Let's Talk Nonprofithttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blogLet's Talk Nonprofit addresses questions that nonprofits have about grants, fundraising, boards, and what's going on in the nonprofit sector.https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/images/rss-lets-talk-nonprofit-logo.svghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/images/rss-lets-talk-nonprofit-icon.svghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/images/rss-lets-talk-nonprofit-by-tsc-logo.pngLet's Talk Nonprofit Bloghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blogen-USmonthly1Copyright 2018 by Third Sector Consulting Group, LLC. All rights reserved.How Your Thank You Letters Can Put More Money in the Bankhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-12-05-how-your-thank-you-letters-can-put-more-money-bankWed, 05 Dec 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-629168355How Your Thank You Letters Can Put More Money in the Bank

I have a couple of questions for all you nonprofits out there.

Did you write a great year-end appeal letter? Did you spend lots of time, carefully crafting a message that would inspire your donors to give here at the end of the year?

Now, will you put forth the same effort to write a great thank you letter?

You should, and here's why. Sending a terrific thank you letter is actually the first step in getting your next gift.

Yet far too many thank you letters fall flat. A lot of nonprofits send a basic form letter, maybe a gift receipt, then they consider the transaction to be complete.

But it's not! Giving is a cycle, and you want your donors to give again. And again. And again.

That's why it's so important - not only to thank your donors but to thank them well.

So, let's review what donors want. Let's look at what makes donors feel good about giving to your organization. And, more specifically, how thanking a current donor makes her feel great about giving to you again.


My mother was a firm believer in prompt thank yous. When my sister and I were growing up, Mom would remind us to write our thank you notes before we played with, wore, read, or listened to whatever gift we had received.

It's not a bad policy.

For a nonprofit, a corollary would be "thank before you bank." Now, I'm not suggesting that you delay making your deposits. Rather, I'm encouraging you to prioritize thanking your donors. Sooner is always better than later.

Bottom line? Don't wait to send your donor a thank you letter. Try to send yours within 48 hours of receiving a donation.

(Oh, and if it's an online donation, you should still send a thank you letter by snail mail. An auto-reply and online donation confirmation are just that - an auto-reply and a confirmation. Not a thank you!)


Personalization means much more than simply inserting your donor's name into a mail-merge template.

Templates are okay for starters, especially if you have a lot of letters to get out quickly. And an easy way to personalize a form letter is to add a handwritten note. (Donors will read the handwritten note, even if they don't read the letter itself.)

If you're starting with a template, avoid opening with a boring opening sentence. "On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to thank you for..."? MEGO. My eyes glaze over.

Even a typed form letter can sound personal when it's filled with joy and true gratitude.

Try this. When you're typing your next thank you letter, picture your mother, your grandmother, or your favorite aunt. Then, I want you to write to her.

Why? Because a lot of your donors are likely to be older women. And things are different when you're writing to older donors.

Plus, you'd never send your great Aunt Edna a thank you letter that started like this, would you? "On behalf of my husband, the kids, and myself, I'd like to thank you for..."

No! Aunt Edna deserves better. Your donors do, too.

Bottom line? Write to your donors using language that's friendly and real. Convey warmth and appreciation. Make it meaningful, make it memorable, and your donor will remember it.


Fundraising science tells us that donors want to know that their donation is making a difference.

So, use your thank you letter as an opportunity to tell her how her gift will be put to work.

Consider the donor who designates her gift to a particular program. In your thank you letter, confirm that's where the money will be used and share a story about who will benefit from that program.

Or, if the gift is in response to a particular appeal, like a capital campaign or a special needs fund, acknowledge the donor's support of that campaign. Remind her why you're raising money for that particular need, and assure her that her donation will be put to good use. Provide specifics as you can.

Bottom line: Don't be vague and tell your donor that her gift will let your organization "serve more people next year," for instance. Tell her how her gift - and others like it - has a real impact and will improve the world, even if it's just her little corner of it.


Donors want to know that their donation is making a difference before being asked again for another gift. I repeat: before being asked again for another gift.

In fact, a popular fundraising truism is "Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat." It's a cycle.

Yes, you want to thank your donors when a gift is received. And you want to report back to them as well. Take a look at this great infographic from Agents for Good:

ask thank report

You can thank your donors more than once and in different ways, too.

So, how can you thank your donors and report back to them at the same time? There are many ways. Letters, handwritten notes, phone calls, even newsletters. (Yes, even newsletters, when they're donor-centric.)

Bottom line? The smart fundraiser will look for multiple ways thank donors. She'll also use multiple channels both to thank - and to report back to - her donors throughout the year.


Got year-end gifts? Great. Now, send prompt and personalized thank you letters.

Then keep expressing your gratitude and reporting back to your donors throughout the year.

Because when a donor feels appreciated and knows that she's making a difference, she'll be more inclined to give to your cause again. And again. And again.

Remember, all thank you letters aren't created equally.

When you write a great thank you letter, you're taking your first step towards keeping more donors and raising more money in the new year.

And you can take that to the bank.

Photo credit(s): Pixabay and Maret Hosemann

Need help writing a terrific thank you letter? Or developing a year-long stewardship plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/thank-you-letters-fall-flat.jpgHow Your Thank You Letters Can Put More Money in the Bankhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-12-05-how-your-thank-you-letters-can-put-more-money-bank
3 Things You Don't Want to Do In Your Year-End Fundraising Appealhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-11-07-3-things-you-dont-want-do-your-year-end-fundraising-appealWed, 07 Nov 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-2268256813 Things You Don't Want to Do In Your Year-End Fundraising Appeal

Many thanks to Steven Screen for the inspiration for this post. Steven is the co-founder of The Better Fundraising Co. The information he and Jim Shapiro share on their blog will help you learn how to become a better fundraiser, too.

It's almost time. The time of year when your donors' mailboxes are filled with year-end fundraising appeals.

If you haven't gotten your year-end appeal out the door yet, be sure to take a few minutes right now and read this post.

Instead of things to do, you'll find three things you don't want to do.



Appeals are about asking.

A key component of any fundraising campaign is the "appeal," or a letter request.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals defines an appeal letter as "a letter requesting a donation to a fundraising campaign."

Consider the very definition of "appeal." As a noun, it's "a serious or urgent request." As a verb, it means "to arouse a sympathetic response."

Think about it. By its very definition, an appeal is not a report.

Yet far too many year-end fundraising letters read like a report.

According to Steven Screen at The Better Fundraising Company, the most effective year-end campaigns will do these two simple things:

  1. Remind donors of the problem that your organization exists to help solve
  2. Ask them to give a gift before the end of the year to help solve that problem

Bottom line: Don't use your year-end letter to try to educate and persuade donors. Instead, "appeal" to your donors' passions, then ask them to give to support your work.


Only send a letter to your current donors.

Lots of people think, "If we send more appeal letters, then we'll raise more money."

If only it were so easy.

When it comes to fundraising, you should always consider your return on investment. (This is one of 3 essential metrics of fundraising performance.)

