Sharing the Passion for Fundraising

April 15, 2013

Every few years, a study is done.  What is your worst fear….Americans are asked?  Death, naturally.  But, that ranks third.  Second.  Public speaking.  The number one fear…. fundraising.  Since so many people fear fundraising, it is understandable that many Board members and staff members are resistant to it.

Part of that fear comes from a lack of knowledge and a lack of experience.

Jane Ratzlaff of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, speaking from her 30+ years of fundraising experience, led the attendees of our recent Brown Bag workshop through the science behind fundraising.  Her experience has been in both sizable development offices with large fundraising staff and in a small nonprofit organization where she was the single staff member.   In each position she has held, she worked to build a fund development program that would outlive her, other staff and Board members.  She could do this because of her knowledge of the fundraising discipline.

After quick comments on the necessity of annual gifts and planned gifts, she then focused on major giving and the relationship building vital to receiving a major gift.  First, she shared where a major gift comes from.  One study of major gifts of $25,000 and above showed that 75% of donors gave SMALL for their first gift to the nonprofit; that is, $250 or less.  In fact, the major gift was simply the last of a long string of smaller gifts.  83% of donors who gave $25,000 or above spent the first five years of their relationship to the nonprofit giving small gifts.  Major gifts come from donors who come to an organization as annual givers.

Next, Ratzlaff outlined the process and spent time digging into each step:  identification, research, strategy, information, cultivation and involvement, preparation, asking, follow-up and stewardship.  Along each of the steps, she emphasized the necessity in determining the donor’s desire to give the organization, creating more opportunities for the donor to be more engaged in the organization’s work and learning and honoring what the donor cares about.  Each step – along with all of this information – must be documented in a donor database system.  This way, the relationship to the organization can be maintained with the donor even as staff and Board members come and go.

Finally, Ratzlaff ended the presentation with encouragement.  One key piece of encouragement she gave was:  Be Proud!  Fundraising is letting donors who care about the work be involved.  For that, we should be proud.

If you would like a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, please email us.


Reflections on Relationship Matters: The Tangled Web of Nonprofit Alliances

March 18, 2013

Tim Sievers, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, began Thursday’s workshop with a startling statement: I can only have 2 or 3 collaborative relationships. He paused, holding up a grant application that asked him to define 30 collaborations. The audience, knowing his involvement in the community, quieted.

The terms we use around nonprofit alliances matter. They matter in defining the depth of the alliance and the breadth of the impact. And, yet, we often bandy about the terms, untethered from their meaning. Sievers corrected that. The terms matter because – when their meanings are commonly understood – we can then use this common language to define the alliance with less misunderstandings and misconceptions.

Sievers introduced a chart to define four major types of nonprofit alliances. Displayed below, and used by permission, is this chart:

Nonprofit Strategic Alliances Defined

As shown, a low commitment and less impact alliance a nonprofit can enter into is a cooperative alliance. This cooperation exists whenever we refer clients to another nonprofit. Other end of the continuum is a merger and/or strategic restructuring. This type of alliance is a complex, legal relationship that might result in – for example – a shared back-office infrastructure or even the combining of two nonprofits. We have seen this with the creation of the Glacier National Park Conservancy from the Glacier National Park Fund and Glacier National Park Association.

In between these two bookends lies coordination and collaboration. To explain the difference between coordination and collaboration, Sievers used the Bike Helmet Rodeo as an example. Big Brothers Big Sisters coordinated with the fire department and other organizations for a Joint Program. The result was this rodeo. The relationship was limited to this joint programming and all parties maintained independence. On the other hand, a collaboration is more formalized. For example, the Flathead Nonprofit Development Partnership exists as a formal collaboration among the Flathead Valley Community College Economic Development and Continuing Education (FVCC); Flathead Community Foundation (FCF); and the Steering Committee of the Flathead Nonprofit Development Partnership (NpDP). These formal relationships are all defined in Memorandums of Understanding. While FVCC and FCF remain independent from each other, and, therefore, not merged, NpDP is not independent. The ongoing work of NpDP only occurs in the context of the alliance.

Is your organization in the process of defining its alliances? Sievers provided two assessment tools:

Montana Nonprofit Association’s Principles and Practices for Strategic Alliances

Benchmarks for Networks, Coalitions and other Cooperative Efforts from the Institute for Conservation Leadership

Going back to Sievers’ opening statement… A collaboration is a deep, intensive alliance. A nonprofit can only have 2 or 3 of these alliances for this type of alliance to be effective. He then contacted the funder. The word collaboration should really have been cooperative. And, indeed, 30 cooperations were easy to define.

2013 Nonprofit Town Hall

January 21, 2013

Optimism with a caveat. 

