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Financing Not Fundraising: 5 Taboos Nonprofits Must Get Over

January 31st, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Yep, it’s true, the nonprofit sector doesn’t have enough money. There are lots of reasons for that, but part of it stems from the taboos the nonprofit sector (and the staffs, boards and donors within it) perpetuates. But perhaps if we lay them bare, we can start to break free from them, which is the topic of today’s installment of the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.

If you are new to this series, the idea is that nonprofit fundraising is broken. Instead of continuing to hit their heads against the fundraising brick wall, nonprofit leaders must take a strategic approach to financing their work. You can read the entire Financing Not Fundraising blog series here.

Nonprofit taboos are so insidious because they are unwritten and unquestioned. But that has to stop. If we want to move the nonprofit sector forward, we must uncover certain taboos and determine whether they are really unacceptable anymore.

Here are the five most egregious taboos in the nonprofit sector:

    1. Nonprofits Shouldn’t Raise a Surplus
      For some reason it is unseemly for a nonprofit to have more money than they immediately need. If a nonprofit is not just barely breaking even, it is somehow unworthy of raising more money. To the contrary, a nonprofit that has operating reserves can invest in a more sustainable organization, conduct R&D to make sure their solution is the best one, recruit a highly competent staff, and weather economic fluctuations. It is far better to invest in an organization that is well poised to attack a social problem than one that is barely able to keep the lights on.


    1. Nonprofits Shouldn’t Pay Market Rate Salaries
      I won’t join the crazy controversy that surrounds nonprofit executive salary levels, but let me simply point out that nonprofits exist within a market economy, that is a fact. If someone is great at what they do, and they can make more money elsewhere, eventually they will do so. It is simple economics.  I understand that mission is a driving force for people attracted to the nonprofit sector, but as competition in the social change space continues to grow, the best and brightest will be lured away by other nonprofits, government entities, or for-profit social enterprises. So if you want to attract and retain a really talented employee, you’ve got to pay them accordingly.


    1. Nonprofits Shouldn’t Demand Board Members Fundraise
      Why not? Seriously, I don’t get this one at all. If your governing body is free to make strategic and programmatic decisions without understanding, first hand, the financial implications of those decisions, you are setting your nonprofit up for failure. Mission and money must be strategically aligned, and the first and most important place that alignment occurs is at the board level. There are plenty of ways for board members to get involved in the financial engine of their nonprofit. Let’s stop apologizing for having to make money in the nonprofit sector and start requiring every single board member get actively involved in the process.


    1. Nonprofits Shouldn’t Question Donors
      Donors hold the purse strings so nonprofit leaders are unwilling to tell them how it really is. But if the sector continues to act like a grateful recipient of a wealthy person’s or institution’s largesse, that power imbalance will continue, as will the dysfunctions that accompany it. If instead nonprofits and funders were equal partners working together to solve a problem, maybe we could get somewhere. But this will only happen if nonprofit leaders become more confident at telling their donors (and board members) how it really is. And if nonprofit leaders are more strategic about diversifying their financial model so they are no longer beholden to a few funders.


  1. Nonprofits Shouldn’t Invest in Fundraising 
    In the nonprofit world the fundraising function is equivalent to the sales and marketing function of the business world. No one expects Apple to create amazing gadgets and then sit back and hope people show up and buy them. They have an extensive and well-financed marketing and sales function. But nonprofits are expected to spend as little as humanly possible on fundraising. Added to that, nonprofits are even more challenged because they have two, not just one, set of customers: 1) the clients they serve who often can’t pay for services, and 2) the funders who pay for those services. So we are telling nonprofits to recruit and serve two sets of customers on a shoestring. That’s crazy. We have to get over the idea that investing in fundraising (high quality staff, technology, expertise, planning, marketing) is a bad thing.

At the end of the day, we have to stop apologizing for the realities of the nonprofit sector. It’s time nonprofit leaders stand up and start demanding the end to some serious strictures that hold them back from doing their jobs. And, let’s remember, those jobs are to solve some of the most complex problems facing our communities. Those jobs are probably more easily and effectively done in the absence of crazy taboos.

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

By Nell Edgington


Email Beats Facebook and Twitter

January 30th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Email, Marketing, Social Media

Email beats Facebook, Twitter for Driving Purchases, Especially Among High Earners

A new study has revealed that email continues to prove itself as the marketing method of choice for driving online purchases from websites, particularly if your target demographic includes high earners.

AW Pro Tools surveyed 1,500 consumers nationwide about which activities lead to most of their online spending, and made two interesting discoveries. First, that the vast majority (67.3 percent) aren’t influenced by any of the major digital marketing channels whatsoever. But, second, those that are are mostly influenced by email – particularly if they’re wealthy.

One-third of respondents across all incomes were influenced by digital marketing tools when making online purchases, with email (13.8 percent) and Facebook (13.5 percent) leading the way, far ahead of Twitter, which registered with less than two percent of respondents.

Email Beats Facebook And Twitter For Driving Purchases, Especially Amongst High Earners [STUDY]

For online shoppers who earned $100,000 or more, one-third were influenced by email, which finished significantly ahead of second-placed YouTube (5.6 percent). Both Facebook and Twitter returned big, fat zeroes.

Email Beats Facebook And Twitter For Driving Purchases, Especially Amongst High Earners [STUDY]

“There’s no doubt that Facebook, YouTube, and even Twitter offer exciting advertising opportunities,” says Jack Born, CEO of AW Pro Tools. “But the winning strategy for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies alike is to attract a base of raving fans that open, read, and click on the emails you send. Without a well thought out email strategy, money spent on any advertising is going to be much less effective. Especially if you want to attract high income clients.”

(Source: AW Pro Tools.)

