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5 Fundraising Delusions Nonprofits Suffer

fundraisingFundraising is, for the most part, a fundamentally misunderstood activity. There are a lot of misconceptions, among nonprofit leaders, board members — even donors — about effective ways to bring money in the door.

Here are are a few of the worst delusions about fundraising that persist in the sector:

  1. Events Are Fundraisers
    Very few nonprofit events generate a net income after you factor in the direct (food, venue, invitations, entertainment) and indirect (board and staff time) costs that go into them. They simply are not profit-generating activities. If you are looking to your events to bring in a profit, calculate the cost to raise a dollar to see if they actually are. Some nonprofit leaders argue that events generate value beyond profit, vague terms like “awareness” or “goodwill.” That may be, but unless you follow-up with individual event attendees to turn that increased “awareness” or “goodwill” into money, there is little financial value to events. Turn your energies instead to low-cost, mission-focused cultivation and stewardship events for your major donors and major donor prospects, then you might have something.

  2. Crowdfunding Creates Revenue
    Nope, it doesn’t. Revenue is the on-going money you need to keep your doors open and your operations running. A crowdfunding campaign, by definition, is a one-time deal. It is organized around a specific need or timeframe. Therefore the money it generates is not easily or regularly repeated. Crowdfunding could make sense for a nonprofit hoping to raise startup, growth or capacity capital (all one-time infusions of money). But that Kickstarter campaign is not going to keep the lights on, so look elsewhere (like a financing plan) for sustainable revenue.

  3. Major Donors Can Be Recruited En Masse
    Major donors are secured through a long-term, systematic, one-on-one process. There is no quick way to bring large donors on board. My issue with mass major donor fundraising programs (like the Benevon model) is that when you ask people as a group to pull out their checkbooks, you are leaving money on the table. The check someone feels compelled to write after watching a 20-minute presentation with their friends pales in comparison to the one they will write after you’ve built a one-on-one relationship with them over time. Put together a strategic major donor campaign, along with the infrastructure and systems to execute on it, and you will create a long-term major donor base (and its corresponding revenue stream) for years to come.

  4. Skimping on Fundraising Staff and Systems Saves Money
    While you may save a few thousand dollars in salary by hiring a novice fundraiser (instead of an experienced one), you will cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed revenue. The same is true with cheap fundraising systems like an ineffective donor database, an unresponsive website, a cumbersome email marketing system, or a poor (or non-existent) marketing strategy. Figure out what it will really cost to build the fundraising team and systems you need and then raise the capacity capital to get there.

  5. Endowments Solve Money Woes
    Let’s face it, an endowment makes sense for very few nonprofits. Even if you were able to convince donors to let their money just sit in a bank account (which is a big “if”), that money won’t really impact your bottomline. Even if you raise an endowment of $1 million, it will only generate $50,000 (assuming a 5% return) of operating revenue each year. Instead raise a much smaller amount of capacity capital which you could use to strengthen your fundraising infrastructure (more staff, better technology). Those improvements could increase your annual revenue by many times more than $50,000.

It’s time to face the facts. There are smart ways to raise money and there are delusional ways to (not) do it. Embrace the power of money and use it as a tool to create a more effective, sustainable organization.

Photo Credit: TaxCredits

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Creating Your Nonprofit’s Message of Impact

nonprofit messagingToday I’m in the beautiful mountains of Hailey, Idaho speaking to a group of nonprofit leaders about how to create a message of impact for their organizations.

I so often hear from nonprofit leaders about how difficult it is to convince a donor to give to their organization. They will complain that it seems almost any other cause has an easier time attracting support. For example, the head of an arts organizations once told me how hard he found fundraising because he isn’t “selling cute puppies and kittens.”

But the fact is not that some causes are inherently easier to sell, but rather that some nonprofits are savvier about articulating why someone should give. A nonprofit leader will be most successful at generating support (money, ambassadors, board members, advocates) when she finds donors who share her organization’s specific values and makes a compelling case to them for investment.

So the first step in creating your nonprofit’s message of impact is a Theory of Change — an argument for why your nonprofit exists. A Theory of Change forces a nonprofit’s board and staff to articulate what work they do and what they hope the result of that work will be. In a Theory of Change you answer questions like:

  • Who is your target population of clients?
  • What core mission-related activities are you engaged it?
  • What outcomes are you hoping to achieve from those activities?