Along those lines, Steven Screen recommends "super simple segmentation." Only mail an appeal letter to donors who have made a gift to your organization in the last 18 months.

Why only current donors, you ask? According to Roger Craver in "Retention Fundraising," nonprofits have

  • a 60-70% chance of obtaining additional contributions from existing donors
  • only a 20-40% chance of securing a gift from a recently lapsed donor
  • less than a 2% chance of receiving a gift from a prospect

Bottom line: Your best prospect is a current donor. You will lower your fundraising costs and see a higher response rate by sending your year-end appeal only to your active donors.


Flip the script when you write your next appeal.

Not all appeals are created equally.

Here's a formula that many nonprofits use:

  1. Thank you for supporting our organization in the past
  2. Let me tell you a story about someone we already helped
  3. Please give and help us continue this good work

Have you used that formula? It works well enough.

But, The Better Fundraising Co. found that this outline works much better:

  1. There's a problem right now
  2. You are needed to solve it
  3. Here's how your gift will solve it

Remember the very definition of an "appeal." It's "a serious or urgent request."

This new and improved formula instills that urgency. It also offers specificity about how the donor can help.

Remember, too, that the very best appeals will offer options for every giving level. For instance, Bridgercare, a nonprofit healthcare clinic in Bozeman, Montana, gives donors a donation breakdown that illustrates more than a dozen giving options - ranging from $10 to $10,000. That way, donors can see exactly what it costs to do the work. And they understand how their gift might be used.

Bottom line: Remind your donor about the problem, remind her that you need her help, and tell her exactly how her gift will make a difference.


Read the full posts from The Better Fundraising Co. that inspired this post.

Remind, But Don't Persuade

Super Simple Segmentation

A Simple Outline for Appeals that Raise Money

Photo credit(s): Steven Screen, The Better Fundraising Co.

Need help writing your year-end appeal? Or just want someone to help you turn a good letter into a great one? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/steven-screen-1.jpg3 Things You Don't Want to Do In Your Year-End Fundraising Appealhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-11-07-3-things-you-dont-want-do-your-year-end-fundraising-appeal
5 Little Things That Will Make a Big Difference in Your Next Fundraising Appealhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-10-03-5-little-things-that-will-make-big-difference-your-next-fundraising-appealWed, 03 Oct 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-3236467995 Little Things That Will Make a Big Difference in Your Next Fundraising Appeal

Here's a little fundraising inspiration from the football field.

"Little things make the difference.
Everyone is well prepared in the big things, but only the winners perfect the little things."

That quote comes from Bear Bryant, the legendary football coach from the University of Alabama.

Alabama's football team is legendary, too. The Crimson Tide has won the most national football championships of any school in NCAA history.

What does this have to do with fundraising, you ask?

Remember what Bear Bryant said: "Little things make the difference." That's true in fundraising, too.

Take, for example, your fundraising appeal letter. There are plenty of best practices to follow. They include effective storytelling and keeping your message simple.

Within each of those best practices are a number of "little things" that you can put in place to make your appeal stand out from the crowd.

In fact, I encourage you to check your fundraising appeal against this list before you drop your letters in the mail.

These are simple things that will only take you a minute or two to implement. I promise.


Here's a simple trick: increase your font size in your next letter.

It's a scientific fact. Our vision worsens as we age. After age 40, most people start to notice that change. Many start to need reading glasses.

And here's the thing. Donors are older than you realize. In fact, most donors are older than 40. A lot older.

The simple truth: If your donor struggles to see what you've written, she won't read it. That's true for fundraising appeals, newsletters, and other materials.

And here's a corollary: Don't make your reply device so small that it's hard to read and/or fill in. Make it bigger, so it's easier for your donor to complete it.


There's a new standard in town. Your nonprofit donor communications should be written in a font size 14.

One reason why is because you're most likely writing to an older audience.

The jury is out as to how much the font itself matters. Some people believe serif fonts (like Times New Roman and Garamond) are better for print materials, while sans serif fonts (like Arial and Calibri) are better for digital materials. Typographers say these are myths.

However, most can agree that not all fonts are created equal. Some (like those listed above) are easier on the eye than others. Whatever font you choose, it's important to use one that's easy for your donor to read. And black type on white paper works best.

Need more proof? Consider what donor communications expert Tom Ahern says about fonts and colors. In Keep Your Donors, he says, "Reading is already a form of mental labor. When you make it more laborious through reader-unfriendly typographic choices, people will find other ways to spend their precious time."

Again, if your donor doesn't read what you write, she definitely won't respond to it.


White space is a wonderful thing. It literally creates space around text and graphics, so your document is less crowded.

White space allows your reader's eye to rest, and it increases readability. So create white space at every opportunity.

Three easy ways to create white space?

  1. Indent your paragraphs. Left flush letters look very business-like. Your appeal letter should look like personal correspondence. So, indent every paragraph, every time.
  2. Increase the line spacing in your letter. Most computer programs default to a line spacing of 1.0, which is a little crowded. My word processor has a drop-down option to increase it to 1.15. Try it. It's one of those "little things" that makes a big difference.
  3. Increase your margins. Or, at least, don't decrease them just because you're trying to make everything fit on one page. (Plus, there are other benefits to a 2-page or longer appeal letter - watch for that in a future post.)


Before your next letter goes out the door, check these "little things" that make a big difference:

  • What's your font size?
    A 14-point font is the recommended standard for your donor communications. Never ever decrease your font size if you want your material to be read. Bigger is always better. And, the older your audience, the larger the font should be.
  • Did you select a readable font and font color?
    Times New Roman (black on white paper) is always a safe choice in print communications. You can use a second font for emphasis - and even a little color - but stick to a maximum of two fonts in your appeals.
  • Did you create as much white space as possible?
    Look for ways to create white space in all of your donor communications. For instance, indent your paragraphs, increase your line spacing, and keep your margins wide.

By making little changes like these, you can make a big difference in your presentation.

Remember what Bear Bryant said about his coaching philosophy:

"Little things make the difference....Everyone is well prepared in the big things, but only the winners perfect the little things."

While not every college football team can reach Alabama's elite status, every nonprofit can have a winning year-end campaign.

Whenever you write an appeal letter, make sure you remember these "little things," too.

You can do this! Now, get out there and write a winning appeal!

Photo credit(s): Pixabay

Need help writing a fantastic year-end appeal? Or just want someone to help you turn a good letter into a great one? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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4 Ways to Raise More Money The 'Right' Wayshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-09-05-4-ways-raise-more-money-right-waysWed, 05 Sep 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-8213104674 Ways to Raise More Money The 'Right' Ways

There's a saying in fundraising. You'll raise more money when

the right person
asks the right prospect
for the right amount
at the right time.

While that's true for major donors and capital campaigns, it's also true for your general donors and your annual fund as well.

Let me explain what I mean.


Chances are, your Executive Director or Board Chair (or maybe both) signed your last appeal letter. And your letter talked about the organization's accomplishments and needs.

What if, instead, the letter was written from the perspective of one of the people you serve? And the letter was about how their life is different because of what you do?

