Five Things To Do Locally Before Fundraising Globally

Several times a month, I receive a message from somewhere far, far away.

They all want to raise money in America. And they all want someone else to raise it for them.

While these organizations could benefit from a trusted counselor, they rarely have the resources to pay for one.  And since no legitimate fundraising consultant would accept work on a commission basis, they appear stuck.

But are they really?

Emerging organizations can take several simple steps to bring them closer to their goals.  And they begin right at home.

Here are the recommendations I find myself sharing with early stage charities weekly:

1) Start locally: People raise money all over the world. The key is to build support first in the community in which you work, then to work outward to the region, the nation, the continent and the world. Having local support both makes your work more sustainable and lends credibility as you seek support from people and institutions far away.

2) Start with your leadership: Every real nonprofit organization has a board. This board must be comprised of people who both give and get. Start there, making sure that your organization is their highest giving priority. Then you can find out who they know, asking each board member to reach out to their network on behalf of the organization, whether through letters, phone, email, in person, or all of the above.

3) Engage Partners: Private and public companies, foundations, local governments, and local offices of international NGOs are all potential partners, potentially reducing operational costs, increasing revenues, and expanding the network of individual contributors. Ask them to donate goods. Ask them to give or to match gifts by their employees. Ask them to help advertise your work. Ask them to donate volunteer hours. Ask!

4) Use social networks to expand your reach: Rather than trying to find fundraisers for hire on LinkedIn, you can identify and reach out to those with an expressed interest in the mission of the organization.  You can search LinkedIn for groups devoted to similar issues. Search Twitter for people talking about the same cause. Search Facebook for companies, foundations, groups and individuals interested in the same things. Engage in conversation. Find out how they want to be involved. Provide those opportunities. Then–and only then–ask for their financial support.

5) Get training: Find out what successful peer organizations in the community, country and region are doing in the area of fundraising. For example, there are fundraising associations throughout the African continent, including the West African Institute of Fundraising, the Kenya Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising. Fundraisers in the Middle East now enjoy the newly emerging Pan-Arab Fundraising Association.  Asia boasts such organizations as the South Asia Fundraising Group and the Japan Fundraising Association.  And the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Resource Alliance also offer training around the world.

There are many tools and techniques of fundraising but fundamentally it is a matter of defining your market, making your case, and asking for support.

For emerging charities hungry for resources to meet their mission, it may seem natural to look far away for money.  And sometimes, using some social platforms, an organization might attract some donors that way.

But growing a sustainable organization always starts where you are and with who you know. Because, just as little Dorothy Gale discovered, there’s no place like home.


5 Great Ways To Gain Independence from Government Funding

Imagine if there was a switch that turned on and off the nonprofit sector just as Congress shutdown the US government in September 2013.

Many hospitals would shut down. Most universities and colleges would close. Social services would shutter. Performance spaces would remain dark.

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. As long as nonprofit organizations have resources independent of the government they can continue to provide services.

And it’s a good thing too!

The impact of charitable organizations is massive and pervasive, from disaster relief and blood banks to volunteer fire departments and concerts on the village green. The sector generates a sizable chunk of the US economy and employs an enormous percentage of the population. That is true in more and more of the world as well.

Beyond the money and the activity is the central role these organizations play in organizing ourselves around ideas to make a better world.  As Toqueville observed long ago, “In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion on an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact.  From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded.”

For some nonprofits today, however, that independence is more fragile. The connection between government and charitable activity is often so great that a shutdown threatens their very existence.

Take the Combined Federal Campaign, the federal government’s workplace giving campaign. The CFC raised hit its high watermark in 2009, reaching $282.6 million. Since then it has dropped annually, with a particularly steep decline in the wake of the last government shutdown. In 2013, the campaign generated just $209 million. New guidelines and a shortened fundraising window for this fall suggest declines are likely to continue.

Nor is this is limited to government workplace giving.  A full 57% of respondents to a recent Nonprofit Finance Fund poll reported that they receive government funds.  Of those who received federal government payments, 5.7% closed programs and 15.2% scaled back programs in the wake of the government shutdown.