By Shea Bennett on October 30, 2013 3:00 PM

UVic, uWaterloo, McGill take top spots in Maclean’s university rankings

January 29th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

Maclean’s magazine this week released its annual Canadian University Rankings, which lists the top universities in 3 separate categories. Of the “comprehensive” universities, those with a significant amount of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, the University of Victoria has taken top spot from Simon Fraser University, which has fallen to 2nd this year. The University of Waterloo remains at number 3. Of the “primarily undergraduate” institutions, Mount Allison University holds on to the number one position, with Acadia University jumping from 4th to 2nd this year. In the “medical doctoral” category, of universities with a broad range of PhD programs, research, and medical schools, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Toronto remain in the top 3 spots, respectively, from last year.

2014 University Rankings: Primarily Undergraduate results

October 31st, 2013 •

Mount Allison holds on to first place while Acadia moves up

The Maclean’s University Rankings place schools into one of three categories to recognize differences in levels of research funding, diversity of offerings and breadth and depth of graduate and professional programs. Universities in the Primarily Undergraduate category, ranked here, are largely focused on undergraduate education, with relatively fewer graduate programs and graduate students. Be sure to check out the other two ranking categories, Medical Doctoral andComprehensive, and our methodology. For dozens of charts, our reputation survey, student satisfaction results and stories about what’s new on campuses, buy the 130-page Maclean’s University Rankings, on newsstands and iPads.

2014 Ranking School Last Year
1 Mount Allison (1)
2 Acadia (4)
*3 Lethbridge (3)
*3 UNBC (2)
5 Saint Mary’s (*8)
6 Trent (*5)
*7 UPEI (*5)
*7 St. Francis Xavier (7)
9 Bishop’s (*8)
10 Lakehead (12)
11 Moncton (10)
12 St. Thomas (11)
13 UOIT (15)
*14 Laurentian (*13)
*14 Winnipeg (*13)
16 Brandon (16)
17 Mount Saint Vincent (17)
18 Cape Breton (18)
19 Nipissing (19)

* Indicates a tie

2014 University Rankings: Comprehensive category results

October 31st, 2013 •

Victoria passes Simon Fraser to take the top spot

The Maclean’s University Rankings place schools into one of three categories to recognize differences in levels of research funding, diversity of offerings and breadth and depth of graduate and professional programs. Universities in the Comprehensive category, ranked here, have a significant amount of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, including professional degrees. Be sure to check out the other two ranking categories, Medical Doctoral and Primarily Undergraduate, and our methodology. For dozens of charts, our reputation survey, student satisfaction results and stories about what’s new on campuses, buy the 130-page Maclean’s University Rankings, on newsstands and iPads.

2014 Ranking School Last Year
1 Victoria (2)
2 Simon Fraser (1)
3 Waterloo (3)
4 New Brunswick (4)
*5 Guelph (5)
*5 Memorial (*6)
7 Carleton (*6)
8 Regina (9)
9 York (8)
*10 Ryerson (12)
*10 Wilfrid Laurier (11)
*10 Windsor (10)
13 Concordia (13)
14 UQAM (14)
15 Brock (15)

* Indicates a tie

2014 University Rankings: Medical Doctoral category results

October 31st, 2013 •

McGill, UBC and Toronto hold their top three positions

The Maclean’s University Rankings place schools into one of three categories to recognize differences in levels of research funding, diversity of offerings and breadth and depth of graduate and professional programs. Universities in the Medical Doctoral category, ranked here, have a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research, as well as medical schools. Be sure to check out the other two ranking categories, Comprehensive and Primarily Undergraduate, and ourmethodology. For dozens of charts, our reputation survey, student satisfaction results and stories about what’s new on campuses, buy the 130-page Maclean’s University Rankings, on newsstands and iPads.

2014 Ranking University Last Year
1 McGill (1)
2 UBC (2)
3 Toronto (3)
4 Queen’s (4)
5 Alberta (5)
6 McMaster (6)
7 Dalhousie (7)
8 Ottawa (10)
*9 Calgary (8)
*9 Western (11)
11 Montréal (12)
12 Saskatchewan (9)
13 Laval (13)
14 Manitoba (15)
15 Sherbrooke (14)

* Indicates a tie

The Maclean’s Personalized University Ranking Tool

November 2nd, 2012 •

The Maclean’s ranking tool lets you mix and match data from the most recent edition of theMaclean’s University Rankings to build your own, customized university ranking.

Maclean’s ranks Canadian universities on a range of performance indicators in six broad areas, assigning a weight to each indicator that determines how much it contributes to the final score. The ranking tool lets you select whichever indicators matter most to you and lets you decide how much weight you want to give to each indicator.

For example, Maclean’s weights the Student/Faculty Ratio indicator at 10%. That means each university’s performance on this indicator contributes 10% to their final score. If you place a high value on access to your professors, you can weight this indicator at a higher percentage. You can customize a ranking based on this indicator and just two or three others but give 50% of the weight to Student/Faculty Ratio. Or you could choose this indicator along with up to six others, but still give Student/Faculty Ratio the heaviest weight. You decide.


How it works:

Select the performance indicators that most interest you. You can select up to seven at a time.
Then click NEXT.

Assign a weight to each of the indicators that you have chosen based on how much you want each to contribute to the final score. The total must add up to 100 per cent.
Then click NEXT.

Select the universities you wish to compare. You can choose all universities, or select by region, such as universities in the West, Ontario, Quebec or the Atlantic region. Or you can create your own list of up to 49 individual institutions.
Then click NEXT.

Our ranking tool will perform the calculations using the indicators, weights and schools that you have chosen. Voila! Your own personalized ranking of Canadian universities.



Note: Ranking for the Personalized University Ranking Tool is not calculated in the same way as the annual Maclean’s university rankings. Though the two use common data, the rankings use a statistical percentile method and are three separate rankings, one for each of the three categories of universities: Primarily Undergraduate, Comprehensive and Medical-Doctoral. As such, results obtained from this online tool may not agree with the Maclean’s annual rankings, even if the same set of weights are applied to the indicators.

Maclean’s ranking indicators

November 2nd, 2012 •

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE TOOL The annual Maclean’s rankings assess Canadian universities on a range of performance indicators in six broad areas. The Maclean’s ranking tool lets you create a customized ranking by selecting whichever indicators matter most to you, and deciding how much weight to give to each indicator to contribute to the [...]


