick themselves, consider if there is anything you could do to help like send some soup or a small package of easy to make groceries.
  • Encourage board members to make thank you or check-in calls. If everyone is home and looking for a little contact with the outside world, a thank you call will feel extra special.
  • Updates don’t have to stop. In fact, you might have more time to write up a story or work on a video when no one is stopping in your office. Share your latest and greatest accomplishments with pride.


  • This is probably obvious but make a plan B for all events. Most nonprofits cannot cancel do to CoronaVirus shutdowns without impacting their annual income. Will you have an un-gala or un-fundraiser? Will you invite people to dress up and meet virtually? Create a social media event? Move your paddle raise online? Consider sites like Greater Giving, Classy, OneCause, or Bidding For Good.
  • Check your contracts and insurance policies. If you do have to cancel a gala or conference, you may be able to reduce some of your losses. Are there any pieces that can be cancelled? If not, can you find a sponsor to underwrite the catering with promotion to your lists, your social media and your site?

Planning or re-evaluating your plan

  • Re-evaluate your Fundraising Plan and your budget. We don’t know how long it will be before we get back to any kind of normal. What fundraising can continue virtually and what needs to be postponed? What will your plan look like, assuming in-person fundraising doesn’t start up again until the fall or 2021? What are you doing to remind your donors, volunteers, and members that you are still worthy of their time, energy and financial support?

Help your employees work from home during CoronaVirus shutdowns:

  • Consider noise cancelling headphones, purchasing productivity planners, and/or a workout app for staff. As someone who has worked from home for more than 10 years, I know there are times that I am less productive than others. When I realize it, I go back to tried and true practices like re-reading a favorite productivity book.  Recently, I purchased a new Productivity Planner. If it is someone’s first time at home, it will not be easy to ignore the laundry, the phone, or kids looking for that set of markers they haven’t seen in months. Help them overcome the hurdles and feel positive about the experience.
  • Create strategies to connect staff to each other and the outside world. Creativity and collaboration are the backbones of many organizations. And most people don’t want to work on their own which is why they got a job in an office. Help them through this potentially isolating time. Choose a site like GoToWebinar, Zoom Meeting, or Google Hangouts to meet more often.
  • Hold meetings that have people on screen. Not that I have ever worked on one project while attending a webinar or on a large, group call, but focus may drift if people are not held accountable. It’s true, everyone will have to shower and get dressed (at least their top halves) but it will help you get more done.
  • Set hours and expectations but expect interruptions. Some people may need to shift hours if that is convenient – people will have to deal with kids at home when they are supposed to be at work – but just try to have everyone on the same page as much as possible.

This will be a tough time for all of us. Don’t let fear take over. And, stay healthy.

Mid-level donors count too!

Fundraisers love major donors. How could we not? They provide the necessary funds to keep our nonprofits running. We also love new donors. Bright, shiny and falling in love with our organization. In many ways, these two types of donors re-affirm our devotion to our job (or volunteer) choice. But, what about those mid-level donors?

I am talking about the donors in that range that gets them noticed above the entry-level gifts of $25 or $50 but not quite close to your major gift level. You diligently thank them each year – maybe even 7 times, but they can be so much more valuable to you. Mid-level donors may be the future of your organization.

