Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘resource development’

Events, Grants and Individual Giving

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on October 23, 2013 at 9:08 am

I was having breakfast this week with a friend and fellow consultant and we were discussing resource development efforts, including events and grants.  As I’m sure you are well aware by now, I’m not a huge fan of organizations hosting multiple events.  Events are expensive, labor intensive and don’t usually generate a lot of income.

I can hear you out there saying “No Dani, they’re fun!”  And they are, at least some of them are.

One signature event a year is a wonderful way to engage new donors, connect with current donors and showcase your programs while raising significant money. Even signature events that don’t raise significant money may still be a good use of your resources.  However, more than one signature event a year is too much.

More than one event (two, if you must) may be a sign that your leadership, board or executive, is reluctant to raise money in other ways.

Leadership that doesn’t want to embark on an annual appeal or a major donor campaign will often advocate more grants be written or additional events be introduced.  Not only will more events not raise more money, more events will cannibalize your signature event and may yield less income for more work.  Any process that doesn’t get you to your goal is a bad process.

“The Executive Director is the Chief Development Officer” of any non profit that seeks contributed income. (Erik Anderson Donor Dreams blog) Whether they want to or not; whether they’re good at it or not; whether they have a development director whose job it is or not, the Exec is still responsible for fund raising and one of the responsibilities of a governing board is to raise money. Neither is a role that can be abdicated.

Events are often 5-15% of an agency’s budget and generally net 50% of what they cost, sometimes less. Most attendees would be appalled to know that, but it’s true. It’s too high! I recommend events net 75% of what they cost. There are other, better, avenues to raise money.

Grants, which are often 30-50% of an agency’s budget, more if they receive United Way funding, are one way.  Yet, they too come with a cost. Most agencies get somewhere between 50-80% of the grants they submit. That means that the time spent on writing the 20-50% of the grants that don’t get funded is time lost.  For the grants that are secured, there are reports to be written, dollars to be tracked, objectives to reach and programming to introduce. All of which is as it should be, and none of which is without cost.

As I mentioned in the Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising post, according to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) individual giving offers the highest rate of return for the lowest cost (5-10%) to the organization.  It is also the largest pot of money given in this country and usually only reflective of the percentage of special event income in most agencies’ budgets.  In other words, 80% of the philanthropic dollars in this country are given by individuals yet 10-15% of most agencies budgets are received from individuals. Like the post says, “opportunity is knocking. Get the door!”

Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any individual giving program and the program should be introduced in just that order: Board giving should come first with the Board setting and then meeting a giving goal. Staff should then be asked and then major donors. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated – and later, stewarded – and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.

Once those asks are made, as mentioned in the Sustainability by Descending Order of Love post, “if you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization.  While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally.  If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go.  It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls.”

There are a lot of ways to raise money and some will generate more money in less time than others.  Nonprofit leaders are busy.  Get the best bang for your buck and get on the individual giving path.  It will be scary, and also worth it!

What have you done to increase individual giving?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.  A rising tide raises all boats.

Major Gifts from Major Donors is Major Fun

In Resource Development on October 1, 2013 at 9:44 am

Philanthropists make the world a better place. They take their own money – money that they could spend on traveling, or eating, or shoe shopping or anything they want – and they invest it to solve the community’s and the world’s problems. How cool is that?!?!

It’s our job to match up their passion with our programs; to demonstrate the need, and later the impact and to well represent both our organization and our profession!

I once got a call from a guy who grew up near the neighborhood in which my organization was located. He wanted to donate $5,000 for a small capital venture – basketball court, outdoor activity – something he could name in honor of his parents. My agency was in a housing development owned by the housing authority. We didn’t have the land to build something – but we needed a new tech center. I shared our needs and submitted a proposal. He and I played phone tag for a while and at some point he called me in the evening while I was driving my 2 year old daughter home from day care. While he and I talked, she screamed. I thought I lost the gift! Not only did I not lose the gift, he funded the entire $13,000 project and gave me a compliment that I still treasure to this day. He said he’d been talking to a variety of nonprofit leaders (news to me!) and I was the most professional (even with a screaming 2 year old!) with the best presentation and follow through. Woo Hoo!

Sometimes the calls will come to you. Those will be very good days. Sometimes you will have to work to meet major donors. You will have to figure out who they are and what you need to do to get in front of them; who you know that knows them and what piece of your organization will be interesting and inspiring to them. Then, once you meet them, the real fun begins! You will need to cultivate and engage them in your future plans.


Ask each member of the Board of Directors to identify new people to introduce to the organization. When they do, communicate with every introduction, friend, prospect & donor regarding the impact of your organization. Obviously, a goal of any fund raising program is to build strong relationships with donors that will, over time, lead to increased engagement and increased giving. Trustees and the senior staff should each have cultivation goals based on their spheres of influence. Focus on friend raising as well as fund raising.

Fund raising is an art not a science. At some point, depending on the donor’s level of engagement and your experience, it will be time to request a specific (to their circumstances) donation. The asker should be assigned based on the likelihood of getting a yes. It may be a board officer; it may be a different board member; it may be the executive director; or a member of the development committee. Regardless of ego, you send the person who is most likely to get a yes.

Train askers to thank potential donor for their interest and past support, as appropriate, explain and present the written case for support, and request consideration for a suggested specific donation. Then, train them to be quiet until the potential donor has spoken. At which point, askers should answer questions, and either say “thank you” for the donor’s pledge/gift or their consideration while requesting an appointment to follow up.

Some consultants will tell you to never leave without a pledge form signed but that always felt much too aggressive to me. I prefer the gentler approach to donor engagement.

Once the donor has made a gift, it is imperative that you continue to engage them, which is called stewardship. Stewardship happens after a gift has been made and is an activity in which the donor is not being asked for a contribution, but is being informed/ updated of organizational activities of interest to her.

This should happen 3-4 times after a significant gift is received before another gift is solicited. Donors should not only hear from you when you want money.

I encourage you, at a minimum, to follow the four touch approach after you have received a major gift. Let’s pretend the gift was received in January.

1. Thank the donor for the gift.

The day your organization receives the gift, the CEO or Board member should call to say thank you. Two days later, the donor should have a formal thank you note in their hand that includes the proper IRS language. Within the week, they should receive a personal hand written thank you note from whoever solicited the gift. Whatever else your giving opportunities afford for a gift at that level should happen.

2. Tell them what you did with their gift.

In April, call and tell them about the program that their gift supported, in whole or in part. Share the expected impact of that program.

3. Tell them the impact of their gift.

In August, call and share the actual impact of the program their gift supported.

4. Then- and only then – you can ask for another, slightly larger, gift.

In December, call and ask for a meeting to share the successes of the year and discuss their participation in the current annual campaign.

Throughout the year, donors should also receive newsletters, marketing and email blasts as well as invitations to program events and special events. If you see their name in the paper, send a note. If you see an article in which they might be interested, send a copy. Include them; check in with them; and keep your major donors updated.

Major Donors make the world a better place! Don’t be afraid to meet them, meet with them, engage them and, if there’s match between your mission and their passion, solicit a gift. The worst thing they could say is no and even if they do, they’ll respect you for asking. I once had a philanthropist laugh – out loud for a not insignificant period of time – when a Board member and I asked for $100,000. She gave a major gift but the time between when she laughed and offered her pledge seemed to go on forever.

Do you have a similar story? What’s been your experience with major donors? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

Governance: The Work of the Board, part 4 Raising Money

In Non Profit Boards on August 9, 2013 at 7:40 am

Welcome to part four of our five part series on Governance.  We have already discussed the Board’s role in Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive,  Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, and Setting Policy.  Today, let’s discuss the Board’s role in raising money.

As previously mentioned, Boards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization.  As outlined in my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership  and summarized in The Role of the Board, the Fiduciary Mode is where governance begins for all boards and ends for too many.  I encourage you to also explore the Strategic and Generative Modes of Governance, which will greatly improve your board’s engagement, and also their enjoyment.

At a minimum, governance includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent
  • Raising Money and
  • Setting Policy

One of my goals for this blog is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling nonprofit executives and boards how things should be done without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.

What Board members being responsible for raising money means is:

The Board sets the fund raising (also called resource development) goal; embarks on the campaign; opens doors; introduces staff; “makes the ask” when they’re the most likely person to get a yes (regardless of title or ranking, you always send the person who is most likely to get a yes to a gift request); picks up the tab for lunch when possible; and thanks the donor.  The Board is also responsible for setting the strategic plan which may include a goal to increase contributed income. Each Board member should be expected to make a significant gift, reflective of their personal circumstances, as well as raise additional money.

