Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits
Real-World Strategies That Work
Essential info for nonprofits!
Ilona Bray, J.D.
August 2013, 4th Edition
Getting tax-exempt status for your nonprofit organization is just the first step toward succeeding in your mission -- ultimately, your nonprofit's effectiveness depends entirely on your ability to raise money. Fortunately, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits will show you how.
Featuring advice and stories from over 40 experienced fundraisers, foundation staffers, journalists, and more, this edition of Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits offers strategies for raising donations from individuals, companies, and institutions, and covers the tools and staff you'll need to get the job done. Find out how to:
- work with individual donors
- analyze the donor base
- plan special events
- solicit grants from foundations and corporations
- get media coverage
- use the Web to further fundraising goals
- start a side business to raise funds
Best of all, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits contains expert advice written in plain English, cutting out the jargon and "consultant speak" that's all too common in many nonprofit books.
This latest edition is updated to include new information on using crowdfunding to support your nonprofit's work, holding online options, and making sure your nonprofit's website comes up high in viewers' search results. And, you can read the latest studies on who gives the most and get the latest tax figures related to charitable donations.
“If you have room for only one book on your fundraising shelf, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits should be that book.”
-Advancing Philanthropy, Published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals
“ Gets into the best ways to keep the money flowing in, including using the Web….”<strong
“ Provides clear answers for nonprofits, with advice from fundraisers, foundation staffers and journalists.”
-San Diego Union-Tribune
- Fundraising Worksheet 1: Sample Cost Analysis
- Fundraising Worksheet 2: Fundraising Assets
- Fundraising Worksheet 3: Fundraising Strategy Chart
- Fundraising Worksheet 4: Mailing Evaluation
- Fundraising Worksheet 5: Meeting Checklist
- Fundraising Worksheet 6: Projected Special Event Expenses
- Fundraising Worksheet 7: Projected Special Event Income
- Fundraising Worksheet 8: Grant Priorities Summary Chart
- Fundraising Worksheet 9: Grant Prospects Research Overview
- Fundraising Worksheet 10: Check Your Website’s Fundraising Effectiveness
Ilona Bray, J.D. is an award-winning author and legal editor at Nolo, specializing in real estate, immigration law, workplace wellness and nonprofit fundraising. Many of her books are consistent Nolo bestsellers, among them Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits, U.S. Immigration Made Easy and Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home. Her latest book is entitled The Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising. She particularly enjoys interviewing people and weaving their stories into her books.
Bray's working background includes solo practice, nonprofit, and corporate stints, as well as long periods of volunteering, including an internship at Amnesty International's main legal office in London. She received her law degree and a Master's degree in East Asian (Chinese) Studies from the University of Washington. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, going to open houses and gardening.
Bray also blogs on ideas for raising money for your nonprofit at Nolo's Fundraising Tips for Busy Nonprofits and provides tips for anyone buying or selling a home at Nolo's Real Estate Tips for Home Buyers and Sellers -- winner of the 2012 "Best Blog" award from the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE). She is also an author on a popular Immigration Law Site and writes Nolo's Immigration Law Blog.
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Table of Contents
Your Fundraising Companion 1
Fundraising Tools 5
Fundraising People 7
Fundraising Skills 31
Fundraising Equipment and Technology 34
Developing Your Fundraising Plan 45
Getting Started: Set Your Fundraising Goal 47
Evaluate Your Nonprofit's Fundraising Assets 58
Develop Your Fundraising Strategy 64
Create the Final Plan 72
Attracting Individual Supporters 75
Make Your Organization Look Support Worthy 77
Understand What Motivates Your Supporters 85
Bring in New Supporters 95
How to Keep the Givers Giving 131
Thank Your Supporters (and Help Them Satisfy the IRS) 133
Follow-up Communications 136
Invite Supporters to Get More Involved 150
Analyze and Segment Your Donor Base 151
When to Call Your Supporters 154
Midscale and Major Donors 157
Background Research 159
Get to Know Your Existing Supporters 166
Annual Renewals of Support 171
Lectures, Small Events, and Parties for Major Supporters 173
One-on-One Meetings 177
Setting Up a Focused Major Gifts Campaign 194
Funds From the Great Beyond: Bequests
and Legacy Gifts 199
How to Attract Legacy Gifts 202
Handling Simple Inheritance Gifts 204
First Steps Toward Attracting Inheritance Gifts 212
Preview of Other Legacy Giving Arrangements 222
Special Events 227
Survey of Special Events 231
Choose the Right Event for Your Organization 250
Keep It Green 253
Develop a Realistic Budget 256
Plan and Pace Event Activities 261
Deal With Risks and Liability Issues 268
Last-Minute Tasks and Tips 272
After the Event: Assessment and Follow-Up 274
Raising Money Through Business or Sales Activities 277
Tax Rules for Business Activities 280
Learn From Other Nonprofits' Experiences 287
Develop Your Own Great -- And Low-Risk -- Business Idea 296
Measure Your Ideas Against Reality 303
Final Planning and Test Runs 308
Licensing, Sponsorships, and Other Relationships
With Existing Businesses 315
The Next Steps 317
Seeking Grants From Foundations, Corporations,
and Government 319
Understand the Funders 320
Research Grant Prospects 326
The Proposal Process, From Query Letter Onward 342
Follow Up With the Funder 363
Grant Renewals 366
Creating Printed Communications Materials 369
Annual Reports 376
Designing Your Website to Draw in Donors 383
Include Basic Identifying Information 386
Convey Your Organization's Personality 387
Keep It Fresh 391
Provide Interesting Content 392
Encourage Donations 394
Provide Information on Where the Money Goes 398
Mention Funders and Donors 399
Track Users 399
Help Online Searchers Find Your Site (Basic SEO) 400
Outreach Via Traditional and Social Media 405
Placing Stories With Traditional Media 406
What Makes a Good Story 407
Who to Approach With Your Story 410
Pitch and Place Stories 414
Protecting Your Nonprofit in Media Interactions 426
Making Your Own News: Social Media 427
Fundraising Worksheet 1: Sample Cost Analysis
Fundraising Worksheet 2: Fundraising Assets
Fundraising Worksheet 3: Fundraising Strategy Chart
Fundraising Worksheet 4: Mailing Evaluation
Fundraising Worksheet 5: Meeting Checklist
Fundraising Worksheet 6: Projected Special Event Expenses
Fundraising Worksheet 7: Projected Special Event Income
Fundraising Worksheet 8: Grant Priorities Summary Chart
Fundraising Worksheet 9: Grant Prospect Summary
Fundraising Worksheet 10: Check Your Website's Fundraising Effectiveness
Press Release Template
Using the Interactive Worksheets 461
Files Provided on Nolo's Website 463
Fundraising People.................................................................... 7
The Executive Director................................................................ 8
The Development Director........................................................ 10
Board of Directors...................................................................... 11
Advisory Council......................................................................... 17
Other Paid Development Staff.................................................. 17
Paid Staff in Nondevelopment Roles...................................... 18
Other Volunteers.......................................................................... 22
Outside Consultants and Contractors..................................... 29
Fundraising Skills........................................................................ 31
Interest in Other People............................................................. 31
Writing Ability................................................................................. 31
Fundraising Equipment and Technology................................. 34
Office Space and Equipment..................................................... 34
Effective Telecommunications Equipment.............................. 34
Computers and Software........................................................... 35
Credit Card Capabilities............................................................. 42
Since the days when fairy tales were first told, people have been looking for a way to spin straw into gold. Unfortunately, this impulse remains alive in too many of today’s nonprofits. With sources of new money hard to come by and old revenue streams threatening to dry up—not to mention staff members and volunteers overextending themselves to do the basic work of the organization—the fundraising office is often expected to perform feats of magic, sometimes with few more resources than the legendary pile of straw.