The annual Maclean’s rankings assess Canadian universities on a range of performance indicators in six broad areas. The Maclean’s ranking tool lets you create a customized ranking by selecting whichever indicators matter most to you, and deciding how much weight to give to each indicator to contribute to the final score.

Here is a description of each indicator used in the Maclean’s ranking tool.


Student Awards 
Maclean’s calculates the number of students over the past five years who have won national academic awards. The list includes almost 40 fellowship and prize programs, encompassing more than 17,500 individual awards. Each university’s total of student awards is divided by its number of full-time students, yielding a per student count.

Student/Faculty Ratio
To gauge students’ access to professors, Maclean’s measures the number of full-time-equivalent students per full-time faculty member. This student/faculty ratio includes all students, graduate as well as undergraduate.


Awards per Full-time Faculty
Maclean’s calculates the number of faculty over the past five years who have won major national awards from more than 40 awards programs covering a total of 854 awards. To scale for institution size, the award count for each university is divided by each school’s number of full-time faculty.

Social Sciences and Humanities Grants
Maclean’s measures the success of faculty in securing research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), taking into account both the number and the dollar value received in the previous year, and dividing the totals by each institution’s full-time faculty count.

Medical/Science Grants
Maclean’s measures the success of faculty in securing research grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), taking into account both the number and the dollar value received in the previous year, and dividing the totals by each institution’s full-time faculty count.


Total Research Dollars
Maclean’s measures total research dollars, including income from sponsored research, such as grants and contracts, federal, provincial and foreign government funding, and funding from non-governmental organizations. This figure is calculated relative to the size of each institution’s full-time faculty.

Operating Budget
This section examines the amount of money available for current expenses per weighted full-time-equivalent student. Students are weighted according to their level of study—bachelor, master’s or doctorate—and their program of study.


Scholarships & Bursaries
This indicator calculates the percentage of a university’s operating budget spent on scholarships and bursaries.

Student Services
This indicator calculates the percentage of a university’s operating budget spent on student services.


This indicator calculates the percentage of a university’s operating budget allocated to library services.

This indicator calculates the percentage of the library budget spent on updating the collection. In acknowledging a shift from the traditional library model—books on shelves—to an electronic access model, this measure includes spending on electronic resources.

Holdings per Students
This indicator calculates the number of volumes and volume equivalents per number of full-time-equivalent students.


Reputational Survey
Maclean’s solicits the views of university officials at each ranked institution, high school guidance counsellors from every province and territory, the heads of a wide variety of national and regional organizations, and CEOs and recruiters at corporations large and small. Respondents rated the universities on quality and innovation.

Looking Back at 2013′s Last Week of Fundraising

January 28th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The last six days of 2013 have a different meaning for fundraisers. Instead of a post-Christmas “catch your breath” opportunity, they are vital times for raising last-minute income to ease the journey into the new year.

As a donor to 17 nonprofits in 2013 (and a lapsed donor to others), I decided to keep track of the mail and e-mails I received — as well as the receipts for the year-end donations I mailed on Dec. 20 — and share my observations with you.

This week, I’ll focus on e-mails received, and next week I’ll explore direct mail, receipting, and a random comment or two. While my “database” is much smaller than, for example, Who’s Mailing What!Opens in a new window, there is certainly much to be learned anytime we take a few minutes to look carefully at what others send to donors to raise funds.

Between Dec. 26 and 31, I received 20 e-mails from 13 different nonprofits. Most were national organizations, but two were from local charities. Save the ChildrenOpens in a new window sent out the most — four — followed by Opportunity InternationalOpens in a new window with three. Two other nonprofits (CAREOpens in a new window and World Wildlife FundOpens in a new window) sent two, while the remainder sent only one in the last six days of 2013.

Preferred delivery day
Without question, Dec. 31 was “the” day for e-mail — half of the ones I received came that day. Here’s the daily breakdown:

  • Thursday, Dec. 26 – one e-mail
  • Friday, Dec. 27 – two e-mails
  • Saturday, Dec. 28 – two e-mails
  • Sunday, Dec. 29 – one e-mail
  • Monday, Dec. 30 – three e-mails
  • Tuesday, Dec. 31 – 10 e-mails
  • Wednesday, Jan. 1 – one e-mail (this one was actually sent at 10:05 a.m. on the 31st, but it apparently hung out celebrating somewhere and failed to arrive until 9:10 p.m. on the first)

Subject lines
Not surprisingly, 13 of the e-mails referenced time — last chance, “only 4 more days,” midnight, there’s still time, etc. But seven had your basic “business as usual” subject line. This seems to squander a wonderful opportunity to encourage giving, as year-end is a time when many generous people think about getting in a last gift. Also, only one mentioned “tax deductible.” I don’t know if that’s the result of testing or not, but given the sophistication of many of the senders of these e-mails, I suspect it is (and welcome anyone willing to share test results to do so in the comments below).

Also a bit unexpected, only one of the 20 e-mails used my name in the subject line. Five had at least some of the subject line in all caps, three referred to matching gifts, and one began “FWD:” and was a resend of an earlier message with an added note at the top.

Use of salutation and signature block

While 12 of the 20 e-mails began “Dear Pamela,” two referred to me only as “friend” and six jumped right into the message without a salutation. However, all but three had some name on them as the signer of the message, although Opportunity International signed its e-mails with the corporate name instead of a person’s name. On a related note, 17 of the “senders” were an organization name while the other three (from two organizations) had a person’s name as the sender.

Word count

This is clearly where I saw the greatest divergence. One e-mail, received on Dec. 28, had 705 words between the “Dear” and the “Sincerely.” On the other hand, the e-mail from Charity NavigatorOpens in a new window (which is shown above) had only 27 words in the body. Eliminating those two anomalies, the average word count was 161 words. Personally, I think sending an e-mail on New Year’s Eve that has close to 250 words seems like asking a lot from your audience. However, the least readable e-mails of all came from Opportunity International because the copy was centered. Nice photos, but the readability was greatly reduced (in my opinion) because the message was centered with line lengths ranging from five characters to more than 100.