I do not recommend give or get policies. Give or get policies allow Board members to avoid personally giving; 100% Board giving is critical for a successful campaign.  Potential donors will ask if there is 100% Board giving and the answer must be yes.  Why should anyone else support an organization whose Board members do not? Moreover, how can you ask for someone else to financially support an organization you do not financially support?  I can hear someone out there saying “I give of my time,” and that is wonderful, but it’s not enough.  Board members should also financially support the organizations they serve.

I also don’t recommend set giving requirements. Set giving policies, intended to be minimum gifts, actually end up being the entire gift.  Such policies alienate potential board members who may bring a lot to the table but cannot personally give at the set level.  It also leaves money on the table for people that can give more.  Finally, it eliminates the Resource Development Committee’s opportunity to seek out and personally go to ask each Board member for a specific (to their circumstances and level of engagement) gift.  It takes away the chance to say thank you for your engagement, removes the possibility to steward Board members as donors and minimizes the chance of a larger gift. Any policy that works against your goals is not a good policy.

The Board cannot and is not expected to raise money alone. The staff is responsible for training the Board; coordinating the assignments; preparing the askers with relevant donor information; drafting and supplying whatever written information will be left with the donor, including a case statement (also called case for support) and a letter asking for a specific dollar amount; attending the ask meetings as appropriate; documenting the meeting in the database; writing the formal thank you note; and creating a plan to steward (or circle back to) the donor going forward.

The Executive cannot raise money alone.  The Development Director cannot raise money alone.  Fund raising works best in a culture of philanthropy when both the staff and the Board are working together to increase contributed income.

What’s been your experience?  As always, I welcome your insight and experience.

Not Fund Raising? Not Engaged.

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on January 16, 2013 at 8:11 am

Multiple conversations about the same topic with the leadership of a variety of organizations tend to lead to blog posts.  When that happens, it is usually prompted by a question, though the question is rarely about the actual issue at hand.  The issue that is really the issue at hand is usually behind the issue that is being presented.

For those of you know me, it will come as no surprise to you that I spend a lot of time thinking about the situation behind the situation. (When you make your living telling people what you think, you’d better have thought extensively about whatever they might want to know.)

When it comes to Boards and fund raising (and quite a few other topics as well), the issue behind the issue is often engagement.

The question I am being asked a lot lately is “How can I get my Board to fund raise?“

If your Board is not fund raising the way you want them to, I submit you do not have a fund raising issue; you have an engagement issue and possibly a Board Development issue.

Boards that are engaged, raise money.  Boards that are not, don’t.

What is the emotional energy of the people in the room during a Board meeting?

When I ask this question while facilitating a session, I set up the answer on a scale of 1-4, with one being “I can’t believe I left my office for this” and 4 being “I feel privileged to be in this room.”  Where do your Board members fall?

Mission moments, generative discussions and strategic conversations are engaging.  Upholding the fiduciary responsibilities, while critical for an organization is also, for the most part, disengaging.  It’s boring.  It’s necessary but it’s still boring and boring is disengaging.

Every time I facilitate a planning session with a Board, someone comes up to me and says something to the effect of “That was great!  I’m so happy to be talking about strategy and issues and not about the building” (or the finances, or fill in whatever you are sick of)

We engaged Board members initially by talking to them about our organization’s mission, the impact it makes in our communities and our vision for changing our corner of the world.  They joined our Boards in order to help us do those things – and then we never talked with them ever again about any of it.  Ever.

We talk with Board members about money, what we spent and why we need more of it; we talk with them about fund raising and why they need to do more of it; we talk with them about the problems we’re having and what we need from them to fix it.

We don’t talk with them nearly enough about what they want, about why they joined our Board, and what they hoped to get out of their service.

It is a great opportunity to change the discussion; change the topic; change the impact; change the engagement level.