The attendees of the 2013 Nonprofit Town Hall reflected on 2012 and looked forward to 2013.  There was optimism… new partnerships, new donations, new learning, new building, new corporate sponsors, new community awareness.

However, behind this optimism was a caveat.  All of these new [fill-in-the-blank] placed a greater burden on Executive Directors and staff and the infrastructure of the organization.  The new came at a cost that cannot be sustained.  Looking forward to 2013, one nonprofit Board member succinctly stated her concern, “We must change how much effort we expect.”

The conversation continued along many paths, and you can read the full minutes from the 2013 Nonprofit Town Hall.

Evaluating the Impact of your Programs Summary

November 12, 2012

In October, we explored the role of stories in talking about the positive impact of our organizations have on our communities. This month, Ned Cooney, program director of the Flathead Nonprofit Development Partnership, continued the conversation about impact and the role of outcome evaluation at November’s Brown Bag, Evaluating the Impact of your Programs. While he discussed the terminology, progression of change and documentation needed in establishing an outcome evaluation program, this summary will focus on the purpose of outcome evaluation.

Outcome evaluation goes beyond “the butts in the seats;” that is, the number of people served by your organization. Outcome evaluation looks at the effect that those services had on the people served. Those effects that occur in the intended beneficiaries are then measured and tracked over a designated time period, according to Cooney. This type of evaluation does not pressure the beneficiary to respond in a specific manner, and allows for the beneficiary to, in fact, report a negative impact. In light of the additional work demanded and possibly negative reports, why engage in outcome evaluation?

Cooney gave four reasons. The first two aims are internal to the organization. We engage in nonprofit work to effect change. Outcome evaluation allows us to determine if we are achieving our mission. Simply put, is our work worth it? Secondly, outcome evaluation allows us to make management decisions. With increased data, we can ascertain and then seek to prevent unintended, negative consequences of our work. Additionally, that data can be used to fine-tune our program offerings to amplify the positive outcomes for our beneficiaries.

The final two aims of outcome evaluation, Cooney mentioned, are external to our organizations. One is practical, and the other is prescriptive. Foundations, government funders and donors – specifically sophisticated major donors – are requesting outcome evaluation. Is the money given actually affecting change? Yet, Cooney reminded the audience, this is an opportunity to be proactive in deciding what outcomes your organization is intending. Imagine the difference this would make for your program. Instead of reacting to the data the funder requires and molding your program to meet those requirements, you can run your programs according to the best practices you know work for this community, and invite these funders to invest in these positive outcomes. Outcome evaluation, therefore, positions your organization to receive needed funding in this age of scarce resources.

Cooney reiterated the purpose of talking about the impact of our programs. We tell stories and show pictures to open hearts toward our organizations. We explain the data from outcome evaluation to convince the brain that investing in our organizations is wise. This inspires hands and voices to support – through dollars, time and advocacy – our organizations in impacting our communities for good.

Words to Win Donors & Supporters Summary

October 19, 2012

Have you ever counted the number of messages – call now, do this, buy, give – you encounter each day?  You might lose count fairly quickly because, on average, we encounter 20,000 messages each day, according to Ben Long of Resource Media.  Most of the 20,000 messages are backed by an advertising budget, a budget unlikely to be matched by the limited resources of a nonprofit.

Long presented at the recent Brown Bag, The Write Stuff: Words to Win Donors and Supporters.  He discussed the importance of having a message, sharing the message and incorporating the message into public campaigns and fundraising letters.  This summary will focus on the message portion of his Brown Bag presentation.

So, how do we get our message through the noise of all of the other messages?  Successful social movements involve a consistent message, a common public value and an appetite for change.  Expanding on those elements, Long discussed a formula that every message must contain:

 Core Value + Threat = Solution + Call to Action

What happens when we forget one of these elements?

Core Value = Solution will be ignored because there is no need to change – no threat to the status quo.  Threat = Solution will be considered whining because there is no emotional hook to draw in those not directly affected by the threat – no common public value like family, freedom, personal responsibility….  Finally, Core Value + Threat = Solution will be ineffective because there is no concrete next step to be involved – no call to action tied to a clear, concise, measurable outcome.

To illustrate this, Long gave a story:

Someone knocked on his door, saying, “I can see you have children because of the toys in your yard. You know how children have to cross Highway 93 to go to school.  It is a dangerous crossing for children.  We want to hire a crossing guard.  Will you sign this petition to hire a crossing guard?”

Family + Dangerous Crossing = Crossing Guard + Sign a Petition

As you are working through this formula in creating your message, keep in mind your audience.  Long emphasized how large the general public is and the impossibility of reaching and influencing every person.  Instead, he said to focus only on the core decision-makers to the issue and those people who influence the decision-makers.  Then, within that group, only focus on those already on your side and undecideds who are listening and may be engaged.  Those opposed to your mission are unlikely to be influenced.

