A Quick Guide to Fundraising in the Wake of a Disaster

31 10 2012

In the wake of hurricane Sandy many non-profits can toss their annual plan out the proverbial and possibly the actual window. A storm of this magnitude will have an impact on countless organizations around the country, not only in the affected area. A thoughtful, but quick re-evaluation of your program is essential.

1) What has the storm done to your case for support and organizational priorities?

Facilities that suffered significant damage may have to change plans to expand, launch new programs, etc. Be prepared to reassess priorities quickly and authoritatively. Membership, annual giving, etc. is likely to be impacted significantly. This will be a double whammy (technical term there) – your donor base may be affected as well as there is a strong sense of urgency around disaster relief. You will need to decide if the impact increases or decreases your sense of urgency.

2) Are your prospects affected?

Regardless of where you are situated in the world, your prospects nay be affected. You will have prospects in the affected regions and if not they may have family, friends, or business interests in those areas. Donors (including foundations) may shift priorities. Like the great recession, you may need to reprioritize and reassess your prospect pool.

3) What does this mean for planned activities?

Evaluate any immediate events planned in the area for the next 60-90 days immediately. This includes fundraisers, cultivation events, and even prospecting trips near the area. Contracts may force you to make certain decisions, but make decisions to move ahead or cancel with eyes wide-open and engage volunteers on the ground to read the situation properly. If you do move ahead, its likely the tone of the event will change.

Finally, a few quick to do’s:

■Contact any individuals with whom you have a strong relationship and check on them!

■Immediately suspend any telemarketing or direct mail efforts to the area (unless you are disaster relief organizations).

■Be sensitive!

■Be prepared to redraft a plan!

■Keep the folks on the east coast in your thoughts and prayers.

Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall


Last Chance for the Annual Fund! – Finish strong, start strong.

27 06 2012

 If your organization’s fiscal year ends on June 30th you have a few precious days left to meet your goal! (I did not have to tell you that, you probably are well aware.) By this point, you should have a clear idea about any gap between your dollar goals and your participation goals. There are a few things that you can do in these final days if you have not already done them!

1) Phone, Phone, and Phone! – Hop on the phone with your leadership annual donors and renew them via credit card. In some cases offer to pick up checks if need be! Enlist your major gifts and alumni relations colleagues for the final push.

2) Email! – Hit the masses with one last “friendly” reminder! This is one of the few times that we can throw most case stating out the window. One last email is purely transactional to your LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS (You may also want to include recent alumni for higher education institutions) that says “make your gift today”.

3) Check and Remind! – Make sure your leaders have all made their annual gifts (board members, administrators, and volunteer leaders). If they haven’t, ask appropriate organizational leadership to reach out to make that call!

Now, the worst thing about year end? It is followed by the new fiscal year and you are back at $0. A few quick steps to get yourself ready to go for the new fiscal year:

1) Do you have a plan for the year? And is it in writing? It should be complete with goals, strategies, tactics, and dates.

2) Close out last year – Write off any outstanding pledges before the business office closes out the books. (This allows you to calculate your pledge fulfillment and make sure all dollars end up in the right fiscal year).

3) Take a deep breath – Finding a time for professional and personal renewal adds significant value for heading into the next fiscal year and will help you use all 12 months!

Finish strong, start strong.

Good luck! 

-Mark J. Marshall

Non-Profit Pride: The Value of Belief in Your Institution and Mission

16 05 2012

How passionate are your volunteers and donors?  This week I had the good fortune to be sitting with friends in Prague when I spied a young woman wearing a Mizzou shirt and pointed it out to a friend with Missouri connections.  He shouted out “M-I-Z” and without hesitation, the group of young ladies responded Z-O-U! It is that pride that we later hope inspires alumni and friends to support their alma mater. While this pride is not unique, it is admirable.

Donors and friends of other organizations carry that same pride. If patients feel good about the hospital they frequent, they will gladly associate themselves with it. There is a strong sense of pride that they chose an excellent organization to secure their health care, often demonstrated by their giving as a grateful patient or volunteering their time. This sense of pride is also exhibited by many membership organizations.  Members display window clings on their cars, wear the public radio sweatshirt, or use other visible memorabilia.