You must articulate what social change you are seeking if you want to attract partners in that work.

The second step in your message of impact is to create a Case for Investment that lays out a logical argument for why you need support for that change work. A case for investment includes an articulation of:

  • The community need that you are trying to address
  • Your nonprofit’s unique solution to that need
  • The impact (or results) you are achieving
  • Your financial model
  • The strategic direction of your organization, and
  • The resources required to bring your plans to fruition

And the third step is making sure that you are talking to the right potential donors. You must find people (individual donors, foundation officers, corporate heads) who recognize and are passionate about solving the same community need which your nonprofit is uniquely positioned, because of your core competencies, to solve. Like this:

nonprofit donors

In other words, your fundraising target is NOT anyone and everyone, but rather a very specific group of people who share your nonprofit’s view of a community problem.

Once you create a Theory of Change and a Case for Investment and identify the prospects who might be predisposed to support your work, you are sufficiently armed to present your pitch. With a clear argument and a target list of prospects you can more effectively gather partners.

If you want to learn more about creating a message of impact for your nonprofit, download the Design a Theory of Change and the Craft a Case for Investment guides. And if you want to learn how to find the right donors, download the Attract Major Donors guide. Good luck!

Photo Credit: Settergren

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10 Most Popular Posts of 2014

typewriterThe year is winding down, and I will be taking some time off to enjoy friends and family (as I hope you are too). But before I go, I want to leave you with a list of the 10 most popular posts on the blog this year, in case you missed any of them.

And if you want to see the 10 most popular posts from 2011, 2012, or 2013 you can do that as well.

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with you amazing social change leaders. I am grateful for the amazing work you are doing to create a better world. And I appreciate you being part of the Social Velocity community.

I wish you all a happy, relaxing holiday season, and a wonderful new year. I’ll see you in 2015!

  1. Can We Move Beyond the Nonprofit Overhead Myth?

  2. 7 Rules For Brilliant Nonprofit Leaders

  3. How to Move Your Nonprofit Board From Fundraising to Financing

  4. Why Nonprofits Must Stop Being So Grateful

  5. 5 Questions Every Nonprofit Leader Should Ask

  6. Why Do Nonprofit Leaders Get In Their Own Way?

  7. 3 Questions to Get Your Nonprofit Board Engaged

  8. 5 Ways Great Strategy Can Transform a Nonprofit

  9. Does Your Nonprofit Know How To Attract Big Donors?

  10. It’s Time to Reinvent the Nonprofit Leader

Photo Credit: Steven Depolo

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Does Your Nonprofit Know How to Attract Big Donors?

fundraisingOne of the reasons fundraising can be so exhausting is that nonprofit leaders spend too much time chasing small gifts, or relying too heavily on government contracts with too many hurdles.

One way to diversify and grow a nonprofit’s financial model is to attract more major donors. And I’m not just talking about major individual donors. Major donors are individuals, foundations or corporations whose gifts to a nonprofit are solicited and stewarded in a one-to-one, as opposed to a many-to-one, relationship.

But you won’t find them by chance. You find them by creating a thoughtful, systematic plan.

The Social Velocity Attract Major Donors Step-by-Step Guide helps you create a plan to secure more major donors. Typically major donor campaigns are undertaken by larger, older nonprofit organizations. But I believe that any nonprofit can turn their board and staff into an army securing larger gifts for their organization.

Here is an excerpt from the Social Velocity Attract Major Donors Step-by-Step Guide

Attract Major Donors

Major Donors

What constitutes a major gift varies by nonprofit organization and depends on the size of the organization and the depth of their donor base. A major gift could be as little as $100 for a small, grassroots organization and as large as $1,000,000 or more for a large, established organization.

The first step in your major donor campaign is to determine how much you think you can raise from major donors in the first year of your campaign. In order to get at that goal you need to:

  1. Define a major gift level for your organization
  2. Analyze your current major gift activity
  3. Determine what investments in fundraising infrastructure you are going to make this year

Let’s take these one by one.

Defining a Major Gift for Your Organization
A major gift is a giving level at which you currently have a few donors, but the vast majority of your donors are below. So for example, if you currently have a handful of donors at or above $500, but most of your donors are below $500, $500 would be a major gift for your organization. Keep in mind that the major gift level for your organization can change over time as you bring in more donors and they start giving at higher levels.

