Archive for ‘Stewardship’

October 22, 2015

Do You Know if Your #Fundraising is Failing?

You might think it’s a blunt, maybe even a harsh, question. It is.

Do you know if your fundraising is failing?

If your nonprofit organization is typical, I have some bad news for you. You’re fundraising effort is most likely sorely underperforming. That’s according to the newly released 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute.  Here are some of the key findings:

•  For every 100 donors gained in 2014, 103 were lost through attrition, a net loss in donors of three percent!

•  For every $100 gained in 2014, $95 was lost through gift attrition. In other words, organizations are running hard to remain essentially in place.

•  The median donor retention rate in 2014 was just 43 percent. There was no improvement over 2013’s rate despite all of the publicity and advice about the issue.

•  The median dollar retention rate increased slightly from 46 percent to 47 percent in 2014. However, the fact that the retention rate is not well above 50 percent is pathetic. Sadly, that’s been the case for nearly the past decade.

The Scream by Mark Tighe via FlickrRoger Craver, one of the Editors at The Agitator blog and author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life summed up the results perfectly with just one word: “depressing.”

Even if your charity is performing on par with the median nonprofit organization, make no mistake about it, it is failing. Unfortunately, many organizations do not even know whether or not they are performing well. They usually don’t look at or understand their numbers. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Here’s a story I told The Agitator:

August 17, 2015

Urgent Alert: Immediate Action Needed to Defend Nonprofits

There is an alarming issue you need to be aware of.

While I do not use this blogsite to engage in partisan politics, that does not mean that I avoid politics and government relations altogether. I consider myself a bi-partisan, vigorous defender of the nonprofit sector.

CA State House by David Grant via Flickr

California State House

Over the years, I’ve worked with both Democrats and Republicans in my capacity as Chairman of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Political Action Committee, Chairman of the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter Government Relations Committee, and a member of the AFP US Government Relations Committee. I’ve even represented AFP in testimony before the Federal Trade Commission.

As a passionate defender to the nonprofit sector and a cheerleader for voluntary philanthropy, I took notice of a recent post on The Agitator blog. Fundraising legend Roger Craver sounded an alert and issued a call to action over a dangerous move by the California Attorney General.

Never before have I reprinted a blog post. However, this issue is so important that, with Roger’s permission, I am sharing his post with you now:


If you’re willing to turn over the list of your top donors to the government then you need read no further.

However, if you’re not sure, or you’re absolutely certain you’d be unwilling to give up the donor list, then take this post to your CEO and General Counsel. Immediately.

Why? Because right now the Attorney General of California is set on requiring that any nonprofit seeking a license to solicit funds in the nation’s largest state first turn over their lists of top donors that are filed with the IRS on a supposedly “confidential” schedule of your tax return.

This dangerous and unconstitutional power grab in the name of ‘fundraising regulation’ and ‘consumer protection’ must be stopped.

And it’s up to all of us—nonprofits and the companies that serve them to stand up now and take action.

Whether or not your organization or one you serve solicits funds in California the battle ahead will affect the freedom of speech and privacy rights of every nonprofit in the U.S. and their donors.

In a moment I’ll outline the steps you can take immediately to head off this threat. But first some background.

A year ago this week The Agitator warned about a sinister move by the Oklahoma Attorney General and his special interest contributors to silence the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) using that state’s fundraising regulations.

HSUS has boldly and, so far, successfully fought back.

As I pointed out last August there have been relatively few occasions in modern history where politicians have blatantly sought to use the power of their office to silence nonprofits that opposed them or whose views and ideology they disagreed with.

At the end of the day, Americans and the U.S. Supreme Court have shown little tolerance for political zealots and bullies who abuse U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and due process.

NOW …The Intimidators At It Again. And We Must Make Sure They Lose. Again.

August 14, 2015

Easy Ways to Cultivate Your Donors and Raise More Money

Steven Shattuck recently interviewed me about one of my favorite topics for Bloomerang TV: Donor Cultivation.

Many nonprofit organizations see caring cultivation and solid stewardship as luxuries rather than essential components of the fundraising process. That’s one reason for low donor retention rates, 23 percent for first-time donors and 43 percent overall.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you simply ask for donations with little or no attention given to cultivation and stewardship, you’re nothing more than a professional beggar. Development professionals recognize that fundraising does not begin and end with an appeal. Development professionals know the importance of cultivation and stewardship.