Don’t allow your organization to be trapped into this kind of fairy-tale thinking. Until your group understands that its success will depend, in large part, on your fundraising efforts—and is willing to invest in the people, resources, and technology necessary to do the job right—you’ll be spinning your wheels rather than spinning gold. And investing in fundraising should never mean investing only in activities that will produce immediate results: A successful fundraising program must also budget for the long term, with plans for such things as donor recruitment, cultivation, stewardship, and acknowledgment. These activities may not yield the immediate payback that writing a grant proposal would, but they will provide a solid foundation for the rest of your fundraising structure.
This chapter introduces the tools you’ll need to create and execute a successful fundraising effort. The way you use these resources will depend on your group’s size and experience, but most groups, no matter how large or small, use some combination of these basic tools to raise money.
This chapter covers:
how the position of each person in your organization—including volunteers and paid staff—can play a role in fundraising
personal skills that any development professional will need to have or develop, and
equipment and technology for fundraising, including computer and Web tools.
Need help with legal tasks like incorporating your nonprofit? This book assumes that your organization has already taken care of some legal and tax basics—namely forming a nonprofit corporation and successfully applying for
501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and any required state tax permits. In addition, most states require you to register with their attorney generals before soliciting funds within those states (even via the Internet!), and many states also require you to report on your fundraising expenditures and revenues. For step-by-step instructions on incorporating your nonprofit and applying for tax-exempt status, see How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation (national and California versions), by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo). Then check out Nonprofit Fundraising Registration: The 50-State Guide, by Ronald J. Barrett and Stephen Fishman, J.D. (Nolo).
In an ideal situation, your well-recognized and highly successful nonprofit would have a bustling staff of paid fundraising professionals, each with separate responsibilities and areas of expertise. Unfortunately, this level of organization and professionalism is far beyond the financial reach of most nonprofits. More often, you’ll need to cobble together a mix of as many board members and other committed volunteers as you can recruit to the fundraising cause, hopefully with the assistance of one or more paid fundraising staffers.
The roles and functions of various fundraising positions are covered below, including how to involve and motivate your fundraising team. Don’t worry if your organization doesn’t have all of these people in place. Especially during a nonprofit’s early years, it’s common for several people to wear two or more hats—your best fundraiser may also serve as your volunteer coordinator, your executive director, or even the president of your board of directors.
Those who might participate in your fundraising efforts include:
the executive director
the development director
the board of directors
an advisory council
other paid development staff
paid staff in nondevelopment roles
other volunteers, and
Track your own hours to find out your staffing needs. If you have the chance to expand your development staff, you’ll need to figure out what type of help will give you the most bang for your buck. The answer may be no farther away than your own workday. Try keeping track of where each hour goes. Even quickly scribbling entries such as “9:30 to 11:00 planning meeting, 11:00 to 12:30 research” can reveal that you spend hours in ways you wouldn’t have guessed. If, for example, you find that most of your time is spent on events planning, it might be worth contracting with an outside events planner rather than putting a new person on salary. Or, if most of your hours go toward clerical tasks, you might save some money by hiring a support staffer.
The Executive Director
Fundraising is, or should be, part of every executive director’s (ED’s) job description. This includes getting to know the organization’s supporters, meeting individuals to solicit major gifts, interacting with staff at foundations, reviewing grant proposals, helping oversee special events, speaking at events, and more. Sounds like a lot of hours, doesn’t it? And most EDs already have plenty on their plates concerning their organizations’ mission, programs, and personnel. But any ED who doesn’t somehow make the time for fundraising activities isn’t fulfilling the job requirements, period.
Former development directors can become great EDs. According to J.R. Yeager, a project director with CompassPoint (www.compasspoint.org) who specializes in executive transitions, “Many skilled, well-organized development directors are ready and well positioned to step into the role of ED, particularly with smaller nonprofits. Most smaller organizations truly need their ED to do much of the fundraising. As for the other parts of the ED’s job, these can be supported (for example, the board treasurer and outside auditor can help with budgeting and financial matters) and ultimately learned as the new ED grows into the job.”
The smaller your organization’s staff, the more time your ED will have to spend on fundraising. But if your organization can afford to hire a development director, the ED might be tempted to delegate as many activities as possible to that person. This can be a mistake. To the outside world, the ED is the face of your organization, the person who (rightly or wrongly) is seen as having the fullest sense of how your organization’s need for money intersects with its mission, goals, and day-to-day work. Whether you are pursuing a large grant or trying to coax a major donor to increase support, the ED is usually the best staffperson to close the deal.
Fortunately, the ED won’t be solely responsible for all or even most parts of the fundraising process. The ED should help solicit major gifts, for example, but need not be present for every gift request. Nor will the ED have to be involved in the day-to-day work of staying in close contact with major donors. Your board and staff members may also participate, depending on who is being approached. And when it comes to grant applications, the ED’s role should be limited to reviewing proposals, not writing them. If you can afford a development director, grant writing and other behind-the-scenes tasks will be done by that person. If not, your organization may use board members and other volunteers, as well as paid consultants and freelance contractors, to do this day-to-day work.
On the other side of the coin, an ED must be willing and able to share fundraising tasks with other board and staff members, especially the development director. An ED who can’t bear to part with these tasks, or won’t trust others with them, can spell trouble for an organization’s long-term survival. Over and over, one hears stories of a charismatic, successful ED who successfully grows a small nonprofit—but then continues to attempt to single-handedly raise all the money and lead the organization. Over the long haul, such EDs tend to either burn out from overwork, neglect important tasks while trying to cope with too many others, or, in the worst possible scenario, move on to another job, leaving the nonprofit with a huge leadership and fundraising void. J.R. Yeager of CompassPoint notes that, “The wise organization (no matter its size) engages in ‘succession planning.’ This means having an internal structure in place where a formal and clear line of succession, cross-training, and information sharing is planned in advance, so that a ‘void’ will not happen—or will at least be minimized if an organization’s ED departs.”
The Development Director
Perhaps you are the development director at your nonprofit, or perhaps you are a board member or an ED of a smaller organization that hasn’t yet mustered up the funds to hire for this position. Although some small nonprofits that plan to stay small—let’s say, Friends of the Rose Garden—find it practical to delegate fundraising to volunteers, most growing organizations will find it highly cost-effective to hire a part- or full-time development director. (The median salary that development directors command is $96,645 (according to the Wall Street Journal’s Salary Wizard).
Ideally, a full-time development director’s role is to oversee all aspects of the fundraising process, including planning the fundraising strategy, gathering input from the board and ED, identifying potential funding sources, and ensuring smooth operation of fundraising activities. Typically, however, the development director’s role also includes carrying out practically every other aspect of the fundraising program: writing appeals, newsletters, acknowledgment and stewardship correspondence, and grant proposals, meeting with donors to solicit gifts, coordinating events, and more.
When this turns into busywork, it can prevent the development director from concentrating on important fundraising tasks. It will, therefore, be key to your group’s long-term success to identify other people who can help take care of discrete or routine tasks.
A successful development director brings certain skills and abilities to your organization. Among the most important is good communication—in writing as well in person. You need a “people person”—someone who not only can express him- or herself, but also genuinely enjoys interacting with others. Remember, asking for money is just a small part of the greater—and often more fulfilling—process of building the nonprofit’s relationship with donors.
Unfortunately, experienced and personable development directors are hard to find. There are more organizations seeking development directors than there are people up to the challenge, which means that the best can pick and choose where they work. Those with an ounce of savvy won’t hitch their wagon to an organization that’s teetering on the edge of financial collapse, dealing with internal dissension, or experiencing other serious problems. Less-established organizations often have to compromise by, for example, sharing a development director with another (noncompetitive) organization, hiring someone who isn’t fully qualified for the job, or hiring a part-time or assistant development director. Such groups usually give the ED primary responsibility for fundraising.
A little recognition goes a long way. Smart EDs and board leaders know that a dedicated and effective development director may easily burn out. One way to prevent this is to make fundraising a high priority and encourage all key people to participate without whining. Another is to recognize the development director’s hard work by thanking him or her, sincerely and in front of others, for jobs well done. Too often, recognition goes primarily to board members and volunteers, as if receiving a salary diminishes the value of the passion and energy the development director throws into a project. Don’t make this mistake!
Board of Directors
By law, every nonprofit must have a board of directors (sometimes called a board of trustees, board of governors, or other similar term). This is usually a volunteer group of about 12 to 15 people, whose responsibilities include overseeing the organization and being accountable for its compliance with legal and other requirements. Board members are not mere figureheads: If they neglect their duties and your organization is sued or collapses as a result, they can be held financially accountable. (Many boards buy insurance to guard against this type of liability.)
As a practical matter, a good board not only sets the direction of your programs, but will also be critical to the success of your fundraising efforts, both by making fundraising an organizational priority and by participating personally. To this end, it’s a big help to have someone on the board with a thorough understanding of nonprofit budgeting and finance. There’s little point in working hard to raise money if the board can’t make sure that the organization is meeting its financial obligations and spending wisely.
Find Board Members Who Are Willing—And Able—To Raise Money
Unfortunately, there’s often a wide gap between what nonprofits hope board members will do for them and how prospective board members envision their roles. In my earlier life as a corporate law associate, for example, my law firm employer encouraged me and my fellow associates to join a nonprofit board. The firm wanted us to get involved with the “community”—that is, with people whose incomes were high enough to hire lawyers—by any means necessary, and offered to help us get onto the board of just about any organization we wanted—the opera, the symphony, whatever. That sounded good to me: I envisioned myself sitting around a meeting table, mulling over a group’s mission and giving sage advice. In short, like most novice board members, I was clueless. I not only had no idea about the depths of a board’s responsibilities, I hadn’t even considered that it might include plenty of time fundraising. Worse yet, I was only a few years out of law school, with little life experience beyond minimum wage summer jobs, so I was spectacularly ill-equipped for this role. (Luckily, I quit corporate law before inflicting myself on any boards.)
What lessons can be gleaned from my experience? Willing board members may be easier to find than you think, but:
You must be selective to find the ones with the knowledge and experience you need.
You need to be up front about your fundraising expectations.
Most board members serve terms of only three years, with one or more renewals allowed. Check your bylaws to be sure—and think about amending the bylaws if your board members can serve “life terms,” and you’ve got a few who are running low on energy and ideas. (Or think about enforcing your bylaws if people are overstaying their prescribed welcome!) If your board members serve limited terms, you must build a process to incorporate new board members into the ongoing work of your organization.
If you are new to the nonprofit world, you may wonder why anyone would voluntarily commit many hours per month to a demanding position, usually on top of work, family, and other responsibilities. A few board members are truly selfless—they live to help others. Some are newly retired, with an adequate income and time on their hands. Most are hard-working people genuinely interested in the cause, who hope that they’ll be able to fit board responsibilities into their already-stretched schedules. Unfortunately, too many busy people turn out to be unrealistic in their hopes and end up unable to do much more than attend meetings (if that). Finally, there are the staff of corporate law and accounting firms and other companies that have a material interest in encouraging their employees to join boards. Even this category isn’t all bad, especially if you can make use of their professional skills (but realize that nonprofit finance and law are specialty areas that your average accountant or lawyer will know nothing about).
No matter people’s motivations, many of them will have trouble making the kind of long-term commitment that active board membership entails. At the same time, organizations have a larger pool of potential volunteers who might be interested in more substantial work than the odd photocopying job. Recognizing this, some nonprofits are rethinking how their board is structured, perhaps paring it down to ten or fewer members, but asking these members to farm out work—including some fundraising—to committees. The committees may be composed of nonboard volunteers who can commit to the occasional sprint of activity—say, a donor campaign or a special event—but not the marathon of full board membership.
Recruiting board members is a topic well covered in other places (see the resource list at the end of this section), so this book won’t go into detail.
No matter what else they bring to the table, however, you must make sure that potential new board members have an interest in fundraising—and understand that this will be a substantial part of their role. Because there are so many ways to raise money, there’s a role for any willing board member to play. You can help by preparing materials that excite potential board members’ interest, such as a packet of items highlighting your organization’s mission, fundraising activities, and accomplishments. You should assemble a more extensive selection of such materials for purposes of training new board members.
Some organizations give prospective board members a very clear up-front understanding of their fundraising responsibilities, by asking them to commit to making a major financial contribution every year. You might require board members to contribute a set amount or base contributions on a sliding scale.
Asking board members for donations may seem odd—after all, they are already asked to give generously of their time, and now they’re being told they have to pay dearly for the privilege. One reason for this practice is that board members will be much better at soliciting large gifts from others if they can say that they’ve given themselves. It demonstrates their commitment to the cause and their confidence that the donation will be well spent. Perhaps more importantly by now, potential donors—individuals as well as foundations—have learned to ask, “How much have board members given?” You might literally lose out on a grant opportunity because the foundation was unimpressed by your level of board giving.
For example, one environmental organization I know of not only specifically requires each board member to make a $10,000 donation as a condition of service, but also makes clear that each member’s primary role will be fundraising. When the organization needs advice concerning the technical parts of its mission or activities, it turns to a separate advisory board, made up of scientists and other experts. This organization believes that policymaking and fundraising are the major roles of the board. Their experienced staff and advisers, they feel, are in the best position to know how the organization should be run. While there’s merit to this approach, it also has a downside: If key staff members leave, or the organization faces another crisis or turning point, the board will not be well equipped to step in and provide continuity or plot a new course.
Of course, your organization will need to decide for itself—based in part on what kind of work you’re doing and what community you serve—whether to solicit mostly affluent board members, or to ask for a particular monetary commitment. (For less-well-off board members, an alternative to the up-front donation might be to ask them to bring in an equivalent amount of money from a new donor or business.) For many community-based organizations or small advocacy groups, creating a financial requirement for entry could be just plain misguided. You might be lucky to have even a few affluent members. And the last thing you want is for representatives of a low-income community or dedicated former clients to be shut out. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still ask financially able board members to make a major gift.
Board Involvement in Fundraising Activities
There is virtually no limit to what your board members can do to help raise funds for your organization—other than each member’s own interests and time constraints. Board members can help plan your fundraising program, spearhead or help carry out a special event, represent your organization in public, provide names of likely supporters, approach supporters for gifts, host house parties or other events, institute giving programs within their own workplaces, coordinate a new member drive, write personal letters, make phone calls thanking people for gifts, and much more. All of this will help take some weight off the shoulders of your in-house development staff. The wide variety of possible fundraising roles also allows board members who are reluctant to ask for major gifts to find a role behind the scenes.
A well-run nonprofit will ask a great deal of board members, at the same time being sensitive to cries of “Enough!” Once board members become genuinely committed to your organization, they are more likely to stay interested and involved if you call on them for help on a regular basis. Performing minimal board activities—attending meetings and the occasional workshop, for example—can be less than soul satisfying. Ideally, you want board members to see that raising the money your group absolutely needs to do its good work can be the most rewarding part of board membership. Properly orchestrated, fundraising gets people out from behind the meeting table and into the community, where they can share what excites them about your organization. It also gives them a chance to enjoy the company of their fellow board members on a less formal basis, thus helping them form enduring friendships.
Need more information? For more on recruiting, structuring, and developing a strong, dynamic board, see:
Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders Raise Money Joyfully, by Susan Howlett (Perfect Paperback)
BoardSource, a membership-based group that offers consulting, training, and various publications, at www.BoardSource.org, and
The Truth About What Nonprofit Boards Want, by June J. Bradham (Wiley).
What If the Board Just Won’t Fundraise?
Coping with board members who won’t take the fundraising ball and run with it is a common problem in the nonprofit world. If you’re a development staffer, it shouldn’t be your responsibility to talk balky board members into helping raise money—this is the job of the board president or the chair of the development committee. However, because you’re being judged by how much money you raise, you may find yourself with a vested interest in getting board participation. Here are some potential ways to approach this problem:
Identify the board’s strongest leaders. Often, all it takes is one committed person on the board to inspire the others to put their shoulders to the wheel. For example, Grant Din, former executive director of San Francisco–based Asian Neighborhood Design (www.andnet.org), recalls, “We had one board member who was a development director at another nonprofit, which was perfect, because he could emphasize the importance of fundraising—and not have others tune him out the way they might if a staff member said the same thing. We also had another board member who really pushed for full participation by the board, and the two of them tried to create more of a giving and getting environment. As a board member for other nonprofits, I try to support the development staff by talking up the importance of board involvement in fundraising.”
