Question: Managing Meetings

December 30, 2009

I am currently living in a catch 22 regarding meetings. If you meet too much, people will stop coming to your meetings and if you meet too little people will stop coming because they feel no accountability to the group. I believe it can be valuable to meet over the phone via conference call or in using email to help manage groups. It can also be valuable to connect over the phone 1-on-1 with group members throughout the week. But I don’t feel like that solves the meeting dilemma.

How do you handle the need to meet with your volunteers? What tricks do you use to keep your volunteers or board members in regular attendance?

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Taking Ownership on Your Projects

December 28, 2009

In the last few months, I’ve had a few projects where other people have done a large portion of the work because of workload around the office. When someone else has done a project for me who is a better writer or has experience, I usually take their work at face value. I often do the same thing when a solid editor is checking my work for grammar and style.

There are many kinds of proposals and styles of writing, and not all of them lend themselves perfectly to fundraising. One value we have is as a development filter, we spend our time understanding the donors that we work with and what messages resonate with them. For this reason, we can be a valuable asset to others in our organizations, even if we are not directly writing collateral or building our own proposals. Frankly, sometimes there is just too much work for one person, and we need the help of our co-workers.

We know our fundraising campaigns and development key messages better than anyone else. So take the opportunity whenever you receive a proposal, letter, or collateral to review it with your specially tuned development ear. Is the message compelling? Is there a donor story that could fit really well? Is the letter colloquial enough that it doesn’t sound like a form letter?

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

The holidays are a time of mixed emotion for many fundraisers. For many offices the holiday season is the time of the year-end or holiday appeal, where they receive the largest number and amount of gifts. Ironically, for the first three weeks of December it is the busiest time of the year, and then for a week from about Christmas to New Years it can be the slowest.

In spite of December craziness, I find that this time of year brings us all back to our core values. At the food bank where I use to work, it was always the time of year for giving trees and hearing client stories. I think that December is a great month to talk with a few clients/students/patients and hear their story.

I’m planning on spending some time this month remembering what our work can do to make a difference for people. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of opportunities to sit down with donors and clients. I’ve had some great conversations with donors about why they joined the organization and with clients about the impact of organization in their lives.

Note: I want to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I appreciate your continued reading a great deal and love your comments and emails. Thank you!

Small Talk, Big Value

December 21, 2009

People often devalue the importance of small talk. I have heard a number of different people tell me that they are really good at having a deep conversation but struggle with small talk. Mastering the art of small talk as a development professional can be extremely valuable, as it paves the way to deeper conversations.

Deep relationships take significant time and maintenance. It takes time to develop real trust and learn about what really matters to people. I believe we can only have a handful of really deep close relationships at one time. That doesn’t mean that every other relationship is going to be surface level, but it does tell me that with many people you are going to have to be able to build trust and grow the relationship quickly.

If we can only handle so many really deep and close relationships – especially if we do major gifts work – we need to find some way to maintain and create new relationships. Small talk can allow us time to learn important and valuable information without crossing the line of going too deep too quickly.

Small talk is the game that we play when we are feeling someone out. We learn about someone’s interests and passions, their hobbies and profession. Being good at small talk is a gateway to deeper conversations. Small talk is much more than talking about the weather or today’s traffic. (I hardly ever talk about the weather as my topic when meeting someone for the first time.) I use these opportunities to ask questions about how an individual first connected with the organization and what it is about the organization with which they connect the most.

Featured Fundraiser: Becca Stromdahl

December 16, 2009

This week’s Featured Fundraiser is Becca Stromdahl. She has some great words about what keeps her development passion alive. If you ever would like to nominate someone for Feature Fundraiser just send me an email. – Jason
Photo of Becca

What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?

I’m the Development & Marketing Coordinator at KidsQuest Children’s Museum. KidsQuest is a hands-on children’s museum that engages children in interactive exploration and play that creates learning, inspires imagination and connects children with their communities through exhibits, workshops, outreach and classes. I primarily fundraise through special events like our Acorn Circle Cocktail Party and the KidsQuest Carnival.

What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?

Development provides a unique opportunity to touch the lives of people from many walks of life and connect community members with something they are passionate about – it’s amazing to be a part of that. I love building relationships with volunteers, donors and community members and helping them connect to what they care about and where they want to leave their mark. When I am talking with someone about KidsQuest and their eyes light up as they remember their own childhood or think of what this place might do for their children and grandchildren, I know I have made an impact on them and they, in turn, will impact the future of our community.

What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?

Make time to recognize the friends who support you, it is invaluable to the organization and to the donor. My favorite part of fundraising is saying thank you and showing a donor what their dollars have made possible. When a donor makes a gift they are full of joy and I want to give them that joy as often as possible by personally thanking them and telling them how much we appreciate their generosity, sending them a photo of a new exhibit or inviting them to observe a class or workshop they helped make possible. That connection will keep them engaged and excited about supporting KidsQuest.

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?

Staying the course of the fundraising plan while allowing for flexibility when new opportunities arise. Exciting new ideas about reaching out to potential supporters and telling KidsQuest’s story present themselves all the time, and while these ideas keep us growing and evolving, it is important to analyze and incorporate them into the overall plan to ensure that we give our fullest attention to all of our efforts. The quality of the events we have, touch points we do, and partnerships we create is often so much more important and impactful than the quantity. Sometimes it’s good to stop and ask ourselves, is this helping KidsQuest reach our goal and should it wait until next year when we can give it better attention?

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that you’d like to share?

This October marked our Executive Director’s 10 Year Anniversary with KidsQuest and, working with a few founding Board Members, we mailed a letter to some key volunteers and supporters who made KidsQuest possible through their determination and hard work. It was so nice to reengage the important people from our past and recognize those who sketched their ideas on a yellow legal pad and brought it to fruition with the hiring of an Executive Director, the securing of a site for construction, and the raising of funds for design and build. Many of them have not been involved with KidsQuest for the past 10 years, and it was truly touching to show them what we have become.

Organizing Your Donors

December 14, 2009

A number of weeks ago I had a question about organizing your donors, so I thought I’d say a few words about how different organizations I’ve worked with have organized their donor pools.

As much as I wish we could treat all donors as major donors, we have to take a targeted strategy with different donor groups. Even if you are just a one-person shop, you still need to think about organizing your donors in some way. A small development office will often have a focused solicitation letter strategy for a small group of Major Gifts donors with whom they do some additional cultivation. Often these donors are founding donors of the organization or individuals who have responded with a larger gift through your mailing campaign.

Mid-size organizations seem to divide up the work by positions. You will often see a major gifts officer or team for gifts at the $1,000 or above level (for some organizations it is as high as $5,000 or $10,000). Gifts below $1,000 are often handled by an Annual Fund team that focuses on mailing campaigns, online giving, and large events. Some of the larger mid-size shops have their own business giving and event planning departments.

Large organizations tend to divide their donors in a similar way to mid-size organizations; they just do it on a much larger scale. Many large organizations will develop a middle giving group so you will have annual fund raising, middle giving, and major gifts. Often times, these groups are subdivided into geographic regions or focus areas. A large regional organization may have 3 or more major gifts offices in a state organized by major cities. A local university may organize their fundraising by schools of business, arts, and music.

Conduit & Global Mojo: Grants & Awards

December 12, 2009

Conduit Gives

Conduit helps ignite fundraising in your organization through increased engagement and growing your web traffic. The first 100 nonprofits who sign-up receive access to up to $300,000 a month throughout 2010.

Organizations can apply from now until February 15, 2010. Check out their website to sign-up.


GlobalMojo raises money for 501c3 nonprofits through online search and purchases. You download their browser and choose which organizations benefit from your surfing the web. For the month of December 100% of Global Mojo’s revenue will go to the nonprofits of your choice.

Check out their website for more details.