Or a volunteer or staff member? Someone who's "on the ground," doing the work and seeing the impact first-hand?

Or a donor, talking about why they support your cause?

The conversation changes when the letter is written from the perspective of someone other than your leadership.

And how about this? The "right person" doesn't even have to be a person!

Here's a great example of how an adorable little truck became the spokes-"person" for a food bank campaign. (beep beep!)


It's no secret that when you segment your donor list, you'll raise more money. That's because you can target your messaging.

For instance, you might want to write an appeal to women in your database, since women influence their households' giving decisions.

Or you might write to older people, since they're most likely to respond to direct mail.

Or maybe you're writing to donors who gave last year, because you want them to give again this year.

While it's tempting, you'll want to avoid sending your appeal to everyone in your database. The fact is, you're far more likely to get a gift from a current donor or a recently lapsed donor than from someone who hasn't given in a while (or someone who's never given).

With your year-end campaign, I recommend a minimum of two letters: one to active donors (those who've given in the past 12 months) and one to LYBUNTs (those who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This).

The overarching message is the same. The key difference is this: you'll adjust it slightly when it comes to suggesting the "right amount." Keep reading.


The "right amount" is different for every donor, but one thing is true for all donors: you need to suggest an amount that you'd like the donor to give.

Saying "Please help" or "Please give" is vague and a weak call to action.

Saying "When you give $35, you can feed a child for a month" is clear. It tells me exactly what amount will help - and how.

Here are a couple of tips for figuring out the "right amount" to suggest.

Calculate your unit cost. Figure out what it costs to feed a child, or spay/neuter an animal, or build a well, or whatever you do.

Yes, it's easier for some organizations, but every nonprofit can do it. When you know what it "costs" to do your work, you can tell your donors. And that way, they understand what exactly their donation can do.

Know your average gift amount. It's important to know your average gift amount (among other numbers), so you can see how it's changing year over year. You can also use your average gift amount to suggest a donation amount to new donors.

Some organizations prefer to suggest their median (the middle number) or mode (the most common number). The important thing is to suggest a gift amount. Always.

Know your current donors' previous giving history. When you're writing to current donors, you want to refer to their last gift. It's a confirmation of their past support and a behavioral trigger.

Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, calls this trigger "commitment and consistency." The reference to your donor's last gift gives her a mental shortcut. It reminds her, "Why, yes! I did give to this organization last year." And that makes it easier for her to say "yes" again. A bonus? By referring to last year's gift, you're also suggesting a default amount.

Lastly, when you know your donor's last gift amount, you can use a formula to suggest other amounts - like 1.5 or 2 times last year's gift. The different options are called a gift string or gift ladder. Many donors will give more when you suggest it. (Just don't forget to make a strong case for why more money is needed and how the additional dollars will be used).


Clearly, the end of the year is a popular time for nonprofits to send a fundraising appeal. Some nonprofits raise as much as half of their annual budget between mid-November and December 31.

That said, an "annual fund" does NOT mean that you're limited to asking once each year.

In fact, donors should be asked more than once a year. Many will give more than once, when they're asked more than once.

You're shaking your head, thinking it won't work. But it does.

There are many reasons why, and I like Kay Sprinkel Grace's explanation best.

In Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards (and Staff, Too), she says, "Ask because you're succeeding, not because you need money. Ask more than once because the need is growing... as is your impact on the community."


Simply put, you will raise more money when "the right person asks the right prospect for the right amount at the right time."

You, dear reader, may be your organization's designated letter writer. And your Executive Director or Board Chair may consider themselves the designated signers.

However, when you write your appeals from different people's perspectives, you will raise more money.

When you write each appeal to a particular segment, you'll raise more money.

Ask for a specific amount, every time. And you'll raise more money.

And ask more than once a year. That way, you'll definitely raise more money.

Bottom line: you'll raise more money when you ask the "right" way.

Photo credit(s): Pixabay and Geralt

Need help writing a fantastic year-end appeal? Or just want someone to help you turn a good letter into a great one? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/the-right-ways-to-raise-more-money.jpg4 Ways to Raise More Money The 'Right' Wayshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-09-05-4-ways-raise-more-money-right-ways
A Look Inside a Grantmaker's Decision Processhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-08-01-look-inside-grantmakers-decision-processWed, 01 Aug 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-118284295A Look Inside a Grantmaker's Decision Process

There's a saying, "If you've met one foundation, you've met one foundation."

That's true. Funders have different priorities. They're different sizes. They all have different trustees and different sized staffs (if they have staff at all).

They also have different ways of making decisions.

Yet one thing that all funders have in common is this: there's usually a method to what might seem like madness when it comes to their decision-making.

Understanding the process from a funders' perspective can help you in your overall grantseeking process.


When I visited a small South Carolina coastal community earlier this year, I picked up a copy of the town newsletter at the visitors' center. The front page of the newsletter read: "2018 Charitable Contribution Selections." (How could I not pick that up?)

The article listed the organizations that had received funding - by name, by request amount, and by award amount. It also explained their funding and decision-making process.

I loved learning that this community invests in its local nonprofits.

I loved reading how they report back to their neighbors exactly how they're reinvesting in the community they share.

And I loved the transparency of this article. It offered a rare glimpse at how this particular grantmaker made its decisions.


This town has a clear policy for how much money it will set aside for charitable purposes and how that amount is calculated.

Excerpts from the full article:

"The town allocates up to 30% from the change in the fund balance of the general fund each year, not to exceed $150,000."

This year, the maximum amount was available and, in fact, they approved $149,711 in awards.

In the article, the town explained that their old process didn't work as well as they would have liked. So they evaluated what they were doing and what they could do differently:

"Traditionally, applicants were required to make formal presentations before the Ways and Means committee for approval and there was very little time to review the applications in depth."

This year, town staff conducted site visits at the applicant locations, then made their recommendations to the Ways and Means Committee:

"This process allowed staff to gain further insight into the organizations that applied and what the funds would be used for if awarded."

The town clearly identified their priority areas. They were interested in the nonprofit's purpose, the geographic area served, existing community support, their partnerships, and their sustainability plan:

"Staff gave priority to applicants whose primary objectives were philanthropy and social well-being and whose maximum impact was on Johns and Wadmalaw Islands as well as used large volunteer participation, collaborated with other organizations and leveraged their funding sources."

The staff made funding recommendations at one meeting. The committee members evaluated and adjusted the recommendations, then approved the allocations at another meeting:

"The staff made their recommendations.... The Ways and Means Committee could change, remove, or add to any of the recommendations. Their recommendation was given final approval at the [next] Town Council meeting."

The article listed the organizations that were funded and included a link to the full list of applicants - including those that were not funded:

"The Town received 29 Charitable Contribution applications totaling $341,904."

In all, 20 organizations received funding totaling $149,711. When you look at all of the requests in aggregate, you can see that this particular grantmaker approved more, smaller awards rather than fewer, larger ones:

table requests approved


This town newsletter article shared some insight into how one funder operates. This particular funder is a government entity.

Although every grantmaker is different, there are some universal truths and best practices when it comes to grantseeking.