Make sure your board members understand and care about your organization’s mission. Some board members feel distant from the organization they serve. They may have joined the board for personal or career reasons rather than commitment to your cause. Will attending board meetings cure this? Not likely, if they consist of a superficial report by the ED and hours spent worrying about financial issues. But you can jazz up board meetings—for example, by bringing staff members to talk about what they’re currently doing. Do some “show and tell”—sample projects, art works by clients, videos, testimonials by local activists, or anything else that might rev up the board and get them to do something more than just sitting back and voting. And serve food!
Enlist an outside voice. Consultants are available to address a board meeting, lead a board retreat, and more. (Ask colleagues at other nonprofits to recommend a good one.) Or, you might arrange a webinar through Grassroots Fundraising Institute; see www.grassrootsfundraising.org.
A nonprofit isn’t required to have an advisory council (or board or committee), but there are many good reasons to establish one. An advisory council is a group of people whose responsibilities include little more than—as the name suggests—offering advice and input on what the nonprofit is or should be doing. Members might be experts in a certain field, represent a community you’d like information from, be well known, or be past staff or board members whose experience you don’t want to lose—but who aren’t able to commit to board membership.
For fundraising purposes, your advisory council can be a source of additional friends. At a minimum, members’ names should be added to your mailing lists. Their quasiceremonial role makes them particularly well suited to special events—you might call on them to buy seats, sell tickets to their friends, greet arriving guests, make speeches or presentations, and more. As the advisory council members develop an increased sense of connection to your organization, you may be able to solicit them for major gifts. And you should, of course, find out about their other experience and interests; they may be willing to put in some short-term volunteer time on fundraising activities.
When it comes to the famous folk, your expectations of their actual participation should be minimal. You might be content for them to lend nothing more than their name, so that it appears anyplace that you list people associated with the organization—perhaps on your letterhead, website, newsletter, and in other publications. Your cause gains credibility, and the person named enhances his or her reputation by appearing to be caring and compassionate. If such people actually show up for your meetings, it’s a bonus.
Other Paid Development Staff
Although there’s always pressure to run a lean development office (so as to minimize the percentage of the organization’s money spent on fundraising), penny-pinching isn’t always a good thing. If your potential donor pool is large enough, you may actually become more efficient at raising money by hiring more people.
If you are able to bring on help, you’ll need to confront the pleasant problem of figuring how to divide development responsibilities among a small staff. Although how you do this will depend in part on your organization’s structure and fundraising strategies, a first priority is usually to hire a development assistant: someone to handle the mail, enter names and other information on supporters into your database, check for any email correspondence, prepare and mail thank you letters, and handle other day-to-day tasks. Obviously, these chores could also be handled by a dedicated volunteer or another clerical person in your office (such as a receptionist), but the person will need sufficient oversight to make sure that the tasks get done on time and that the paperwork doesn’t get jumbled with other matters unrelated to fundraising.
If you don’t have someone who will handle these tasks promptly and well, then you’ll inevitably discover, while you’re busy racing toward a grant deadline or staging an event, that important details have fallen through the cracks. The hazards of letting these matters slide are dealt with in other chapters—for example, Chapter 5 discusses how quickly you can lose a supporter’s loyalty if the thank-you letter is sent out late.
A midsize organization may be able to afford a three-person department, adding a “development associate” to the mix. This is typically someone at a junior professional level, who works side by side with the development director, handling similar but less critical tasks. The associate would also have less responsibility for fundraising planning and dealing with key donors, and would be presumed to be “in training” for a director role.
Larger organizations often split fundraising tasks into subject areas, assigning a development officer to each. For example, care and feeding of major donors might be assigned to one person, while another is responsible for writing grant proposals. A few nonprofits, such as universities, have development officers who spend much of their time just researching future funding prospects.
Paid Staff in Nondevelopment Roles
A truly successful fundraising office will always be in close communication with the rest of the organization and able to call on program staff as needed. For starters, you want program people to keep your office informed about what they’re doing, supplying you with interesting stories (with photos, if possible) to illustrate the important work donors are funding.
As a development staffer, much of your job is to explain the importance and success of your organization’s work to the outside world. But simply repeating your mission ad nauseam is not going to bring in the donations you need. To be truly effective, you need details—colorful, lively stories of difficult situations that your organization confronted and hopefully helped to overcome, for presentation in your appeal letters, newsletter, Facebook page, and more. Here are some examples of compelling stories from my own days as an immigration attorney at a nonprofit:
a father who literally got off his deathbed to take the citizenship exam and thereby ensure faster immigration for his children
a Somali youth who was beaten in intertribal violence and who was desperate to get through the immigration process fast enough to go search for his missing mother, and
a Guatemalan who’d watched his entire village massacred by the army only to have an unsympathetic immigration judge deny his case because conditions had supposedly “improved” in Guatemala.
Because all of these stories so graphically illustrated the important work our group was doing, they were good material to communicate to potential donors—but not all of them saw the light of day. Unfortunately, because few nonprofits foster communication between program and fundraising staff, program staff members don’t even recognize their crucial role in the fundraising process. They may resent being asked to weigh down their schedules or dirty their hands with the business of fundraising. If this is your situation, try gentle persuasion rather than a frustrated lecture. Take a few key staff members to lunch, ask them about what they’re doing, and find out what fascinates—or frustrates—them about their work. This information will give you a fuller sense of what your organization does beyond its mission statement, and what challenges it faces day to day. But don’t finish dessert without explaining how you communicate with key donors and funders who are likely to give more if they understand why your group’s current work is so important.
How Share Our Strength Gathers Its Stories
Between needing content for its fundraising appeals, website, email updates, and several bloggers, Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry Campaign are, well, hungry for regular information from program staff. How else will its communicators find out about things like the volunteer who drives around in a non-air-conditioned truck to deliver summer meals to hungry children, or the mother who declared that, thanks to the Cooking Matters class, she could triple the value of her WIC check?
Opening the channels of communication wasn’t something that happened by accident, however. As Jason Wilson, Associate Director of Digital Communications explains, “We’ve deliberately created a culture of storytelling within our organization. This involved identifying members of each department or team and making story transmission part of their responsibilities. They are literally asked to set aside time to tell the story of the work that’s happening, and then to connect with the people who are putting this information together for the Web or other materials.
“Once we got this culture built, and staff people began to see their stories presented—perhaps in an email campaign or as online content—they realized the double satisfaction in not only accomplishing something through their day-to-day work, but also through the telling of that story.
“There’s no set schedule for sharing—either the staff will pass news along, or the people in charge of content may approach them with questions like, “We’re looking for stories about X, what do you have to share?”
“An effort like this really needs to be organization-wide, and involve accountability. For our team members, storytelling is a formal part of their performance goals.”
When you later use information a staffer gave you, be sure to show the staffer the appeal letter, or tell him or her about your successful meeting with a supporter or foundation officer. Some development professionals distribute brief emails or memos to staff describing recent fundraising efforts and successes, or post the classic thermometer to show progress toward a fundraising goal. Though you can do most of this casually and quickly, it’s got a name—internal marketing. And it’s a valuable tool for getting people within your organization to see how, by working closely with you, they can benefit through increased funding and recognition for their work.
Your next step may be to request something more systematic from staff members. For example, you could ask program staff to write up a regular report on their activities or to simply stop by and let you know whenever something interesting happens. Asking program staff members to take photographs or videos of their work is also a great way to get them involved. A nonprofit can always use photos to illustrate its social networking page website, newsletters, brochures, and annual reports. A program staffer who is doing fieldwork—for example, visiting a project in the Maldives or taking children on a hike to see native wildflowers—should always bring a camera. Even in-house program staff consulting with clients over a desk should be encouraged to snap a few shots (with the client’s permission of course), in order to put a face to your work.
Go light on the disaster shots. Although evocative photos of grieving family members and emaciated victims are undoubtedly moving and can be of some use in fundraising, more upbeat pictures showing your successes are usually even more effective. For example, a photo of the new buds of a nearly extinct flower that your group helped preserve will be far more powerful than a photo of the cracked cement that previously covered its habitat.
If your organization holds staff meetings, make sure all development staff attend. If you’re a development staffperson, this will give you a chance not only to keep abreast of what’s happening, but also to give a regular report on the fundraising office’s activities. Such reports should include more than dry numbers, but also convey your hopes, challenges, and disappointments. Staff meetings can also provide a convenient forum for holding a general fundraising training. Such trainings can cover basic issues like the importance of developing an extensive list of supporters, how staff can help contribute names, how they and their clients can help represent the organization on their Facebook pages or at special events or meetings with funders, and what your organization’s strategic plans are for the future, fundraising plans included. Also encourage brainstorming about fundraising. A staffer may have the next great idea for bringing in support.
As program staff hopefully get more attuned to the symbiotic relationship between themselves and your fundraising staff, you’ll want to encourage the more charismatic ones to help you with occasional, specific fundraising activities—for example, participating in an important presentation to a potential major supporter or a foundation or writing or editing a portion of a grant proposal. While you must make sure that this doesn’t prevent staffers from fulfilling their primary responsibilities, such involvement can be highly effective. A staff member who works directly with clients or issues is often the most eloquent and credible person to explain your nonprofit’s work to the outside world.
Many nonprofits begin their lives with an all-volunteer fundraising effort, often led—initially, at least—by a few dedicated board members. Even some established organizations rely heavily on volunteer participation or have more volunteers than paid staff. (Americans volunteer around eight billion hours every year.)
The development office is certainly one place where volunteers can be useful, whether for ongoing office support or for labor-intensive, one-time projects, such as mailings or telethons. Not only do volunteers allow you to shift a lot more sand than would otherwise be possible, but they can also substitute for paid staff, especially if you can find competent people willing to work for several months at a time.
In many programs, volunteers aren’t terribly difficult to recruit. You can advertise volunteer opportunities in your written materials, work with local volunteer placement organizations, and check with local colleges and schools, some of which require students to perform community service as part of their curriculum. There are also numerous Web matching services, as detailed in “Get Help From Volunteer Matching Organizations,” below.
What’s far more difficult is keeping volunteers around for more than a day or two and managing them effectively. If you’re going to inspire volunteers to provide you with meaningful free service over the long term, you must keep certain cardinal rules in mind:
Understand and respect people’s motives for volunteering.
Train volunteers well and ask for a specific commitment.
Make volunteering as convenient as possible.
Find ways to allow volunteers to have fun.
Show your appreciation early and often.
Big businesses may offer their paid staff as volunteer. While they don’t get a tax deduction for these contributions, businesses do get goodwill, an opportunity for employee bonding, and an investment in a more economically stable community. Your best bet is to approach businesses that are geographically near to your organization, especially ones whose goods or services your staff or clients might later purchase. Be ready to point out how, through your newsletter or other means, you’ll publicly recognize their businesses’ contributions.
Cater to Volunteers’ Motives
Most people who agree to volunteer for your organization will be drawn to your cause, intellectually or emotionally. They really care about fair housing, avoiding conflict through mediation, or giving inner city kids a chance to develop their intellects by playing chess. But sincere interest in your mission is not the only reason that volunteers show up on your doorstep. Of equal importance to many volunteers is the chance to meet new people, develop skills, and feel needed. If a volunteer shows up full of energy and enthusiasm, and you ask that volunteer to photocopy stacks of reply cards for hours, you may never see him or her again.
This can be a hard lesson to learn. After all, the photocopying is crying out to be done, and you don’t have the time to create work that will keep every new, inexperienced volunteer happy. But many organizations rely too heavily on their volunteers for thankless tasks, only to find that their volunteers don’t stick around for long. And, at a deeper level, being involved in a grassroots, community effort should allow you to make a little room for the community to participate meaningfully.
Get Help From Volunteer Matching Organizations
Various programs match or recruit and place volunteers with nonprofits, especially through the Internet. (Studies show that the Internet has become second only to word of mouth in its effectiveness at bringing in volunteers.)Such volunteers might be useful in your development office or to substitute for paid positions in other parts of your organization. Some national sites worth looking into include:
The Clearinghouse for Volunteer Accounting Services (CVAS), at www.cvasusa. This group matches accountants with nonprofits in need of their professional services.
Idealist and Action Without Borders, at www.idealist.org. Nonprofits can enter their own profile and update it to mention events and volunteer opportunities.