That may not sound high. And it may be temporary. But just imagine that nearly 21% of something your organization did needed to shut down or scale back?  What would that impact be like on you, your colleagues, and all those you serve in the community?

The present is always the best time for nonprofits to shore up their own defenses and become more self-sufficient.

Here are five things your organization can do to gain greater financial independence through private philanthropy throughout the year:

1.  Call Your Supporters:  When was the last time you personally thanked your donors? Pick up the phone and tell them how their support made a critical difference this year. Doing so is key to retaining their support. Set a goal of calling and personally thanking every single individual donor who gives $100+ this year.  

2.  Postscript Your Letters: Here’s something I learned from working with two Ambassadors early in my career…you should personally sign and postscript your thank-you letters. For an added touch, cross out the “Mr. and Mrs.” and handwrite your donors’ first names (if you are sure you know them).  Letters are even more rare than calls these days and handwritten or post-scripted letters set you apart. Set a goal of making every acknowledgement personal.  It helps generate repeated giving.

3.  Help Your Donors to Give Smart: You can bank on this: No matter how smart or successful your donors, they do not necessarily know the best ways to give. You need to communicate often about the benefits of giving gifts of appreciated stock. The market is at an all-time high. It makes little sense to sell stock and give cash.  Tell them. Over and over. On Facebook and your website, at special events and in mailers.  Make your goal this year to double the number of gifts of stock.  

4.  Grow Your Constituency: A successful fundraising effort is dependent on two things–retaining your historical donors and attracting new ones. In every channel you inhabit, drive traffic to pages where you can capture new names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. This is where all constituency building starts.  You also will want to retain information on where your new friends come from.  Set a goal to attract new friends, not just “likes.” 

5.  Making Major Giving the Goal: Only about 1%-3% of your constituency has the financial capability to finance 80%-95% of your capital objectives.  We love all our supporters equally but those with major gift capacity require more focused time and attention.  Make your goal to identify 50 new major gift prospects each month to keep your fundraising focused on the biggest opportunities in the year ahead.

If you take these steps, donors will see that they are your closest partners in making the mission of your organization a reality.  And you will have far less to worry about if Congress loses its collective mind again in the future!  

Helping Donors “Do the Right Thing” for a Big 2012

“If I had to put a headline on the economy [of 2011],” says GuideStar President & CEO Bob Ottenhoff, “I’d say, ‘Uncertainty.'”

And the uncertainty pervading the nonprofit economy was particularly unsettling for organizations with budgets of under $3 million.

“Smaller charities were much less likely to report increased fundraising results and much more likely to be pessimistic about how they thought 2012 was going to turn out,” Ottenhoff says, referring to the most recent Nonprofit Fundraising Study released by GuideStar and other leading organizations in December.

“Larger nonprofits are more likely to have a diverse funding mix.  They are more likely to be able to appeal in different ways to different demographics,” he points out.

So is there a moral to the 2011 story that will give the smaller organizations that make up the vast majority of the nonprofit marketplace a path to great fundraising success in the new year?

“One of the things I’m really focusing on is how we can build strong organizations,” Ottenhoff says.  “They need to be able to adapt to changing winds and changing fortunes and changing conditions in the broader economy.”

How can organizations already under economic strain be so adaptable and flexible with limited bandwidth?  By focusing their fundraising attention on the most important thing: their customer, the donor.

“They have to get to learn who are their donors,” says Ottenhoff.

“Donors want to do the right thing…but they don’t always know how to do it.  We as nonprofits need to help them out by telling them a little bit more about our organizations and being not only transparent and accountable…but talking a little bit more about the effectiveness of our organizations.”

Watch this short video interview with Bob Ottenhoff to learn more about philanthropic returns in 2011 and lessons that organizations large and small can apply in 2012.

Where the donors are…

David and Lori Lawson, founders of, have a bone to pick with many nonprofits.

“We do not understand why fundraisers are reluctant to use [social media] as they should,” says Lori, pointing out that one of the main reasons to employ social networks is that “the donors who have major gift potential are there and talking to each other.”

Finding them and knowing how to interpret and apply the information they are providing openly about their interests just takes a bit of training.

