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National Philanthropy Day


Here in Las Vegas we’re technically a day late – National Philanthropy Day is officially celebrated on November 15th.  Hey, the space wasn’t available – Blessed are the Flexible.

Feels like it couldn’t come at a better time.  We are looking forward to pausing for a couple of hours and honoring the great work in our community and those who give of themselves so freely, generously and tirelessly.

I have Wordsworth in my head lately:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth

The world IS too much with us – too much news, too much election, too much divisiveness, too much to do . . .

It’s good to pause, stop, look around and see that there IS good in the world.  Great, wonderful, powerful good – people who make a difference in their little corner of the world, people who are showing kindness, patience, love.

Find those people and honor them.  Philanthropy literally means “the love of humankind.”

Maybe we need more than a Philanthropy Day?  Maybe we need a Philanthropy Year?

Or maybe we need to cling to and honor those little philanthropic acts we see every day, every moment.  And recognize ourselves for those times when love of humankind far outweighs “the winds that will be howling at all hours.”philanthropy-jobs.jpg

Implementing Inspiration (Or How to Keep that Post-Conference High)

I attend a fair number of webinars, training sessions and conferences.  I find them rejuvenating, encouraging, stimulating and I always walk away with something I can use or put into practice.  And I really get a lot of energy from being around other fundraisers, annual fund people and smart, energetic, passionate people.

The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference is, wow, an incredible one.  It’s less of a conference and more of a Two-Day Master Class on Steroids and I learned a ton on both Day 1 and Day 2.  I came home with pages of notes and ideas and inspirations.


During one of our sessions, a fellow attendee asked the presenter, “This is all great, but won’t our donors start to recognize these techniques?  If all of us start implementing all of these ideas, won’t we see donor fatigue because everyone’s using the same tactics.”

There was quiet for a minute.

The presenter (I really think it was Tom Ahern), very professionally, replied, “Let’s be honest.  MOST of you aren’t going to go home and change anything.  And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the reality. You still have boards and CEOs who want to write by committee.  And you still have brand managers that you have to convince.  And you still have 1,000,000 things to do and not enough time or resources to get them done and despite your best intentions, you won’t change a thing.  Some of you will.  But most of you won’t.”

He’s right.

How many GREAT conferences, meetings, webinars, classes, training sessions have you been to that you were all inspired and didn’t actually change a thing?

I’m totally guilty of that.

But that post-conference high is SO GOOD and you REALLY believe you can have the happiest donors on the planet!

And AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK you’re going to get it in gear and MAKE IT HAPPEN!


Then life happens and Boards and CEOS and Committees and TIME and . . . we all know this story.

But you really want to implement all that great stuff.

So . . . . pick one.  Just one.  Do one thing you learned.  Implement one inspiration.  Change one process.  Add one habit.  Just one.

And commit to doing that one thing every day (or week or whatever makes sense for that one thing).

At the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Conference in Boston this year there was a lot of emphasis on saying Thank You – on exhibiting gratitude. T o donors, volunteers, colleagues – all over.

I can’t remember now what session or speaker it was, but I came away with the idea to spend one hour a day in gratitude.  DO SOMETHING that exhibits gratitude for one hour a day.  Whether that’s writing thank you notes, sending thank you letters, making calls – SOMETHING.

Fortunately, thanking donors is part of my job function, so it worked well for me to implement that one thing.

I get to work, have coffee (because if there’s anything I’m grateful for it’s coffee), review the day’s calendar/to do list, and then spend the first 30 minutes on Thank You.  Sometimes its email, sometimes its written notes, sometimes its letters/receipts.  And if there are calls to be made, I do those either mid-day for 30 minutes or at the end of the day.

It’s now become (almost) habitual.  Do I do it every single day?  Nope.  Not perfect.  But now 7 months on, do I do it MOST days?  Yup.

So, pick one thing that you want to implement and DO THAT THING.

This is from Glennon Doyle Melton, the “Love Warrior” and she’s right.  Go do that one thing and keep your high.



What I Learned at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference – Day 2

No preamble, right to the list on this one . . . 

