Category Archives: From the Field & In the Trenches

Stories, ideas and examples from real events, actual nonprofits and situations.

Keeping First-Time Donors As Part of Your Community

A couple of weeks ago I discussed the wide range of ways that donors are being driven to support various organizations around the region.  And it’s good to see that many of these efforts are being successful.  It’s important to remember, however, that you must work hard to keep these new donors.  You need to make every possible effort to ensure that these donors make that all-important second gift!

Here are a few ideas.  Some of these were included in our most recent newsletter from the firm. 

  • Host a special party, happy hour or gathering for first-timers; a “welcome to the family” event. Let these new donors meet each other. Chances are that one day, two or three of them will end up on a committee or your board, and their relationship will have started at that “thank you” event.
  • Ensure that new donors receive at least one informational communication before you contact them again for their next gift.
  • Create a special, tailored renewal appeal that refers back to how they made their original gift: “We were so glad you participated in Give to the Max…”
  • Don’t wait an entire year before you ask them again for support.
  • Review the list of donors and pull out high-dollar gifts (that could mean $100, $500 0r $1,000 — each organization is different) for further inspection and discussion.
  • Run an updated list of all of your donors on your organization’s website or in your organization’s newsletter. Tell your donors you will be doing this in your acknowledgement letter, so they will know to look for their name; plus, it will drive them to look around your website/newsletter and learn more about what you do!

Are there others you’d like to add??  What’s working for you??

Let us know.

Happy End-Of-Year Giving Season!


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Local leaders in Washington are driven to give more, give to their passion and give locally

The Washington Post, along with many other newspapers across the country, continues to use November as its annual opportunity to explore philanthropy and giving in the community.  In today’s Business Section I read a great article that profiled 11 leaders from various fields here in the Greater Washington, DC region.  (Yes, I actually read the paper; I still get the print edition!)  It asked each of the leaders some frank questions about their giving, such as how much did they give, had the focus of their philanthropy changed recently, how they set their priorities and how they gauged impact.  It was very enlightening, both in the thoughtfulness of their responses, but also in the general similarity of their responses.

Many of them either had kept or actually increased their giving during the economy.  Most were focused on “safety net” issues, but not all. Some did remind readers that arts and culture organizations need funding as well.   Many emphasized the importance of giving locally, of helping those in their own home communities or the communities in which their employees/customers worked.  And the importance of demonstrated impact continued to crop up as an important factor in their decision to support various organizations.  These are all themes we hear repeated again and again, but it was encouraging to see such a diverse range of community leaders reinforce them in such a way.

So what’s the lesson here?

Nonprofits – are you paying attention?  You want to know what’s motivating donors to give?  Here it is right here!  Go read this article.

Get into the habit of being in regular conversation with your donors, especially your major donors.  Fundraisers should be able to link their ask to a donor’s passion.  And the only way we’re going to know that is by listening.  “Why do you feel so strongly about helping others in need?”  “Why is it so important to you to help our local community stay vibrant and strong?”  If you look at the questions posed in The Post article, you should have a general answer for each of those questions for each of your top-level donors.  Imagine the tailored impact you could have, the truly meaningful conversations that could take place if you understood what was driving your donors!

Have a look.  What lessons do you take away from this piece?  Let us know what you think.

The Washington Post – On Giving 2011

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One of our clients has opened their new facility!

On November 4th, the Washington, DC Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIADC) officially opened its brand new headquarters at the District Architecture Center on 7th Street, NW in the Penn Quarter Neighborhood.  This was culmination of years of planning, visioning and fundraising, and it was really exciting to see it all come together.  We have been working with AIADC along with their partner the Washington Architectural Foundation for nearly three years now, and we are very proud of all they have accomplished.

This new space will provide them with programmatic and membership services opportunities that will transform this chapter over the next several years.  A number of architecture firms, chapter members, vendors and others contributed to the campaign, including Sigal Construction, who gave the lead gift by agreeing to build the new facility for the chapter.  (An extraordinary gift!) The Washington Post ran a story in the Sunday November 13, 2011 Style section on how AIADC is joining a number of other AIA chapters around the country who are establishing similar centers in their cities.

Congratulations to AIADC, the Foundation as well as to the volunteer leaders and staff who made all of this possible.


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CompassPoint and Meyer release Daring to Lead 2011

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in California and the Meyer Foundation here in Washington have released a follow-up study report as part of their “Daring to Lead” series.

This report raises some serious issues – issues that still amaze me that we continue to talk about them.  More than 3,000 nonprofit executives participated in the survey from which the report was developed, and it is absolutely worth your time and attention.

Their big findings are some critical takeaways.  Basically they are:

  1. Executive turnover is going to remain steady if not increase, and board are basically NOT prepared for that reality.
  2. The tried-and-true financial models for running a nonprofit are just not sustainable anymore, and that’s leading to serious frustration and anxiety.
  3. Even with all of these big problems out there, executives are staying resolved and energized!

Download this report.  Read it.  Share it with your board. Share it with your colleagues.  Share it with your top funders.  Start a conversation about what implications these findings have for your nonprofit.

Visit the new website to learn more and to join in a broader conversation about leadership and its role in the nonprofit sector.

Feel free to share your thoughts here as well.

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Keeping The Focus on Giving – Is Your Idea the Most Creative?

The new issue of News You Can Use focuses on how we can keep the topic of giving in front of our community throughout the entire year.  It goes beyond the normal year-end giving hype and the typical “Give Now” buttons on the web site.  It’s about reminding the public that contributions play an important part of a nonprofit’s ability to do its mission.

Ideas included 1) clearly linking funding to the various components of your mission, 2) using donor profiles and testimonials to get the word out, and 3) always remembering to openly thank the donors who make your work possible.

If you think you’ve got a unique, creative or innovative idea for keeping the topics of gifts and giving in front of the public, share it here.  Leave a comment and tell us what you’re doing to ensure that your community understands the role that contributions play.  We will make sure to share your ideas with other so that we can recognize your work and benefit from this virtual collaboration.

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Catalogue for Philanthropy Released

The 2010-11 Catalogue for Philanthropy was released late last year. Published by the Harman Family Foundation in cooperation with a number of local partners and volunteers, it’s a specialized resource for nonprofits and donors here in the DC area. It highlights the work of more than 300 small community-based nonprofits AND provides donors an opportunity to undertake high-impact giving right in their own back yard. Since 2003, the Catalogue has helped to raise more than $12 million to featured nonprofits here in the area.
For more information, visit

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A Chance to Tell Us the Answers – How Are You Responding To Tough Donor Questions?

The firm’s October 2010 News You Can Use e-newsletter focused on the advice being given to donors. Specifically it looked at two lists of probing questions that donors should be asking charities before they make a gift.  The assertion is that if we take time to review these questions in advance, we can be better prepared when potential donors confront us with their issues or concerns.  Donors are increasingly looking to be in an ongoing dialog with their charities, a dynamic that sets them up as active investment partners rather than passive contributors only.  They feel they have a stake in your organization’s success, so they want to get some answers before they become part of your organization’s family.

A year ago on this blog I posted Charity Navigator’s “6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating” encouraging readers to be ready with answers.  This is an important topic, which is why I’ve brought it up again.

So what do YOU say when donors confront you with challenging questions?  What steps have you taken to prepare yourselves for the inevitable surprising requests?  How have you worked with your colleagues to make sure you had the answers ready when those questions came?

Leave a comment below and let’s see what others are doing out there to really engage their donors.

I will leave you with some thoughts to get the ball rolling:

  • For example, we know that donors are increasingly worried about the trustworthiness of organizations.  What are you saying to potential donors who day, “Can we trust you?  Are you an honorable nonprofit?”
  • Donors want to see results; they simply don’t take our word for it anymore that we’re doing the good we promise out there in the community. They want to see tangible data that demonstrates those results.  What does your organization do to communicate its results and impact in a way that engages donors while not overwhelming them with lengthy reports?
  • Recently there has been a greater emphasis on methodology, forcing nonprofits to explain exactly how they plan on addressing their various issues, causes or programs.  But balanced scorecards and logic models are still not the norm in nonprofit management circles.  How does your nonprofit help its donors to understand the means by which you hope to accomplish your mission?  How do you communicate that in a way that inspires understanding and confidence among your supporters?
  • Donors are being encouraged to find charities with which they can establish long-term, committed relationships, not just one-time giving opportunities.  What is your nonprofit doing to position itself as an organization worthy of long-term support?  How are you set up to maintain and strengthen those important donor relationships over time?

Share your stories.  Let us know what’s working in the field!  Thanks.

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