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The Real Cost of Overhead

January 21st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

I received an email last week from the executive director of a small cultural nonprofit in the Midwest. She detailed to me her recent experience of being plunged into what I call “donor hell.”

I’m not exaggerating. Truly, Liz’s organization underwent the near-death ordeal that you hope never comes — but it did.

For years, this little group was the undiscovered “jewel” of its community. It did so much with so little. It was a point of pride. Then disaster hit.

Frugality had reached the summit. Always operating on a small budget, this group wanted to eke out more. The executive director assumed custodial duties. Everything — and I do mean everything — was recycled. Being frugal — reducing administrative expense to put more into programming — became the overriding value.

On a particular day, a small group of leading supporters had convened to discuss an upcoming fundraising push. Notepaper was handed out. At one point in the meeting, a longtime leading donor flipped over her sheet. On the reverse was a portion of her confidential donor record. Expressing disbelief, others present examined their own sheets. On each and every page was a donor’s confidential information — if only in clipped 4-inch-by-5-inch format sliced from an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch page.

I need not relate the rest of what ensued.

Prior to this bombshell exploding, a few staff members had, from time to time, suggested the paper in question be shredded. Not on your life. It costs money to have it shredded and carted away, and it’s a real waste not to reuse it. We want the highest rating for the lowest overhead, they were told.

This tale of woe, although culminating in a true crisis of trust, was years in the making. Most such debacles usually are. They start when you create the conditions for them. Like overnight success, the overnight failure is usually 10 years in the making.

Liz’s worthy organization sought to be frugal for years. Not a bad thing. Gradually, but surely, this desire to be financially responsible morphed into a cost-cutting monster. That’s when the need to keep faith with investors, donors — those who pay the bills — somehow got lost in the desire to maximize cash flow and reduce overhead to zero — if possible.

Every activity has its cost. The key is keeping these costs in proportion to their return. Being willing to re-examine long-held assumptions and make change is essential to remaining relevant to those who support you as well as those you serve. Whenever we believe we have it all figured out, that’s a sure sign that we do not.

Recovering from a breach of trust is possible. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen immediately. As I wrote to Liz in my response to her, you can do it if you’re willing to be honest with yourself, ‘fess up to your supporters and then ask them how you should move forward.

The last part is the hardest. It’s difficult to take direction from others, especially those whose trust we’ve violated. Assuming the intrinsic worth of our mission without validation from those who invest in us is very risky, however.

My last email exchange with Liz indicated organization leadership had taken its lumps and learned from its mistake. As you’d expect, the organization’s fundraising totals have taken a dramatic hit. Programs will have to be cut. Some will not survive. A few donor stalwarts have stayed loyal, however, and rebuilding has begun.

I extend my special thanks to Liz for sharing her experience. A copy of “The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising” is in the mail to her.

By Larry C Johnson | Posted on December 11, 2014
Fundraising Success Magazine

Convert surfers into donors

January 20th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, Website

One of the goals of charity web sites is to attract donations.  That’s why charity websites have a prominently displayed Donate Now button, usually on the homepage.  Here’s how it works:

Someone browsing the web reads about your cause.  They click on your web site.  They read about your work.  They connect with the stories.  They feel they want to support you.  They go to the donation page.  They complete the form, input their credit card number and make the donation.

At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.  The reality is that many potential donors do not complete the process.

Why do donors give up?

Beate Sørum is a charity web designer consultant who has studied donor motivation.  “Giving,” she says, “Is an emotional decision.  When the potential donor has to think about how to navigate the web site, follow complicated instructions or answer unnecessary questions, the motivation to give is interrupted.”   That interruption is enough for the potential donor to lose patience, get annoyed or remember something else they need to do.

Beate and her team at the Norwegian Cancer Society redesigned the web site navigation and forms to make them simpler and shorter.  The result was a doubling of the digital income.  For the most volatile donation types, such as signing up for a monthly direct debit, the results were even more dramatic:  a fivefold increase.  Yes, making it easier to give translates into more gifts.

“I have decided to give, and I will do so even if this form is a bit incomprehensible and it takes me all afternoon,” said no donor, ever.

Are all donors the same?

No, if a donor has a long history with your charity or a deep commitment to the mission, they will have more patience with the web site and be willing to input more information.  According to Sørum, people giving in memory of or to honour someone else are much more motivated to give than someone who happened to connect with your message.

What about my web site?

The best way to determine whether your web site needs to be simplified is to test it.  Google Analytics is a free tool to help you analyze how people experienced your web site.  It will tell you where they came from, which pages they visited and how long they stayed.   A feature that is not often implemented is Goal Conversions.