During my interview, I share a number of easy to implement, low-cost ideas for cultivating and stewarding your prospects and donors. One of the things I talk about is the value of pleasantly surprising people; I even share a couple of examples. You can read the full interview transcript of “Sneaky Ways to Cultivate Donors” by clicking here. You can watch the full 17 minute video below:

For more tips about cultivating your planned giving prospects and donors, read my article “Effectively Cultivating Prospects at Little or No Cost” which appeared in Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. For additional tips and great examples for educating, cultivating, and stewarding planned giving prospects and donors, checkout my book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

July 13, 2015

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

The 18th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire wrote, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Whether he originated the sentiment or was referencing an earlier Italian proverb, Voltaire’s powerful observation is one that remains relevant for today’s fundraising professionals.

While it’s certainly understandable that fundraisers strive for perfection in cultivation, solicitation, and acknowledgement, the reality is that that quest is problematic for several reasons, including:

1.  Perfection is unattainable. There is good. There is excellent. However, perfect does not exist. W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management, believed in a process of never-ending improvement. Seeking improvement is very different from seeking unattainable perfection.

2.  If you wait until you have developed the mythical perfect cultivation piece, appeal, or acknowledgement, the reality is you will never deploy your message. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, who developed early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the German Luftwaffe during World War II, stated, “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late; the best never comes.” Releasing a good or excellent message is far better than never releasing a near-perfect communication.

3.  Seemingly near-perfect communications do not necessarily work any more effectively than less ideal messaging. Let me explain.

The way to cut grass perfectly is not exactly the best way to a nice lawn.

The way to cut grass perfectly is not exactly the best way to a nice lawn.

I have a client, an international social service agency. A few months ago, one of the organization’s fundraisers traveled to Central America to meet with an affiliate agency and see, first-hand, how services were being delivered. Immediately upon returning to headquarters, the fundraiser sent emails to her key major and planned gift donors and prospects. Attached to the emails were a few snapshots she took during her trip.

In response to the cultivation emails, the fundraiser received a number of thank-you messages from recipients. How often do your donors and prospects thank you for cultivating them?

I believe that the emails and snapshots were effective for a number reasons including:

May 5, 2015

Will You Help Me Celebrate My (Re)birthday?

On May 2, I began my month-long (re)birthday celebration. One year ago, I underwent a 14-hour surgery to remove the rare cancer that had spread throughout my abdomen. The surgery was a success, and I am now in remission!

First Birthday Balloons by akadruid via FlickrPrior to surgery, I was told my life expectancy would be about two to five years. Following surgery, my doctor told me I can expect a full life. That’s why I consider May 2 my (re)birthday.

Having gone through what I have during the past year, I’m returning to professional life with a reinvigorated commitment to help the nonprofit community be more efficient and effective so we can make the world a better place.

I’m doing a number of private and public things this month to celebrate. While I normally ensure that my blog site remains largely non-commercial, I’m making an exception with this post because I want to enlist your help as I mark this important time in my life.

There are a number of ways you can join my (re)birthday celebration:

New Clients. I’m looking for at least three new clients. If you’ve found my blog posts helpful, imagine what we can achieve by working closely together, as some readers have already discovered. If you work for a nonprofit organization, I can help you with annual fund enhancements, donor retention efforts, ethics education and policy development, phone fundraising improvements, planned gift marketing, and training for staff and/or boards. If you work for a for-profit company serving the nonprofit sector, I can help you with service/product enhancements, new service/product development, and marketing.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss how I can help you achieve your goals.

Paid Speaking Engagements. As part of my return to professional life, I’m looking forward to getting back out on the speaking circuit. I’m an experienced, well-reviewed presenter and AFP Master Trainer. I’m also an adjunct faculty member at Drexel University where I teach Advanced Fund Development to graduate students. For your organization, I can facilitate a variety of training programs for your board, staff, or volunteers. For your professional associations, I can offer a variety of seminars or keynote presentations to meet the group’s needs and particular interests.

April 3, 2015

Whoopi Goldberg: “A Little Freakdom is Not Bad”

During her recent appearance at the 2015 AFP International Fundraising Conference, Whoopi Goldberg shared her thoughts about fundraising and how to inspire people to donate. At one point, the comedienne summed up her thinking on the subject with the simple line:

A little freakdom is not bad.”

In other words, dare to be different. Don’t be afraid to be creative.

As an example, Goldberg talked about fundraising galas designed to attract wealthy supporters. She pointed out that to get support, you have to be willing to give. She went on to say that while chicken might be an inexpensive dinner choice, gala goers are tired of chicken. She advised:

Less chicken! … Give them something they’re not expecting.”

When cultivating the support of donors, it’s important to differentiate your charity from others, particularly those with a similar mission. Doing something simple, and still inexpensive, such as serving Chinese food at a gala, can show people that your charity is different. It will also help people remember the event and the charity. For frequent gala goers, an unexpected, fresh menu will be a welcome change, according to Goldberg.

Whoopi Goldberg by Archman8 via FlickrYou can apply the same idea to all aspects of your interaction with donors.

Tom Hopkins, the sales guru, says, “Be different, but believable.”

