Tag Archives: The Fundraising Committee

Capital Campaign Asks- The Nonprofit Leaders Guide Vol. 8

Who Will Make the Capital Campaign Asks?

The Nonprofit Leaders Guide for a Capital Campaign Volume 8: Who Will Make the Asks

No series on capital campaigns can ignore the topic of the volunteer leaders who will be required to raise the funds.

Who should be on a capital campaign development committee?
You.  Yes, you, the person reading this article. How do I know that you would be a valuable asset to the development committee?  Because, you are already willing to invest your own personal time to learn about the process.  But, one person cannot do it all.

If you are ready to begin making capital campaign asks, there is probably a group of people who have been voicing their opinions and organizing the first steps.  Skip the sub-group who have clearly stated, from the very beginning, that they will not ask anyone for money.  There are some people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones and some who stand firm. Don’t try to move the rocks.

Where else can you find solicitors?  Your standing development committee is a good place to start.  People who have been working on your annual fund will know a lot of the donors/prospects.  And, they will understand the reasoning behind building or renovating the facilities or creating or enhancing an endowment.

Did you perform a feasibility study?  If so, get in touch with the interviewees who said they would consider soliciting for the campaign. It will show that you are taking the results to heart.

Don’t forget the major donors!  Major donors make excellent capital campaign development committee members.  They understand the importance of financial support for your nonprofit and can ask others to join them in making this “once in a lifetime” gift.

How many people do you need?
Every situation is a bit different but, between 10-15 is a good place to start to make the capital campaign asks.  You have to assume some will have to step off of the committee due to unforeseen circumstances and you want to be able to spread the work among at least 8 people.  Capital campaigns take time to achieve their goals and you need a committee that is large enough to deal with the ebb and flow of committee member’s lives outside the committee.

No experience necessary
Training can, and should be, a part of a capital campaign development committee.  Volunteers will come in with vastly different experience but a bit of training can give everyone the confidence they need.  Some may choose to use outside consultants like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates or an in-house staff member with experience, but make sure everyone has the opportunity to feel like they will be successful in soliciting donations.

If you have more questions on capital campaign fundraising, consider signing up for the upcoming webinar, “How to Ask Someone for $1,000,000: and How Rejection Therapy Can Help” on September 15thClick here to sign up.

Read the rest of the series:

Last Month: Capital Campaign Marketing Materials

Next Month: Who To Solicit First

The Fundraising Committee: Reflecting on a Year Part II

Abigail HarmonA few weeks ago I wrote Part I of what I experienced and learned when I looked back at my first year as the chair of a fundraising committee. Two themes surfaced through the year. The first was how to ask donors for gifts. As an organization, did we want a Direct “ask” or Soft “ask.” Click here to read Part I of The Fundraising Committee: Reflecting on a Year. The second theme I perceived was whether to focus our limited resources on new donors or previous donors (LYBUNTs, SYBUNTs and the like).

In an article I posted last September, I felt that we had to prioritize finding new donors (You can read that article by clicking here). I was able to encourage this because at this nonprofit, the fundraising committee is charged with making this strategic decision. (I would like to be clear that this is not usually a stand alone board decision). That was not to say that we were ignoring LYBUNTs and SYBUNTS but the total number of donors was low and I thought it was important to increase significantly the number of new donors to account for the natural attrition of donors who will never renew their support each year. Now that the fiscal year is complete, was this the right decision?

New Donors vs. LYBUNTs
But it is never an “either/or.” After the December annual appeal we realized that two of our major donors had yet to give. And one had not given the year before. In our organization, one or two major donors who do not contribute can make the difference between achieving our goals.

While we don’t know exactly why this happened, we began to suspect that they were simply not directly asked – in a soft or direct way. We were communicating with them each year in other ways and stewarding them as donors but somehow the actual ask did not happen.

As it turns out, one of the lapsed major donors – the one who had not given in the previous year either- did not return any emails or phone calls. But knowing that we were trying to ask him was enough to get a renewal. And to help us reach our fundraising goals.