Think about the goal of your web site.  Is it to get people to sign up for a newsletter, make a donation, or do something else entirely?  Whatever it is, that action is your goal.  The number of times that action happens is your Goal Conversions total.   Once you set the goal in Google Analytics, you can view the statistics of how many people viewed and acted on the material.

Think of Google Analytics as your way of testing your web site, the way you would do A/B testing on direct mail.  Look at the numbers periodically and after every campaign.  Make small changes and measure their impact.

What to do next?

Research your web site.  Pretend you are a donor and evaluate the experience.  Ask staff and volunteers for their experience.  Talk to donors who have never sent in their gifts online for their experience.  Connect those answers to your Google statistics so you have a sense of the potential improvement.  At that point, it might make sense to hire someone to do a full analysis.

For more information visit:

Norwegian Cancer Society web conversion

Google Analytics

Bill Kennedy is a Toronto consultant working with charities to get more from their systems, both financial and fundraising.  You can find more information about Bill here

 publication date: Dec 8, 2014
 author/source: Bill Kennedy

9 Tips to Promote Monthly Giving on Your Website

January 19th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Annual Giving, Fundraising, Website

It’s 2015. The start of a new year — and in many organizations new fundraising goals and fundraising budgets.

So, let me cut straight to the point — if you are short-changing your monthly giving ask on your website, you are really just leaving significant money on the table. It’s amazing how many organizations actually “offer” monthly giving as an afterthought on their websites. It usually shows up below the donation amount area where a question is asked: “Do you want to make this a monthly donation?”

Oh my. We all know this is not the way to sell the need for sustaining gifts. Yes, we must sell this like any other donation option. It is absolutely not just an “add on.” The digital designers and strategist at Eleventy Marketing Group have put together a list of nine nonprofit website tips to encourage monthly giving. As you’ll see, it is about calling attention to the opportunity to support the mission monthly.

1. Feature it on your homepage
From the face of your website, make your monthly giving call to action prominent. Whether you put in on a slider or somewhere else on the page, make sure it’s clear this is a key action you want people to take.

2. Create a monthly giving page
Dedicate an entire page on your website to monthly giving — more specifically, the why of monthly giving. Show people the need for monthly giving, and let them know as specifically as possible where the money goes. Which leads to the next point …

3. Include a monthly donation visual
Visuals explaining how varying monthly donation amounts make a difference can be incredibly effective. For example: $50/month sends five children to school for a month; $100/month feeds a family of four for a year. This paints a clear picture of the why.

4. Add a monthly giving option to your donate page
This one seems pretty obvious, and yet so many nonprofit websites still lack this option. If someone is ready to support your cause and willing to donate, at least plant the seed in her mind of becoming of a monthly donor. Please note, this does not simply mean placing a check box next to the donation amount with a question about making it a monthly gift.

5. Ask about monthly giving after a donation
Someone makes a donation. He cares about the cause and supports what you do. He’s feeling good about contributing. What better time to ask him to become a monthly donor? On your donation thank-you page, give donors the chance to quickly and easily sign up to give that same amount each month.

6. Spotlight the monthly giving impact
On your blog or other area of your site where you provide updates on the work you do, regularly include information about how monthly giving is making an impact. If possible, shine a light on the specific efforts your monthly giving program supports. And make sure you include a link and tell people how they can become monthly donors.

7. Spotlight monthly giving donors
You can also spotlight individual monthly donors. Nothing inspires people to take action like seeing other people doing it. Interview donors, and ask them what inspired them to become monthly contributors. Put a face to your monthly donors. And, again, make sure to always include the link where other people can sign up.

8. Insert a monthly giving link in your header
Make a monthly giving reminder appear on every page of your site by putting a quick link on your website header, footer or sidebar (depending on how your site is designed). It could be as simple as a small graphic that says, “Make a difference all year ’round” with a link to your monthly giving page.

9. Enable people to share monthly giving with friends
Create a quick and easy way for people to tell their friends they’ve become monthly donors and encourage them to do the same. Include a “Share With Friends” button on your donation thank-you page that allows people to post a message on social sites like Facebook and Twitter saying something along the lines of, “I just became a monthly donor with Organization X and I want you to  join me” with a link to sign up.

Simply put, you’ve got to make monthly giving a key focus on your online fundraising.

By Angie Moore | Posted on December 09, 2014

15 Ideas for Fundraisers for 2015

January 18th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

I was in the dental chair the other day, and between drill sounds, I thought of 15 ideas to share with you as you enter January.

