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

Restarting your Twitter account

Restarting your Twitter account shouldn’t be such a big hurdle, but you do need to prepare. Just as we discussed in the Facebook blog entry in February, you need to think not just about today's tweets but build a set of tweets for the next several weeks and "discover " content to retweet. Having a set of tweets ready to go really takes the pressure off.

It is important to remember that on average a tweet is only good for about 36 hours. What that means is that if your followers don't see your post in that period, they probably won’t see it. Though it wouldn't seem like it, this short viewing time is good news. It means you can recycle tweets without too many people seeing it twice or thrice.

So where to start, let’s assume you have an active Facebook Page. You can start by scaling down versions of those post to 140 characters or less and post them on Twitter. In fact, I would bet that you can get two or three tweets out of a single Facebook post. If that is the case, then you can schedule those over the course of a couple of days.

At a large organization, you can highlight a different program each week. I recommend working with program staff to create a series of tweets. You can write these a week or two ahead of time. Then schedule them to go out during the week. If something special comes up, simply do a one-off tweet. I will sometimes ask staff to email me photos during the week. I can add those to my prepared tweets or create new tweets. Remember those tweets are only active for a few hours. So reuse them.

I recommend that prewritten Tweets should redirect to pages on your organization's website. As we have discussed in a previous post, tweets ideally, should highlight information you are already promoting via your website. In this way, you get the best value out of each post or tweet. By driving traffic to your website, you are giving readers the opportunity to discover more about your organization or cause. It also puts them closer to your DONATE button. It also forces you to keep your website up to date - never a bad thing.

Another good tactic when restarting your Twitter activities is to retweet "discovered" content. Retweeting is an ideal way to increase your tweets and to share great content you didn't have to create. I try to have at least on retweet a day. I don't always make it, but I try. One way to find content to retweet is to get help from a social media aggregator like Hootsuite. I find Hootsuite to be a great way manage my social media presence and to find content. And it is very simple to use.

The most important thing is to get started- write a bunch of tweets, get your program people involved, use an aggregator, Retweet others content. Hey, it is only 140 characters or less!

AFP International Conference

Well, the AFP Conference is off to a great start. So many people from around the country and the world.  My goal is to write up blog post during the day and then post each evening.  I hope you will give me wide breadth on typos. I will go back through the post when I get back to NYC and clean them up. Ok, I am off to my first session.

BTW-  Be sure to tweet me at @thoughtfulappro if you are here. Or drop me a note at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

First Timers Orientation

This was a great session to simply get a feel for who was attending the conference and why. It was nice to meet people from every level of fundraising from all over the place.

I was amazed at the array of title and job descriptions that fundraisers use. As I talked to people, it seemed that almost everyone's job boiled down to just three area - Individual Giving, Foundation Support and Events. Of course, within each of those, there are lots of jobs. At any rate, it is too bad there is not some standard every organization should follow. If all the titles are a little confusing to me, imagine how confusing it could be to a donor or prospect.

The Art and Science of Fundraising Persuasion

Anne Melvin

This was a great session so glad I got there early to get a seat. Lots of people were locked out literally - the room reached capacity.

She started off reminding us that the ultimate goal id to get people to say yes. But how? On a twist on the old saying, persuasion is about the fact that you can not make a horse drink, but you can make it thirsty. Our job as fundraisers is to make our prospects thirsty.

This presentation uses the book entitled "Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive." We will only look a few of the 50, but she recommends that more of the ways could be helpful to fundraisers.

Each of these scientific ways will be paralleled by the art involved in being persuasive. I will just be talking about the art mostly.

LIKING: Being "likable" increases your the amount and number of gifts you can raise. Well, that I would assume is obvious. No fundraiser tries to be "unlikable." But being likable is hard and requires planning and an understanding of psychology.

You can appear more likable by mirroring your prospect. You can do this by just matching your prospects language both spoken and body. But you have to be authentic - that is the hard part.

SOCIAL PROOFS: You have to understand your prospect's motivations and how your organizations fit into those motivations. You can use both positive and negative motivations. Obviously, positive works better.

Example from the science side. The Home Shopping Network has found that they sell more products by telling people that all the operators are busy and you may have to call back then to say that "Operators are Waiting." If they are "waiting" then I guess no one is buying the advertised product. "So why would I want to buy it?"

The most obvious example of positive language are testimonials. But not just general testimonials. You need to match the testimonials to the audience you are trying to reach. The example she used was that your pet shelter might not want to use a photo of a chic expensively dressed women standing by her pool in front of a BIG house with her dog in a mailing to your average level donors. It is hard to relate to the women in the photo.

People like being a part of a movement of other donors. A Box Chart will show donors what has already been done. They want to join in. We will come back to this in scarcity.

A great sentence that I plan on using in my planned giving campaign to small long-term donors is - " Many donors who give like you have added us to their will; what are your thoughts about doing this?." Great huh!

RECIPROCITY: Doing something for someone because they did something so they will do something for you - creating an obligation to your organization and the donor/prospect. There were three important things to remember for this one -
Significance - A thank you letter followed by the second letter from a board member or a volunteer.
Unexpected - A handwritten note following a "significant" thank you letter.
Personalization - A phone call to follow up after the note.

Remember this is not a one-time thing you must do. The thank you notes are fine but for major donors and Planned Giving prospects need regular and significant touchpoints

COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: The simplest form of this is a written pledge. Who cares how it comes the important thing is that it is tangible. You can also tie Advisory group members and volunteers closer to the organization by asking them to do real work and then documenting that work as part of the organization's fundraising/marketing plan.

AUTHORITY: People look to experts to show them the way - have to be those experts for charitable giving. There are simple things we can do to be perceived as an authority. Many are cosmetic like dressing the part. Being properly dressed can go a long way to make a donor/prospect trust you. In fact, When it comes to your trust and believability quotient 55% depends on how you appear to the other person, 38% is based on what you sound like and what you said only counted for 7%. Surprising right.

SCARCITY: The less there is of something there is the more we want it. Remember when Twinkies were going to stop being made and they were on eBay for thousands of dollars. Spend a google look Box Chart; I mentioned earlier. It is a great way to subtlety let prospects know that the opportunity they are interested in may not be available if they do not move now. An example: "If you make a $100,000 gift , it will be matched making your total gift equal to $200,000." But what about this instead -" We only have a 20% of the challenge grant money left and a number of people are considering these gifts. Would you be willing to make your $100,000 gift now to qualify for the match." Not subtle but persuasive.

If you are an AFP member, I believe you can access the slides for the presentation and learn about the other modes of persuasion that were discussed at this link.  

Relationship Fundraising: Where Do We Go From Here?

Ian MacQuillin

Jay Love
Rachel Muir

The first three speakers were great and were the perfect lead-in to Adrain Sargent. If you don't know his work, then shame on you. There are usually a couple of videos by him in the video share section of this blog.

Critical Fundraising - Ian
Under-researched and Under-Thought.

Our field simply has not been studied enough considering the vast amounts of time and money involved in fundraising and philanthropy. We need more people creating reliable data. Data will inform how we do things. At the same time, our thought leaders need to expand their conversations about how we do what we do.

Relationship Marketing - Jay
He started off with some great quotes the one that struck me hardest was "Everything we know about how to build a good relationship with a parent or friend we can apply to fundraising." How true and how awkward depending on how well we do those first two things.

He broke our world down to 4 stages.

Now I have heard lots of people use similar words to describe how we build donor relationships - or should I say relationships that happen to end in support.

We were asked to remember that most donors give THROUGH us not TO us. An important distinction that many fundraisers miss.

We should also remember that many people only want a transactional relationship with our organizations. These people make their gift appreciate their thank you note and the cultivation material they receive, but they have NO DESIRE to talk to you or meet with you. And that is ok. Others want a real relationship. The trick is knowing who is who. The best way to do this is to listen to what the donor says and follow the donors wishes. But remember that sometimes people change their minds.

The early relationship stages - Rachel Muir

Stage 1 - Awareness
Share information about each other invite them to share something they value. Something like their story. Try to figure out what will inspire the donor/prospect. Your organization can begin to share newsletters and cultivation materials but be respectful.

Stage 2 - Exploration
This stage is the creation of a relationship between you and the donor. The donor begins to feel something for the organization. Try methods like introducing beneficiaries to donors. This can be done in writing, in person or through video.

She brought out something that I have heard a good deal during the conference is the use of the "YOU" and phrases that refer to the donor. Important phrases like -

She also spent time talking about the use of surveys to gather information about donors and prospects.

The question you need to answer in the exploration stage is what will inspire the donor.

Deepening the relationship

He started off reminding us that some people do not want to have a relationship with your organization - at least not at this time.

You should try and figure out how well you fulfill the donors' needs. Try to shift your focus from what the donor means to the organization to what your relationship means to the donor. Measure the quality of your relationship - in other fields we would call this Customer Lifetime Value.

How does one measure quality? What is the donor's satisfaction with fundraising? What is their commitment to your programs Do the donors trust that you are doing the best job for your beneficiaries?

He gave examples of newsletters that went from an internal "WE" focus to an external "YOU" focus. The one he showed increased giving from $4,470 to $49,600. It is rather hard to disagree with that kind of success.

Showing the donor that your organization feels about them the way they feel about themselves. We seek to validate each other.

How people see themselves now but also into the future. People want to be seen as almost SAINT like. Our job is to help them feel that way through the support they provide our organizations.

People should not feel like they have lost anything by giving a gift but instead, they should feel that they have gained something by their support.

Don't forget to get the slides for this presentation by clicking here.  

 Monday, March 21, 2016

Loverizing: The lucrative Difference, a Few Well Chosen Words, will Make in Your Donor Communications

Tom Ahern

The session started off with what might be obvious - The write words are easy it is getting to use the right words that is hard. Whether it is your ED or fundraising director or a Board member sometimes getting them to change how they view your written materials is difficult. The use of organization-centric language is deeply inbred in our language usage. Changing that dynamic is hard. As the writer of fundraising materials, it is our job to push that envelope. Once your donations start to increase -some- of the doubter will come around.

Tom explains why "Loverizing" because if you love your donors, they will love you.

We need to see through the donor prism. The example Tom gave was the "Because of you ... " letter. The example shows us ways to deinstitutionalize our language. It includes language like- "Because you our beloved donor or Because of all that I am writing to thank you." See the handouts for full examples.

At it's basic our job is to keep the customer happy. It is important to remember that the industry average is that 8 out of 10 new donors will not renew. What do we do about that? We create a first-time donor contact schedule. What materials will your first-time donors get from you and on what schedule? There should be more emphasis put on connecting with these donors. We need to let them know how important they are to us as people not just as a donation.

Tom shared a Seth Godin blog post called "the story's about the donor."

He also reminded us to try to understand who we are writing to the image he showed us. It looked like a mid-life slightly affluent white women. What does she want and what do we need to do - She needs to sustain the good feeling that giving the gift gave her. People want to be helpful then it is about how they expect to be treated by you. How they feel based our their treatment determines if a second gift will be forthcoming.

Tom suggested that we ask ourselves - "are you hogging the credit or giving it to your donor?" Structure the language you use so that the donor gets credit for the success of your organization.

The website example Tom showed had wonderful information about the doctors, staff and even the board. And if you looked way down in one corner there was a little something about donating and donors. As his next slide showed, this type of language can make charities look like egotistical maniacs. Me Me Me Me!

Tom then quoted Jen Sheng, who recommends making the donor the hero of your organization’s story.

He gave a list of adjectives that Ms. Sheng stated are how donors see themselves ( again these are available here) they include kind, caring helpful fair generous and honest. Tom recommended that we ought to say these words back to our supporters.

“We can’t really over do loving the donor”

One way of thinking about these concepts is the following:

“We did this. We did that. We are amazing. Oh, by the way thanks.”

“with your help, all these amazing things happened. And without your help, they won’t.”

He concluded this section by reminding us to- “Say it loud. Say it proud.

Tom also spent some time talking about the use of negative imagery and wording. I found this interesting as I have always felt that success breeds success. But I can see how fro some organization’s that work with nature, it might be successful. Statistically, he showed that a photo of a sad child photo got a much better response then a photo of a happy child. I think one just has to be careful to always show the possibility of the happy child.

I did some work with an organization that did an entire sad child campaign where the agency was the “hero” of each child’s story. This campaign did not do well for them. In fact, a number of donors complained and the response from the acquisition prospects was very negative. I wonder though if each child story had been visually balanced with a happy result if it would have done better. Have any of you had similar experiences, if so, please leave comments?

The rest of the presentation showed examples of shifting Donor-NEGLIGENT materials into Donor-CENTRIC materials. He walked us through websites and newsletters and emails.

There is a great deal more, but I would recommend that you download the slides and if you ever get the chance hear Tom Ahern speak. You should also follow his blog.

Restatring your social media program

Some readers have asked me about how to restart posting to their FACEBOOK PAGE when the page is dormant or just sporadically used. The concern seemed to be that a lot of effort had gone into creating material when the page was being kept up and could they use any of that material again.


Well, it would have been better just to keep posting to the page regularly but it is never too late to reinvigorate a FACEBOOK PAGE. Now to answer your questions-

1. Yes, you can reuse non-time sensitive material. I have been working with an organization that used to be very active on Facebook and always posted on “Throw Back Thursdays.” They also used to do what they called “Mystery Monday. “ TBT material is pretty evergreen, and you can use it numerous times. Just make sure you are spreading it out throughout the year and adding some new material for variety.


The “Mystery Monday” idea used interesting archival photos that the organization had little or no information concerning. Simply, ask your followers to post any information they may know about the photos back to the social media platform. It is a clever engagement strategy for your followers.


The trick in either of these cases is to be sure you devote some staff time to replying to comments and letting your followers know about any successes you have in identifying the pictures or people in them.


2. To keep your page current, plan on posting something every day. Staying up to date is not as hard as it might seem if you do two things:

a. Create at least two weeks of evergreen text.

By this, I mean things like the Throw Back Thursday and Mystery Monday. Also, create posts that directly promote aspects of your organization. If you have an official “Fact Sheet” about the organization, each of those facts can be a starting point for a post. Something like “Did you know that XXX AGENCY has programs in 5 counties throughout the state?” or “XXX students got their first taste of Shakespeare at our student matinees last year. Because of support from XXXXXX.” The last one gives you the chance to promote your organization and one of your corporate supporters. It is a win-win.

b. Work with your program areas to create the new posts.

This job may sound daunting but in reality everyone wants to tell people about the good things they are doing. I’d bet that some of your program staff are already posting about their work but to their own personal pages.

To make it easy, create a calendar and assign a week or month to each program. That will be the period that your Facebook post will spotlight that particular program. It doesn’t mean that is the only time that the program can submit post material to you. Try and encourage programs to send you anything that they feel might be of interest any time.

I know what you are thinking - how will you ever keep track of all this material? Social media is not my only job. I have a few suggestions first just open a word processing document and start writing your post. You could also create them in a spreadsheet where column one is for the date the post will go out and the next column for the post text. The best way to do it is to use an aggregator program like Hootsuite.


Hootsuite is an excellent program that allows you to build out days, weeks or months of posts in a single session. The program is relatively easy to use. You add your social media feeds – did I mention it can help you with Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube and about a dozen other social media platforms. It is easy to use, and the best part - it is free depending on the number of feeds you want to set up.


Using a program like Hootsuite would allow you to spend 30 minutes a week keeping your Facebook Page up to date. The important thing is just to get started. Don’t let the idea of keeping your page up to date stop you from starting. You could create a schedule where you start off posting twice a week and then build on up to daily posting. Allocate 30 minutes when you first come to work to work on your social media presence.


I am confident with a little allocated time and preplanning you can keep your Facebook page up to date.

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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