I was left with the lesson that we all know and sometimes forget. There is no doubt that the organization needs to increase its donor base but that is a long term strategy. You can never forget your short-term goals. Fortunately, we were watching trends early enough to self correct.

New Donors are essential when the original donors have been giving for 25 years.
I will stand by my original hypothesis that the organization needs new donors. While the founding donors continue to feel good about giving to the organization and our community, they want to know their incredible legacy will continue for years to come and that has to include broadening the donor base.

In the end, the board came up with an array of creative options to find new donors and increase our email mailing list. Some were simple enough to put in place – clipboards with signup sheets at every event. Some required specific timing – sending someone to represent us at every back-to-school night in the district in the fall to collect names and create awareness (an easy way for board members to support fundraising if they feel uncomfortable asking for donations). And some will require more work but build a strong connection to the mission – like events in various homes to showcase the amazing programs we bring to the schools.

As we consider our priorities for the coming year, I am hoping we will find many opportunities to grow and deepen our relationships. What nonprofit could ask for more?

The Fundraising Committee: Reflecting on a Year – Part I

Abigail HarmonThis year, I started a series as the chair of the fundraising committee (click here to read the first few articles) of a small nonprofit.  Some months there were concepts that would not be appropriate for public consumption – even without names. And during other months I realized that not everything we discussed was interesting enough to write about.  Hard to believe that could happen at a fundraising committee, but true.

But as I reflect on the past year (during which we accomplished many of our goals) there are two interesting themes that continued to surface at meetings as well as the conversations in between. To dive deep into the subject and offer details, I have split the ideas into two posts. Look for part two in a couple of weeks. And for today, consider:

The Direct ask vs. the Soft ask 

Throughout the year we have had discussions about the way to ask prospective donors for money. And we often refer to it as the hard vs soft “ask.” I am, unsurprisingly, an advocate for a direct and frequent “ask.” It came up when we discussed:

  • a letter. I recommend placing the ask it in the first few paragraphs (David will say it should be in the first one but I often prefer to start with a story) and again at the end.
  • email follow-ups Email follow-ups are easy for you and easy for donors so why wouldn’t you send a couple to follow up on an annual appeal letter? (Side note: anyone who should be stewarded as a major donor should never be sent a general email appeal unless they are not responding in other ways). Ideally, you have the capability to remove prospects who have already given this year, but if not, graciously thank those who have already given in the first sentence.
  • personal asks. Personal asks are not an intrusion if the person feels connected to the organization and has been appropriately stewarded. I suggest you assume that if they are considered a major donor at your nonprofit, they are probably considered a major donor somewhere else. And you can be sure that they are having a personal conversation and directly asking for a sizable donation. Who do you think this donor will feel more connected to in the future – the person who set the meeting or the person that was hesitant to set anything up?
  • annoying donors. Sometimes you will get the message across without ever speaking to the person. While I recommend everyone make the calls and meet with the prospective donors – I don’t want to annoy somebody so much that they begin to dislike the organization. After a couple of unreturned voice mails, what can you do?
    • Send an email asking if they would be interested in meeting (make sure there is a subtle link to donate in your signature)
    • Send a survey created for this purpose via email and/or mail. Ask for their preferred methods of contact as well as questions about the organization that you would have asked during a meeting (ask for advice – not just money)
    • Send a personalized update through mail or email (depending on the prospect’s preferences) with a handwritten note hoping you can get together soon.

The point is to engage the donor and ask for a gift. But if they won’t speak to you, encourage ways they can give without a meeting.

You may have noticed that I did not give voice to the soft ask. While I appreciate the sensitivity that gives voice to that point of view, I have found that the push for a softer ask often comes from fear. Fear of upsetting or annoying someone, fear of being laughed at for the outrageous sum for which you asked, fear of hearing no, or fear of the unknown. Fears that may come true, but really, so what?

I’m sure it’s not the first time you have heard no or were laughed at and it won’t be the last. How you react to each situation will be the true test of whether your ask, and your campaign, will be successful.