  • This really is the best conference out there.  Other conferences look at it and go, “Dang, that’s the conference I want to go to;
  • A human brain can only handle so much Tom Ahern in one day because it just cannot process that much information
  • To wit:  “It is criminally inefficient to suck at Thank You because it’s all you have to offer”  damn
  • What is your SMIT – Single Most Important Thing (to say, tell a donor, etc.).  From Tom Ahern quoting Sean Triner
  • I had a whole mini coaching session with Sean Triner before I knew Who He Is and when I found out it left me a little gobsmacked.  He told me I bored him to tears. It’s true, I did.
  • Sean Triner should absolutely be on your ‘Run, Do Not Walk’ list 
  • The nonprofit space is full of brilliant, caring, compassionate, kind people who are doing great work and are an inspiration. I spent two days with 600 of them
  • We all have very similar challeng . . . er, opportunities . . . And if we tackled them, really tackled them, we could elevate the NPO/fundraising space to incredible levels
  • We all struggle with a lack of respect and understanding of what fundraising is – by our communities, our colleagues, our leadership.  And we have a responsibility to own that fundraising is a specific skill that is learned, trained and honed.  And we have to get much, much better at speaking truth to power on that and claiming our space.  #hallwayconversations
  • FUNDRAISING IS NOT MARKETING AND MARKETING IS NOT FUNDRAISING.  Didn’t actually learn this, just reinforced it
  • I probably “ConferenceTweet” too much, but I get excited.
  • “If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.” – Andy Crestodina.   Made some friends this week.
  • Andy Crestodina – online strategy.  Seriously incredible.
  • Marc Pitman says, to extroverts, that people won’t think you’re mad if you close s sentence with a period and not an exclamation point.  I do not believe this.
  • I miss my dogs, now, so that’s the sign of a good trip and it’s time to go home.  
  • Oh, and #FundraisingDogs needs to be a thing – the dogs of fundraisers and a virtual conference for them when all their moms and dads are at conferences.  Who’s in?

What I’ve Learned At the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference – Day 1

First and foremost, I should really walk a lot more – especially before coming to these things.  And that I’m 20 years older than I was when I lived in Chicago and 10 city blocks are a lot longer than they used to be.  But I digress . . . 

In no particular order:

  • “Data isn’t numbers; its information” – Peter Drury
  • “Organizational IQ – how much do your donors know abou your org?  Most donors have low Oranizational IQ.” – Jim Shapiro
  • If you get the chance to hear Peter Drury or Jim Shapiro speak – run, do not walk.  But build stamina first and wear comfy shoes for the walking/running bit. #rookiemistake
  • “You have to be sold out – to you BENEFICIARIES, your cause and your donors.” – Jim Shapiro again
  • I want to be a sell out.
  • Harvey McKinnon is as good in person as his books make you think he will be
  • “Organizational Narcicism is the enemy of good fundraising.”  – Harvey McKinnon. 
  • “Our donors want to be in the huddle, not on the sidelines cheering.” – Beth Ann Locke
  • There are powerful stories out there and I’ve met hundreds of people who are out solving major problems every day.
  • Fundraising in the arts is hard. 
  • There is NO one size fits all approach to fundraising.  Everyone’s story is different and all are worth telling well.
  • There are amazing people in this profession
  • Believe the hype about the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference – it’s as good as you’ve heard
  • Harrison Ford was here
  • Chicago is still an amazing city.
  • When you’re feeling a bit hopeless, being surrounded by 600 fellow fundraisers is the BEST place to be. 

And there’s far more than could be fit in a blog and still be ready for Day 2 tomorrow.

2016 Election Fundraising Results

Yes, exactly what you needed right now was one more article/post/blog/reference to the election.  We’re all sick of it.

I don’t care if You’re With Her or you want to Make the Country Great Again, as fundraisers – as annual fund-type folks – we have to pay attention to something very critical, here.

Go visit the Federal Election Commission website and their reporting on campaign contributions.  Check out this screen grab:


Now, let that sink in a minute . . . .

Contributions of $200 and Under are responsible for $721 MILLION dollars in contributions.

What could your NPO accomplish with $721M?

I pulled the data for the state of Nevada, where I live, and here’s what I found for contributions less than $500:

  • 51,200 donations (that’s not unique entities, that’s all transactions)
  • $3,150,000 total
  • Average Gift – $62
  • 26-month period

It was impossible to get a true de-dupe to see how many individual entities that represents, but even so this represents significant dollars from what we would typically consider low or mid-range donors.

“Yeah, but it’s political fundraising – it’s different. It’s the running of our country and really impacts every aspect of life and major national and international thingies.”


What is it about political campaigns that motivates giving of this volume and at this level?

I’ll tell you – it’s the story they make us tell ourselves.

It’s the story about what kind of people we want to be, how we see ourselves and what we want to accomplish in the world – told through the people we elect and how we support them.


“Make America Great Again” – you have to believe America isn’t what you want it to be and that this guy is going to get it there.

“I’m With Her” – you have to believe that it’s time for a female president and that her plan is the right one.