Understanding mid-level donors

  1. Consider why they give that amount. Are they…
    • Major donors who use this as an entry-level gift to test your stewardship?
    • Giving because a friend—maybe one of your board members—asked them?
    • Someone who has just increased to this amount.
    • Donating to a specific fund or appeal?
  2. Do you already know them? Are they…
    • Volunteers who are showing their support?
    • Event attendees who have started to give additional support?
    • Friends and/or family of board members?
  3. How long have they been giving? This can tell you a lot. Let’s say you consider $200 as a minimum, mid-level gift. If…
    • It is a first-time gift (that is not part of crowdfunding or event-related*), this often indicates there is a greater gift potential and that they are testing the water with your nonprofit. Your stewardship and acknowledgement practices will be the reason that person continues to give or does not renew and turns to test another organization.
    • this is their second gift, they definitely should be on your radar. Donor retention for the win! They may not be ready for a significant upgrade, but they appreciate you and you should definitely let them know that you appreciate them. They may be your future major donors, long-time supporters, volunteers, board members, etc….  
    • They have given for 5 or more years. Celebrate them as you would a major donor. 5 years at $200 is a $1,000 donor. And consider whether they are ready for an upgrade beyond the 50%+ that you suggest in your annual appeal letters. Depending on their age, they may be prime prospects for a planned gift. And or a monthly gift.
  4. Why should you care so much about these donors?
    • If you had 20 donors who give $200 for 10 years, that would be $4,000 per year or $40,000 over 10 years – assuming you retained each of those donors with no increase nor decrease. How much work have you put into a $40,000 grant that you didn’t receive? These are people who already want to give to you. Again and again.
    • Imagine if you moved 50 or 100 of your entry-level donors into this category in the next two years.

In other words, it’s time to focus on these amazing donors. And once you have identified them and their giving habits, don’t forget to create a plan to deepen their engagement. Work to retain their gifts or upgrade them. And stop treating them like the $25 donors that we like, but don’t know enough about yet. (You should know any donors that have been giving for more than a few years but that is a whole other blog post.) Make them feel special and acknowledge them wherever and whenever you can.

As always, if you want help customizing your plan or understanding what these donors lifetime potential may be, email me or schedule a time to talk by clicking here.

*Crowdfunding and event-related gifts should be treated separately. You have the opportunity to convert some of these donors to life-long supporters, but some will only give because they are asked by a certain person for a one-time gift. Acknowledge and attempt to steward but don’t spend too much time on this group.

Takeaways from the 2018 Giving USA Report

2018 Giving USA ReportNonprofits, and nonprofit consultants, have learned to value the annual release of the 2018 Giving USA Report. It has 470 pages of interesting facts and figures. And if you know what to do with them, and how to benchmark yourself against them (more on that later), they can be very useful tools. If you only look to see that giving has grown for environmental and animal nonprofits but dropped for religious giving, you are getting caught in the hype.

Here are key takeaways from the 2018 Giving USA Report and how they can impact your organization’s donations for 2019:

      1. For the first time since 2009, individual giving dropped (total giving in current dollars increased by .7%). Currently we don’t know if that is due to fewer people able to take tax deductions on charitable contributions, a large push to frontload donations to DAFs, Foundations and individual donations prior to tax law changes is unclear, or economic uncertainty at the end of the year.

        Our advice?

        Ignore the decrease in individual giving. Instead, focus on the $292.09 BILLION that was given by individuals last year. That is a lot of money available to nonprofits. Make sure you know and have a plan for your organization’s development data such as your donor retention, donor’s lifetime value, and the number of monthly donors. Click here if you would like to talk to us about calculating your important statistics and how they benchmark against others.

      2. Giving by corporations increased this past year. We don’t know if that is thanks to increased profits at those companies, increased public concern, or increased public awareness of corporate donation policies (think: marketing/social media benefits that attract younger purchasers who want to “do good” when they buy)

        Our advice?

        Corporate giving is still only 5% of all giving. Unless you are a nonprofit that has a benefit for the corporation to align with corporations’ marketing, target market, and location, you should focus your development efforts on individuals.

      3. Giving by foundations increased 7.3% in current dollars over 2017. Are more foundations paying out higher pecentage of assets? Do foundations feel an increased need, particularly among underserved populations, to which they are responding? We don’t know, but we know it is an area to keep on our radar.

        Our advice?

        Giving by foundations is now $74.86 billion. Giving USA estimates that 64% of independent foundations are family foundations (and 45.6% of total foundation giving.) That is $34.58 billion of foundation giving that should be treated like individual giving. To attract and retain these donors, see #1.

