Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers



: serious and quiet because you are thinking: done or made after careful thinking   : done or made after careful thinking: showing concern for the needs or : showing concern for the needs of feelings of other people

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Welcome to Fundraising Day New York. This is one of the largest gatherings of fundraisers in the country. There must be at least 100 different workshops being offered. It is always hard to figure out which ones to attend. This year I am going to try and focus on two types of sessions technology and major gifts - but, well, anything is possible.  So let's get started.

Smarter Fundraising Using Analytics

Heather Campbell, Director, Analytics & Data Management, Princeton University;

Jennifer MacCormack, Director, Advancement Analytics, University of Washington 

We are off to a great start - packed room on a session on analytics.  

The greatest benefit is it optimizes processes and outcomes.  Remember the better your data the better your analysis can be.  You probably have more data available than you think you do.  You don't need a lot of money many of the products you need are free.  

Survey Analysis

Event Analysis


Affinity Scoring

Digital Marketing

Census Data/Wealth Cluster


Fundraiser Performance Analysis 

A good place to start is when you are in post campaign mood.  Figure out who gave and why and then build a model to find more people like those.

But, you have to know what information you want as you build your models.

Who is most likely to renew?

Who is most likely to increase their gift?

Where are your new Donors located?

Are you prospects pools saturated?  Why are some good prospects not being called?  But first, you need to work to be prepared before you start the campaign.  Figure out who are the best prospects and then focus on those.  Try to use some of the "personal stories" to figure out who not only has a good wealth score but has the personal attributes to make a good prospect. 

Use the data to combine your best Models with personal insight. One of the first models they built was a Bequest Model.  This is not intuitively the best model to start with but if you say survey your donors and the fold them into the model you can see who will be most likely to join your PG program.  You can you the same technique with Major Gifts and Annual Support.  

Building a model is time-consuming but worth the effort.  If you don't have the staff or knowledge as you get started, use a consultant.

Working with analytics both individually and with research/prospect vendors.  

RFM (Recently, Frequently, Amount) - Summarizes Giving History 

Engagement Score - How are people connecting with your organization.  This is a great score that people don't think about. It combines giving along with things like volunteer activity, event participation.

Again, don't be put off by the prospect of doing analytics there is a lot of information online and vendors who can help you. Take the plunge everything you do will only help you be a better fundraiser and bring in more support to your organization.  

The Case for Good Stewardship

Susan Sink, Vice President of Development and External Relations, American Farmland Trust;

Theresa Rizzo, Director, Supporter Services, International Rescue Committee;

Moderator, Valerie Vierengel, Director of Donor Stewardship, ASPCA

A good stewardship program has many different pieces. Including 


Obviously, every donor should get a Thank you letter for their gift. You should divide these by some criteria like giving level or frequency.  The first gift a donor gives should be a special letter. Also, think about who ought to sign the letter. The higher the gift the more important the person signing it ought to be.

Direct Mail Newsletter

This should be on a regular basis - say 3 times a year.

Monthly E-Newsletter

This can take many forms. It could be a pull of articles from the last Newsletter. Or it could be new material like a letter from the head of your organization that talks about programs.

 Annual Report

This goes to high-end donors yearly and should include the names of donors over a certain level.

Online Welcome Letter to new donors

There should be a special letter that is emailed to every new online donor. Don't skimp sending out thank you letters and notices to your online donors.

Personalized thank you card for Executive Director, Board Chair or President

The importance of a personal note can not be over emphasized. It can make all the difference. Many times it can begin a conversation between the donor and the agency.  

Special invitations to exclusive events

No matter what Special Events you might be doing it is important to create events or to utilize events that you are doing for major donors. It doesn't mean people will take you up on the invite but they appreciate the opportunity.

Personal outreach from the fundraising team

This last one is vital and it should be a donor phone call. Studies have shown a direct correlation between calls and increased second gift.

You cannot connect with people too often.  No matter what people might say.

Work Smarter, Not Harder 

Carson Tate, Managing Partner, Working Simply, Inc.

Moderator: Patrick O’Connell, Faculty, Columbia University Masters in Nonprofit Management 

25 Tips in 60 Minutes - I'll try to keep up! I am not promising I'll get all 25 but I will do my best.

  1. Become an advocate for your technology. If you do keep bringing it up to the powers that be who will?  Make sure your website is responsive to Mobile.
  2. Web, tech and Social = Intertwined.  Think about how your tech creates an ecosystem.  Think of each channel as interconnected.
  3. Develop KPI's for your Leads.  If you do something you need to know if it is working.  Look at all the signals, not just donations. Key Predictive Indicator
  4. Frictionless Transactions Are Growing. The "Amazon Syndrome" people expect to do as few clicks as possible.  Figure out which payment options work for you? 
  5. Use attribution modeling to get a fuller picture of your donor journey.  What were are all of the ways that people touched your website after they come to it?  Proves display and banner ads efficiency. 
  6. Remember it is not all about you.  Listen-Create-Engage-Measure impact and back to Listen. How do we build relationships with the prospect?
  7. Consistently test email and web layout/format. No standard but what will result in more clicks.  The beauty of digital is it is flexible. 
  8. Use Facebook as a tool to test ad concepts.  It is cheap to test in Facebook what you might use in headlines or visuals.  Then use those in Direct Mail or Email Campaign.
  9. Know the overlap of your multichannel donors and adjust messages accordingly. Compliment offline and online.  Segment people who you know got your Direct Mail.
  10. Share data with you advertising partners.  If you don't trust your pattern enough to share then get a new partner.
  11. Understanding the content Lifespan.  Your content is not GOLDEN it ends sooner than you think.  You need some evergreen content.  If the same questions keep coming up you should do content just for that issue.
  12. Look at Ad Creative performance by segment.  Look at how different people reacted to different ads. 
  13. Leverage the Segmentation Facebook Provides. Use the Facebook segment as well as loading in your own email addresses to target those people. Easy to use and be a big shift.
  14. Find where People's Lives insect with Your Topic. Keep it real. Make it universal when possible. Common experiences build community and community will support you.
  15. Rapid Response is a Necessary Reality. You have to grab the moment. You can't always spend lots of time thinking about the answer you just to get in there and answer people comments. Showing heart and acknowledging what the person says. 
  16. Managing your Digital Assets.  If your assets are free to use you need to manage it or Just so you can find what you need.
  17. Cultivate your most influential supporters on Social Media.  No matter how informal the relationship is you should try to know who these people are and get be as personal with the as possible.
  18. If you aren't doing SEM for your organization SOMEONE ELSE IS.   Enough said.
  19. Use Social Media to inform content.  If something is trending and you can dip into to the pool do so. 
  20. Looking at landing pages by segment. Test your Landing page does it dry people into your site. Try to make richer content
  21. Utilize Trigger Marketing. Following the trigger, not just the calendar.  
  22. Measure your Efforts. Understanding your reports Distribution, Interaction, Influence, Action and Internal Reporting

OOPS, they ran out of time!! But I kept up.

It was another great FRDNY. I can't wait to see what they come up with next year.

Your Comments

How many eyes does a typical person have?

Short Thoughtful Post

It Occurs To Me

May 21, 2018

At Blackbaud's Vision Marketing day I saw a great presentation by Steve MacLaughlin on may things including on Donor Pyramids and how we should be thinking about moving our donors from one level to the next.  I plan on bringing my take on this concept and approach to the THOUGHTFUL APPROACH next month.  Be on the lookout for it.

April 14, 2018

I am getting ready for the 2018 AFP International Conference in New Orleans.  There are a number of great sessions that I want to recap for you. Look for the first one on Cases for Support the week of 4/23. I'll do my best to keep them coming after that one on a regular basis. 

January 11, 2018

If your fiscal year ends on December 31st how long do you keep the books open so that you can collect every dollar that is meant for the previous year?  I usually hold the books for three weeks. If a check comes in dated after December 31st then we count it in the new year.

December 15, 2017

Do you have your thank you letters ready?  If not you had better get started. Acknowledgement letters are just as important as your solicitations. Do you put as much thought into them? 

October 11, 2017

It is time to make sure your plans for "GIVING TUESDAY" are all set. Here is a link to a previous blog post on the subject. 

What's up with Giving Tuesday

Enjoy and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment here. 

September 5, 2017

What do you think? Will the deserved generosity being shown to victims of Harvey affect year-end giving to none hurricane related charities? My thoughtful opinion is that those who have supported your organization for a couple of years will still support your year-end appeals. I do believe there will be weakening in the renewal rates of your newest acquisitions. As for this year's acquisitions, these will be soft. How soft is the question? Some of the softness may depend on how close to the affected area you are located. But I will certainly thoughtfully adjust my goals with all of this is mind.

August 1, 2017

August is a great time to review your stewardship program. We all know it is important to thank our donors but do you have a strategic stewardship program.  What I mean by "strategic" is one that thanks, donors appropriately based their donor level. It should also acknowledge things like a first gift, increased gifts, and multiple gifts. Does yours do this?  I also recommend handwritten notes and phone calls for donors at certain levels.  Here is a link to a post last year about thanking donors for your review.

June 5, 2017

Fundraising Day New York (FRDNY) is only a couple of weeks away and it looks like it will be another great day.  I will be blogging from the event. I anticipate writing about 4 sessions. The goal is to pick sessions that cover a few specific topics - cultivation, planning and, of course, technology.

This is always such a great conference and one of the great resources of the day is the exposition.  I always get great ideas and if a vendor you use is presenting at the conference it is a great time to meet them in person. Don't let this opportunity pass you buy.  If you are in the New York area I hope you get a chance to attend FRDNY.

May 18, 2017


It was great being a part of today's AFP Workshop on Direct Mail.  It is always a pleasure to share advice and ideas with other fundraisers. During the workshop, we talked about everything from acquisition to thank you letters. Yes, Thank you letters. Sometimes when we think of direct mail we only think of the "Ask, " but the "Thank-You" is just as important.  Don't ignore the second part of any ask the thank you.  You can not thank people too often or in too many ways. So take a few minutes today to review your thank you process.

April 14, 2017


We will be live blogging from the AFP International Conference in San Francisco. Last year, this was one of the most popular blogs so don't miss it. It should be a great conference there are a lot of great sessions. The first post will hit late on Sunday, April 30th. I'll be sending a reminder on Monday, May 1st so look out for the email.


February 17, 2017

How did your year-end appeal turn out?  What was your retention rate and attrition rate? These two rates are just as important as knowing how much money you raised. If you don't track these you might want to do so. You will be surprised by what you find.Or hopefully, you won't be surprised.

November 9, 2016

So the election is over. We have a winner and a loser. Putting basic politics aside will the results change your Year-End giving results? So far the markets are looking like they will stabilize and  millions of people are happy about the results. Well, millions are also scared.

I wonder if your results will depend on where your charity is located. I work in a very Blue part of my state and my charity only works in that area. What if you work in a very red part of the country. Will you do better or worse?

Also, will the election change average donors,mid-level donors or major donors more? What do you think? I don't have any answers myself and unfortunately, I won't know until January when the year-end result are tallied. Please click on the comments section of the site to leave your thoughts.

October 17, 2016

October is half over so I hope your Year-End Appeal is past the planning stages. By now you should have at least updated your base Acquisition Appeal materials and be well on the way with your renewal appeal. List should be have been chosen and the process of renting them should be underway.

If you are not this far along - no worries- take a deep breath and dive in. You'll get it all done but why not calendar out 2017 to give yourself more time to plan and write.

September 1, 2016

So you made it to September. I know it seems like August is the longest month in the year. It precedes what is the for all practical purposes the shortest two months - November and December. So much of our fundraising year depends on the out come of those two months. So Sepetember and October are all about prep work. In fact, I would say that September is the most important month because by the time October gets here all your year-end work needs to be complete. If those "Giving Tuesday", Year-End Appeals and follow-ups are going out on time your September is going to be quite busy. What do you think?

June 17, 2016

I'll be live blogging from FRDNY so tune in. As always, this is a great day.

May 16, 2016

The next blog is will be posted on 5/23 don't miss it.

March 9, 2016

We will be blogging from the AFP International Conference in Boston starting on March 20. The Thoughtful Approach to... blog will be updated daily after the last session but we will be tweeting during the conference. Be sure to follow us at @thoughtfulappro and to check the main blog each day.

Just 11 days and counting until the fun begins.

2015 Notes

December 2, 2015

So you survived GIVING TUESDAY, now what? Well, it is not the time to start planning for next year. Nope, it is time to take a page from retail and follow up with people.

Let us assume you sent and email to all of your prospects, constituents and donors. If you used any of the primary email systems like Mail Chimp, Raiser’s Edge, Patron Mail et. al. you can pull a list of people who opened your email but did not click on the donate link.

I’d recommend emailing all of those people today to thoughtfully remind them that they can still make a gift to your organization. Rather like the "Your Carts Not Empty" emails some retailers send when you pick out times but do not complete a sale on their sites.

Try it you have nothing to loose. Just don’t be obvious about how you know they visited your site. Treat the email as a reminder ask. Sell the "why" of your organization.

Please leave a comment, thoughtfully.


October 2015

Well, the feed back on my two part series on videos has been great. I know that a lot of people were interested in the subject but I had no idea just how many. I look forward to hearing more from people who decided to add videos to there annual appeal and those who changed their mind.

But what about those annual appeals? Are you ready and where are you putting your emphasis on acquisition, renewal, lapsed or what exactly? I have decided that renewal should get the bulk of your time as for money acquisition always eats that up.


September 2015

So in a little more than two months your annual appeal will drop- right? We'll have you thought about how to use videos as a part of the overall appeal. The right video can be embedded in your website and tied to a Google ad, posted to your Facebook Page and on Twitter. You should even be able to add it right to your email appeal. Just about the only thing you can not do with it is mail it. Unless you create a QR code for the video and include that in your mailing. Just a thought.

But what qualifies as a successful video. I would say like many things in fundraising you won't know know if you have gotten right until the appeal is over and you look at the analytics and crunch some numbers. But you can see what like agencies are doing and take a chance pick up the phone and call a colleague. In fact, my thoughtful tip isn't really about videos it is when in doubt call a colleague. That and read my September post about best practices concerning videos.


August 2015

-How ready is your Annual Appeal? Yes, I know it is August but if you want them to drop before Thanksgiving you should have already gotten started. Remember acquisition, renewal, lapsed donor, major gift and e-solicitations need to all work seamlessly - don't you think?

Please leave a comment, thoughtfully.

-The shared articles section has gotten the second largest number of hits of any area on the site. Thank you. If you have article suggestions please leave it in a comment.

July 2015

I have gotten a lot of great feedback on the TedTalk video on pecking order. What were your thoughts?

Please leave a comment, thoughtfully.





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