‘Above the fold’ offers
Although three e-mails didn’t have any obvious places to click to donate that were on-screen without my having to scroll, and five e-mails only had one, two seems to be the prevailing preference as that was the case in nine e-mails. Two had four, and one had six (and considering that it had a word count of less than 90, that was pretty impressive feat). In most cases, the donate buttons were tasteful though obvious; however, two e-mails required me to slide my mouse around looking for that one magic spot where a hyperlink was embedded.

Use of graphics

Four e-mails had graphics that were specific to year-end (clock, thermometer and calendar page), and 13 used photos that were program-specific. One showed a photo of the CEO, and two dispensed with graphics altogether. Personally, the one that stood out to me the most used a less overt program photo and more unusual colors. It’s the second photo above, from the National Park FoundationOpens in a new window. Obviously, preferences are personal choices, but this is one I came back to over and over because visually it intrigued me.

So what does it all mean? 

Obviously, there are very few “right” and “wrong” things here; these are mostly my opinions, with an occasional “best practice” tossed in. However, by looking at these 20 e-mails with the intention of seeing if there were applications for next Dec. 26–31, here’s what I came away with:

  1. E-mail more than once. There’s a lot of competition in the inbox so you don’t want to risk it all on one e-mail (or one that takes 36 hours to show up).
  2. Use your subject line to convey the deadline. “Invest in XYZ today” or “Your gift x3” seemed like “business as usual,” not something I needed to deal with in the holiday season.
  3. Change up your graphics. Sending multiple e-mails that basically look the same felt like “white noise” to me. I found myself thinking, “Didn’t I see this before?” At least to me, familiarity did not increase my interest.
  4. Address the recipient by name if your e-mail is in the form of a letter or note. “Personal” gets lost when there’s no mention of my name.
  5. Try a short, to-the-point e-mail (aka. Charity Navigator). I’m busy, but reading 27 words doesn’t seem to be asking too much of me. On the other hand, 705 words??!!!
  6. Make your offers easy to find without reading the entire e-mail or having to search for clickable text. Don’t ask recipients to do too much work; they may move on to an easier option.

Agree? Disagree? I’m sure there are readers who fall into both camps. But no matter where you stand, this old dog reminds you that looking at the “competition” in the mailbox or inbox is a great way to challenge your own thinking for your future fundraising efforts — and often gives you new ideas that you can hardly wait to incorporate.

Last week,

I looked at emails received between Dec. 26 and New Year’s Eve. Clearly, I need to step up my giving, since Larissa Peters at Catholic Relief ServicesOpens in a new window sent me an impressive listing of more than 70 she received in that six-day window. A big “old dog thump-of-the-tail” in appreciation to Larissa!

True confession time: My direct-mail stats are even less impressive. In fact, I only received six pieces over those five mail delivery days. With less ability to time delivery precisely, it is more risky to target a mailing for year-end, unless a nonprofit is willing to pay First Class postage to have some level of confidence that the mail will be delivered on time. However, what I saw in my mailbox represented numerous missed opportunities.

Two of the mailings were acquisition. One had no nod to seasonality and used the now-overworked (in my opinion) teaser promising that it would “never ask for another donation again” if I would only give now. There were photos of children in need of the nonprofit’s services on both the front and back of the envelope, as well as on the letterhead and in the rather copy-heavy brochure that was included. I suspect this is a control (or control wanna-be). I would love to know how this acquisition mailing performed compared to those at other times of the year. My personal response was that a letter, dense information brochure, even-more-dense program-related brochure, insert for me to sign and send back, and a reply card asked a lot from a nondonor at year-end.

The second piece was a 9-inch by 12-inch envelope from Boys TownOpens in a new windowwith winter artwork on the front. (Now that I live in a warm climate, I find pictures of snowmen endearing; that wasn’t the case when I was shoveling the stuff.) This envelope announced three — no, make that four! — free gifts enclosed and had a personalized teaser, also talking about the gifts inside. Sure enough, when I opened it, I found a wall calendar, a pocket calendar, two other versions of a calendar, address labels and a certificate of appreciation.

I’ve received a variation of this mailing at year-end several other times, so I suspect it works. What appealed to me was that it felt seasonal without having to be timed to be in-home in a very narrow window. If I had gotten it anytime from mid-December through early January, it would have felt in-season, and the calendars wouldn’t feel inappropriate. Bottom line: The mailing stood out in a season when “standing out” matters. For a well-chosen target, it very well may break through and get attention — and responses from people who appreciate premiums.

A third mailing was from a nonprofit to which I had donated a gift-in-kind five or six years ago. The letter had a Christmas-related teaser, and the letter was very focused on that just-passed day. The takeaway here is to allow plenty of time for letters with Christmas messages to arrive pre-Christmas (substitute any other holiday that matters to your constituents). Otherwise, you risk having it arrive late, and thus it will feel even less worthy of a glance.

Two additional mailings were from nonprofits I support (but not the one that has averaged one mailing every 10 days for the last five years; I felt forgotten!). Both were timely, but in different ways. One referenced a recent disaster on the carrier (it was from an international relief agency), and the other referenced my 2014 member card. The first risked being overlooked, especially since the addressed side of the envelope was plain white with the messaging and photo on the reverse. The second again was chock-full of premiums to entice the right target to open it and claim the free gifts.

If your organization is not premium-focused, the week between Christmas and New Year’s (or even into January, when donors may be fatigued in general, not just with appeals), my observation is that you’ll need to work harder to capture attention. A “business as usual” mailing risks being set aside (perhaps permanently) or just overlooked by marginally committed, holiday-weary supporters.

The final letter was, I confess, a seed mailing from a year-end appeal from one of my clients. I mention it only because it was the only one that actually referenced (broadly) the year-end. While I don’t know how it performed, there are three things that we focused on that I believe matter for any nonprofit wanting to send out a year-end mailing. First, make it look personal. Mail to your most committed supporters, and build on that relationship. Second, keep it short. Let your donors know that you are aware they are busy with other things and you’re respecting that. Finally, mail with enough padding that it will arrive before the New Year, with language that doesn’t make it feel “wrong” if it happens to get delivered pre-Christmas.