Here are a few tips for folks like you, who want to apply for foundation grants:

  1. Learn as much as you can about a foundation before applying.
    You need to know what's important to a funder. Build relationships, ask questions, and learn all you can about the foundation before you apply.
  2. Pay attention to changing processes.
    Foundations are notorious for closed application processes. Yet sometimes, a foundation will open (or add) a grant cycle. Get on the mailing list, stay connected to the foundation staff, and don't miss an opportunity to apply.
  3. Pay attention to changing priorities.
    From time to time, funders will change focus areas. Some, like the Ford Foundation, have narrowed their focus. Others, like the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, adapt to changing needs. Sometimes, a foundation may even accelerate their giving, like the Brainerd Foundation, which will sunset in 2020.
  4. Know that foundations typically receive far more requests for support than they are able to fund. As a result, a foundation may look more favorably upon smaller requests.
    One of the best ways to keep yourself in consideration is to ask for an appropriate amount - not what you need, but what the foundation is likely to fund. You can find out what a foundation has awarded previously by using a 990 to research a foundation.
  5. Remember that, even when you get a grant, you may not get what you asked for.
    When you receive notification of a grant award, congratulations! At the same time, realize that you may be approved for a lesser amount than you requested. (Eight of the 20 funded organizations above received a reduced award.) And, in some rare, but happy, cases, you may actually see the foundation recommend more than you requested. (This was the case with the Barrier Island Little League, in the example above.)

These are just a few tips that I share in my grant writing workshops.

As a former program officer, I bring my own experiences and perspective about what happens inside a grantmaker's office.

And I want to share my experience with grantseekers like you.

Perhaps you'll join me for a Grant Writing Boot Camp this fall. I'll be in at least ten cities before the end of the year. You can view the current training schedule here.

And if you'd like to bring a Grant Writing Boot Camp to your community, contact us. We'd love to hear from you.

Photo credit(s): Pixabay and Arek Socha

Want to learn tips and tricks that can make your grants more competitive? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/how-does-a-grantmaker-decide.jpgA Look Inside a Grantmaker's Decision Processhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-08-01-look-inside-grantmakers-decision-process
Avoid 'Fact Traps' When Writing Grant Proposalshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-07-12-avoid-fact-traps-when-writing-grant-proposalsThu, 12 Jul 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-716657825Avoid 'Fact Traps' When Writing Grant Proposals

Here's a great piece of grant writing advice that comes from a rather unexpected place: a test prep and study guide.

One study guide for the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) exam says this:

Avoid the "fact trap." Don't get distracted by a choice that is factually true. Your search is for the answer that answers the question. Stay focused and don't fall for an answer that is true but irrelevant. Always go back to the question and make sure you're choosing an answer that actually answers the question and is not just a true statement.

An answer can be factually correct, but it MUST answer the question asked." [emphasis added]

It's a great tip for the CFRE exam because, on that test, many of the questions have more than one right answer. That means you need to know which one is the best answer.

This is also a helpful tip when you're writing grant proposals.

Far too many well-intentioned grant writers write what they (the grant writer) want the reviewer to know, instead of answering the questions asked in the application.

When I was a foundation program officer, I saw this. A lot. I still see it sometimes, when I critique grant proposals my clients write.

In most cases, grant applications, RFPs, and funding announcements will ask very specific questions that you should answer. The funder doesn't want - or need - to know everything about your organization. Even if it's factually true.

Yet some grant applicants will use every page, every word, and every character they are allowed. They will keep writing - presenting more and more facts, even after they have adequately answered the question.

Grant reviewers read dozens, even hundreds, of proposals. So, it shouldn't surprise you that longer proposals and tangential responses are not what they want to read.

What do they want to read? Grant reviewers are looking for a compelling case as well as clear and concise answers - to their questions.

And that's a fact.

This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang blog.

Photo credit(s): Bloomerang

If you want to avoid the "fact trap," Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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9 Measures of Fundraising Success Beyond The Bottom Linehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-07-04-9-measures-fundraising-success-beyond-bottom-lineWed, 04 Jul 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-1158555979 Measures of Fundraising Success Beyond The Bottom Line

Happy New Year! (if your fiscal year started on July 1)

The start of a nonprofit's new year is always an exciting time, with new fundraising goals to meet or exceed.

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of measuring your fundraising success beyond your budget and its bottom line.

Yet far too many nonprofit leaders rely on that single number to measure success.

In fact, there are many ways (and reasons) to measure various components of your fundraising campaigns.

So, what's important to measure in fundraising? And how do you do it?


In the book, "Fundraising Basics: A Complete Guide," the authors cite the research and work of James M. Greenfield.

Greenfield identified these three points of basic fundraising performance:

  1. Participants (a number)
    How many donors did you have?
  2. Income (a dollar amount)
    What were your gross contributions?
  3. Expense (a dollar amount)
    What were your fundraising costs?

Most of the time, most nonprofit leaders can answer #2. They know exactly how much money is coming in.

What about questions #1 and #3?

Do you know how many people gave to your organization in the past 12 months? Do you know how much you spent to get (and keep) these donors?

More importantly, do you know which numbers are growing, falling, or flat?

For individual fundraising campaigns, Greenfield goes one step further to identify six specific performance measures:

  1. Percent Participation (a percentage)
    Divide the number of people who made a gift by the number of people you asked
  2. Average Gift Size (a dollar amount)
    Divide the income you received from the campaign by the number of people who gave to that campaign.
  3. Net Income (a dollar amount)
    Subtract your fundraising expenses from the income you received.
  4. Average Cost per Gift (a dollar amount)
    Divide your fundraising expenses by the number of people who gave.
  5. Cost of Fundraising (a percentage)
    Divide expenses by income received
  6. Return on Investment (a percentage)
    Divide net income by expenses

Your numbers will vary from activity to activity. The results will also vary from year to year.

It's important to "know your numbers" so you can see what's working, where your fundraising is most successful, and where you might need to make some changes.


If your head is swimming, don't worry.

There's probably someone already in your organization who's a "numbers person." (If not, consider looking for a person with this skill/interest when recruiting your next board member.)

If you want to do the number crunching yourself, know that there are tools to help.

These tools are free to use:

Another plus, you don't need a lot of data to get started - just a list of gifts from your database with these three fields: donor ID, date, and amount.

These tools allow (and encourage) you to use more than one year of donor data in your reporting. This helps you see trends over time.

Your numbers tell a story.

What are your numbers telling you? And what can you learn from what they're saying?


The start of your fiscal year is the perfect time to reflect on your outcomes from last year, then set new goals and start working towards them.

Remember, though, when you're evaluating your past fundraising results, you need to do more than "know your numbers." You need to think about what you'll do with that information.

Consider something as simple as your number of donors. Is this number increasing, decreasing, or about the same? If it's not increasing, think about what you need to do to attract new donors and/or boost donor retention.

Winston Churchill famously said,

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

So, if you want different fundraising results this year, start by studying your history. Let your past results inform your future fundraising practices.

