Major Gifts or Middle Giving

April 28, 2010

Major Gifts fundraising traditionally provides the largest amount of fundraising dollars for an organization. With a capital campaign and most of our traditional major gifts cultivation techniques we are seeking to get the largest gift that we can from our wealthiest donors. I wonder if there might be a different way.

Think about the number of people in your city that can give a gift of a hundred thousand dollars. How many of them do you actually know? Now think about the number of people that could give a gift of a thousand dollars. How many do you know now? I suspect you could come up with a handful of names that could give a hundred thousand dollars and if you’re well connected maybe you actually know one or two of them. But, I imagine, you could think of hundreds of people that could give a regular $1,000 gift and in fact you probably even know well over 50 people in that category.

Is there a price point at which major gifts can see the very best results? I’d be interested in hearing from those of you in Major Gifts. Have you ever seen a middle giving program that has a higher ROI than a Major Gifts program? If you were to build a program with a shorter cultivation process for individual solicitations at the 1,000 level, is it possible that this could have a higher ROI than a traditional major gifts program?


Featured Fundraiser: Sarah Kaiser

April 26, 2010

This month’s Featured Fundraiser is Sarah Kaiser. If you ever would like to nominate someone for Feature Fundraiser just send me an email. – Jason

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

Photo of Sarah KaiserI am one of two Donor Relations Managers at the National MS Society, Greater Northwest Chapter. In my role I enjoy the fun and privilege of supporting and engaging volunteer fundraisers who help us carry out our mission to mobilize people and resources to advance research for a cure and support everyone affected by MS. Through their leadership as Walk MS and Bike MS Team Captains this amazing group of donors, volunteer their time and willingly engage their friends and family to form Teams that work together towards a specific fundraising goal. Then, I get to be a part of celebrating with them as they participate in Walk or Bike MS.

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

My job is so rewarding! Each day, I get to be a part of others generosity. Whether I am thanking someone for their support, talking with a Team Captain about ideas to engage others, or inviting a new person to join us, I am always sharing in the experience of someone else’s generosity. Despite the hard work of tracking the numbers, continually re-evaluating strategies and implementing mini campaigns as we move closer to Walk and Bike MS, it’s all about being a part of a community that wants to do something positive. I am also continually challenged by the immensity of the need and the great opportunity I have to be a part of addressing it.

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

Make talking with people your priority and don’t get bogged down in the small details. Remember that giving and asking others to give should be joyful, and that from every experience there is something to learn. Do the hardest things first and don’t be so afraid to make a mistake. Take advantage of the great continuing education and peer learning opportunities available to you—they will not only give you the tools to improve your work, but also re-energize you through the stories and learning’s of others. Always embrace opportunities to be collaborative with others in your organization. It will strengthen your ability to engage donors and make you appreciate the aspects of your organizations work that you don’t interact with daily.

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

The greatest challenge for me is to find a balance between the need for face to face time with donors and the careful development planning that is essential for our work. When I face my large list of donors it can sometimes be overwhelming to think of the time it will take to develop relationships with all of them. There is always more we can do to plan. I’m learning to make it my priority to pick up the phone. It’s too easy to hide in the preparation and administrative work of development, when the real successes and discoveries come from reaching out and talking with people. I try not to allow my careful preparation to get in the way of making that call, sending a note or inviting someone to coffee. While having a plan is essential, carrying it out is too!

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

Before my first visit with a World Vision donor I thought preparedness meant I had to know the answer to every question they could possibly raise. What I found instead, was a remarkable couple whose generosity and compassion for the poor had been a source of life and inspiration to them for more then 50 years. I learned to listen and ask questions. Since then, I am no longer intimidated by the strangers on my list. Instead, I look at them as people like you and I, who care deeply, give generously and desire to make a difference with their lives. Now, with each donor visit, I look forward to the opportunity to learn and be inspired by the stories I will hear and grateful for the occasion to discover how I can better serve and engage this incredible group of supporters.

Ending the Problem

April 21, 2010

This may sound a little bit pessimistic so if I upset you with this post, please leave a comment or send me an email. This is a bit of a follow-up post to yesterday’s Endowment Giving post.