      4. Bequests grew by 14.7% in 2017 but leveled off in 2018. Was that because the organizations who put in effort years before were finally realizing gifts? Or maybe health nonprofits were more successful in extending life (positive thinking!)?

        Our advice?

        Bequest donations may have not increased last year, but 2017’s report showed dramatic results with close to $40 billion transferred in this way. These donors are often low-hanging fruit. They are donors who already care about your organization but need a little education about how impactful this kind of gift can be to your nonprofit. Click here to learn more about bequests estate gifts. Think you don’t have those high-level donors who have millions to give? Consider the breakdown of estimated bequest giving from estates with assets:

        1. Of $5 million or above amounted to $21.44 billion
        2. Between $1 and $5 million amounted to $8.36 billion
        3. Below $1 million amounted to $9.91 billion
      5. Giving to arts, culture and humanities, environmental and animal organizations as well as international affairs organizations were the big winners last year. The amount given to those organizations were either stable or increased.

        Our advice?

        I would venture to say that increased giving to the arts, environment/animals and international nonprofits may not be a coincidence. Those are areas that may be receiving less governmental support and people are worried about their ability to sustain their mission. Don’t count yourself out if you are small or niche.  Give donors a compelling reason to give again and again and they will.

      6. Giving as a percentage of disposable personal income has remained between 1.9% and 2% for the past 5 years.

        Our advice?

        If you focus on doing the right things – identifying, interesting, involving, asking, acknowledging, thanking, stewarding, creating donor-centric campaigns, surveying, investing, different ways of engaging etc., you will raise more money. Staying the same is no longer sufficient just to raise the same amount of money as previous years.  Every nonprofit needs to be considering ways to strengthen their fundraising and development.  If you would like ideas on how to do this, email me today.

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?Listen to any conference speaker, self-help guru or tech entrepreneur and you are sure to hear about their failures. Of course, they are speaking because they turned their failures into lessons that helped them succeed. Can you imagine going to a funder and telling them that you had to close down your last nonprofit due to lack of money but this time you knew how to handle their 7-figure gift? Can nonprofits turn previous failures into future success? Of course, saying you have changed the way you run your organization is not enough.  You need to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

  • Show that you now have a strong case for giving and are only approaching the right people at the right time.
  • Prove you have learned your lesson by talking about your new and detailed focus on acknowledgements.
  • Demonstrate that you understand stewardship for each and every donor and each and every gift.

What are other areas that nonprofits ignore that can be turned around to prove success?

To some this list may seem overwhelming. To others, it will highlight areas on which to focus or tweak in the coming year. Either way, turning previously missed opportunities into growth and prosperity will sustain your nonprofit. And, it will be something positive to talk about to current and prospective funders. Showing that you are learning and growing is something everyone can get excited about.   Please let us know if we can help you improve your nonprofit by emailing Abigail Harmon.

15 Holidays You Can Celebrate with Donor Stewardship

Donor Stewardship ImageHolidays come and go. We take days off, we celebrate with friends and family and, hopefully you express appreciation to your community through personalized donor stewardship.  At least, I hope that is what you are doing.

Any holiday can be used as a good excuse to call, send a handwritten note, send an email, highlight a beneficiary, or send a token gift.

But think of the holidays and how they align with your nonprofit.

New Year’s Day?  Talk about your hopes, dreams and resolutions for your nonprofit that you can achieve thanks to their gifts.

Groundhog’s Day?  Consider a cute gif thanking your donors that loops and references the holiday.

Valentine’s Day?  Try a short IPhone video with a beneficiary talking about how much they love the opportunity they were given thanks the donors support. Of course, handwritten valentines from children or chocolates are always nice too.

St. Patrick’s Day?  Send someone a link to a unique piece of Irish music.

Purim?  Arrange for mishloach manot – traditional food and sweets sent to friends and family

April Fool’s Day?  Send a few jokes to make people laugh.

Mother’s Day?  Why not ask a donor to make a donation, to a different organization that helps mothers, in honor of your nonprofit’s donors. Nonprofits acknowledging that the world needs help and we can help in small ways shows you know you are not the only organization in need of support.

My birthday? It should be a national holiday, shouldn’t it? Throw a huge party on May 29th.  Or, you could send a birthday card to your donors in honor of their birthdays. Whatever seems more appropriate.

Father’s Day? There are more and more organizations that focus on the positive role of fathers. Consider sending a list of organizations that you think do wonderful work and need more awareness.

Juneteenth? You may have noticed this holiday auto populate your calendars along with some others you can Google like Holi, Eid al-Adha and Diwali. You are not the only one who has to Google them. Consider giving a little information along with a way in which it connects with your organization. It could be as simple as sending an email that shows your nonprofit prides itself on helping others learn about the world or support people of all faiths.

Halloween? Send images of the things that scare your organization or just send a note thanking them for making every day less scary in your world.

Thanksgiving? Thank your donors. Or offer them ways to be thankful.

#GivingTuesday? This nonprofit celebration can be very useful if you know how to celebrate. Sending emails asking can help. But thanking donors for their giving can go a long way too.

Chanukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa? Each holiday has special traditions that talk about giving, miracles, and supporting each other. Think about how you can do more ask at this time of year. But, make sure you are also asking.

Determine what is right for your organization. If you would like to talk about ways Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help your nonprofit, email me today.

Set New Fundraising Goals for the Year? Make Sure You Have the Resources to Succeed

Resources for fundraising goalsIt’s a few weeks into the new year and, hopefully, you have set your new fundraising goals for the year.  And, if you intend to achieve those goals, we also hope that you have a fundraising plan with a stewardship calendar) in place. There is a reason for the adage, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

How did you set your fundraising goal?

Let’s talk about the reality of your situation.  Choose the letter that best describes your nonprofit’s fundraising goals for the year:

  1. I/we kept our fundraising goal the same as last year.
  2. I/we took the current budget and increased our fundraising goal by XX%.
  3. I/we looked at the budget shortfall and added that to the amount we raised last year to create our fundraising goal.
  4. I/we looked at what we raised last year, estimated we would have the same donor retention and new acquisition rates, and created our fundraising goal based on similar results.
  5. I/we looked at what we raised last year, estimated that we could implement a stewardship calendar that could help retain previous gifts while increasing our donor retention by 10% this year. We added an estimated amount based on those proportions to our fundraising goal.
  6. I/we looked at what we raised last year, estimated we could implement a stewardship calendar that could help increase our donor retention by 10% this year, determined we could hold three first-time donor events and three introduction emails to increase our first-time donor retention by 20%, and examine our lapsed donors above $1,000 for the past five years by looking at donors who could be reactivated. Then we established estimated increases for each category and added that to our fundraising goal.

The truth is, it is hard to get from A to F. It requires resources – human and financial. You cannot take the time to analyze your giving patterns, if you do not have someone to collect the data and analyze it. Even if you outsource the analysis – Mersky Jaffe & Associates can help you with this – you still need the resources to turn the findings into funding.

You will need resources for all aspects of your plan. Creating an overall stewardship calendar? You may want to send out additional snail mail letters. Creating a planned giving program? You might need collateral. Wondering how to deepen the engagement with first time donors? You might want to have coffee with the strongest prospects.  That all takes time and money.

Need it spelled out? Assuming you can increase the amount of money you raise this yea, without changing what you are doing, is a sure way to disappoint yourself, the executive director and board.

So, instead of considering what will not get done as a consequence of your new areas of focus, think about what resources you will need.  And ask for them. Could additional administrative help alleviate some stress? Do you need a new development professional? Is there a way to shift current under-utilized staff time to focus more on fundraising?

I know that budgets are tight and adding staff may not be high on your list of priorities. But you can’t raise more money without a plan on how to get there. Of course, it depends on how much you are hoping to raise. Trying to increase your numbers by $100,000 or more?  It may be time to increase your human resources. And know that the hire will more than pay for itself within a few years—even ten times over.