Then, set goals and targets in specific areas (like donor acquisition or donor retention). When you do, you'll be well on your way to future fundraising success.

Photo credit(s): Unsplash and Collin Armstrong

Need help measuring your past performance? Or creating a fundraising plan for the future? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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5 Takeaways from the Giving USA Report and What They Mean To Youhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-06-18-5-takeaways-from-giving-usa-report-what-they-mean-youMon, 18 Jun 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-1150012335 Takeaways from the Giving USA Report and What They Mean To You

Have you heard the news?

Charitable giving in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2017, crossing the $400 billion mark. (Yes, billion with a "b.")

This is one of the findings from the most recent Giving USA report, which tracks annual giving trends. Who's giving, to whom, and so much more.

There's been plenty of reaction to this year's report and the $410 billion milestone.

Some are concerned about the sustainability of this level of giving. Can it continue to increase, as it has for the last eight years in a row?

1 Giving YOY

Others point to the fact that, while giving is up, the overall number of donors is down. (About 55% of households give to charity, compared to 66% a decade ago.)

There's plenty of data like this and lessons you can learn from the Giving USA report.

Here are five highlights from Giving USA's most recent report and why these takeaways matter to you. (Looking for more? Watch this free 1-hour webinar.)


Individual donors are responsible for more than 86¢ of every dollar donated to charity.

That represents total giving from individuals (70%), bequests (9%) and family foundations (7.2%).

Why include bequests and family foundations in "individual" giving? Because, ultimately, it was an individual donor's generosity that was the basis for those gifts.

Of note, there was a flurry of individual and first-time gift activity to groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, immediately after the 2016 election. There was another spike in what's called "reactive giving," in the first 100 days after President Trump took office in January 2017. Today we're seeing record-level "rage donations" in response to the border crisis, immigration issues, and parent-child separations.

Not all of these donors have deep pockets, which is proof that even small gifts can make a big difference.

Why this matters: Smart fundraisers focus on building relationships with individuals. A strong base of long-time, loyal donors are far more important to your organization than event attendees, auction bidders, or one-time donors. All too often, that's transactional fundraising. To grow, you need to focus on relationship fundraising.

2017 contributions: $410.02 billion by source
(in billions of dollars - all figures are rounded)

2 Giving By Source


The following chart reflects giving by source (individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations) over the past 40 years.

Notably, the "decline" we see in the growth of individual giving has been offset by the growth in giving by foundations.

Why this matters: We're in the midst of an intergenerational transfer of wealth. In the U.S., an estimated $30-$60 trillion in financial assets is expected to pass from one generation to the next, over the next 30 years. A new generation will control much of this wealth, individually and/or through their family foundations.

Giving by source: Percentage of the total in five-year spans, 1978-2017
(in inflation-adjusted dollars, 2017 = $100)

3 Giving By Source Over Time


"Religion" includes contributions to churches and houses of worship and other religious programs. For the past 40+ years, Religion (as a subsector) has received the largest amount of charitable gifts.

However, the percentage of dollars that are going to Religion is declining.

More importantly, the number of Americans who affiliate with organized religion is declining.

Why this matters: People who self-identify as "religious" are more generous - to both religious and secular causes - than their non-religious counterparts. If fewer people are "religious," this could affect overall giving. As one example, we're already seeing a decline in the number of households who give to charity each year.

Giving by type of recipient:
Percentage of the total in five-year spans, 1978-2017*
(adjusted for inflation, 2017 = $100; does not include "unallocated")

4 Religion trends


Charitable giving tends to follow the stock market. In fact, there are statistically significant correlations between total giving and the S&P 500 Index.

Now understand, people don't stop giving altogether during a recession. However, during a strong market, they tend to give more.

Also, when the markets are booming, foundation assets grow. Individual portfolio values increase. Large donors tend to give more in good times - to their foundations as well as directly to causes they love.

Small and mid-level donors also give more when the economy is strong. When Americans have more confidence in the economy, many feel like they have a little more money to share - and they do.

Why this matters: The stock market is an indicator of financial and economic security. When the markets are bullish and the economy is strong, donors of all giving levels are more generous.

5 Stock Market


In 2017, Bill & Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan, and Michael & Susan Dell contributed a combined $7.5 billion to their own foundations.

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are also growing in popularity - and in assets.

The dramatic increase in donations to foundations and DAFs could be in response to the expected changes in the IRS standardized deduction.

Regardless, some people have complained that billions of dollars were "parked" in foundations and DAFs rather than being donated outright to charitable causes.

Here's the truth: donors give on their schedule - when, how, and to whom they wish. (And the good news? Individual donors gave more than $6 billion to charities last year, using their "donor-advised" funds.)

Why this matters: When individuals give to their foundations or DAFs, it's not a loss for the sector. The funds will ultimately trickle down. Plus, In years when the stock market is down, foundations and DAFs will have ample funds to continue to support nonprofits.

Giving to foundations, 1978-2017
(in billions of dollars)

6 To Foundations

Total dollars contributed to donor-advised funds, 2008-2014
(current dollars)

7 To DAFs


When you understand what's happening in the sector, it can influence what you do within your organization.

  • Continue to focus your fundraising efforts on individuals. Specifically, think about long-term relationships, not one-time transactions.
  • Focus on donor retention. Remember, the best prospect for a gift is a current donor.
  • Implement strong stewardship practices and show lots of #donorlove, especially to first-time donors, long-time and loyal donors, and very large donors.

Donors support causes that are important to them. Think of your organization as a bridge that connects a donor to the things that are important to her.

Remember, donors don't give to you, they give through you. They don't give because you have needs, they give because your organization fills needs.

Always keep in mind why individual donors give, then give them a reason to give to you.

Want more data and insights from the Giving USA report? Watch this free 1-hour webinar from Nonprofit Quarterly.

Photo credit(s): Giving USA

Need help creating a stewardship plan, to keep your donors? Or a fundraising plan, to attract new ones? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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4 Do's and Don'ts for Donor Acknowledgmenthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-06-14-4-dos-donts-for-donor-acknowledgmentThu, 14 Jun 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-1142870684 Do's and Don'ts for Donor Acknowledgment

Your nonprofit relies on donations from individual donors. And, chances are, you're a donor to other nonprofits as well.

Do you pay attention to how different organizations thank you when you make a donation? I sure do. Recently, I made modest, but equal, gifts to a dozen nonprofits. What happened next inspired this post.


My adopted hometown of Bozeman, Montana hosts a community-wide Giving Day each spring. It's a 24-hour blitz to raise money for local nonprofits. This year, they set a $1 million goal. (And they crushed it, by the way.)

Although it was one campaign, the nearly 200 participating nonprofits had their own ways of saying thank you - some better than others.

TIP: Remember, in fundraising, your best prospect for a gift is a current donor. So, think of the way you say "thank you" as the first step towards getting that next gift.


