Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers

A blog post everyone in our business ought to read. 

Read this -

You will be happy you did.


When gift-in-kind takes over your fundraising program

We all appreciate the support of individuals and companies that comes in the form of gifts-in-kind. But what happens when getting this type of support outweighs getting straight donations of cash.  We all appreciate the support of individuals and companies that comes in the form of gifts-in-kind. But what happens when getting this type of support outweighs getting straight donations of cash.  

It usually happens pretty slowly. You may start with a backpack drive or a holiday gift drive — both admiral activities.  But if time and energy are shifted to these programs away from individual giving appeals and major donor gift campaigns, that is a problem. 

By its very nature, gift-in-kind needs a good deal of staff time.  It also requires that you have clear guidelines about what you will and will not accept. If you don't have a clear policy, you can end up with a lot of other people's junk.  Every organization is different, but if you work with children, teens, disabled adults, and families, you have experienced getting stuff that is unusable for your programs.

Another area of concern is gift cards. These have become very popular with donors and can be a handy way to support someone in your program.  But they are cash and should be handled like cash. You should acknowledge them as a cash gift. They should be secured in your office as cash.  I can't tell you how many times I have worked with organizations where the gift cards are in someone's desk drawer unlocked.  This can cause all sorts of problems and drive your auditors to distraction.  

How should you handle gift-in-kind requests? Well, as I said earlier, you need a gift acceptance policy.  Then the entire fundraising team, which includes your volunteer team, should have a clear picture of what your programs need. Notice I said need not want.  Once these needs are filled, we shift to a cash request from people who contact us to provide toys or backpack items.  

If we know that increasing your contributed income is the goal, when someone contacts you and says that they want to give you a donation of cash for "toys" you can confidently suggest the following: Thank you so much for thinking of our participants during the holidays. Would you consider allowing us to use your gift where it is most needed during the holidays? The majority of people will say ok.  Now you have a new cash donor. A donor you can steward and work to get other gifts from during the year.  

Gifts-in-kind can be critical to your overall fundraising program, but a direct gift is always a better choice.

"Asking" we are nothing without it.


This video discusses a profound way of thinking about "asking." As fundraisers, we have to not only be comfortable asking but understand we the act of "asking" actually is - to me it is trusting and believing.  This TedTalk explores those elements of the "ASK." Click on the image to see this important video by Amanda Palmer. Let me know what you think.

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Summer fundraising work

I hate July and August at work. Why, well, there is not enough to do. Summer is hard on fundraisers. Maybe there is a direct mail and an email appeal but try making calls - no one is home or wants to talk about supporting your organization. Ok, I am a bit pessimistic, but it is somewhat true. So, what can you do during the lazy, hazy days of summer?

Clean up your data!

Yes, I know that is everyone’s least favorite thing to do. Surely, we can find something else to do? Well, you couldn’t do something that would be as helpful to your overall fundraising program.  I guarantee your database no matter how hard you work during the year to keep it clean isn’t as clean as it could be.  Everyone’s database can use a good data health checkup.

What to look for: old prospects, duplicate records, old organization records, organization contacts and employees, and incomplete records.

Let’s take your individual records as an example.  How do you handle a couple?  Do you create a record for each person no matter who signed the check?  If so are you sure you aren’t mailing two pieces to those households?  Are you sure that one isn’t getting a renewal letter while the other is getting a lapsed or acquisition letter?  That would be embarrassing and a waste of money. I prefer couples to have a master record and then a spouse/partner record attached if your system allows you to create that type of record.  If it doesn’t, I’d create one couples record with the proper addressee and salutation.  You are less likely to offend if you send it to both of them then the wrong one or send too many appeals.

Organizations have their unique challenges. A gift from a company must be credited to the company’s record but there was certainly a person who either authorized or solicited the gift on your behalf.  If your system allows this add that person as the contact on a specific gift.  This is especially true if it is a big company where you might have multiple relationships.  Maybe you do three events a year and get a corporate gift from the company and each has its own contact.  You don’t want the company in your database four times. You want to have some system in place to write the correct person for each ask.  And remember that your contact may change year to year.  I worked with an organization once where large companies sometimes had hundreds of individual records attached to their records.  Many of these people no longer even worked for the organization.  And when they mailed to the company it would pull every single one of those contacts. What a waste and how embarrassing. Luckily, their CRM allowed them to create different types of contacts and then choose the type when creating a solicitation mailing.

Then there are just dupes. It happens to the best of us.  I have an initial in front of my name so sometimes I end up in charity CRM’s up to three times.  Nothing annoys me more than getting multiple mailings from a charity I support and I understand how it could happen. Now imagine I am just a regular donor who chose to give your organization a modest gift and the next year I get multiple ask letters. That would not be good stewardship.

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