Listen, it’s not about tag lines, it’s about the whole story.  You have to believe that this campaign, this person, is going to bring about the image you have in your mind of what could – or should – be.

And when we believe.  Really believe.  REAAAALLLLLY BELIEVE, we will throw money at it.

Isn’t that what we’re doing in fundraising?

Isn’t that what we should be doing in fundraising?

Telling a story that people REEEEAAAAALLLLLLLYYYYY BELIEVE in?

“You can cure cancer.”

“You can save them all.”

“You can teach them.”

“You can _________________.”

OK, sure, but the infrastructure of these campaigns is so huge they can AFFORD to raise big dollars.  They can AFFORD huge campaigns and they call all the time and they text and they post and they have ad campaigns and . . . .

Do you think that anybody gave because Sheldon Adelson did?

Or because Mark Cuban did?

Or because they call 3 times a day and you get 20 emails a week?  And, hey, many of – if not most of – those callers are volunteers, so that’s a double-whammy of engagement.  Imagine if your cause was SO IMPORTANT to people, not only did they give, but they got on the phones and encouraged others to give, too.

No, they gave because they believe the story.

And that’s what we have to learn from these political campaigns.  That’s what we have to learn from $721M worth of gifts less than $200.

Tell a story people really believe in.  Tell them the story of the world they will bring about that is free of cancer and all kids are educated and people don’t go hungry at night and every dog has a home.  Tell them that story.  Give them hope and they’ll make the story come true.

What’s in a (Fundraising) Name?

I read a lot about fundraising.  Too much, maybe.  But I’m fascinated by what my colleagues and other fundraisers are doing, what best practices are and what’s new and innovative in the field.  There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t steal something I’ve read or heard about it and put it into place in my shop.  Recently, I’ve begun to see a trend.

Names – what we call things – have been nagging at me lately.  It seems that more and more, though, I’m hearing “Fundraising” referred to as something to do with money.

The titles I’ve most recently seen – repeatedly:

  • Fund Development
  • Resource Development
  • Financial/Finance Development

These were in context of either Chief Development Officer or Major Gift positions or in describing departments as a whole.

Of course, you know how feel about the title “Annual Fund.”

When did we start sneaking money back into Fundraising?

I’d been in fundraising about 5-6 or years before I worked in a true development shop and I remember asking, “Why is it called development?”

And my mentor (a brilliant development person and phenomenal teacher of relationship-based fundraising) replied:

 “Because, by developing relationships with donors who support our organization’s mission, we’re helping to develop and grow the organization itself and the services we provide to those who need them.  We are not the mission, but we’re making the mission happen.”

This article from 2003 in the Chronicle of Higher Education says it even more clearly:

The time we spend cultivating or soliciting donors is fund raising; that spent aligning fund-raising goals with institutional planning and maturation is development.

Mark J. Drozdowski
“Development and Fundraising:  What’s the Difference?

In the Annual Fund, we have 1,001 different benchmarks – dollars, retention rates, renewal rates, acquisition percentages – pick one or ten of your favorites.  All important, all necessary.

But when we reduce the profession to a fund, or say that we are just “developing” that bottom line number, we are, in name, pigeon-holing ourselves into a limited scope.  And we’re telling our donors, our beneficiaries, our colleagues and our leadership and boards that we’re just about the bottom line.

If we limit ourselves to just developing resources or budget line-items, we’re missing the soul of the profession.  If it’s just about “fund development,” we reduce our important work to a transaction.

And transactions are much easier than relationships.  Transactions might hit the goal, but they don’t feed the hungry, educate the children, engage the community or ensure safety and security.

With apologies to William Shakespeare, in this case, a profession by any other name doesn’t smell as sweet.


How to make (Fundraising) Data Fun

I was inspired this week by a colleague, a very talented and smart fundraiser, who was talking about some of the challeng . . . er, opportunities . . . we’re both facing and she says, “How do I make data fun?  How do I get my data person to get INTO it and really WANT to dig in, get it right and find joy in it?

And I thought . . . .


Because you can talk about the HOW until the cows come home, but if we don’t have the WHY and we don’t find some joy in it, it won’t get done.

So, here goes . . . how do we Make Fundraising Data Fun:


Admit that Data is (probably) your Single Biggest Opportunity

Data quality and usage have a larger impact on our fundraising outcomes than anything else.  Seriously.  If we don’t have correct addresses or phone numbers or emails, we can’t contact donors or prospects.  If we don’t have visit/call notes or prospecting information, we can’t carry the relationship forward as effectively.  If we don’t enter the gift information, we can’t track results or donor intent.