This sense of pride is also tied to mission – I have seen donors proudly talk about what their non-profit has accomplished.  This often is demonstrated by their citing tangible outcomes: children fed, patients served, achievements of alumni. We don’t all have shiny new buildings or the newest building – but what we do have is results that we can share and have our friends want to be our champions and our donors. Pride and belief equals financial support!

Give yourself a pride checkup:

1)      Is your constituency proud to say they are affiliated with you?

2)      Do donors and volunteers have critically important information that is proof of you fulfilling your mission?

3)      Are you presenting meaningful opportunities for your constituents to identify themselves as part of your community and organization?

If the answer to any of the above is no, then you should plan to strengthen your constituent engagement. Those engagements can be newsletters, social media, and a wide range of personal contact – particularly donor visits.   That same pride that instantly welled up in those young ladies to identify with their school is the same pride we as fundraisers depend upon to encourage donors to support their schools, hospitals, and museums.

I hope if someone shouts out to your donors — they will enthusiastically shout back “That’s me!”.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Your 2012 Calendar Year End Giving Begins Now!

3 01 2012

I know, I know…the year just began.  However, a cursory review of multiple websites indicated that many non-profits, including those with sophisticated development shops, were not prepared for the onslaught of online giving. According to blackbaud’s Report on Online Giving,  there was a 34.5% increase in 2010 over the previous year and it is likely we will see similar increases for 2011, if consumer behaviors are any indicator.

So why begin now?  Web design is rarely controlled by the development office and even when it is the process of changing something like this can often be slow and agonizing. It’s a great time to do a check up of your online giving strategy and tactics.

1) How many clicks does it take to get to the giving page? (a shout out to the much heralded Tootsie Pop)

  If you need more than two clicks, prospective donors may get lost and/or frustrated. Ideally there is a “give now” button on the first page.  If that front page button is not possible, it should be in a logical place and all links or references should point in the right place.

 2) Do your direct mail pieces provide the web address for making a gift?

 Every direct mail piece should always include a response piece.  Better yet, give each prospect an instant response piece via the web.

 3) Do your e-solicitations and newsletters provide a ready link?

 Effective case stating should inspire.  Newsletters can be inspiring and they provide important examples of an organization’s mission and the programs to fulfill that mission.  A link in each newsletter should allow donors to act on impulse to make their gift.

Map out or review your online giving strategy in January.  Develop a plan to modify or implement an effective program and be prepared for your fiscal year end and/or next December.  It may take 10 months to implement – begin now while the missed or potential impact is fresh in your mind.

Remember – No annual fund or annual giving program is complete without a comprehensive strategy that includes online giving.

Good Luck!

 Mark J. Marshall

Development Officers: Are Your Call Reports and Donor Related Emails Appropriate?

10 10 2011

I often challenge gift officers to this simple litmus test about their call reports. (I have now already made the assumption that call reports are actually being completed!) If someone read your call report would they be offended and angry?  In all fairness, they might not be thrilled that we created a record of the visit, BUT there is a significant difference between being offended and being unhappy.

The unspeakable may happen at Brown University as they are being asked to turn over donor records as a result of some civil litigation. This court order includes “unredacted” employee email that is being requested.  The issue is not about Brown, but about how development staff everywhere retains data. Reflect for a few moments about your own call reports and emails – how would they withstand the litmus test?

This is not the first run at donor records, but it is a serious concern.  Like wikileaks, some of the damage may be collateral.  Many public universities, museums, etc. have had issues with their state’s open meeting and sunshine laws.  These laws essentially create complete transparency of many donor records and select communication. In states like Minnesota, laws were passed to exempt the University and other state institutions from having to open donor related records.

Additional issues exist for development staff members who keep “other records” whether at their home, on their hard drive, or in writing in a file.  Such documentation is “discoverable” in court issues, is most likely something that should never be written down, and often lies outside of the organization’s record keeping policy.

Some quick guidelines for call reports and work emails:

1)      If you wouldn’t say it to the donor or prospect – don’t write it down, electronic is a permanent record. Use the litmus test – “If the prospect saw this…”

2)      Create a working guide for your organizatin about what is appropriate: a brief summary of the contact, pertinent details, next steps with the relationship, and a plan.

3)      Avoid judgmental comments about personalities – little good can come from them. Make decisions about the situation instead.


Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

What Are Our Prospects Thinking? Getting The Constituent Frame of Reference

24 08 2011

Do you know what your alumni, patients, members, donors or prospects are thinking? Or more importantly why?  Preparing a major or planned gift and annual fund strategies may depend on their frame of reference. We think about this most often in annual giving because we are aggressively segmenting, re-segmenting … and probably re-segmenting again.  However, we need to be thinking about how we talk to our constituencies in person and in written communication.

The Beloit College 2015 “Mindset List” came out again this August.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this list, it is a great cultural snapshot.  The list was created to give faculty a framework to think about incoming students and what their frame of reference would be. They have just published a book on the list that will be worth a look and should have implications for fundraising.  While the Mindset List won’t answer all of our questions, it helps us think about how different various constutencies really are.

This year’s list about incoming freshmen includes:

“Sears has never sold anything out of a Big Book that could also serve as a doorstop.” (By the way, I still get emotional thinking about the day the Wishbook would show up!)

“They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a website.” (This group of students does not know of a world without the internet.)

 “There have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.”

While I am not sure I ever knew what was cool, I only have to spend a few minutes around a few “twenty-somethings” and I am sure I don’t know now.   The 2015 list is both fascinating and frightening on some levels, but I encourage you to look at the Class of 2002 list.  These are the folks who are now 30 something – they are prime targets for donor acquisition and cultivation for larger gifts. Our engagement of this group for philanthropy purposes must differentiate from other constituent groups.  So how do you plan to adjust your strategy?

Create your own mindset checklist:

Major/Planned Giving: Prepare for the prospects – What generation are they from (WWII vs. Gulf War)?  What are the cultural touch points for your organization (campus experience, exhibits, medical experience)?

Annual Giving: Do your solicitations speak to the targeted segment? Are you referencing things that will be outside of their cultural reference? Does the look of solicitations appeal to appropriate segments?

Good Luck! – Mark Marshall

Annual Giving: Why ‘Who’ Means More Than ‘How Many’

18 08 2011

Today’s guest blogger is Cassie Hunt,  a colleague of mine at the firm.  Cassie is a leader in fundraising operations and annual giving, particularly in the area of using data to strengthen annual giving programs.

I once met that very rarest of development staff members: an annual giving director who hates data.  Anything involving spreadsheets, analysis and numbers in general make them break into a cold sweat.  Unfortunately, when running an annual giving program, this can be a significant handicap, though one that can be overcome once the value in analysis is understood.

The appropriate analysis and application of data can make or break an annual giving program.  To solicit the masses as annual giving programs do, you have to be able to use information to segment and evaluate your efforts.  To be truly effective, however, you really need to look beyond the basic data points to the next tier of information.  Most directors can report on their dollar and participation totals, cost-per-dollar-raised for mailings and phonathons, leadership giving numbers and retention rates, but leading programs around the country look not just at ‘how many’ or ‘how much’ but ‘who?’  Here are a few examples of when the ‘who’ is more important than the ‘how much’:

  • If we retain 75% of our donors overall, but only 15% of our first-time donors, how can we introduce more stewardship for that pool? Knowing the retention rate alone is not enough.
  • If we have a donor who has given online for ten years in a row, should we continue the expense of sending her direct mail and calling her in the phonathon? Knowing how many gifts came in online is not enough.
  • If we acquire 200 donors a year but they are all new graduates, how can we adjust our acquisition tactics to attract more older alumni?  Knowing we acquired 200 donors is not enough.
  • If a leadership annual giving officer makes her 200-visit goal, how do we make sure she is visiting the right people?  Knowing how many contact reports she wrote is not enough.

When you evaluate how your most recent fiscal year ended, look beyond the obvious numbers to what they are really saying.  Your data can be your greatest asset if you know how to interpret it and how it can guide you to better decisions and a more efficient and effective program.

Special thanks to Cassie for her contribution to the Marshall Art of Fundraising this week.  Managing data for annual giving is a critical skill that allows the development professional to maximize solicitation outcomes. Have a great week.

Good Luck! – Mark Marshall