Donor Centered Fundraising 150x150 Penelope Burk literally wrote the book on "Donor Centered Fundraising." Her oft-quoted research found that donors really only want three things:

  • prompt, personalized acknowledgment of their gifts
  • confirmation that their gifts have been set to work as intended
  • measurable results on their gifts at work prior to being asked for another contribution

Keep in mind what donors want - and remember these Do's and Don'ts - as you're writing your next donor acknowledgment.


The Give Big campaign used an online giving platform. As such, I received an automatic email immediately after I made my gifts.

In fact, I received 12 automated emails that day - one from each charity that I supported. Each charity had customized their auto-acknowledgment message. It wasn't a generic campaign message from the event organizer. Awesome!

TIP: Match the acknowledgment to the way the gift was made. Online gift? An email thank you is fine. If the donor mails you a check, then you should mail them a thank you. And it's a best practice to get that written letter out the door within 48 hours of receiving the gift.


Unfortunately, half of the nonprofits that day only sent me an auto-responder thank you. It's been more than a month now, and I've heard from just six of them, since the Give Big Day.

Four nonprofits sent me a second email within the next day or so. A fifth sent me a card in the mail with a handwritten note of thanks. And the sixth sent both a personal email and a handwritten note. Love that!

TIP: There's a saying in fundraising: "Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat." After you send the initial thank you, don't forget to report back to the donor before asking for another gift. Remember, donors want to know how their money is being used and the difference it made.


Your donors want to know that YOU know who they are.

Here's how one nonprofit acknowledged my donation:

donor thankyou

For me, this email acknowledgment fell short because of the impersonal greeting. (On the plus side, they did acknowledge what my donation will do and that they "couldn't do this without you.")

TIP: If you're using an automated email system, there's probably a way to use mail-merge to add the donor's name to the auto-reply. If not, just leave the donor's name out rather than use an impersonal salutation.


Thank You Laura Most of the follow-up emails from Give Big Day included summaries of the money raised during the 24- hour period. Many shared their own organizational goal and how my gift helped them reach it.

One email included a picture of people from the program, with a message that had been customized just for me. That was a nice touch.

My favorite thank you from the Give Big campaign was a very personal email that could only have been written for me. The Executive Director acknowledged my travel schedule and my upcoming training programs, then offered sincere thanks for my Give Big contribution.

I thought, "This person clearly knows me!" And that kind of acknowledgment made me feel special, appreciated, and valued as an individual as well as a donor to the cause.

TIP: Remember Maya Angelou's saying, "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."


Check out these posts from the Let's Talk Nonprofit blog:

Anatomy of a Stellar Thank You Letter
Do You Have an Attitude of Gratitude? Ways to Make Your Donors Feel Special
What a 10-Year-Old Can Teach You About Thanking Your Donors

This post originally appeared on the Communicate! blog.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/ThankYouLaura-3.jpg4 Do's and Don'ts for Donor Acknowledgmenthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-06-14-4-dos-donts-for-donor-acknowledgment
There's More Than One Way to Measure Successhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-06-06-theres-more-than-one-way-measure-successWed, 06 Jun 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-613447802There's More Than One Way to Measure Success

Do you remember this old advertising slogan?

"How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S."

Now, how does your nonprofit spell success?

This time of year, do you spell it "B-U-D-G-E-T?"

If June 30 is the end of your fiscal year, you might be focused on year-end fundraising and meeting your financial goals. And you're likely in the midst of planning for next year.

Here's a question: Does your leadership look at your budget (and the money you raise), and use the bottom line to determine whether or not it was a successful year?

If so, I want you to remember that one number doesn't tell your whole story.

In fact, there are many ways to measure fundraising success.

So it makes sense to set goals beyond your budget. Keep this in mind as you're planning for the "new year."


Last month, communities across the country held a one-day fundraising campaign for local charities.

Take Bozeman, Montana, which held its fourth annual "Give Big" Day this year. In their first year, they raised nearly $240,000 in 24 hours. This year, they set a $1 million goal.

Beyond that, the organizers set other goals, including the total number of donors and the number of charities that would receive donor-designated gifts. By doing this, their focus wasn't just on the bottom line.

Also, by having multiple goals and targets, the organizers positioned the campaign to succeed in some ways, even if it didn't succeed in all of them. (They crushed all of their goals, by the way - and they were ambitious goals.)

Thanks to the Bozeman Area Community Foundation for sharing the following Give Big goal charts and results:

june 2018 dollar donor goals


Bridget Wilkinson is the Executive Director of the Bozeman Area Community Foundation, which organizes the Give Big Gallatin Valley campaign. She admits that, while the bottom line is important, it's not the most important piece of this campaign.

"The financial goal is a big deal for us, we want to be able to help support local nonprofits," Bridget said. "A bigger goal is the number of donors who participate — that number is powerful, whether people gave $10,000 or $2."

The 2018 goal for the number of donors was 4,000. The actual number of donors was 4,742. Program Manager Darby Lacey shared that 764 of those were first-time donors.

Darby added, "We were pleasantly surprised by this statistic. Next year, I think we will set a 'brand new donor goal.'"

For fundraising campaigns, it's important to set multiple goals.

One reason is so you can measure different aspects of your performance - and not rely on the bottom line, which doesn't tell the whole story.

Plus, with information like the Give Big charts above, the organizers can compare this year's performance against the previous years and see year-over-year growth.

Information like this will also help the organizers set targets and stretch goals for next year.


The dictionary defines "success" as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose."

That means, in order to succeed, you need to have an aim or purpose. In fundraising, you need goals. You need targets. (And you need a plan to get there.)

If your fiscal year starts on July 1, you're probably in the process of finalizing next year's budget and setting your fundraising goals.

And while meeting your budget goal is certainly important, remember that there are many ways to measure your nonprofit's financial success and year-over-year growth in giving.

Stay tuned for next time, when I'll offer some specific suggestions about what you can measure (and how to do it).

That way, you can use different data points from your past results to inform your fundraising efforts in the "new year."

Photo credit(s): Pixabay and ArielRobin

Need help creating a fundraising plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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What To Do After You've Written a Granthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-05-02-what-do-after-youve-written-grantWed, 02 May 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-410158391What To Do After You've Written a Grant

There's more to grant writing than just "writing." A lot more.

At its core, grant writing has three steps that I call the 3Rs: research, writing, and review.

In a previous post, I shared the importance of doing your research before you write a grant. Another post offered some tips on how to start your research.

This post will offer tips on reviewing what you write, before you submit your proposal to a foundation.


You've heard this phrase? "You only get one chance to make a good first impression."

In the grant writing world, you only get one grant to make a good first impression.

So, the purpose of a proposal review is two-fold:

  1. To find and fix avoidable mistakes, and
  2. To make your proposal the very best that it can be.


Remember that proofreading is more than spell check. Your word processor's spell check program doesn't always catch things like:

  • typographical errors,
  • grammatical mistakes, and
  • punctuation problems.

There are online writing tools that will help, like Grammarly, the Hemingway app, and others.

Even so, these tools won't correct mathematical formulas in your budget or make sure that the numbers in your Excel spreadsheet match the numbers you've written in your narrative.

That's why proofreading is the first step in your proposal review. You want to find and fix any errors or inconsistencies in your proposal.