Bottom line: This old dog is seeing less and less mail at year-end, replaced by e-appeals where the delivery date can be controlled. In fact, the dearth of mail tells me there is potentially an opportunity to stand out in the mailbox, if you make sure your year-end mail has the right look and sound and isn’t just a recycled, “one-size-fits-all” mailing that looks vaguely like white noise in the post-Christmas/pre-January week.

Posted on January 15, 2014

By Pamela Barden

6 Ways to Raise More Money without New Donors!

January 28th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

If you achieve your fundraising goal this year, your reward will likely be an increased goal next year. At most nonprofit organizations, the struggle to raise ever-increasing amounts of money never ends. This drives many nonprofits into a continuous donor-acquisition mode.

However, you don’t need a single new donor to raise more money.

Growing Money by Images_of_Money via Flickr

Given that the cost to acquire a new donor is often $1, or more, for every $1 raised, finding a new donor does not even help most organizations with short-term mission fulfillment.

So, how can you raise significantly more money for mission fulfillment without acquiring new donors? Here are just six ideas:

1. Ask for More. I still receive direct mail appeals that say, “Whatever you can give will be appreciated.” Ugh! That’s not an ask. If you want people to give, and give more, you need to state your case for support. Then, you need to ask for that support in the correct way.

Many charities simply seek renewal gifts. If I gave $50, the charity will simply ask me to renew my $50 support. Sometimes, a charity will randomly ask me for an amount series (i.e.: $100, $250, or more) that has nothing to do with my previous level of support.

However, there is a better way. Try saying this:

I thank you for your gift of $50 last year that helped us achieve __________. This year, as we strive to __________, may I count on you to increase your support to $75 or $100?”

Thank the donor. Mention how the organization used her previous gift. Establish the current case for support. Ask for a modest increase linked to the amount of the previous gift. A hospital in New York state tested this approach against its traditional approach and saw a 68% increase in giving.

2. Second Gift Appeal. Just because someone has given your organization money does not mean you have to wait a year to ask for more. If you first properly thank the donor and report on how his gift has been put to use, you can then approach him for a second gift. However, you need to have a good case for going back to the well.

Most grassroots donors don’t think, “What’s my annual philanthropic sense of responsibility to this charity? Fine. That’s how much I’ll give.” Instead, most grassroots donors look at the charity they wish to support and then consider how much money they have left over after they pay the monthly bills. Then, they give from that reservoir of disposable income. Guess what? Next month, and every month thereafter, that reservoir usually gets replenished. So, going back to the donor for an additional gift can work, again, if you have a strong case for support. By the way, the replenishing disposable income reservoir is one reason why monthly donor programs can be effective (see below).

3. Recruit Monthly Donors. Way back in 1989, I wrote an article for Donor Developer in which I predicted that every nonprofit in America would have a monthly donor program within five years. Sadly, I was very mistaken. Even in 2013, too few charities host a monthly donor program.

While not every donor will enroll in a monthly giving program, many will if given the option. Typically, those that do choose to participate will increase their annual giving average in the process. For example, a $25 a year donor is not likely to become a $2.08 a month donor. Instead, she might give $10 or even $25 per month becoming a $120 or $300 donor!

4. Get a Challenge Grant. To underscore the importance of new and increased support, secure a challenge grant to endorse your effort and to, in effect, enhance the value of each donor’s gift. In addition, you can use the prospect of increased support from donors to encourage a major donor to increase his support to provide the challenge.

A symphony orchestra in the Northeast had a corporate donor that only contributed modestly. The orchestra attempted to get the corporation to sponsor a tour. The company declined. Next, the orchestra presented the idea for the company to provide a challenge grant for the orchestra’s efforts to renew and increase its grassroots support. The corporation liked the idea that their gift would be leveraged and that it could help the orchestra to further diversify its funding base. The company substantially increased its support to provide the challenge grant.

In the orchestra’s case, the challenge grant inspired an increase of support from grassroots donors. In turn, the prospect of that increased grassroots support encouraged the corporation to boost its giving to the organization.

5. Retain Donors. Acquiring donors is expensive. The benefit of finding new donors comes when those individuals renew and increase their support. Unfortunately, donor retention is a worsening problem for the nonprofit sector, according to Jon Biedermann, Vice President of DonorPerfect. In 2011, only half of first-time donors to a charity could be counted on to make a second gift. As bad as that retention rate was, it dropped to 49 percent in 2012.

If charities want more money for mission fulfillment, they need to do a better job of retaining the donors they already have. One significant way to do this is through sound stewardship practices including properly thanking donors and reporting to them about how there gift has been used.

6. Ask for Planned Gifts. In a survey conducted by researchers Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay, 88.7 percent of donors to nonprofit organizations “indicated they believe it is appropriate for nonprofits to ask for legacy gifts.” Sadly, only 22 percent of Americans over the age of 30 have been asked for such a gift, according to a Stelter report. As a sector, if we want more planned gifts, we need to ask more people to make them.

Planned giving need not be difficult. You can simply ask a donor to remember your charity in her will. By the way, the average value of bequests that are under $1 million is $57,000. In other words, with very little effort, you can secure large gifts.

To calculate your organization’s bequest gift potential, use the electronic calculator I developed in partnership with the good folks at MarketSmart: BEQUEST POTENTIAL CALCULATOR.

While it is worthwhile to seek bequest gifts, remember that not all planned gifts are deferred. For example, with the stock market now at a record level, you will want to ask donors to consider gifts of appreciated stock. More than half of Americans own stock. So, this is a great option for many of your donors. A gift of appreciated stock can earn them a charitable gift tax deduction while helping them avoid capital gains tax.

For most nonprofit organizations, acquiring new donors will remain an important pursuit. However, once someone has committed her support to your charity, you will want to maximize her philanthropic engagement.