Jesuit Volunteer Corps, at www.jesuitvolunteers.org. The JVC’s long-term volunteers, mostly recent college grads, accept one- or two-year placements where they can provide direct services to economically poor or socially marginalized people. (Your organization doesn’t have to be Catholic or religious to use JVC volunteers.) The program pays travel costs and provides some other support, while your organization pays for screening and placement fees, food, a monthly stipend, daily transportation, housing, and medical insurance—typically up to $18,000 a year.
Make a Difference Day, at www.usaweekend.com/section/MDDAY. This is an annual (October) event sponsored by USA Weekend Magazine. Volunteers seek out projects for one-time work. Nonprofits as well as individuals can register project ideas.
Taproot Foundation, at www.taprootfoundation.org. This organization’s pro bono project finds professional volunteers with expertise in information technology, marketing, design, finance, strategic planning, and human resources and places teams of them in nonprofits in major U.S. cities that have successfully gone through a service grant application process. Grant applications are reviewed quarterly.
Volunteer Match, at www.volunteermatch.org. This site is the largest online network of nonprofits recruiting volunteers.
If you’re a development staffer, some, much, or even all the work of recruiting volunteers may fall to you. This makes some sense—your mailings and publicity may ask for donations of time as well as money. You’ll soon realize that this is one of those tasks that can turn into a full-time job. If your organization really does plan to rely on volunteers in a big way, you might want to create the position of volunteer coordinator. Because foundations are always interested in leveraging their grant money into maximum results, you may be able to attract the financial support necessary to make this a paid position. Or, if you find a person with lots of energy, time, and savvy, you may find yourself in the happy position of having someone volunteer to be your volunteer coordinator.
Fortunately, there are a number of relatively simple ways to satisfy volunteers’ needs and interests. Asking them at the outset what they’d like to get from their experience is a good way to start! But be prepared to talk with them individually (or to save time, in small groups) about what you can and can’t involve them in. Emphasize that volunteers are most likely to construct a useful, fulfilling role with the organization if they commit to sticking around long enough to allow you to help them find a good fit. Another great approach, if you have regular volunteers, is to try to schedule them so that they overlap and can talk with each other. Especially if your organization uses volunteers in nondevelopment roles, arrange for volunteers to split their time between the development office and other work, for variety’s sake.
To help with development tasks, you might capitalize on the fact that some volunteers are primarily interested in learning high-level job skills—writing or marketing, for example—which means that they might be interested in interning with your office for an extended time period. Local business schools are likely sources for this kind of help. And don’t think only about the classic development office tasks, such as proposal writing and mailings; also look at the tasks you might otherwise hire out, such as photography, illustration, or designing a newsletter or an annual report.
Volunteer Training and Commitment
A formal training process, in which you explain the work of the organization and the volunteer’s place in it, will make the experience more satisfactory for all concerned. If the volunteer is willing to help in the development office, briefly go over the annual budget and the fundraising plan. Explain the importance of seemingly mundane tasks, such as writing thank-you letters or entering data. Discuss what you normally expect volunteers to do, and what more interesting tasks they might “graduate” to after proven good work. You might also want to create a volunteer manual, something like an employee manual, explaining:
what you expect of volunteers (in terms of hours, calling when they’ll be late or absent, and the like)
your commitment to making the volunteer experience a positive opportunity for community involvement, and
basic office policies, such as personal use of the phones and photocopiers.
Unless you are recruiting the volunteer for a one-time effort, ask for a commitment to a certain number of hours per week or month. Be prepared to make this flexible, however. With changes in the U.S. economy and work environment, the number of people who work traditional 9-to-5 jobs is declining. Your best source of daytime volunteers may be freelancers who have spare time—but not always at the same time each week.
Be ready to provide feedback on how your volunteers are doing: constructive criticism as well as positive reinforcement. Volunteers who are trying to develop job skills, or will eventually ask you to serve as a reference, need to know how they are really doing. Your feedback will be taken best if you tell the volunteer during the initial training that you’ll periodically sit down for a performance review—and if you make clear that the volunteer will then have a chance to give you feedback on the volunteer experience and what would make it better.
Make Volunteering Convenient
If the very mechanics of volunteering for your office are difficult—for example, if the volunteer has to call someone on your staff who’s hard to reach—it creates another reason for the volunteer to drop the obligation.
Let’s look at how a school literacy program in Oakland developed a volunteer program that’s convenient for all concerned. The program is in a public school, in an area with numerous senior care centers. Seniors and others are encouraged to spend one hour a week reading to schoolchildren. No experience is required. To participate, they simply call one of the volunteer coordinators and say they’ll be there that week. The coordinators prefer it if the volunteers can make a long-term commitment, but it’s not required. For weeks when the program is short on volunteers, it has a list of backup people to call. And, to make sure the program doesn’t become too much of a burden for any of the volunteer coordinators, each of them is in charge of managing one day a week.
This literacy program has run smoothly—and succeeded in boosting the children’s interest in reading. It creates a system in which no one feels overwhelmed by the amount of work, and people with more or fewer hours to spend can commit accordingly. It also has the virtue that volunteers perform the same task every time, to reduce the amount of oversight needed. This won’t always be possible in your office, but it’s something to bear in mind.
Do they really need to come into your office? Online volunteering is on the rise, by people who have just enough time to sit down at their computer. Take advantage of this trend, for example by posting online volunteering opportunities at national websites such as www.volunteermatch.org or www.idealist.org.
Make Volunteering Fun
Although the volunteers are there to help you—and you don’t have time to make it a party for them—they won’t come back unless they can share in some way in your organization’s sense of purpose. One of the most common requests volunteers make is to work directly with the people (or plants, animals, or environment) being served. If they’re working in the development office, that won’t always be possible. However, there are other activities that will allow them to work with the public, including:
asking local businesses for raffle donations
calling donors to express thanks, and
participating in telethons.
Your volunteers are the face of your organization. Be choosy about who you let interact with the public on behalf of your group. If the only human contact a supporter has with your organization is a grouchy high schooler doing mandatory volunteer service and not well versed in your program, you’ll turn the supporter off. (Not that all high school kids are grouchy—some of them are developing interests in community service that will last a lifetime, so giving them interesting and appropriate volunteer tasks is a community service in itself.)