In no particular order of priority they are:

  1. Speak to at least one group on something important to you. Everyone needs to speak in public for a variety of positive reasons. It is a true confidence builder.
  2. Read subject matter in this field with a focus on best-of-class programs. Secure results from this analysis that you can test and emulate with your staff.
  3. Choose at least one person, and mentor him or her. It is a joy through which both of you will benefit.
  4. Attend at least one conference on subject matter important to your growth and development in your current job and in preparation for potential future jobs.
  5. Write a blog or article, and share with others from your own perspective.
  6. Volunteer for another organization besides your own. You will gain so much from this experience.
  7. Learn by watching others, and determine better ways to do your job.
  8. Go on at least one road trip with a peer from another organization and see how that person does what he or she does.
  9. Create a list of your weakness areas, and strive to improve on these weaknesses.
  10. Participate in an online group where you can share ideas.
  11. Seek advice from your boss on ways to improve job performance. It always pays to be proactive instead of reactive in this regard.
  12. Dream about your career, and set goals and a quiet time table to attain your next opportunity.
  13. Critique everything you do, and ask staff to critique its programs and activities.
  14. Seek another degree, obtain your CFRE, attend Association of Fundraising Professionals courses or acquire some other type of continuing education.
  15. Have coffee with retired development professionals, and ask for their advice. It will make their day, and you will gain greatly from the experience.

Every year is a challenge for professionals in this field. Fundraising is an art and science. Strive to make 2015 your best year yet.

By F. Duke Haddad | Posted on December 30, 2014
Fundraising Success Magazine

Tips for better nonprofit fundraising emails

January 17th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Email, Fundraising

One of the best weapons in a nonprofit’s fundraising arsenal is email campaigning. We are sending and receiving more fundraising emails than ever before, all vying for the attention of supporters to act on behalf of our cause.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for your audience to differentiate your messages from the numerous emails that flood their inboxes each day, especially if your mass mailings are labeled as junk and relegated to the black hole of the spam folder.

In order to give your messages the best chance at reaching their targets and achieving your outreach goals, it’s best to consult an expert.

Brett Schenker, an email deliverability specialist at NGP VAN, outlined emailing best practices for a recent article entitled, “The Email Gauntlet: How Democratic Online Fundraisers are Tempting Fate.” Here are his tips for running a successful email campaign:

1. Stay on the pulse

Email analytics are not just window dressing.

The delivery result data that follows each mailing can give you a real-time sense of how effective (or not) your outreach is. By regularly monitoring this information, you can quickly address issues that may be impacting your bounce and click rates and avoid spinning your wheels while you lose more and more subscribers.

2. Avoid the crowds

Often, organizational calendars dictate editorial calendars — critical fundraising deadlines or upcoming events will naturally lend themselves to an increase in the volume of emails you (and others) send.

It’s important, however, to separate your messages from the deluge of email your audience is receiving.

An easy way to accomplish this is to schedule emails to send outside of normal, peak times. By hitting  inboxes outside of the typical email windows, your messages may reach your audience at a better time for them. As always, test to make sure this actually works before changing all of your email send times.

3. Keep it fresh

With the ever-evolving intelligence of email filtering configurations, avoiding the spam folder is no longer simply a question of keywords.

Increasingly, these sophisticated systems analyze your emails in terms of context, both in and of themselves and against similar messages being received.

And if your emails are too reminiscent of other campaigns that users don’t like, you may find you’re guilty by association. The best way to avoid this pitfall is to stay true to unique messaging.

4. Make it personal

Data should be utilized to the fullest when crafting messaging. Personalized outreach from brands like Amazon capitalizes on search and behavior history to tailor individual messages for shoppers.

Understanding a user’s interests and habits is the key to writing an compelling ask and eliciting a desirable response.

5. Trim the fat

You may be sabotaging your email campaign before ever hitting “send” with bloated, outdated email lists. If too many of your regular subscribers don’t log into their accounts or ignore or delete your messages without opening them, your emails will end up in spam boxes more often.

Decreasing your distribution lists may seem counterintuitive, but you’ll likely find higher open, click, and engagement rates with more precise mailings to a narrower audience.

Keeping these tactics in mind will position your email marketing campaign for success.

By Marcella Vitulli

Fix Your Fundraising Challenges

January 16th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Your organization offers a valuable service to the community and you are passionate about raising funds to accomplish your mission. Sometimes, though, the work of raising funds can be a bit daunting. Luckily, Greater Giving is here to make your life easier. Let’s take a look at some fundraising challenges and the tools that can help:

Auction Item and Package Procurement

Gathering the right items for an auction can be a demanding task, but with a little planning, you can make it fun and rewarding.