It bothers me when we talk about “ending poverty” or “ending hunger”. I think these are great things to aim for and to hope for but aren’t we biting off more than we can chew? We have had poverty and hunger since the beginning of time. People do not go hungry because we are unable to grow enough food but because of the way food is distributed and the systems in place that distribute that food. Something will have to change about the human condition that would really allow those with many to give it up for the sake of those with few.

So should our organizations really spend valuable resources on solving an unsolvable problem? It is an incredible marketing message but wouldn’t it be more practical to ask what we could do to have a lasting and permanent impact on these problems, to provide higher quality and lower cost food to those that currently live in our communities? How can we provide emergency assistance that addresses the needs of the poorest in our community, and what can we do to improve the overall quality of life? Aren’t these questions that we can actually answer that would have a tangible and lasting effect on our communities and in our world?

Endowment Giving

April 19, 2010

What kind of message does having an endowment give? I was recently at a development conference and one of the speakers said that an endowment is a message to your donors that you are not funding the solution of a problem; that we should be running our nonprofits with the goal of putting ourselves out of business (i.e. to end homelessness or to cure cancer, etc.).

Creating an endowment gives the message that we will be around for a really long time. Is that the kind of message that we want to send to our donors? I know WorldVision battled this for a really long time, asking, “If we have money that can help starving children right now, how can we sit back and let it collect interest?” Looking at another side of the issue, endowments allow a donor to give a gift that lasts longer and impacts more people than a traditional gift. An endowment would allow an organization like WorldVision to know that they will always be able to help a certain number of children every year. An endowment of $10,000 may only pay out at a good yield of interest $500, but after 20 years the money has not run out in fact after 40 years the endowment would have given away the equivalent of $20,000.

What policies has your organization set regarding endowment funds? How do you view endowment giving? You can make a good case in both directions, where does your organization fall? (1) Our current problems are big enough that we need the money now to make a real difference. (2) We want to provide a long-term impact that can goes beyond the initial gift and endowment.

Social Actions Widget

April 14, 2010

If you have not heard of Social Actions you should check them out. They are a group of innovative leaders in online social change, focused on pushing the edge of what can be done online and creating new opportunities to help nonprofits succeed.

One project they have going is a widget that promotes “social actions” for nonprofits. You can connect it to your site through sample html code or a plug-in you can find on their site. There are a number of websites and organizations on the internet looking to become the hub for volunteering or community action and it would take a full-time job just to keep track of them. This widget aggregates these sites into one place. No more searching the internet to find projects to promote or to get you message out there. – This link has general information about what applications connect to the Social Actions API. Here is a directory of apps including the “Social Actions Embeddable Widget” that I described above.

There are 70 online platforms participating in the Social Actions API have profile pages at You can also check them out individually.


Talking About Taxes

April 12, 2010

Never talk about politics or religion. Have you ever heard that maxim? Does your nonprofit receive any grants or funding from the government? From education to social service, through government grants or tuition subsidies the government is certainly the nation’s largest donor for numerous organizations. As government budgets grow tighter one of the first cuts always seems to be the nonprofit world, particularly social service organizations.

We spend a lot of our time asking individuals and businesses to contribute to our organization. Maybe we need to spend more time educating people about the repercussions of declining government support. Often we stand on the sidelines watching government support dwindle. Why don’t we talk more about taxes? Even if it is just education about how taxes impact our organizations.

I’m interested to hear about how your nonprofits respond to these questions. Do your supporters know the impact of taxes on your nonprofit? Would you be interested in hearing more about what, as a nonprofit, we can and cannot do when it comes to advocacy?

Interesting Links to Check Out

April 7, 2010

Small Change Fund

Just a few dollars can make a big difference. This site highlights local projects across Canada and abroad. They are creating a giving community and you can participate in conversations on micro-philanthropy. If you check out this site write back and let us know what you think.

Common Grants

This website allows a nonprofit to write one application and apply for several grants at the same time. I am really curious to see how many funders they can get on board and what the response is like.


This website is similar to Common Grants but is for corporate giving and sponsorships. If you have an upcoming event or other sponsorship opportunities load your sponsorship levels and benefits. If you try this out please let me know how it goes. They mentioned alumni associations as a large market that does really well.