Once your organization starts thinking innovatively about what volunteers can do, you may find that your volunteers breathe new life into your programs—thereby attracting more attention from funders and supporters.
Every volunteer wants to know that he or she is making a difference and advancing the cause. Especially when working with highly effective volunteers, it’s important to say thank you early and often. For example, I fondly remember volunteering for a school garden tour committee that hardly ever let me walk out empty-handed—I was given a school T-shirt, a pair of gardening gloves, a poster from last year’s tour, tomato seeds, and more. I was momentarily embarrassed by their generosity, but I got the message—they appreciated the help. And, most important from the school’s point of view, I kept going back to do more.
Try also to plan some organized volunteer appreciation activities. An annual volunteer party, for example, is guaranteed to be well attended. Inviting volunteers to your nonprofit’s other events, such as a holiday party, lecture, or an annual dinner, is also an excellent way to show your thanks. Don’t forget to take advantage of a well-attended occasion by giving a little speech about how much particular volunteers have done for your organization—which you can accompany with awards or certificates.
Outside Consultants and Contractors
To supplement your salaried development staff, it can be useful to hire consultants and contractors. Be warned, however—the hourly rates of well-established writers, designers, accountants, and others may dwarf your own salary. But independent contractors start to look more affordable when you realize that you don’t pay for their health insurance or office space, and you don’t have to find a way to pay their salaries year-round. You can assign them to a limited task and tightly control the hours they spend on it. Consultants and contractors are probably available in your area for just about every task a development office does, from grant writing to direct mailings to individual solicitations to leading board seminars or retreats. Ask other nonprofits for recommendations, or go to www.idealist.org, where you can post requests for volunteer consultants or search for and read profiles of consultants for hire.
While outside workers can provide valuable expertise and take the pressure off when numerous deadlines loom, you’ll want to avoid three common problems. First, start by making sure you remain the “boss” in this relationship, and don’t end up unsuccessfully trying to manage an opinionated and balky consultant. Second, carefully define in advance exactly what the contractor will do on your behalf, when the job will be completed, and how much it will cost. Third, be sure that the services to be completed according to the contract are ethical, honest, and follow fundraising approaches with which you are comfortable.
You’ve probably heard of scandals where hired fundraisers go out and solicit money (by telephone, for example), then take a healthy chunk for their own salaries and “costs” before turning the remainder over to the nonprofit. Although the nonprofit isn’t directly at fault for depriving donors of money that doesn’t go where they thought it would, the nonprofit won’t emerge unscathed from any resulting negative publicity. In addition, some states’ laws address nonprofits’ use of professional fundraisers, for example, by requiring the fundraisers to disclose their status to the people being asked to donate. Whatever you do, don’t hire outside contractors on a commission basis—that is widely viewed as unethical and, in some states, is even illegal.
Can You Pitch Your Nonprofit in the Space of an Elevator Ride?
As part of your personal skill building, it’s important to be able to quickly engage others about what your organization does, and why it’s important. According to Mona Lisa Wallace, an attorney and nonprofit expert, “It’s amazing how even some established organizations can’t describe what they do—I’ll hear vague statements like, ‘We’re sort of a homeless organization.’ But what people really want to hear is who and where your organization is, what you’re all about, where you’re heading, and how you plan to get there. So, for example, a good elevator pitch might be, ‘Our homeless-families support network provides temporary housing and support services to parents and children with no place to go. We help them get back on their feet and find a stable, long-term home. We may never be able to eliminate homelessness altogether, but we’re going to keep trying to reduce it, one family at a time’.”
Oakland housing activist Randolph Belle recommends taking out a stopwatch, and practicing saying what you need to in 30 seconds or less. He suggests practicing succinct answers to follow-up questions, such as:
“What would you do with $10,000?”
“Tell me about the needs of your constituency.”
“Who are the other service providers in your field and what makes you special?”
“Tell me about the composition of your board of directors.”
“What made you get into this field?”
Don’t inadvertently turn a contractor into an employee. If you treat contractors or consultants like employees (by requiring them to keep regular office hours and closely supervising them, for example), you’re headed for legal trouble. The IRS, as well as state tax and employment authorities, may claim that you should have paid the same taxes and benefits as you would for ordinary employees. For easy-to-access, free information about the legal differences between employees and contractors, see the independent contractor materials on Nolo’s website at www.nolo.com. For more detailed information, including a wide selection of sample contracts, see Working With Independent Contractors, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).
This section briefly covers the most important personal characteristics and skills a good fundraiser needs. Of course, there’s no one perfect way to raise money—a variety of approaches and styles can work well, depending on your audience, personality, and so forth. Some of these skills may be hard to develop if you weren’t born with them, so be patient with yourself, and concentrate on bringing out the things you do best. This section will also help you evaluate prospective new staff, volunteers, and/or board members. It covers:
writing ability, and
profiles of various people who have made a career of fundraising.
Interest in Other People
You’ve probably heard the saying that “people give to people, not to causes.” While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it contains an important message: A fundraiser’s ability to relate positively to his or her fellow human beings is crucial to that person’s long-term success. Unless your fundraising office has so many staffers that a few can sit in the back room and write grants all day, every one should enjoy the idea of interacting with outsiders, be they donors, foundation funders, board members, or others.
If you’re interviewing a prospective new development staffer, and the consensus is, “We’re not crazy about his personality, but he’s smart, writes well, and knows our work,” proceed with extreme caution. Your supporters and funders may have the same tepid reaction.
Networking with other fundraisers is also an important part of this job. It’s worthwhile for development professionals to join national or local groups such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals (www.afpnet.org).
The ability to write effectively plays an important role in nearly every aspect of fundraising, whether it’s drafting a thank-you letter, an email mail appeal, or a grant proposal. If you’re more of a people person, who would rather swallow frogs than devote a few days to a writing project, you’ll probably be very effective at some aspects of development work. However, if you hope to run a development office, you’ll need to learn some new skills.
Top Five Tips for Effective Writing
Write like you talk. Or better yet, write like you’re on the phone with your Aunt Millie, who’s a little deaf and wishes you’d get to the point. Too many people think