  • Know your audience. What are their interests? What can they afford? Do they have more time or more disposable income available?
  • Brainstorm ideas. Gather your procurement team together for a “Wish List” party. Have fun, be outrageous and break through your assumptions about what is possible.
  • Develop a plan. Who on your team has the best connections for each item? Make it a friendly competition with prizes for the most items procured.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Opportunities are everywhere. The more you ask, the more items you’ll receive. Make it easy for donors to say yes.
  • Be ready to close the deal. Have procurement forms with you. Set the date and time for picking up the item well in advance of your event.

See more at Mastering Auction Challenges – Getting the Best Value webinar.

Recruiting New Donors and Nurturing Relationships with Current Donors

Donors are the lifeblood of a nonprofit. How can you attract new donors and fully engage your existing donors?

  • Find Online Donors. Create a short, easy-to-remember URL for your donation page and include it in your direct mail campaigns and in conversations with potential donors.
  • Build Your Donor Database. The donor data you collect can help you understand your donors better and learn what appeals to them. Learn who is giving to your organization and why. Tailor your appeals to their interests.

See more at Recruiting and Retaining Donors.

Engaging the Board

Your board members are passionate about your cause. If you engage them in the work and make them feel invaluable and appreciated, they can do a lot for your organization.

  • Challenge your board. Set a goal for board giving and give your board a deadline. Talk about your goals and how your board members’ gifts make your work possible.
  • Demonstrate the importance of board gifts. What can you accomplish with $5,000 or $10,000? How many lives can you impact?
  • Provide ways to increase board gifts. Ask board members to participate in a corporate matching gift program. Encourage them to reach out to friends, family and co-workers by adding a blurb in their email signature or a “Donate Now” button they can email to contacts.
  • Ask board members to promote your cause. Your cause is something they care about. Make it easy for them to talk about it. Give them a website or video they can share on social media.
  • Thank board members over and over. Write personal thank you notes. Show them how their gifts had an impact. Thank them publicly.

See more at 5 Simple Steps to Engaging Your Board.

Incorporating Social Media to Fundraise Online

You can unleash tremendous potential by engaging your employees and volunteers in your social media efforts.

  • Recruit your troops. Start with your employees and volunteers who are already using social media. Compile a list of supporters and send them content to amplify.
  • Brand your efforts. Use a hashtag for your organization (e.g. #greatergivinghelps) that your supporters can use to share their experiences across different social media platforms—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.
  • Train your people. Hootsuite University is an educational platform with webinars from industry leaders to help your supporters be more effective in their social media efforts.

See more at Doing More With Less – How Nonprofits Build Social Media Armies.

Executing a Consistently Successful Annual Event

A well-organized event not only brings in revenue for this year, but inspires your attendees and volunteers to want to participate again next year.

  • Start early so you have enough time to choose a desirable venue, recruit enough volunteers, procure great auction items, and line up top-notch sponsors.
  • Event management software makes managing your event easier and more efficient. Payment processing technology can virtually eliminate end-of-evening cashier lines. Mobile bidding can drive up revenue for your auction.
  • Staff and Volunteers. Recruit enough volunteers to handle all the tasks for the event and train them well. Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and check in with them often. Your volunteers—and your guests—will appreciate it.
  • Follow-up. Say “Thank you” to everyone involved: your staff, your volunteers, your donors, and your attendees. When people feel appreciated, they are more likely to come back.

See more at Benefit Auction Planning Basics.


While paid advertising is expensive, fundraisers can often get their message out through the mainstream media for little or no cost.

  • Understand the media. How does the media decide which stories to run? Who do you contact at your local newspaper or TV station? What format are they expecting from you?
  • Access the media. Build relationships with news anchors and reporters. Bring them to your auction as press or invite them to emcee. Familiarize them with your cause. Provide them with excellent press releases.
  • Prepare for appearances. Once you have secured an interview with the press, make sure you deliver your message clearly and naturally. Dress for the occasion. Use facts and stick to your message.
  • Promote an event. Remember your event is newsworthy. Create a short pitch to send to media outlets. Imagine what your audience wants from this news feature and deliver that message.

November 17th, 2014
Greater Giving Blog

New Study Finds Unexpected Source of Giving: Young Women

January 15th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Conventional wisdom says young Americans are not as generous as older generations, particularly if they’re not religious. That may hold true for most donors, says a new report, but younger women appear to be bucking the trend.

Millennial and Generation X women who are single and unaffiliated with a religion give two-and-a-half times more money to charity than their older, similarly secular counterparts, according to the report, which looked exclusively at unmarried donors. Their giving also doubles that of peers who have loose ties to a religion.

The researchers say their findings put the intersection of religion and charitable giving in a new light: Intensity of faith may not be as strong a predictor of giving as once thought.

Gender and age clearly influence a donor’s choices, says the study’s director, Debra Mesch, head of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “You can’t look at religiosity in a one-size-fits-all way. We really have to drill down a little deeper into generational differences and gender differences.”

The correlation between faith and giving has been widely documented, perhaps most famously in the 2006 book Who Really Cares, by scholar Arthur Brooks, which led columnist George Will to write: “America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers.” Last year, researchers from Lilly and the Los Angeles-based Jumpstart found that nearly three-quarters of household charitable giving goes to organizations with religious ties.

Ms. Mesch says her team is the first to analyze how age and gender might affect the link between religion and charitable giving. Their research excluded giving to churches, mosques, and other religious congregations but included donations to religiously affiliated nonprofits like Catholic Charities.

Although the work doesn’t offer explanations for the giving choices of young women, Ms. Mesch speculated that secular organizations for women and social networks like giving circles may be spurring their charity. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota sponsors an annual networking event for female business professionals that has grown from 100 attendees to more than 1,000 in 15 years, says president Lee Roper-Batker. While older women remain the foundation’s biggest donors, an increasing number of young women are stepping up.

She adds: “A lot of them say we are the first organization to ask them for a five-figure gift.”

By Drew Lindsay
November 12, 2014


The Right Way to Ask

January 14th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Fundraising

Everyone is sent appeal letters to donors in this holiday season. I’ve seen some nice solicitation letters land on my desk and in my email.

But there’s one thing that many people get wrong.

They don’t know how to come right out and actually ask their donors for gifts. They sort of hint about the gift. Or ask for generic “support.”

What I hate the most is an appeal letter that beats around the bush and never quite gets an ask on the table.

So here’s a great way to ask your donor for a gift. This is what to say in your appeal letter:

“I’m writing you today to …

Say this right out at the beginning of a paragraph. It puts the reader of your letter on notice that there is actually a point to your communication.

… ask you to consider a generous gift …

When you use the word “consider,” it is a bit more soft and gentle. When we do a major-gift ask, we always use the word “consider.” I like it in appeal letters too.

… of $xxxx …

You really need to put a dollar amount in your letter. All the direct-mail experts say that you’ll raise more if you ask for a specific amount. Use a larger number, not smaller.

… to help these kids …

(or the environment, the theater, the students, the elderly, the refugees — choose the word that fits your cause.) Be specific about who will be helped!

… have hope for the future (or what fits for your specific cause).”

This is your impact statement. Always include the impact of the gift when you ask for money. This makes your ask feel not about the money but instead about the wonderful work your organization does in the world.

The more specific you can make the ask, the better. And the more money you’ll raise.

Try framing your appeals this way. You’ll raise more money, I promise!

By Gail Perry | Posted on November 26, 2014

Keeping It Clean and Simple

January 13th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Annual Giving, Database, Fundraising

List hygiene might not be at the top of your list of key focus areas when it comes to building a successful direct-marketing program, but it should be. I think of list hygiene like a car’s engine. It’s not the flashy part of the car, and it’s not something that you might think of every day; but if neglected, it could significantly reduce your car’s performance.

To ensure you’re building a solid, clean donor list, use business rules to determine what constitutes a valid donor record. For example, do you need to have a full name and complete address? Or is it sufficient just to have a last name, street address and ZIP code? You’ll also want to centralize who has access to make changes to a donor’s record to ensure the proper rules are being followed. Make sure you have your donor file NCOA’d at least annually so you have the most up-to-date addresses, and also perform database maintenance to merge duplicate records or duplicate names within a household based on business rules.

For e-mail records, make sure you identify bounce-backs. You should make the effort to update all e-mail addresses to valid addresses, but if you can’t, flag them as “do not e-mail.”

Whether you implement these ideas or others, take time to “tune up” your donor list. It will help you achieve maximum results.

By Brian Cowart

Brian Lacy and Associates provides NCOA Screenings and more powerful Advanced Address Correction services.

Brian Cowart is senior director of direct-mail donor acquisition and cultivation at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He can be reached via

Case study – map view of the donor data base

January 12th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

One of the most frequently viewed posts on the old APRA-GH blog was this Southern Illinois University case study produced by Grenzebach Glier & Associates.

SIU contracted with GG+A to assemble an interactive tool to query their donor data base using parameters like wealth, giving level and giving designation (college) to produce results across a map.


This implementation is amazing.  It clearly required a commitment to a development methodology to achieve the results shown.  But it is truly impressive.  Click on the map image above to access the link to the webinar.  Fast forward to about 40 minutes to see the demonstration.


November 26, 2014
By Diane Korb