Take a good, hard assessment on your data and systems – are you getting what you want out of them?  Are they working for you?  Is your reporting accurate and helpful?  Do you feel confident going into a donor conversation?  Are you books balancing?

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.  And let’s use the phrase “Data” to mean not only the individual points of information, but your whole infrastructure – reporting, data entry, list management, all of it.  Is it what you want and need it to be?  Is it supporting you or is it a chore?  Invest in a SWOT Analysis on your whole data construct and if it falls short, own that you have an issue.

And hold everyone accountable for their role in managing and using data.


Make it a Part of the Culture

Forgive this soapbox moment, but we are way past the point in the industry where anybody in the shop can have a negative or lackadaisical attitude towards data.  And this includes the Chief Development Officer or VP or whoever is in charge of the department.

If there is anybody that’s part of the team who says, “I don’t deal with data, I don’t like data, I just don’t understand it” that’s a big clue to whomever is in charge of it that it’s not  a high priority and it’s not valued.  They don’t need to the key data expert, but they do need to understand it and appreciate it.  And understand the constructs and limitations of the system so that they can better manage it.

Everyone has responsibility for data hygiene, for note taking, for accuracy and for comprehension.  Everybody needs to understand what’s in the data, what it shows, how to use it and some basic level access to it.  And that means in reporting, too.  Are your reports valued?  Are they discussed and praised and reviewed?  Or are they just a rote practice some somebody spend a lot of time and energy on, but nobody really reads or uses.

Make data something everybody talks about, works to understand, uses and values.

Treat it like a Great Big Puzzlepuzzle2

This is the only way I know how to make it fun.  Data analysis does not come naturally to me; when I first started, I didn’t enjoy it, it was a chore and it was boring.  Hence the “reluctant” in the “Reluctant Data Geek” title.

But if you treat it like a puzzle, a mystery to be solved rather than a chore, it becomes a lot more interesting to a lot more people.

Don’t you want to know who your longest lapsed donors are?  Do you want to find out how many donors renewed?

It’s like a great, big Choose Your Own Adventure story.  Make it a game and keep the end goal in sight, not the steps you have to take to get there.  It’s the mindset of “I’m going to spend the next half hour ensuring I take care of my donors by entering what we discussed at lunch today” rather than “Gaaah, I’ve got to sit down and do all my notes in the CRM because the boss makes me.”  It’s “I’m going to try to find any donors that haven’t renewed this fiscal year” rather than “Yawn, I’ve got to spend the next 2 hours building complex data queries.”

Get Rid of the Fearkeep-calm-and-data-on-26

You can’t break your CRM, you can’t break your data, there is very little that you can actually do that is irreparable or catastrophically damaging.  (Assuming that you know not to hit the ‘save’ button if you do accidentally change some data.)

Unless you’re using Excel as CRM, in which case, I’m sorry.  Godspeed.  (Really, invest in a CRM – you’re losing money if you haven’t).

Get. Over. It.  Seriously.  Get in and start digging around, sign up for training with your CRM provider. (Side note: I wish every CRM developer in the world would stop this “self help” model with videos and FAQs and all that and give us free, person-to-person training.  More than any other field, data/CRM training really needs to cater to different styles of learning.  I’m a physical learner; webinars do me no good.)  Even so, if you’re completely lost on how to use your system, call your provider and tell them you need some individual training – just enough to get you going and used to it.  Do anything you can do to start getting familiar with your data and your system.

The best thing you can do is log in and start poking at it – “Hey, what does this button do?!?”  I promise you, even if you do manage to break it, it can be fixed.

Invest the Time

You don’t have time NOT to be invested in making your data fun.  Truly.  If it is, indeed, one of your biggest opportunities, invest the time for you and your team to really get it down.  Tell yourself, “I’m going to set aside 30 minutes this week and do nothing but getting familiar with data.”  Order a team pizza and everybody gather together and work on it.  Whatever route you choose, invest in learning something new about your data regularly. Take a free online Excel class – or YouTube video.

Make the time sacrosanct and see it as an investment in your opportunity.


There are some people who love vegetables.  Others who hate them.  But, nutritional science tells us vegetables are great for us and we should eat more of them.

Data’s the same way.  But what we do know is we won’t be healthy without consuming more vegetables.  And we won’t be as effective in our fundraising if we don’t pay some attention to our data.




People are People


Fifty years since this seminal book on the art and science of fundraising was published and we’re still having the same conversation.

It was, is, and always will be about people.

“But what about corporate and foundation giving?”  People run those programs.