Michael Kaiser, the arts consultant and former head of Kennedy Center, says, “Make giving fun.”

What all three of these folks are saying is that it’s important to be creative when working with people in order to stand out, to engage, and to make sure that the engagement is enjoyable. Doing so will attract and retain more support.

Think of the ways you can surprise your prospects and donors in a positive way. It doesn’t have to be Chinese food at a gala, as Goldberg suggested. But, think of what you can do. For example, you can surprise donors with a thank-you phone call after receiving their donations. You can invite new donors above a certain level to join you for a special behind-the-scenes tour. What can you do for your donors to bring a smile to their faces? It doesn’t have to be expensive to leave a positive impression.

Reflecting further on gala events, Goldberg says:

March 18, 2015

Bernard Ross Reveals the Next Big Thing in Fundraising!

Have you ever wondered what your donors are thinking? Life would be so much simpler if you could read their minds.

Now, we’re actually a step closer to knowing.

To understand what your donors are thinking, you first need to understand how they think. That’s where veteran consultant and author Bernard Ross, Director of The Management Centre, and fundraising consultant Alan R. Hutson, Jr., Principal and Managing Partner of The Monument Group, can help.

Thinking-Please Wait by  Karola Riegler Photography via FlickrIn a preview of their session “Behavioural Economics: Everything You Know about Donor Decision Making is Wrong” at the AFP International Fundraising Conference (Baltimore, March 29-31, 2015), Ross told me the duo will show attendees how they can apply the work of Dr. Daniel Kahneman, author of the bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow, to better understand their prospects and donors and, thereby, enhance their fundraising efforts.

Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, says we have two complementary processes by which we make decisions in life, including fundraising decisions. He refers to these as System 1 and System 2. System 1 operates automatically and quickly, like an autopilot. System 2 allocates attention to effortful, conscious mental activities. We think System 2 is at work most of the time; however, Kahneman has found it is, in fact, System 1.

Ross asserts:

Hutson and I believe that Kahneman’s insights are the next big thing in fundraising.”

Ross observes that most fundraising professionals think donors are making rational judgments when they are not. Think of the old sales axiom: “People buy based on emotion then justify, after the fact, with logic.” A similar process is often involved with philanthropic decision-making.

Donors make philanthropic decisions based on six to eight key mental heuristics — or System 1 short cuts — that we all use. Ross says that fundraisers can learn these heuristics and use them to transform response rates, gift sizes, and more. In their session, Hutson and Ross will introduce participants to these key heuristics and show them how that knowledge is being used to remarkable effect by charities around the world.

February 20, 2015

Building Donor Loyalty: What’s New?

Among first-time donors to nonprofit organizations, the median rate of attrition is 77 percent! In other words, more than three-quarters of all new donors to a charity walk in the front door and promptly exit out the back door. That’s the appalling finding of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

First Time Donor RetentionOver the past few months, the issue of high nonprofit Donor Attrition rates has received increasing attention. I’ve even put a spotlight on the issue with the following posts:

As I worked on those articles, I couldn’t help but wonder: What’s new and effective that can help us build donor loyalty? Well, we’ll soon find out.

Adrian Sargeant, PhD, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, will be presenting “Building Donor Loyalty: What’s New?” at the AFP International Fundraising Conference (Baltimore, March 29-31, 2015).

Sargeant has been passionately conducting donor loyalty research for two decades. Sargeant and his colleague Elaine Jay wrote Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value.  Tom Ahern, the internationally recognized communications expert at the helm of Ahern Donor Communications, has described the text as: “Transformational.” I cited this informative book in my post: “Avoid Making Faulty Assumptions about Donor Loyalty.”

In his upcoming session at the AFP International Conference, Sargeant will demonstrate how even small improvements in loyalty, in the here and now, translate to whopping improvements in the lifetime value of a fundraising database.

Cover- Building Donor Loyalty -- click to see book at AmazonFor example, he has found that a 10-percentage point improvement in retention can lead to a 200 percent improvement in the lifetime value of the fundraising database!

Sargeant will also look at what drives loyalty, drawing on lessons from both the commercial and the voluntary sectors, including work on the big three drivers of loyalty: satisfaction, commitment and trust. He will also explore new work on loyalty that looks at the role of donor identity and the extent to which donors identify themselves in part through their support of a nonprofit.

Sargeant will show how the concept of identity interacts with the other three big drivers of loyalty and which of all these factors offers the greatest potential to the sector to bolster giving and grow long-term support.

Sargeant told me recently:

February 17, 2015

The Greatest Idea for Retaining and Upgrading Donors

Every charity wants more money from donors. If only existing donors would write larger checks, become monthly supporters, make a major gift, and/or commit to a planned gift, there would be less pressure on the fundraising staff and the organization would be able to do more to fulfill its mission.