The Fundraising Committee: Assessing the Annual Appeal

Office sceneJanuary brings a level of reality to many nonprofits. At most organizations the December push brings in the majority of annual giving. This month is the time to work on assessing the annual appeal and consider what you did right and wrong – whether you are staff or on the fundraising committee A deeper dive than whether or not it met financial expectations is required. Let’s look at what you can uncover:

The annual appeal by the numbers
What results should you be analyzing?

  • How much did you raise (okay that is a bit obvious but still necessary)?
  • How does that compare to your projections? To each of the last three years?
  • If you had no projections beyond “raising the same as last year” consider:
    • How many donors gave?
    • How many of those donors were new donors?
    • How many of those donors that were listed as previous donors gave in the previous year vs. 2 or 3 years before?
    • What was the percentage return on any mailing? (A ½ of 1 percent is still considered average results on prospect mailings to “never-evers”)
    • How many/what per cent of previous donors increased, decreased or gave the same as their last gift?
  • Were there any special, one-time gifts that effect this year’s numbers (or last year’s)?

What worked? It’s time to take a moment to appreciate your successes:

  • Did a new or different mailer get sent this year?
  • Did you initiate a new email campaign to phenomenal results?
  • Did you increase the number of stewardship “touches” to donors this year that did not focus on asking for donations?
  • Did you add a regular newsletter to your mix?

Little things can make a big difference. And taking the time to acknowledge what you did will help you determine what changes you would like to make for the coming year. Not everything has to be a drastic change but keeping everything the same will result in missing the opportunity to excite donors.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, insanity is doing the “same thing each year and expecting a different result.”

What could/would you have done differently
Now that you know the results, should you have:

  • Focused more on retaining donors?
  • Done a series of follow up emails through December?
  • Met with more major donors throughout the year?
  • Created a mailer to attract new donors (and work to ensure they remain supporters?)
  • Created new ways to thank donors?

Assessing the annual appeal will help you learn your strengths and weaknesses with donors. And help you understand how you achieved—and may yet improve upon—that all important December appeal number.


Other articles in the Fundraising Committee series include:
The Fundraising Committee Experience

New Donors vs. SYBUNTs

Should Everyone Be a Fundraiser?

Should Everyone Be a Fundraiser?

Abigail Harmon - Head of the Fundraising CommitteeRecently I ran a phonathon as the head of the fundraising committee. While this was not my first phonathon, I did learn a few things.

Should everyone be a fundraiser?

I know that many people do not want to make the calls or meet with people to ask for money. There are many other ways to support the organization. But, when people tell me they don’t like to make calls to previous donors, especially people that I consider to be outgoing, energetic, interactive individuals, I am skeptical. There is a part of me that thinks – “he just hasn’t had enough practice to get past his discomfort” or “she’ll feel differently once she starts making the calls and realizes these are not cold calls but people who already love the organization.”

But maybe, just maybe, there are some outgoing, energetic, interactive individuals who don’t like making calls – no matter the case or the cause.

The results

In addition to 10 of my fellow board members, two fellow board members/friends who also serve with me signed up as a sign of loyalty to me – a very kind and supportive gesture that did not go unnoticed. Should I have let them off of the hook?

I don’t know.

One person (I’ll call her Jen), it turned out felt good after having a heart-warming conversation and another (I’ll call her Rachel) hated it from beginning to end. I think Jen will be a better volunteer for this and other organizations and gained a bit of personal growth. But, Rachel is a good volunteer in so many other ways (including face-to-face solicitations). Why should she do something that is uncomfortable? Why does this need to be the sign of a good volunteer?

I asked Rachel if she was sorry she participated. She said that she was glad she did it but it confirmed her dislike for phone solicitations (based on her anger at receiving them).

And now, I am smarter about how to handle the situation in the future. Next time I will arrange a few alternate jobs – from prep-work to onsite organization – if they choose to join us the night of the phonathon. I want to ensure they feel good about their participation – whatever their participation may be.

New Donors vs. SYBUNTs

Abigail Harmon - Head of the Fundraising Committee

The Fundraising Committee Experience, Month 2

Last month I started a series entitled, “The Fundraising Committee Experience.” I gave an overview of my new role as head of the fundraising committee for my town’s education foundation, NEF. Most of the feedback I received was positive, but I did hear a few questions about why we chose to focus on new donors vs. SYBUNTs or LYBUNTs. In fact, I had to defend our decision to my boss.

This month, I will explain a bit about how we came to that conclusion.

In 9 out of 10, if not 96 out of a 100 cases, raising additional funds should focus on donors who have previously given to your organization but have not yet reinvested– the LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs. From stewarding donors into larger, more meaningful gifts to assessing why donors have not renewed the gifts – the field is ripe with fruit waiting to be noticed and picked. It is the logical place to start.

But, what if there has not been a multi-step plan to attract new donors for some time? We are an organization that organically touches more than 400 new students each year (I read that as 400 students with families whose lives are going to be enriched for the next 13+ years by the organization). But, there is limited awareness of the organization and its value to the community and its schools. Our future depends on increasing our donor base – now and on a continual basis. So, we think our education foundation may be the exception, and not the rule.
That is not to say we will be eliminating stewardship of current donors. Stewardship should always, always, always be a part of a nonprofit’s fundraising effort. But, it is just not one of our three new areas of focus for this year.

But, each nonprofit has to consider their own fundraising circumstances. We (those of us at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) may have years and years of experience, but each consultation is unique. There is no cookie cutter approach to increase donations, just a bit of analyzing and a lot of hard work. Now, we will have to determine the best ways to attract new donors to NEF.

Read The Fundraising Committee Experience

Read other articles on committees

Read other articles about fundraising

The Fundraising Committee Experience

Abigail Harmon - head of the fundraising committeeLast week I took the helm as the head of the fundraising committee of a nonprofit board on which I serve. That makes it sound like a much bigger deal than it is, but as I sat down last week with 4 of the 5 committee members and 1 staff person, I thought that this was the start of a new chapter for me. And, with permission from the co-presidents of the board, perhaps, you could learn along with me.

The Board

I have served as one of 39 board members on the Needham Education Foundation for one year. The organization is celebrating 25 years this winter and that translates to 25 years of providing our town with additional resources for the school system. Funding ranges from author visits, performance art and iPad pilot programs to a new technology lab and an innovative interdisciplinary learning initiative in the high school.

But enough bragging. From a fundraising point of view, it means we have to continue to raise money in order to continue granting out money at the same pace. And did I mention fundraising has been down slightly in the past couple of years?

Our First Steps

I am lucky to have other development professionals (as well as successful volunteer fundraisers) on the committee. We started by looking at our current practices. Even a long-standing, strong organization can let best practices fall away over time.

  • Set a fundraising goal. Study after study has shown that writing down goals helps us achieve those goals (this is not a just in fundraising). Instead of using previous years as a vague ideal, we wrote down a goal (close to the fundraising high of 2011-2012) and then listed ideas on how we would get there.
  • 100% board participation. This may not get us much closer to our fundraising goal but it seems an obvious place to start. I think this was probably overlooked because we never applied to other foundations for funding; money was raised through individual and corporate giving, a large spelling bee fundraiser and strong financial investments. It is a working board that includes teacher representatives – should teachers have to give? We don’t know how they, or many of the board members, feel about donating because we never asked them. Bottom line? Best practices say that if the board doesn’t feel like this is a good investment of their own money – why would anyone else?
  • Find New Donors. Residents with public school children can personally reap the benefits of the organization for all thirteen years of each child’s experience in the school system. But, as a group of 6, we realized that even we were unaware of how many dynamic elements of the current curriculum were started as NEF grants. Will a brochure mailed to the town help us reach more families? What else would help us gain exposure?     *** Please note that in 90% (or more) of nonprofits, the best place to start is with current and former donors. Look for more details of why we made this choice in a future article.

First steps, are, just that. We brainstormed a lot of ideas but these are the first we are acting upon. Stay tuned for future updates.

Thank you to the NEF for allowing me to share this with the MJA learning community. If you would like to learn more about the NEF including how to donate, please visit us at http://www.nefneedham.org

For more learning on nonprofit committees consider reading one of these articles:
Assuring the Best in Nonprofit Management: The Committee on Governance and Leadership Development
Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board
Nonprofit Finance Committee 101