Analyzing Current Major Donor Activity
Once you know what a major gift is for your nonpro!t, you will want to review how much you are currently raising at and above that level and from whom. Pull a report from your donor database that lists all gifts over the past 2-3 years at or above your major donor level. This will give you an idea of how much you currently bring in from major donors.

Determining Your Fundraising Infrastructure Investments
Your major donor goal depends in part on the resources you will devote to the major donor campaign.

  • Do you have any plans to invest in your fundraising infrastructure? Do you plan to hire a Development person to focus on major gifts, or add other position(s) in order to free up current fundraising staff to focus on major gifts?
  • Do you plan to upgrade your donor database to be more functional and efficient?
  • Will you create marketing materials for major donor prospects? The fact that you are putting together this major donor plan will ensure some gains in major donor activity because strategy itself is a great resource investment. If you plan to invest in the backend of your major donor fundraising effort, you can expect to see some gains in major donors.

Once you have these three elements, you can determine a reasonable goal for your first year of a major donor campaign. It should be an increase from what you discovered in #2 above, and that increase is dependent upon how many changes (#3 above) you are willing to make to how you are currently securing major donors.

Once you’ve determined your major donor goal for the coming year, you will want to create a gift range chart that breaks that goal into goal into gift amounts, # of donors, and # of prospects so that you have a sense of what it will take to get to your goal…

To read more, download the Attract Major Donors Step-by-Step Guide.

And you can view all of the Social Velocity Step-by-Step Guides here.

Photo Credit: Chris Potter

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Financing Not Fundraising: Stop Apologizing for Needing Money

sorry gameIt becomes increasingly obvious to me that the nonprofit sector suffers from a lack of confidence. Centuries of being sidelined as “charities” while the real work of the world (business) took center stage has made the nonprofit sector continually apologize for the work they do and how they do it.

Nowhere is this more true than in the financing of their work.

But for the nonprofit sector to start to demand a seat at the big money table, nonprofits must stop apologizing for needing money. To truly begin to use money as a tool, nonprofit leaders have to stop regretting their need of it and start demanding that they receive enough and the right kinds of money to successfully accomplish their work, which is the topic of today’s installment in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising series.

Note that this post is included in the recently released Financing Not Fundraising, vol. 3 E-book.

You can’t simply decide to stop feeling bad about asking for money. Instead you have to find the confidence to identify and secure the right financing for your work.

Here’s how:

Ask for Change, Not Your Organization
You shouldn’t be asking for money for your organizational needs, rather you should be asking for money as a vehicle to help your organization create social change. Everyone is uncomfortable when asking for a handout. If instead you are asking for resources to make positive social change, which a donor cares about, it is much more powerful, compelling and confidence-inspiring.

Find the Right People
It surely can be awkward asking for money if you are asking the wrong person. Don’t fall into the trap that many nonprofits do by thinking that anyone with money is a potential donor to your nonprofit. People give based on values, therefore you only want to target people for whom your mission and your work resonate deeply. No matter who your target is (an individual, a foundation, a corporation) think about whether they have the Capacity to give at the level you need, have a Connection to someone at your nonprofit, and have a Concern for your nonprofit’s mission. Being strategic about who you are targeting makes you much more confident when you finally make the ask.

Tie Money to Your Goals
If you know as an organization what you are trying to accomplish and how much that will cost, you will have much more confidence asking for money. Instead of just asking for money, you will be asking for the financing necessary to accomplish your strategic goals. If you have a smart organizational strategy you can confidently ask a potential donor to invest in a solid, well-thought out plan for creating change to a problem they care about. And that’s much less awkward than asking someone to just give, right?

Take Out the Middle Man (or Event)
So many nonprofits sidestep the awkwardness of asking for money for their mission by holding a big gala event instead. The thinking is that if they camouflage the ask inside twinkly lights, great music and food, and a loud band that people won’t mind opening their wallets. Aside from the very real fact that you are leaving money on the table, events simply enable the lack of confidence I am describing. Instead of feeling so guilty about asking for money that you run your board and staff ragged by staging a huge event, take out the middle man and identify, cultivate and solicit donors who truly care about your work and will give more significantly through a major donor campaign.

Share Your Results
If your nonprofit is truly creating social change, then you can very confidently ask others to join you as partners in making that change continue to happen. Collect, analyze and share the results of your nonprofit’s programs. Demonstrate the change that you are creating and that donors care about. With solid results to point to, you can confidently ask other people to invest in your successful work. At the end of the day, if your nonprofit is creating positive community value then you should confidently be asking for the money necessary to make that value grow.

Stop apologizing for needing the financing necessary to do the work and start finding and confidently inviting interested investors to partner with you. In so doing you will be moving your nonprofit from fundraising to financing.

To learn more about the Financing Not Fundraising approach, download the Financing Not Fundraising, vol. 3 E-bo0k, or any of the Financing Not Fundraising books in the series.

Photo Credit: myguitarzz

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Financing Not Fundraising: Enlighten Your Donors

Financing Not FundraisingIt used to be that a nonprofit leader receiving a check from a donor would smile politely, say a big “Thank You” and go on her way. But just as (seemingly) every aspect of the world as we know it is changing, so too is philanthropy.  We are starting to question long-held assumptions about how money is given and how it should be spent.

As a nonprofit leader, if you want to start securing and using money in a more strategic way, if you want to move from fundraising to financing, you need to bring your donors along with you.

It is up to you to enlighten your major donors about how they can use money more effectively. So that instead of being merely the recipient of your donors’ largesse, you become a true partner in putting their money to work for real social change, which is today’s topic in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.

The Financing Not Fundraising blog series encourages nonprofits to move from the exhausting hamster wheel of fundraising to a long-term, sustainable financing strategy for their work. You can read the entire series here.

We simply can’t sit around and wait for philanthropists to suddenly understand the hurdles nonprofits face. So the next time you meet with a major donor (an individual, foundation or corporate donor with whom you have a one-on-one relationship), make time to have a deeper, different conversation aimed at enlightening them about the realities you face.

Here are some ways to start that conversation with your donors:

“Overhead Isn’t a Dirty Word Anymore.”
The notion that “overhead” expenses, like administrative and fundraising costs, are unseemly in the nonprofit sector is becoming antiquated. Instead there is a growing effort to evaluate nonprofits based on the results they achieve, not the way they spend their money. And effective nonprofits need strong organizations behind their work. Take some time to educate your closest donors about this growing movement to support all aspects (including staffing, systems, technology) of a nonprofit organization.

“These Are The Hurdles Standing In Our Way.”
Let’s face it, most nonprofits struggle with some key organizational challenges. Perhaps you struggle to secure sustainable funding; or you can’t recruit and engage an effective board; or you want to grow, but lack an effective growth plan. Whatever your challenges are, start being more open with your funders about those challenges. It is a risky conversation, to be sure. But I bet that your long-term funders have probably already recognized some of those roadblocks, and your open and honest approach to facing them might start a new conversation about solutions.

“Here Are Some Solutions to Those Hurdles.”
You don’t want simply to tell your donors a laundry list of woes. As my mother always said “Don’t come to me with your problems, come to me with your solutions.” So before you tell your close donors what is holding you back, do your research about how you might overcome those hurdles. If you struggle to bring enough money in the door, perhaps a Financial Model Assessment could help. If you can’t effectively track and communicate with donors, you may need new technology and systems. If you don’t have enough staff to grow your programs, analyze the additional expertise you need and calculate how much it would cost. Put together a thoughtful plan for how you can overcome the obstacles you face.

“Here is How You Can Help.”
Which brings me to the key conversation you need to have to enlighten your donors. You cannot execute on a change plan if you don’t have the resources to do so. That’s where your key donors come in. If you’ve spent the time educating them about organization-building, the key obstacles in your way, and your plan for overcoming those obstacles, then the next logical step is to ask them for help. If you have invested them in the need and direction for change, you are ready to ask them to invest in the solution.

I know it’s difficult for nonprofits and their major donors to have open and honest conversations. But we will never move forward if nonprofit leaders don’t start initiating some difficult, but potentially game-changing conversations with their donors. Indeed, effective social change depends on it.

If you want to learn more about moving your nonprofit from a fundraising to a financing approach, check out the Financing Not Fundraising library of downloadable webinars, guides and e-books.
Photo Credit: Jeff Kubina

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NextGen Donors and the New Golden Age of Philanthropy

nextgenreportA new report from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and 21/64 gives us the first real glimpse into the minds of the next generation of philanthropists, and it’s fascinating. These are not your father’s philanthropists. Millennial and GenX donors (wealthy individuals, or individuals who will inherit wealth, born between 1964-2000) will control more philanthropic dollars than any previous generation. And more importantly, they think about giving in very different ways than their parents or grandparents did. Which means nonprofits need to pay attention.

This next generation of philanthropists is so critical because it’s estimated that $41 trillion will transfer from the Baby Boom to these next generations in the next 40 years. And since much of this wealth could become philanthropic, some have predicted “a new golden age of philanthropy.”

But it’s not just the unprecedented wealth that makes this new generation of philanthropists so important, it’s the fact that they want to fundamentally change philanthropy. According to the report: “They want to make philanthropy more impactful, more hands on, more networked.”

The key findings from the report are that these NextGen donors are:

  • Focused on Impact. “They see previous generations as more motivated by a desire for recognition or social requirements, while they see themselves as focused on impact, first and foremost.”

  • Giving Based on Values. “They fund many of the same causes that their families support and even give locally, so long as that philanthropy fits with their personal values.”

  • Looking to Be Engaged. “Giving without significant, hands-on engagement feels to them like a hollow investment with little assurance of impact.”

  • Paving Their Own Way. “While they respect their families’ legacies and continue to give to similar causes and in similar ways as their families, they are also eager to revolutionize philanthropy.”

This report is further proof of the major trends changing the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Given where the sector is heading, there are three things nonprofit leaders should understand and embrace:

  • Outcomes are here to stay. In order to compete for funding you must be able to prove the results of what you are doing, what change you are creating. NextGen donors are doing their homework and want to understand what impact their dollars will have. To stay relevant, you need to start by creating a theory of change and then figure out how you can being managing to outcomes.

  • Giving has gone social. NextGen donors rely heavily on their social networks to make decisions, including their giving. And they offer their knowledge of worthy causes to their friends as well. So if you aren’t part of the social network you will be left behind. Start to open your organization to become a networked nonprofit and watch your support and influence grow.

  • Donors are more than a checkbook. This next generation of donors doesn’t want to just write a check, have their name on a wall and be done with it. They want to really get to know the causes in which they invest. And the word “invest” is an apt one. These donors want to give money, time, mind-share, networks to things they believe in. And if you can employ that passion and investment effectively you will get so much more than just dollars. So figure out how to engage donors in much deeper, more meaningful ways.

This is a really exciting time for philanthropy and ultimately for the nonprofit sector it funds. But it’s up to nonprofit leaders to understand these fundamental shifts and adapt accordingly.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Major Donors

Major DonorsAmid increasing competition for dollars, it is more critical than ever that nonprofits explore new opportunities for money. To help in this effort, I am delighted today to announce our newest step-by-step guide Attract Major Donors, which joins our growing list of tools to help nonprofits grow and become more financially sustainable.

This guide helps small and mid-sized nonprofits create a strategy for securing major donors–those wealthy individuals, corporate leaders or foundation officers who you get to know on an individual basis in order to convince them to invest in your organization.

What constitutes a major gift varies by nonprofit organization and depends on the size of the organization and the depth of their donor base. It could be as little as $100 for a small, grassroots organization and as large as $1,000,000 or more for a large, established organization. But this guide will help you determine that and much more.

Typically major donor campaigns are undertaken by larger, older nonprofit organizations. But I believe that any nonprofit organization can turn their board and staff into an army that can secure larger gifts.

Which is why I created this Attract Major Donors Guide. The Guide gives you concrete strategies for how to:

  • Get your board involved
  • Organize your staff
  • Find prospects
  • Establish a major donor fundraising goal
  • Ask prospects for gifts
  • Thank donors
  • And much more

At the end of each section of the guide, the “Your Major Donor Plan” part walks you through a series of questions or tasks. Your answers there become the basis for your final Major Donor Plan. Your plan will organize your staff and board to raise major dollars for your nonprofit.

This Attract Major Donors Guide is broken into the following sections:

  1. What is a Major Donor?
  2. How to Use This Guide
  3. Major Donor Goal
  4. Finding Prospects
  5. Moving Prospects to Donors
  6. Staff and Board Roles
  7. Building Fundraising Infrastructure
  8. Operational Plan
  9. Next Steps

My hope is that this guide shows small and medium sized nonprofits that major gifts are not out of the realm of possibility for them. To the contrary, major gifts could be the missing link to a bigger, better, more effective organization.

Download the Attract Major Donors Guide


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