Long also discussed how to give this message.  Our brains process heart-oriented messages first (emotions), and then move on to head-oriented messages (data, stats…).  We instinctively lean towards stories, stories that contain a character, a conflict and a setting  or the victim, the villain and the hero.  Moreover, we are increasingly a visual society.  Add a photo that evokes emotion and contain a person/people.  With all of these pieces, Long gave another formula:

Message + Credibility x Repetition

To break through those 20,000 messages, repeat, repeat, repeat your consistent message in creative ways to continue to engage those on your side and the undecideds who are listening.  Win – through your message – donors and supporters to your mission.

Just One Thing: Elevate your Fundraising Events

September 15, 2012

On Thursday, we invited David Mirisch of David Mirisch Enterprises to discuss ways to fundraise through events.  He laid out the basic and fundamental principles and tips for fundraising events.

Our favorite tip was to sell opportunity tickets.  If you are pricing your fundraising event tickets higher than usual, sell an opportunity ticket at a low price.  Like it sounds, an opportunity ticket is an opportunity to receive a full-price ticket to the event.  The drawing from all purchased opportunity tickets then takes place roughly two weeks before the event.  Your organization benefits from added income from folks who would not otherwise buy a full-price ticket, and one lucky winner has a chance to attend your fundraising event.

In addition to this idea, we would also like to build on a couple of his presentation points:

1. Using vacation packages to raise more money during auction-type events.  If a member of your Board has a vacation home outside of the Flathead, it can be used to create a valuable vacation package according to Mirisch.

What happens if no one on your Board has a vacation home?  As you know, the Flathead is a prime vacation spot.  Here’s an idea we recently heard… Build a vacation package with a Board member’s primary home or cabin, local restaurant gift certificates and more.  Then, get on the phone.  Call nonprofits in other states to make a trade.  For example, a nonprofit traded (with a nonprofit in Boston) a Board member’s cabin in a vacation package for Boston Red Sox tickets, a weeklong stay and dining gift certificates – Boston Red Sox tickets and accompanying vacation package are more valuable here at an auction than in Boston, and vice versa.

2. Creating fun events to raise awareness about your organization.  Mirisch outlined how creating a fun event can be an avenue to introduce more people to your cause.

Yet, in the spring and the fall in the Flathead, every weekend is filled with two or more fundraising events, often auction-type dinner events.  How does your nonprofit break through?  Start first with researching the types of events other nonprofits (similar to yours) are hosting in other parts of the country.  Concentrate on events that could be tied in your mission and that would be enjoyed by a majority of your donors.  Be unique.  Be fun.

Just One Thing: Communicating with Legislators

May 21, 2012

Imagine receiving a phone call at the office next February.  A legislator has read a bill, and wants your opinion on how it will affect….the work you do in the community.

Seem far-fetched?  Not necessarily, if you begin now building relationships with local legislators.  This relationship building begins with meeting the candidates running for election.  Educating them on the issues your nonprofit defends or supports.  Enlisting them to be a champion for those issues or for your nonprofit during the legislative session.  Encouraging your volunteers, clients, donors, supporters… to speak out on issues.  When you establish these relationships with legislators, build your reputation as a credible expert on an issue and create a grassroots effort to affect change, you just may receive that phone call from the legislator. 

The presenters, Nanette Gilbertson and Erin McGowan Fincham of Smith and McGowan, a lobbyist firm in Helena, promoted this scenario, these actions, as the first and most effective steps to advocating for the nonprofit community and the issues that affect the work you do.

Yet, there are times when a specific bill comes before the Legislature, and you are compelled to support or oppose it.  You are compelled to lobby for the best interests for your clients and your nonprofit.  You must be involved in direct lobbying.  And, yet…

Nonprofits operate within legal boundaries when we communicate with legislators through direct lobbying, explained the presenters.  Those boundaries are more clearly defined when we file a 501(h) election with the IRS through a Form 5768.   The IRS provides a formula with specific monetary limits on lobbying expenses.  Further, if you believe you, as a paid employee of your nonprofit, will be spending a significant amount of time or expenses (such as mailing out printed petitions), exceeding $2400, in direct lobbying in a calendar year, you may also need to register with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices as a principal.

The presenters also introduced a key tool for both advocating and lobbying. The Montana Legislative branch has set up a website to keep you connected to the legislative process and legislators.  You can also set up a preference list to receive notifications to track specific bills.

The final points the presenters left with the attendees were:

“Relationships are built over time through many interactions.”


“Policymakers respond to constituents and people they know and trust.”