Call a retreat.  Take a survey.  Add some client stories to the agenda.  Have a Strategic Planning Strategy session and then continue to talk strategy throughout the year. Present a environmental scan and discuss how it will impact your clients, not just your agency, but your clients.  Introduce some generative discussions at a Board meeting.  Here are a few ideas how from my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership:

—  “At the end of discussions give each member 2-3 minutes to write down any thoughts or questions that weren’t expressed.

—  Randomly designate 2-3 trustees to make the powerful counter arguments to initial recommendations.

—  Ask a subset of the Board to assume the perspective of different constituent groups likely to be affected by the decision at hand.”

Find out what people expected when they joined your Board and meet their expectations.   You’ll be glad you did and so will your Board members.  They might become so engaged, they might even start telling people about your agency, and asking people to support it.

Sustainability by Descending Order of Love

In Resource Development on May 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

The new normal has forced a lot of nonprofit leaders to rethink the way they do business.  Crises, as unpleasant as they are to experience, allow for growth.  I love Rahm Emanuel’s quote “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

The old normal, otherwise known as normal, to which we all ascribed went something like this:  Have a diverse funding base. That way, if ever you lost a government grant, major donor, or foundation award, you could continue to provide services. 
Then, as we all remember, the economic crisis of 2008/2009 came, with the compromise of every funding source we had and the end of life as we knew it.
It forced all of us to reassess. 
So….what’s a good Executive Director and talented Board to do?  Change.  
Think about every process and every assumption, put it on the table, look at it, talk about it and figure out if it still works for your organization. If it does, keep it.  If it doesn’t, create a plan to evolve that process into one that better serves the organization and its need for revenue sustainability.
How do you work towards revenue sustainability?  Some organizations do it with a consultant, some with a board member, some with a staff member or a donor. 
Where do I start?  I start with explaining the history of giving in the US and the fact that 80% of all financial gifts, grants and awards, including corporate and foundation giving, come from individuals.  I then move on to explain that 80% of most non profits’ income does not come from individuals. 
 What, then, do we have?  Enormous Opportunity!
I then introduce the idea of descending order of love.  Individual giving starts with the people who love you the most.
Let’s get those people together and brain storm: Where are we today?   Where do we want to go?  How can we get there? 
Big gifts require big dreams and the capacity to engage people to help reach those dreams. 
Get together and figure out your dreams, turn them into goals and then create a plan to meet those goals.  Then, put together a list of current donors and a robust list of potential donors, also called prospects.   Take a look at your current gift acceptance policies.  (Revise or adopt as necessary.) Once we have a goal, a plan, lists, and the requisite policies to increase the revenue for your organization, I move to descending order of love. 
Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any fund raising plan.  Those who love you the most will support you the most.  If sustainability were a board game, there would be a Start Here button.
Each board and staff member should make a significant gift.  I can hear you thinking” “Dani, significant is a fluid term.”  Yes it is and that is intentional; my goal is always 100% Board and staff giving.  It is critical that those closest to an organization financially support that organization.  If they don’t, how can they ask someone else to?
Each board member should be asked in person for a specific gift, not the same gift as every other board member, but a specific to that board member gift which should be determined based what the staff and committee know about their capacity and level of engagement.  If someone has enormous capacity but is not that engaged, a significant gift may be less than someone who has less capacity but is more engaged.  
Who should do the asking?  The person most likely to get a yes.  Usually that’s another board member, but sometimes, it’s the Executive Director, or a volunteer. 
Staff should also be asked to financially support the organization.  Care should be taken to who should make that ask as well.  I recommend a volunteer, because with fund raising and everything else, we want to avoid even the perception of impropriety.
Once we have 100% giving of staff and board, we move to our major donors and our prospect list and again, make specific in person asks.  Prospects should be appropriately cultivated before they are asked for financial support.  The definition of appropriate will change based on the individual and the need.
I consider major donors to be the top 10% of givers to your organization.  It may be $250, it may be $25,000.  It may be more and it may be less.  If we continued to play our sustainability board game, there would be a This Way arrow here.
After major donor solicitation are completed, if you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person.  Then move into your actual mid level donors and prospects.  Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization.  While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally.  If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go.  It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls. 
Our Board game and our plan for income sustainability ends with an appeal letter to those who have not yet been asked or have been asked but have not given and also haven’t said no.
I invite you follow the descending order of love path to sustainability.  Please let me know how it goes.  As always, I welcome your feedback.
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