As part of your review process, you should read your proposal for things like:

  • general readability
  • overall clarity, consistency, tone, and flow
  • jargon and concepts that may not be familiar outside your organization


One thing you can do is read your proposal out loud, then answer questions like these:

  • Can you read each sentence without taking a breath?
    When the answer is no, the sentence is probably too long or the words are too complex.
  • Are the words simple and easy to understand?
    "We've created a pedagogically-sound curriculum that helps at-risk youth with their self-efficacy." Enough said.
  • Do the words clearly express your message or did you use them to impress your reviewer?
    Use plain English and common words when writing a proposal for a foundation.

Remember, foundation staff and trustees are regular people. They typically aren't specialists in your field of work. That means a proposal from an advocacy group doesn't need to read like a legal brief. If you're a health center, your proposal shouldn't sound like an article from a medical journal.

Respect the mental energy of the person who will be reading your proposal. If your proposal is easy for you to read aloud, it will be easy for the reviewer to read as well.


Your goal should be to write a proposal that is easy to read - and easy to understand.

Not only does clear, simple language make it easier for the grant reviewer to understand what you're saying, it makes it harder for the reviewer to misunderstand.

Here are a few grant "writing" rules of thumb:

  1. Use short, simple sentences. Readability experts recommend
    2 to 30 words per sentence (15 to 20 is optimal)
    2 to 3 sentences per paragraph
  2. Purge big words. If a word has three or more syllables, consider a shorter alternative. For instance, you might want to replace "utilize" with "use."
  3. Avoid jargon. Jargon may include technical language, acronyms, insider language used by your organization, or vague words like "senior." (Is that an 18-year-old high school student or a 65-year-old retiree?)
  4. Avoid clichés and empty words and phrases. Make a difference, have an impact.
  5. Turn on your word processor's readability statistics. That way, whenever you do run your spell check, you'll also get a readability summary. This includes the number of words per sentence and the number of sentences per paragraph.

Want more easy and effective writing tips? Click here and we'll be happy to send you a PDF of "20 Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Grant Writing."

The bottom line: Reviewing (and editing) your work is an important part of the writing process.

When I'm reviewing and editing the grant proposals that my clients write, yes, I'm proofreading. But I'm doing so much more. I'm looking for solid writing and a strong case for support. I'm making sure the proposal is clear, consistent, and correct. I'm reading the proposal as if I were the target audience - the foundation staff or trustees.

I encourage you to take the same approach.

After you write your next grant proposal, go beyond spell check and basic proofreading. Do a critical review of your writing, and take steps to make your proposal is the very best that it can be.

This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang blog.

Photo credit(s): Bloomerang

Need someone to review your next grant proposal or fundraising appeal? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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PowerPoint For Good 4 Tips For Trainershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-04-18-powerpoint-for-good-4-tips-for-trainersWed, 18 Apr 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-509799852PowerPoint For Good 4 Tips For Trainers

Ask nonprofit staff or board members why they attend conferences, and you'll get a variety of responses.

To be with like-minded people.

To network with others in the field.

And, invariably, to learn.

PowerPoint presentations are a staple at most conferences. And as the title of this post suggests, it seems to be here for good - or at least for the foreseeable future.

If you're a trainer, you might as well master it so you can use it to your advantage.

These four tips will help you ensure that everything works (literally and figuratively) for both you and your audience.


Some presenters manage their slides using the keyboard; others use a phone app. I use a wireless clicker, and there are many models on the market.

The reason I like a wireless clicker is so I can discreetly advance my slides, without fumbling with the keyboard or looking at my phone. The reasons I like my miniature Targus clicker are because it's small and it has a built-in laser pointer.

Regardless of which handheld device you use, the purpose is to get out from behind the podium. This helps you move around and engage with your audience.


You may want to share a video or a website as part of your presentation. When you share external media, the experience should be seamless - and that means minimizing technology risks.

If you're at a hotel or conference site, consider connectivity issues. Do you have the wi-fi password? Are you connected? If you're using the conference computer, rather than your own, do you have the login information and passwords needed to access the relevant sites?

No Internet? No problem. You can circumvent tech glitches by embedding videos directly into your presentation. You can also add screenshots from websites to your slides, instead of giving live demonstrations.


"A picture is worth a thousand words" because your brain processes pictures much faster than words.

PowerPoint slides should complement your presentation, not BE your presentation. Sadly, lots of people will create bulleted lists, then use them as verbatim talking points. This is deadly.

Yes, you need to include some text. However, too many words (and poorly selected font styles and sizes) can make the slides hard to read.

As you design your slides, consider the people in the back row - which is where many folks prefer to sit. If they can't read it, they can't get it.

I like to use a lot of quotes. So I'll add a picture of the book jacket, the magazine cover, or an image of the person being quoted. Not only does this provide some visual interest, it also credits the source.


Since people learn by doing, your session should include appropriate exercises and activities. Use PowerPoint to summarize the activity, state the learning objectives, or give instructions.

For a quick closing activity, I wanted participants to share with their tablemates what they planned to do as a next step. The slide said simply, "I will by ."

This prompt served as a guide for table conversations.

Plus, when people talk with others about implementation, they're more likely to actually follow through on their tasks.


Looking at slides isn't the same as learning.

If you're planning to use PowerPoint, think about how you can use your slides to help participants learn.

Albert Einstein said, "Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information."

Adults learn by doing - and effective PowerPoint presentations can be created and delivered in a way that supports learning.

You can use PowerPoint to provide context. To build meaningful engagement. To create powerful learning opportunities.

When you use PowerPoint well, you can use it "for good" and create positive training experiences.

This post originally appeared on the Train Your Board blog.

Photo credit(s): Train Your Board blog

Looking for a nonprofit trainer for your organization? Or a presenter for your next nonprofit conference? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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The Most Overlooked Part of Grant Writinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-04-17-most-overlooked-part-grant-writingTue, 17 Apr 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-809798787The Most Overlooked Part of Grant Writing

Here's a secret: there's more to grant writing than just "writing." A lot more.

Successful grant writing always starts with thorough research, and it ends with a thoughtful review.

This post focuses on research - the most overlooked part of grant writing.

If you're new to grant writing, you might not know how to start your research.

And even if you have some experience, you might not know exactly what you're looking for or what's useful information.

Don't worry. Here's what you need to know to get started with your grant research.

WHAT'S A 990-PF?


The Foundation Center reports that 90% of foundations don't have websites. So, if all you're using is Google to find foundations, you're only scratching the surface.

The Foundation Center has a subscription database called Foundation Directory Online. Pricing starts at $49.99/month.

  • There's a free version called FDO Quick Start that will give you basic information on more than 100,000 foundations.
  • You can also use the full database and access Foundation Center materials at more than 400 libraries, community centers, and nonprofit resource centers. Use this location finder, enter your zip code, and you'll find the Funding Information Network nearest you.

Another popular subscription database is GrantStation.