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 12:01

Michael J. Rosen

A Year-End Fundraising Flop?

January 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Be honest — was your letter more about you than your donor?

Dear Marc:
Why didn’t people give to my year-end fundraising letter? 

~ Sincerely, Frustrated 

Dear Frustrated: Thank you for sending me your letter so I could look at it myself. If I may be frank, it’s pretty bad. But before I get to that, let me start with expectations.

Setting expectations 
What was your goal for this appeal? Many nonprofits live by the fundraising version of the “Field of DreamsOpens in a new window” fallacy: If you mail it, they will give.

Not so. Those in the direct-mail industry report that even the best appeals only get around a 1 percent response. So if you send 100 letters, you’ll be “doing well” to get one response.

Beyond that, had you figured out how much you wanted to raise from it based on similar appeals your nonprofit has sent? You don’t have to shoot in the dark. Does a mailing at this time of the year typically bring in a lot of money?

Now to the letter
I applaud you for your courage in asking for help. There’s a lot of excellent free advice on writing effective fundraising letters. Here are the glaring items that stand out from your letter.

1. You didn’t use my name. If you can get a letter to me with my name on the envelope, there’s no excuse for not addressing me on the letter. “Dear Friend” is a sign of laziness.

2. You didn’t have a P.S. Even if I were interested enough in your cause to get over the “Dear Friend,” you left me hanging. Where is the postscript? This is Fundraising Letter 101. You’re not writing a business letter for your high school teacher. You’re writing a fundraising letter to motivate giving. You need a P.S. in the letter to let me know what you want, why and by when.

3. You are clearly narcissistic. The first two are glaring. But even if I was interested enough to read the letter, you bored me to tears. This letter wasn’t about me at all. The “Dear Friend” showed that, but the letter boldly confirmed that this is all about you, not me.

● You used terms like “us,” “our space,” “our community musical” and “our founders” at least 14 times in the letter. You only used “you” and “your” eight times. In fact, the first five paragraphs didn’t mention me at all!

So mentioning me eight times in the last paragraph was not only overkill, it made it clear that I’m just an afterthought. It’s the proverbial bad date where the arrogant person finally stops talking by asking, “Well, that’s enough about me. Now, tell me, what do you think about me?”

Rather than telling me how cool you are, why not tell me how cool people like me are who support the work and fund the impact?

● You gave four answers to the question, “Why should anyone care about the annual appeal?” (Not a great question, but it would be better if it was, “Why should you care … ?”) The problem is the layout. It’s all text without anything for my eye to follow. The margins are tiny. Even the four answers lack consistent numbering. The first is “first,” but the next is, “Then there is.”

If you’re committed to the four-answer format, it would be much better to put these answers in a numbered, bulleted list.

● Finally, people like me are just as narcissistic as you. We don’t care about your organization. Especially not as much as you do. And you should be glad for that. If we cared as much as you do, we’d probably be working there too! We’d be costing the organization rather than funding it.

So talk to us. Tell us why giving to you makes us special. Tell us about what impact we make possible because of our wise decision to give.

The best line was about $1 invested in our region returning $14 to our region. And that that money stays local. Tell me about how my gift to you helps keep my friends employed and my stores open! Instead, you chose to bury it in the very middle of the letter. And you didn’t even italicize or bold it.

4. You confused me. Finally, you totally confused me. The letter talks about history and programming and founders. Then there’s the paragraph where you wake up and remember that I’m still there. In that paragraph, you plead with me to make a gift.

But in the last line, you say you look forward to seeing me at an upcoming show!

As a reader, I got a bit of whiplash. A show? Oh. So I could just buy a ticket instead of making a gift? That lets me off the hook.

I’m only skimming the letter, so you need to make it really clear what you want me to do. If you want me to make a gift, only talk to me about making a gift. Make your call to action about making a gift. (By the way, I have no idea what a “remittal envelope” is. I can only assume it’s what you included with the letter.)

So, Frustrated, I’m sorry the letter didn’t work like you hoped. I can tell you’re passionate about your organization. You’re supposed to be. But I hope you can see why your fundraising letter wasn’t effective. You need to inspire me to action — the action of writing a check or making a gift online. These tips will help you with your next letter.

~ To your fundraising success, Marc

Marc Pitman is the author of “Ask Without Fear!” and founder of FundraisingCoach.comOpens in a new window and the weekly e-mail service “Fundraising KickOpens in a new window.” He is also a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @marcapitman


January 2014


January 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Do I Have to Do It Now?

A donor sees your appeal online, or receives it in the mail, and sits back to think about it.  You want to encourage him to make that gift NOW.

Why:  Because if he doesn’t do it now, when the appeal story has just captured his attention, when his emotions are engaged with reference to your story, when that first urge to do something to help is most alive, then he may never do it.  He may get distracted and never come back to the appeal; he may come back at a later time, when the appeal will not be as fresh and may not engage him emotionally, or may lead him to a lesser gift than first intenede.  He may be approached by someone else’s appeal that will overshadow yours.  Just as the car salesman wants to close the deal today, you want your appeal to “grab” the reader and lead him to act immediately.

What can you do to increase the percentage of donors who act NOW?  Here are some ideas:

When possible, build your appeals so that donors will sense that you’re close to the finish line and their contribution is needed to put you over the top.  This is the idea behind the fundraising thermometer and more recent tactics to show progress.  If your year-end appeal is mailed October 1, the donor doesn’t feel urgency to respond until closer to the end of the year.  Maybe you can set up a matching fund, where gifts received during the month of October are matched (doubled).  This is the idea behind Extra Give—a national effort to encourage everyone to make a gift to a nonprofit during one specified day.  Not only does it bring attention to the various needs of many nonprofits; it creates urgency for making the gift on that day!

Set a deadline and publish it on all your forms.  It can be as gracious as:  “Gifts received by December 30 will be eligible for deduction on your 2013 tax return” or “Please respond by November 1.”  A statement like this may influence a busy person to take care of the matter right away and not risk losing track of the intention in the hectic weeks ahead.