“There are a lot of people out there doing business on social media,” David says.  He cites the “entrepreneurs and the investors who make their dreams come true” as two populations of particular interest, adding that “we are just beginning to see firms emerge that are helping to connect the social media world with [a nonprofit’s] database.”

David and Lori provide a few tips for fundraisers and prospect researchers curious about how to make the best use of social media in this short interview in advance of their forthcoming webinar on “Social Media: Where the Cool Donors, and the Smart Fundraisers, Are”

The check was, is and will be in the mail!

Did you know that the typical US nonprofit draws over 75% of its total donated revenue from direct mail?  And that direct mail is responsible for attracting 75% of new donors?

There is no doubt, however, that running a successful direct mail program today is more challenging than it was before the age of email, social media and the donate now button.

I interviewed direct mail expert Brian Lacy, in advance of his “Seven Keys to Boost Direct Mail Fundraising” webinar on November 22,  on the best current tactics for large and small nonprofits seeking to get the most from their mail programs.

Take a look and let me know what you think…


Beyond Friendraising with Social Media

Earlier this year, a nonprofit social media specialist remarked that organizations must instill passion in their social contacts before asking for their financial support.  And that passion might take as much as one to two years to emerge!

Is this courtship in the 19th Century or fundraising in the 21st?

Social media networks are just new pathways to communication.  And people today aren’t a new species.  If we don’t wait two years to pop the question in real life, there’s no reason to wait for some magical passionate moment to invite people to participate in our most cherished work simply because we are using Facebook or Twitter to talk.

Fortunately, nonprofits are moving beyond mere engagement to solicitation and in that process elevating social media usage from a mere marketing platform to a place to actually conduct business.  This is better not only for organizations themselves since they can now prove the value of the social media investment but also for prospective donors who are finally being taken as seriously as those we invite to invest in our work via mail, phone and face-to-face.

But making this leap isn’t easy.  Organizations need role models, success stories and best practice cases.

This week I will be collaborating with Jennifer Darrouzet of Convio on a webinar addressing this very subject.  The webinar, entitled “From Time Waster to Moneymaker: Turn Your Social Fan Base into a Fundraising Community,” benefits from insights of fundraisers around the world who are monetizing our most important communication channels.

In preparation for the webinar, I conducted brief interviews with two extraordinary nonprofit leaders who are an example to other nonprofits looking to use social media to build communities of support.

One is with Victoria Miller, President of the Trisomy 18 Foundation, which supports treatments and preventions of Trisomy 18, a condition affecting 1 of 1,500 pregnancies, and is creating a caring worldwide community for affected families.  The other is with Carie Lewis, Director of Emerging Media at The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization and a major social media force as well.

Here are those brief interviews:

I look forward to hearing your reactions to Victoria’s and Carie’s observations and to the other stories we’ll be sharing this week!


A few weeks ago, the public took little notice of a collection of people gathering in lower Manhattan to draw attention to the role of financial services companies in the ongoing US economic crisis.  The media was largely ignoring the couple of hundred protestors in Zucotti Park in the Wall Street area.

Then came people like Priscilla Grim.

An unemployed media savvy social media maven with a personal commitment to addressing the needs of “the 99%,” she joined a small group of likeminded volunteers in facilitating, coordinating and honing the messages of the many different people gathering around the issue across the social networks.  Their rallying cry: #occupywallstreet.

There are now tens of thousands of demonstrators at dozens of #occupy efforts throughout the United States and hundreds of thousands–perhaps even millions–following it closely online.  The broadcast media has also started covering the demonstrations, bringing the matter to the larger public, adopting the same hashtags so central to the communications of Priscilla and the other coordinators.

In a common Kevin Bacon style nth degree of separation story, I found that I was coincidentally connected on LinkedIn with the very same Priscilla Grim mentioned by Dan Rather on the Chris Matthews show.  I reached out through Twitter and asked if she could spare a few minutes in between projects and catnaps to describe the origins and current activities of #occupywallstreet.  My hope was that their story could both inform and inspire other nonprofit organizations to greater success in communicating their missions and building audiences.  I got that–and so much more.

Here is my interview with Priscilla Grim, better known on Twitter as @GrimWomyn, showing that commitment and talent can and do make a world of difference: