Funds for All & All for Funds

Welcome to my blog! I'd like you to consider this an interactive space for sharing information, successes, ideas, strategies, and links to help us all raise more funds for nonprofits.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Social Media for Social Good

The Foundation Center has several video presentations on this important topic:

Who's Using Social Media for Social Good

One thing that struck me in the first presentation is the jump in the number of people using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media -- and using it as their first news/communication source of the day. I believe they even cited people who log onto Facebook before they get out of bed. And of course there are people like me who check FB periodically throughout the day on their smartphones.

It's not just a new form of communication, it's a new way of being part of a larger world. And part of maneuvering your cause into the mainstream of that world-feed is crafting short, frequent messages about what you're doing that can join the river of information we are all increasingly swimming constantly.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Donors Intend to Give More

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has an article on a hopeful trend. It surveyed charities in the Philanthropy 400, the newspaper's list of organizations that raised the most from private sources. Donors reported that they intend to give more this year.

Of course, one of the bright spots in 2010's year of giving was the boost in online giving. The survey found that online giving is now such a strong habit that donors at every age level prefer it. They cited these statistics:

  • More than 50% of donors 65 and older said they'd give online
  • 75% of people 35 to 64 said they'd give online
  • 86% of those under 35 prefer to give online
Is anyone surprised by this? If you are, you've been hiding in a cave. To me, the most stunning statistic is that half of 65+ year-old donors would give online. So if your nonprofit isn't making major use of online giving and communications -- and making it supremely easy -- go look into it right now. Even if it's Sunday evening.

I had an online shopping experience recently that made me thoughtful about the online giving experience. It could be entitled, "It's Paypal, Paypal, Payal." I tried to fulfill a retail purchase on my iPhone while in a moving vehicle -- big mistake. If you've ever tried to fill out those forms, input your credit card data, and create a user profile in an online purchase, you know what a pain they can be.

Paypal = one button shopping. Get it on your website today! Next time I buy or donate, it will be to an organization that takes Paypal! Because I'll probably be doing it on my phone or tablet.

Think of it in terms of getting the envelope opened. Same deal. Don't make it hard for your donors.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Inspiring others to give

Fundraising is getting professionalized, and I wonder if with the arrival of letters after our names (well, not mine), the essential art of raising funds quietly slips out the door, letter by letter. In the latter case, I think it's the letters of communication slipping away. Much fundraising I see has the character of arm-twisting or advertising, and is moving farther and farther away from the humane work of simply inspiring people to give.

I had this in the back of my mind while searching for information on bequest marketing, (yes, I admit I was googling the term "marketing"), and I came across the blog of one English fundraiser named Ken Burnett. Pretty far down in his article was this stunning quote, which I want to print out and paste on my monitor:

  • "The secret of success is to realise that at its heart fundraising is little more than telling great stories very well. And it is nothing less than the inspiration business. For we don’t just ask for money, we inspire it."

Burnett goes on to quote from a book: 

"George Smith put it in his brilliant little book the Tiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising (White Lion Press 2003), which will make our donor’s heart soar. What he actually wrote was
"‘I suggest your heart would soar if – once in a while – you received a letter written in decent English which said unexpected things in elegant ways, which moved you and stirred your emotions, which angered you or made you proud, a letter which you wanted to read from beginning to end, a letter apparently written by one individual to another individual. For you never see these letters any more...’"
Burnett and White Lion Press are based in England, but fundraising principles are based on human nature, so I don't think it matters whether you're raising pounds or dollars, the "Tiny Essentials" would be the same. I'm going to get it for my library.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to Beat the Recession and Raise More Funds by Planning

Giving USA Foundation, which has released reports on philanthropy in America since 1956, cites 2009 as one of the worst downturns in charitable giving in a long time. The Executive Summary of their 2009 report stated:

Total charitable giving fell 3.6 percent (-3.2 percent adjusted for inflation) in 2009, to an estimated $303.75 billion. This is the steepest decline in current dollar terms since Giving USA began its annual reports in 1956. Last year was also the worst year economically in America since the Great Depression. At least through mid-year, financial transactions of all kinds slowed while people considered and worried about the future. Nonetheless, Americans continued to give—less often perhaps, more quietly than in the past—to charity.

That's the bad news -- and the good news. Giving was down, and despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, people still gave to charities.

Last year will doubtless show an improvement in giving, to judge by reports from a number of nonprofits. Still, in this environment, it makes sense to do everything you can to position your organization's fundraising program to make the best use of its strengths and to minimize its weaknesses.

Most nonprofits get a failing grade in one critical element of fundraising: long-term planning. Planning ahead might only mean looking 12 months out, but looking ahead and making a plan, and a budget to go with it, can set you up for success where others are floundering and losing donations and donors.

Another key to succeeding in this economic climate is to rely less on foundation grants and more on individual donors. Foundation giving dropped 8.9% in 2009, while individual giving dropped only .4%. That's easy math to do -- yet many nonprofits don't do nearly enough to mail appeals for funds to their existing donors, let alone to prospective donors. While it's a tough time to prospect in the mail, if you stop completely, your donor universe will shrink.

If you want to download the report and read it for yourself, it's free and can be found here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good news on the horizon for fundraisers

In a recent issue, The Chronicle of Philanthropy predicted a jump in giving in 2011 from top donors. The article talked about what I think of as "the Warren Buffett club," a group of top billionaires pledging to devote half or more of their wealth to charitable causes. It said that few made big gifts in 2010, but the author predicted a better outcome in 2011 by this group's philanthropy. The article pointed to fading fears of a double-dip recession (but since when are billionaires so worried about a recession?) and the resolution of tax issues that concerned the mega-wealthy as contributing to a probably improved giving climate.

Ironically, of course, the non-wealthy continue to give more generously than anyone expected, given the economic climate. It seems that the widow's mite still matters most in this world. The article gives these statistics on the downward trend in mega-giving:

*  In 2010, just nine people on the top-50 wealth list committed more than $100-million, compared with 16 in 2007, and 18 in 2006.

*  The median gift was $39.6-million, down from $41.4-million in 2009, $69.3-million in 2008, and $74.4-million in 2007.

All in all, I'm glad I work more with non-mega-wealthy donors. Their philanthropy didn't take a similar big dip during the recession, despite the fact that most middle-class people were much harder-hit by the recession than the ultra rich. If it weren't for generous "small" donors, many small nonprofits would have gone under in the last two years.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I'm happy to report some good year-end returns for several of my direct mail and grant development clients, including:

* A social services agency doubled their year-end mailing returns by following up the main appeal with a brief reminder a few weeks later to those who hadn't responded.

* A total of $650,000 raised in grants to date for a small renovation project -- more than half of the total needed, with 12 months more to go in the campaign.

* Increased year-end mailing returns for a nonprofit that supplements the high cost of energy through the winter months for low-income people.

Hopefully, as we move further into 2011, we'll see increases in returns from mailings and grant-seeking, with the economy improving and the stock market coming back, thereby increasing the endowments for many foundations that had pulled back on grant-making due to the shrinking of income from their assets.

Hooray for an encouraging end to 2010 and a good start to 2011 in fundraising through the mail and grants! If you have "Hooray" stories to share, I'd love to hear about them. Positive news cheers us all in this field.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Strategies of Grant-Seeking

While many courses are offered in writing actual grant proposals, few courses -- if any -- address the need to analyze the programs for which grants are being sought in the context of funders' current priorities and strategic links between a nonprofit's board and the decision-makers in foundations. It always surprises me that so much attention is paid to the word-smithing (not that careful writing isn't one of the strategic elements of grant-seeking), while so little is paid to the matching of prospects and outcomes, as well as the fundraising climate within which the grant-seeking nonprofit operates.

A few years ago, I wrote a grant proposal which received a few big grants, one of them for $400,000 (a challenge grant that represented 28% of the total cost of the project. We were all ecstatic, of course, but also realistic about what went into that award: the perfect moment in the nonprofit's history for such a project (a capital project), several local foundations with large endowments and narrow geographic scope, a well-written proposal package, a lean-and-mean operating budget that was a testament to good management, and -- drumroll here -- a strategic linkage between the nonprofit's board and that of the foundation.

Conditions like this rarely occur. And sometimes, when they do occur, those raising funds fail to recognize the opportunities. They may go to the well with the wrong project or a poorly executed proposal. They might mar the ideal climate of linkage and need with an unfortunate recent operating deficit. Or their board might be unwilling to help by using their linkages.

Good sources of training and consultation? Of course, I'm a great source of consultation on your grant strategies! But The Foundation Center is a wonderful source of high-quality grant development courses. Send your staff, yourself, your board.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Long Foundation website is back up & Pepsi tries cause-related marketing big-time (instead of half-time)

For those trying to complete an online application or LOI at the Thomas J. Long Foundation, the website is back up and functional this morning.

New style of corporate philanthropy being explored by Pepsi, who took big-bucks advertising budgets and tried cause-related marketing to win consumers by having a local, not a national, impact with their outreach activities. Pepsi Refresh is interactive, allowing participants to vote via Facebook for philanthropic ideas for Pepsi. Innovative, wave-of-future kind of thing. Pepsi is measuring response and analyzing whether this new approach will be better for them than Super Bowl ads. Prediction: it will be better.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grant-seeking Tips & Updates

It's often in the fine print on foundation websites that you learn the most about what they're funding and looking for, and also about their grant cycles. Thorough research is key to winning grants; don't let yourself just salivate over the size of grants from a foundation that funds similar causes to yours. Dig in and find the hints and precedents that will help you hone your proposal and time it well.

Some foundation updates:

Alert: for those trying to upload an online application to the Thomas J. Long Foundation, the website appears to be down for the last few days. I have one in process and cannot get to the e-Grants area to continue to work on it, with a February 7 deadline approaching. The foundation has reported problems in the last two weeks with its site; I'm sure they'll be getting it fixed soon.

For those interested in applying to the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation, a big funding source in the East Bay of San Francisco Bay Area, you might have missed a key statement on the foundation's website announcing that the foundation is winding down its operations over a multi-year period, meaning that the size of grants may be larger than before:

To insure that the Foundation’s assets are distributed in the primary areas that the founders, Wayne and Gladys Valley, designated, and — equally as important — that grants are awarded on the basis consistent with the founders’ intentions, the Members have unanimously elected to wind-down and terminate the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation.

Due to the magnitude of the Foundation’s assets and to allow sufficient time to successfully complete the wind-down, a target date of September 2018 has been set. The Board of Directors and staff have been developing a Strategic Plan to accomplish the termination.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 - Anyone Have a Crystal Ball?

Apparently, The Chronicle of Philanthropy does, as they are predicting a tough year for nonprofits, due to flat foundation grants and corporation giving. But, as they used to say in the publishing industry, "Flat is the new up."

My clients have experienced a tougher grants climate, no doubt about that. Coupled with cutbacks in California's funding of social services and education, that spells the need to get more sophisticated in your fundraising strategies. Here are a few of the successful strategies some organizations report as boosting their donations:

* Recruit new donors more aggressively. While it seems counterproductive to spend more in a down economy, over a few years, many nonprofits find giving is up, due to expanding their donor universe.

* Be more aggressive in winning back lapsed donors. As they say in business, your past customers are your best prospects. In many, many ways, they're qualified prospects, known to have an interest in your cause, be willing to donate, and perhaps have a vested interest in seeing their previous investment expanded.

* Make it easier to donate online. More visibility translates to more donations. And the place to have more visibility these days is on the Internet.

Hope your year-end returns are more than you had hoped for!

For more ideas on planning your fundraising program for 2011, get in touch with me: