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


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

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

Giving Through People…Not to People!

25 07 2011

In my more than twenty years working in development, I have heard a lot of discussion about the importance of good development staff, the sales model, or a strong CEO/Executive Director type.  Those are all great and all are important, but sometimes we have misunderstood the importance of our missions and the role that people play in fulfilling or communicating those missions.

People are an important portion of the development process, but we are not irreplaceable.   To this day I will see a donor I worked with and see them having lunch with another development officer and feel bad about it. Was I important to the relationship?  Sure, but the institution was and should be the most important element!

There is real danger when we allow an individual to “own” a relationship.  There are physicians, faculty members, coaches, volunteers, or CEOs, who are our donor’s only link to the organization.  What happens when this main donor contact leaves?  Retires? Or possibly disagrees with institutional priorities?

We need to keep the mission at the center of the relationship. People are a vehicle through which we connect donors and prospects to our mission – having personal relationships with our prospects is not the goal.  So how do we always make sure that we are clarifying our relationships with our donors?

1)      Focus of Conversation – Ensure that the organization, its mission, and its people account for a minimum of 25% of the conversation with a prospect.

2)      Clarifying Connections – When development/organizational staff have a personal experience with a donor (anniversary party, night at a play, golf) – always follow up with a formal note that clarifies roles, such as utilizing letterhead and thanking for their commitment to your organization.

3)       Touch Points – Top prospects should have 3 touch points with the organization (potentially a lead administrator/CEO, volunteer, and a development officer). Lower prospects might have at least 2 contacts.

With significant turnover with both development staff (averaging less than 3 years) and organizational leadership (medical school and law school deans averaging about 3 years) or board limitations – we must anchor our donor relationships to our missions! Ultimately, we give through people, not to people!

–          Mark Marshall

So how is our constituent engagement program?

12 05 2011

Good question (Patting myself on the back since I asked it myself)! In all seriousness, we have a lot of attention paid on our donor counts, renewals, etc.   These are great numbers for us to be paying attention to and they serve as an excellent scorecard.  But how are we doing with our constituent relations programs?  These programs include alumni programs, membership programs, donor clubs, etc.

I recently had the privilege of being a guest on Paul Clifford’s “Impact Alumni Podcast” program. (You can listen to the interview here: http://ialumni.blogspot.com/ ) On that program we talked about metrics and how do we effectively measure alumni programs. We no longer can use just membership as a guide. Many institutions have even abandoned dues structures, essentially making everyone a member. 

Alumni programs and other membership programs such as museums, environmental organizations etc. will be working hard for additional revenue and they will need to be able to show impact for relationship management programs.  Consider these metrics:

  • How many of our constituent pool are we engaging in some manner (event attendance, volunteering, etc.)?
  • Are special event attendees becoming donors? Increasing their membership?
  • How are we doing amongst select groups of our constituents, such as young alumni or geographic distribution?

We need to be careful not to fool ourselves because our bottom line constituent relationship numbers look “good”.  So take a careful snapshot of who your program is engaging, conduct a gap analysis (who do we want to be engaging?), and build a plan to get there!

Have a great day!

– Mark

Paul Clifford’s program is a great resource.  I encourage you to review the many programs at http://ialumni.blogspot.com/

Philanthropy In Times of Crisis – The Importance of Case Stating

17 03 2011

Turmoil in the Middle East, Tsunamis, and a possible nuclear crisis – this is not exactly the environment you were thinking of for launching your capital campaign, major gift solicitation, or next annual giving appeal.  The great recession made donors cautious in a way that had not been seen for a very long time.  The mega-gift took a hiatus, large major gifts were truncated (smaller gifts often given in cash with no long term pledge), and giving flat-lined or declined for many institutions.

But we should ask why didn’t all giving take a hit?  The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy’s new survey, “The Effect of the Economy on Health Care Philanthropy” indicates that nearly 71% of respondents saw a negative impact on their fundraising efforts.  Understandable? Sure. How about the other 29% who remained even or made gains?

Gains were made across the non-profit landscape including some educational institutions, some healthcare, some arts, and some social service.  Common themes were better donor relationships and as part of that — better case stating.  So as we potentially enter a new era of uncertainty have you:

  • Strengthened relationships with existing or potential donors?
  • Made your case compelling and urgent?


On annual giving surveys with thousands of donors and non-donors, the number one reason people do not give – financial.  So make your case important enough to make the donor prioritize giving to you and make sure you have sufficient access to the prospect to ensure effective delivery of those critical messages.