And what do people need?  According to Maslow, after food, air, water, shelter, it’s love & belonging.  Or, in other words, relationships.

Fifty years on and we’re still trying to figure out how to create deep, long-lasting relationships with people.  He did say, “. . . always let it light your way.”

(If you haven’t read this book, don’t read another word of anything anyone else writes and go get Designs for Fundraising asap.  Amazon can get it to you in two days or less.  Every fundraiser should have a well-worn, highlighted, underlined, nearly-falling-apart copy in their library.)


The Problem With Recurring Giving

A family I know is going through that terrible process of having to put their mother into assisted care.  She has Alzheimer’s and it’s so sad.  This is a woman who had a heart as big as all outdoors, gave to everyone she met and had an infectious laugh that lifted the whole room.  And now, more-often-than-not, she sits in her wheelchair and cries.

Go back to that giving thing . . . in going through the process, her children needed to close out her credit cards.  You see where this is going, right?  She had monthly payments to two, large national charities.  $10/$20 a month kind of thing.

The only way the family knows this is because they found the bills as they went to close out accounts.


Guess what?  They can’t find anybody at the charities who knows what to do or can help.  So, they just canceled the credit card.  So, the charity just won’t get paid and will have no idea why this donor stopped giving.  They’ll probably try to contact the family to get a new credit card number in a few months, but the relationship is over.

There’s no phone number on the website, there’s no email address – everything just goes to the main switchboard at their national corporate office.  I offered to help and I can’t find anything on their recurring monthly donor programs.


Now, this woman filed meticulously – she kept EVERYTHING anybody ever sent her.  Especially these charities.  She would proudly show off the new calendar every year and lay out the quarterly magazine on the coffee table.

But they can’t even find a thank you letter, an acknowledgement, nothing that indicates any level of personal engagement.  She would have saved it, pack rat that she was.

I GET IT.  Hell, I live it.  There’s a lot going on and having enough time to do everything is tough.  But, there’s the problem with recurring giving.  It is too, too easy to get the monthly gift and then just let it roll.  They’re smaller gifts, they run automatically and both the donor and the charity lose sight of them.

Wait.  No.  The donor doesn’t.

We – fundraisers – have to believe that a donor who makes a $10 monthly gift is every bit as invested as a donor who makes a $10,000 one-time donation.

These charities needed to believe that this beautiful woman was PROUD of supporting their missions.  She was.

What could they have done?

  • Sent a thank you letter acknowledging the gift and re-stating the plan – $10 a month until you tell us to stop
  • Every quarter sent a hand-written thank you note — even if it was mass-produced and simulated handwriting, it would have been SOMETHING
  • Sent a personal letter from whomever is responsible for the recurring giving program, “If you need anything, call me or email me.”
  • Regular updates on how her money was spent
  • Have a special page on the website for these recurring donors – or a private website/URL only they can access
  • Sent a welcome packet with all the above information in it
  • Acknowledged and been grateful that there was a person on the other end of that $10/$20 per month

In this day and age, all the above are easy and relatively cost-effective to do . . . even by direct mail houses and vendors.

Recurring giving is absolutely the right way to go.  It is deserving of all the hype and focus and consultation it receives.  Every charity should have a recurring giving program.

But they should also have a recurring thanking program to support it.


Why Candace, the Chewbacca Mask woman, is the best fundraiser in the world

A week or so ago I posted the blog below – Candace Payne, “Chewbacca Mom,” the best fundraiser in the world.  Now watch this:

“It is not lost on me that it is because of you guys.  I love you.”

She is NAILING this thing!  She just pours joy and gratitude into each post and, then, BAM!, turns it back to us.

That’s how it’s done, folks.




Have you seen this video?

Hilarious.  Her name is Candace Payne and she’s the best fundraiser in the world right now.


She invited us in to her joy.  She shared a simple story and posted it online and it went from there.  It’s been seen more than 64 million times and I’m willing to bet you can’t find a Chewbacca mask anywhere.

She invited us in to her joy.

I have no idea who Candace Payne is but I totally want to hang out with her.  I had no desire for a Chewbacca mask but I DO NOW!!!

She is genuine and effusive and authentic and joyful.  She’s the best fundraiser in the world.

UPDATE: 5/24/2016

Since I first posted this over the weekend, Candace Payne is now a household name and has been on just about every morning show there is.  The video is into the hundreds of millions of views and you really, truly can’t find a Chewbacca mask anywhere.

Then this:


“Chewbacca Mom Takes James Corden to Work”

Other people – celebrities, even – are joining in.

Because she invited them into her joy.  That’s fundraising. That’s the best fundraising there is.