Make a special offer—offer a perk that is limited in availability—exclusive listing of early donors, preferred seating, thank you gift of something time-sensitive (Christmas thank-you notes, seeds for spring planting).  These incentives provide an additional tug at the emotions of the thinking-about-it donor.

As always, make it perfectly clear, quick, and easy for the donor to act now:  return the card, go online, make a call.  If the donor pauses to deal with complications (i.e., find an envelope, find the Donate Now button, locate your phone number), you may lose him. You’ve invested too much time capturing his interest to lose him now!

  |  By Ellie

6 Steps to the Perfect Ask

January 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Fundraising always comes down to asking, doesn’t it?

“The Ask” is something we study, prep for, script, dream about, love and and sometimes avoid.

Here are the six steps that will lead you to a “yes” every time you ask:

1.  Identify the Right Prospect to Approach.

Is this person really a good, “qualified prospect” as we say in fundraising or are you just hoping that they are?

Don’t spend your time unless you are certain this person can make a gift at this level and that they might want to make this gift.

There needs to be a firm reason that this person can and would make the gift.

Spend some time analyzing:

  • their giving potential,
  • their level of interest,
  • likelihood that they would give at this level.

Ha? Where?

What does your donor really want to accomplish?

Be willing to do a realistic, honest appraisal of where they rate in these categories.

Then you’ll be able to target those individuals who are MOST LIKELY and approach only them.

2. Get to Know Your Prospective Donor.

Do your research well before you want to ask for the gift.

The more you know about your donor’s interests, passions, vision and track record, the better your chance of securing her support.

Spend time in person chatting with her about your cause and her interests.  Listen to her.

Understand what she cares about and what causes she likes to fund.

Find out what she thinks about your organization, its leadership, and its vision.

You should know these things:

  • What are her attitudes about your cause?
  • What is she really passionate about?
  • How interested is she really in your organization and its vision?
  • Is she prepared for a solicitation? Have you mentioned a possible number earlier?

3.  Make it a Conversation.

We have an old saying in fundraising: “Listen Your Way to the Gift.”

If you are doing all the talking, then you’ll never “make the sale.”


What's YOUR biggest obstacle to closing major gifts?

What’s YOUR biggest obstacle to closing major gifts?

It’s so very important to draw your donor out and get him to react to your ideas.

If you don’t know what’s going on in his head, how on earth can you promote your idea in a way that will appeal to him?

  • See if you can pull out any objections.
  • Listen carefully to his questions, because they give you an indication of what’s on his mind.

4.  Make Your Ask into an Exciting Opportunity.

Take it to the highest level.  Show the donor what will happen if he makes an investment in your cause.

Talk about the impact and your results.

This is an opportunity to do what? To accomplish what?

Donors want to be part of something exciting.

They want to help create a better future. They want to help change or save lives.question mark2

Say something like this:   “We’d like to talk to you about being the lead in this vision.  Can you help us?”

5. After You Ask, Sit Quietly and SHUT UP.

The donor is mulling over your idea and your request. She is probably thinking:

  • Can I do this?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • How can I do this?
  • Do I need to talk to my spouse?
  • Do I need to talk to my investment adviser or my CPA?

Give your donor plenty of time to consider your request and DON’T SAY A WORD.

There is an old line in sales that goes like this:  “He who speaks next, loses.”

6. An Ask is Not an Ask Without Followup.

My friend Laura Fredricks, author of The Ask, says that we often fall down on the most important part – following up the request.

How many times have we made asks that never got closed?

Way, way, too many! (I know I have, at least!)

Be sure you followup cheerfully and often until you get an answer from your donor.

10/24/2013 by  Perry

US universities looking for greater autonomy from states

January 25th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Many are worried that as public universities gain freedom, they will end up sidelining broader goals such as access and affordability.

The chancellor of Oregon’s higher-education system currently oversees all seven of the state’s public colleges and universities. But as of July next year, she’ll be chancellor of four.

The schools aren’t closing. Rather, Oregon’s three largest state schools are in the process of breaking away from the rest of the public system.

The move, long pushed by some university leaders in the system, will give the University of Oregon, Portland State University, and Oregon State University more freedom to hire and fire presidents, issue revenue bonds, and raise tuition.

Across the country, a small but growing number of public universities are making similar pushes, looking to cut deals with state lawmakers that scale back direct oversight, often in return for less funding or for meeting certain performance targets. Over the past few years, schools in Texas, Virginia, and Florida have all gotten more flexibility to raise tuition. Other plans have recently been broached, though with less success, in Wisconsin, California, and Louisiana.

The proposals vary in scope, but their proponents generally argue that more autonomy allows public universities to operate with less red tape and with greater freedom to raise revenue as state funding has fallen.

But many within higher education point to thepotential downsides. They worry that these universities—often the better-known and wealthier public universities—could end up sidelining broader state goals such as access and affordability in pursuit of their own agendas, such as moving up in college rankings.

“My fear is that if public flagships become so focused on revenue and prestige, and so focused on autonomy, they will minimize their commitment to the public agenda,” said Richard Novak, who was previously director of public-sector programs at the Association of Governing Boards. “They should be leading the public agenda. If they privatize too much, they’re not going to be doing it for much longer.”

Others have similar concerns.

“I think there’s a potential for confusion, unhealthy competition, and misuse of resources,” said Robert O’Neil, who headed the statewide University of Wisconsin system and was also president of the University of Virginia. In O’Neil’s experience, centralized oversight helps keep in check ambitions that might lead colleges to pursue wasteful projects or duplicative programs.

There’s relatively little research on the overall benefits or drawbacks of schools gaining autonomy, but it does appear that such universities often end up resembling private colleges, moving toward a “high tuition, high aid” model in which schools hike sticker prices significantly while offering big discounts to students schools are trying to attract. (As ProPublica has detailed, state schools have been giving a growing portion of grants to wealthier students and a shrinking portion to the neediest.)

State and university officials pushing for more autonomy often balk at the term “privatization,” noting that the universities aren’t severing all ties with the state.

As one planning group at the University of Virginia wrote last month, “Autonomous is not the opposite of public.”

The University of Virginia, along with two other state universities, struck deals in 2005 that won it significant autonomy from the Commonwealth. Those agreements mandated that the schools still meet various benchmarks—but they also gave the universities wiggle room.

Three years after the deal, a state audit report concluded that while the schools were meeting their “access” goals, the number of low-income students at each of the universities—as measured by federal Pell grants—was actually decreasing. (A university spokesman said enrollment of low-income students has gone up since then.)

Even some supporters of moving toward privatization have begun to have second thoughts.

James Garland, former president of Miami University, a public university in Ohio, was once a strong proponent of what he calls “semi-privatization” of American public universities, having headed a university that he describes as “public in name only.” In 2009, he wrote a book arguing that public universities should be autonomous and deregulated by their states.

In the years since, Garland said, his views on the autonomy question have “mellowed.” Though he still believes autonomy can make sense for some schools, he’s also concerned about the potential pitfalls.

“Some of these flagships would like to make decisions that benefit their own financial future and give them the ability to build posh dining halls or giant stadiums or create new nanotechnology centers,” Garland said, “when what really may be more needed than that is simply providing a high-quality rigorous college education for legions of students in the state who can’t afford that now and have no place to go and get it.”

“It’s not an accident that you see this happening among big, well-funded publics,” Garland added.

At the University of Virginia, internal discussion of further steps toward privatization has continued. As the Washington Post recently reported, a draft report from a university planning committee recommended “another major restructuring of the relationship between the University and the Commonwealth.” The document notes that the change “would not mean complete privatization.”

University of Virginia spokesman McGregor McCance said the draft report was part of early discussions about possible models for public higher education, and that there are no plans for the university to ask for additional autonomy.

Colleges and universities that do seek to move in this direction need to have candid conversations about their goals, said Garland: “As more and more schools argue successfully for some kind of autonomy from their states, there has to be a real understanding about what the mission of those schools is going to be in the future and there has to be some way of evaluating their conformity to that mission.”

In Oregon, they’re still feeling their way through. All of the state’s public colleges will still be overseen in some way by a coordinating commission. That includes the three largest schools, which, even with their new freedoms, will still need the commission to approve certain items, such as tuition hikes beyond five percent. The details of how that system of checks and balances will work—and how the change will affect the smaller universities still part of the system—remain to be seen.

“It’s such a turbulent time for higher education, there’s a lot to be said for helping to position institutions to be much more nimble when it comes to shaping the business and delivery of higher education,” said Ben Cannon, the governor of Oregon’s education policy advisor, who was recently appointed head of the commission.

As to whether the new autonomy will actually help schools become more nimble, Cannon acknowledged, “It’s kind of unproven.”

Asked what they will call the new structure and whether the “Oregon University System” will nominally continue to refer to all seven universities, Cannon said that was still being decided.

“That’s a complicated question. The labels are still up for grabs,” Cannon said. “The structure really isn’t. That’s done.”

October 21, 2013 • By  •

New study suggests 2-hour media maximum for teens

January 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education, Social Media

Doctors 2 parents: Limit kids’ tweeting, texting & keep smartphones, laptops out of bedrooms. #goodluckwiththat.

A new US study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics propose that children and teens spend only 2 hours a day on “entertaining screen time,” including “using the Internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.”

The recommendations are bound to prompt eye-rolling and LOLs from many teens but an influential pediatricians group says parents need to know that unrestricted media use can have serious consequences.

It’s been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, lack of sleep and a host of other problems. It’s not a major cause of these troubles, but “many parents are clueless” about the profound impact media exposure can have on their children, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy

“This is the 21st century and they need to get with it,” said Strasburger, a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist.

The policy is aimed at all kids, including those who use smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices. It expands the academy’s longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from children’s and teens’ bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

Under the new policy, those two hours include using the Internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found U.S. children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Many kids now watch TV online and many send text messages from their bedrooms after “lights out,” including sexually explicit images by cellphone or Internet, yet few parents set rules about media use, the policy says.

“I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography,” Strasburger said.

The policy notes that three-quarters of kids aged 12 to 17 own cellphones; nearly all teens send text messages, and many younger kids have phones giving them online access.

“Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school – it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping” the policy says.

Mark Risinger, 16, of Glenview, Ill., is allowed to use his smartphone and laptop in his room, and says he spends about four hours daily on the Internet doing homework, using Facebook and YouTube and watching movies.

He said a two-hour Internet time limit “would be catastrophic” and that kids won’t follow the advice, “they’ll just find a way to get around it.”

Strasburger said he realizes many kids will scoff at advice from pediatricians – or any adults.

“After all, they’re the experts! We’re media-Neanderthals to them,” he said. But he said he hopes it will lead to more limits from parents and schools, and more government research on the effects of media.

The policy was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It comes two weeks after police arrested two Florida girls accused of bullying a classmate who committed suicide. Police say one of the girls recently boasted online about the bullying and the local sheriff questioned why the suspects’ parents hadn’t restricted their Internet use.

Mark’s mom, Amy Risinger, said she agrees with restricting kids’ time on social media but that deciding on other media limits should be up to parents.

“I think some children have a greater maturity level and you don’t need to be quite as strict with them,” said Risinger, who runs a communications consulting firm.

Her 12-year-old has sneaked a laptop into bed a few times and ended up groggy in the morning, “so that’s why the rules are now in place, that that device needs to be in mom and dad’s room before he goes to bed.”

Sara Gorr, a San Francisco sales director and mother of girls, ages 13 and 15, said she welcomes the academy’s recommendations.

Her girls weren’t allowed to watch the family’s lone TV until a few years ago. The younger one has a tablet, and the older one has a computer and smartphone, and they’re told not to use them after 9 p.m.

“There needs to be more awareness,” Gorr said. “Kids are getting way too much computer time. It’s bad for their socialization, it’s overstimulating, it’s numbing them.”