But, how can you raise more from your donors if they do not stick around?

Nationally, the median nonprofit organization finds that its donor retention rate is just 43 percent! Among first-time donors, the retention rate is an obscenely low 23 percent! (The stats come from the AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project.)

Donor Retention 20013-14The good news is that if you can increase your nonprofit organization’s donor retention rate by just ten percentage points, you could see an increase of up to 200 percent in donor lifetime value, according to researcher Dr. Adrian Sargeant. In other words, if you retain more donors, they will increase their giving and some will even encourage others to support your organization as well.

Unfortunately, increasing your donor retention rate won’t happen all by itself. You need to make it happen. So, what is the simplest, most effective tactic for accomplishing this?

Telephone by laerpel via FlickrDo you see that shiny box on your desk? It’s probably black with some flashing lights, and it’s plugged into the wall. It’s a telephone. Pick it up and call your donors to thank them for their support. While you’re at it, find out why they support your organization.

Yes, it really is that simple. CALL YOUR DONORS!

Multiple research studies have proven that thank-you calls are a powerful donor retention tactic. For example, Penelope Burk, in her book Donor Centered Fundraising, reports:

•  95 percent of study donors stated they would appreciate a thank-you call within a day or two of the organization receiving their donation.

•  85 percent said such a thank-you call would influence them to give again.

•  84 percent said they would definitely or probably give a larger gift.

Burk went on to report, when donors were tracked after 14 months, the group that received a thank-you call gave 42 percent more on average compared to similar donors who did not receive a thank-you call. During the renewal cycle, those who received a thank-you call were 39 percent more likely to renew their support.

Here are some tips to make your thank-you calls effective:

January 2, 2015

Don’t Make New Year Resolutions You Can’t Keep

It happens every year at this time. People make New Year resolutions. Then, a short time later, they break those resolutions.

Breaking New Year resolutions is bad. Doing so can make you feel guilty. It can erode your self-esteem. If you told anyone about your resolutions, your failure to keep them could even be embarrassing.

Here’s a novel idea for 2015: Don’t make New Year resolutions you can’t keep.


Happy New Year from Philadelphia!

Instead of setting overly challenging goals, I encourage you to adopt the three following, easy-to-keep resolutions. While easy to adhere to, the following resolutions are nevertheless meaningful. You’ll notice that my three resolutions include something that will benefit you, something that will benefit others, and something that will benefit your organization:


  1. Indulge yourself. Yes, you need to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising, and getting an annual medical physical. However, you also need to let yourself be bad occasionally. You need to take care of your psyche. If that means having a slice of chocolate cake, then go for it! If it means watching old television episodes of Gilligan’s Island, so be it. If it means having your spouse watch the kids so you can enjoy a leisurely bubble bath, make it happen. By being good to yourself, you’ll be better able to be good to other people.


  1. Make sure those you love know you love and appreciate them. Don’t assume that those you love know it or know the extent to which you care about them. Tell them. Show them. Don’t just run for the door in the morning to rush off to work; instead, take the time to kiss your spouse good-bye. Don’t just nod when your child comes home with a good test score; instead, take the time to tell him how impressed you are. Make your partner a steaming cup of tea before she asks for it or goes to make it herself. In other words, make the most of the little moments.


  1. Grow professionally. One of the hallmarks of being a professional is ongoing education and sharing knowledge. So, commit to attending seminars and conferences. If time or money are obstacles, participate in a webinar; there are some excellent free webinar programs available throughout the year. Or, read a nonprofit management or fundraising book. There are some terrific books at The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon) that will inspire and help you achieve greater results. You’ll find Reader Recommended titles, the complete AFP-Wiley Development Series, and other worthwhile items. If you have found a particular book helpful, consider sharing a copy with a friend, colleague, or your favorite charity. By the way, a portion of the sale of books through The Nonprofit Bookstore will be donated to charity.


(If there’s a nonprofit management or fundraising book that you read recently that you found particularly helpful, please let me know below so I can include the title in the Readers Recommended section.)

For additional reading, you might also consider looking at some of my posts that you might have missed. Here is a list of my top ten most read posts during the past year:

  1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  2. Delivering (My Own) Bad News
  3. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  4. One Word is Costing Your Fundraising Effort a Fortune
  5. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified
  6. How NOT to Run a Capital Campaign
  7. Cheating Death
  8. #GivingTuesday Has NOT Made a “Huge Difference”
  9. 5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising
  10. 20 Factoids about Planned Giving. Some May Surprise You.

I invite you to read any posts that might interest you by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

I’m honored to know that I have readers from around the world. (I love the Internet!) While I appreciate all of my readers, I thought it would be interesting to look, beyond the United States, to see my top ten countries for readership:


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