To quote another adage, “It takes money to raise money.” At least, that’s the adage as I remember it. 

#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.

A Guide to Powering Up your Board Member Recruitment

Board Member Recruitment Let me start by saying that before you focus on board member recruitment, you need a standing committee on governance and leadership development. If you don’t, read this or this first.

OK, now we are on the same page and everyone understands the importance of a standing committee on governance and leadership development.  Among the ten basic responsibilities of board members is one that states thatthe board should “replace itself.” But, board member recruitment means that you have to continually generate and explore prospects for leadership roles in the organization as well as for potential board members. Here are 8 ideas for your committee to test out:

  1. Consider your constituents/members. One of the life lessons we are learning from the upcoming mid-term elections is that people seem to want to be represented by people who look and act like themselves. Board member recruitment should include representatives of your work. Members, current/former beneficiaries, or program participants can all be considered.
  2. Think about who has reached out to you. People who are looking to get more involved but first want to peek behind the scenes at a nonprofit will often reach out to you. They will invite the Executive Director or another staff member for coffee or to meet up. It might be after an event, “I will be at pancake breakfast with my kids, can we talk for a few minutes about this idea I had for a wine tasting event.” Whether or not you want to add a wine tasting is irrelevant – that person is thinking about how to help your nonprofit. And that is a good indicator that they may want a deeper involvement.
  3. Look at your committee members. This is a tried and true method of identifying potential board members who are committed to the organization and do what they say they will do.
  4. Read your donor lists. Now focus in on the cumulative giving lists. If your nonprofit means enough to them to give year after year, they have already demonstrated their passion for your mission and vision.
  5. Perform a formal search. This will take time and energy, but if you think you have people who would get more involved, if only they were asked to do more than serve pancakes, offer them the opportunity to raise their hands. Put out calls on social media (LinkedIn could be incredibly valuable here), in newsletters or hand written notes to target specific people. List opportunities to join different committees that could use an infusion of new volunteers (read: all committees). Finance, development, events, governance, programs, marketing, and/or membership are all options.
  6. Ask your current board members who are not on the governance and leadership development committee for suggestions. This may seem obvious, but over time a strong committee might not be soliciting nominations from other board members.
  7. Look outside the box. Contact local organizations that train board members (e.g., United Ways) or look online to nonprofit board recruitment sites.
  8. Talk to your current volunteers. Some volunteers want to help a day here or there with no long-term commitment. But, if you ask your volunteer coordinator who the most reliable volunteers are, there will be obvious answers.

Of course, once you identify candidates, the next step is to research them. But I will save that for another article on board member recruitment.

Why the Next Note To Your Donor Does Not Have To Be A Highly-crafted, Over-thought, Well-designed Piece Of Perfection

the Next Note To Your Donor In the past couple of weeks, I have written notes to two different people who are going through some medical issues. While I am not particularly close with either, they are people I truly like. And, in both cases, I heard about the issues from a mutual friend who had called to let me know.

In both cases I considered whether I should send something, buy a card, or pick up the phone. With back to school, a conference and the Jewish High Holidays, I realized it was a bit of a crazy time. So, I wrote a few sentences to each in an email, letting them know I was thinking of them. Each one took about 2 minutes to do.

In both cases, I heard from the mutual friend how appreciative the person was that I took the time to write. Not bad for less than five minutes in a crazy, busy week.

I am not writing this to pat myself on the back. I am writing this to say your personal outreach to your friend, your colleague or your donor will make a difference.

The next note to your donor does not have to be a highly-crafted, over-thought, well-designed piece of perfection. It just needs to get out.  And come from the heart.

Today, take the few minutes necessary to write to some donors or prospective donors. Maybe you can send them a funny article that you shared on Facebook because it poked fun at your nonprofit sector or let them know about a great thank you note you just received from a high school student who benefited from your program which they support.

Keep it simple and get it out.  You will be amazed at the results.