  • As of this writing, 3-month subscriptions start as $219. GrantStation will run promotional pricing on annual subscriptions from time to time.
  • Some organizations will offer GrantStation as a membership benefit. For instance, when you subscribe to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, an annual subscription to GrantStation is included at no extra charge.

And, of course, the reference librarian at your local library can help you find foundations and guide you on your grant writing journey.


Once you've identified a foundation that looks like it could be a good fit for your organization and its needs, you're ready to begin your true research.

Before you start writing, here are some things you need to know about each foundation:

  • Does the foundation accept applications?
  • How do I apply?
  • When do I apply?
  • How much should I request?

The first question is key. If the foundation doesn't accept unsolicited applications - or you haven't been invited to apply - then the rest of the questions are moot.

That last question is important, too. The biggest mistake I see grant writers make is asking for too much money from a single foundation. Far too many organizations ask for what they need, instead of what a foundation is likely to award.

There are two reasons why you want to ask a foundation for an amount that might be less than the total amount you need:

  1. Most foundations don't want to be your sole funding source, and very few foundations will fund an organization - or even a program - in its entirety.
  2. The reality is that most grant awards are less than most people think.

It stands to reason that larger foundations will award larger grants, and smaller foundations will make smaller awards. But how large and how small?

The 2017 Report on Grantmaking found that the average grant size was:

  • $6,000 for a small foundation (with less than $1 million in assets),
  • $8,900 for a medium foundation (assets between $1 million and $10 million), and
  • $21,700 for a large foundation (assets over $10 million).

One of the quickest ways to have your proposal excluded from consideration is to ask for significantly more than the foundation typically awards.


Yes! Even though only 10% of foundations have a website, you can still find information on 100% of them.

All you need is the foundation's 990-PF tax form.

You can access 990s from websites like Guidestar and the National Center for Charitable Statistics among others.

It may seem daunting at first, but it's surprisingly easy to read a foundation's tax form.

A 990-PF will tell you things like:

  • Whether or not the foundation accepts unsolicited proposals
  • The size of the foundation (assets)
  • How much the foundation awards each year (dollars)
  • How many awards they give in a year (number)
  • Who received those awards as well as the dollar amount of each award

This information will give you additional insight on the number and size of awards, as well as the type of organizations that a particular foundation has funded in the past.

The bottom line: It's possible to do in-depth research on a foundation before you apply for a grant - and it's essential that you do.

This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang blog.

Photo credit(s): Bloomerang

Need help finding foundations that will support your work? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/mentoring-on-bench-1.jpgThe Most Overlooked Part of Grant Writinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-04-17-most-overlooked-part-grant-writing
Foundation Tax Forms as a Free Research Toolhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-04-04-foundation-tax-forms-as-free-research-toolWed, 04 Apr 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-907738860Foundation Tax Forms as a Free Research Tool

In fundraising, there's a saying:

"You need to ask the right person, for the right amount, for the right project, in the right way, and at the right time."

The same holds true in grant writing.

Step one is finding foundations that may fund your work. Step two is determining the proper amount to request from those foundations.

One of the biggest mistakes I see nonprofits make is asking a foundation for too much money. Nonprofits often ask for what they need, instead of what the foundation is likely to fund. There's a difference.

So, how much should you ask for in your next grant proposal? The answer will vary, from foundation to foundation, so you'll need to decide on a case by case basis.

The good news is you can determine the "right" amount to request from each foundation by doing a little bit of research.

WHAT'S A 990-PF?

Just like your nonprofit, a foundation files an annual tax return. Theirs is called a 990-PF. The PF stands for "Private Foundation."

These 990-PF tax forms (just like your nonprofit's 990) are publicly available documents. Sites like the Foundation Center, Guidestar, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics allow you to view 990s and 990-PFs.


A blank 990-PF is 13 pages long. The completed form can be dozens - even hundreds - of pages longer.

It can be a little daunting the first time you look at a 990-PF. To help you navigate all those pages, we have a handy cheat sheet to help you "read" the tax form.

This PDF will show you exactly what grant seekers should look for when using a 990-PF as a research tool. If you'd like to receive a copy of "How to Read a 990-PF," just let us know.


There's a lot of useful information in a 990-PF, starting with the organization's name, address and telephone number.

Why is something so simple so important? It's a great idea to try and talk to someone at the foundation before applying for a grant. Many foundations welcome (and even encourage) a pre-application call.

That said, many smaller foundations have limited or no staff, so it may be difficult to reach someone.

Part I, Line 24. Total Operating & Administrative Expenses will give you an indication of the foundation's size.

Small number? That could mean a small staff or maybe no staff at all. Many foundation trustees are the founders, family members or friends who receive no compensation.

Part I, Line 25. Contributions, Gifts & Grants Paid will tell you exactly what the foundation paid out in grants during the previous year.

This number is another indication of whether the foundation is large or small.

Contributions, Gifts, and Grants Paid is also your first clue in deciding what's an appropriate amount to request.

I've seen well-meaning (and unwitting) nonprofits ask for more money than a foundation funds in total, all year long. This probably goes without saying: they weren't funded.

Part III, Line 6. Total Net Assets is an important number. Even at face value, it's good to know because it's another indication of the foundation's size.

What's more important to know is that foundations are required to distribute 5% of their net assets, on a rolling basis. So, a simple calculation (5% * Total Net Assets) will tell you what the foundation is required to distribute each year.

Once you know Total Net Assets (and have done the 5% calculation) and you know Contributions, Gifts & Grants Paid, you have a range of what the foundation is required to give and what they actually did give the previous year.

Part XV. Line 3. Grants and Contributions Paid During the Year or Approved for Future Payment is the most helpful information in determining how much to request.

This information is often included as an attachment in the 990-PF since many foundations award dozens, even hundreds and sometimes thousands, of grants during the year.

In this section (or the attachment), you'll find a list of recipients by name and award amount.

You can use this information to see what's a typical award amount. Is it $1,000 or less? $5,000? $10,000 or more? To have the best chance at success, you want to ask for an amount that's in line with previous awards.

You may find outliers - one or two or even a few grants that are much higher than what's typical. If you're making a first-time request to a foundation, you'll improve your chances by asking for a lower or mid-range figure rather than the high end.


Part XV. Line 2. Information Regarding Contributions, Grants, Gifts, etc. gives you two critical pieces of information.

First, there's a checkbox. If the box is checked, then the foundation "only makes contributions to pre-selected charitable organizations and does not accept unsolicited requests for funds." So, if it's checked (and you haven't been invited to apply), then you should look at other foundations.

Second, if the box is unchecked, then the foundation does accept unsolicited letters of interest and/or grant proposals. When the box is unchecked, you'll find information here on how to apply, including submission deadlines and any limitations or restrictions on giving.


Remember, there's more to grant writing than "writing." A lot more.

Research is an important - yet often overlooked - part of the grant seeking process.

When you're ready to research, if you're looking for a 990-PF, know that I have a free tool on my website that's powered by the Foundation Center.

Use the 990 Search widget, and enter the grant maker's name or their EIN (if you know it).

You'll get links for up to three years of 990-PF forms. Download the forms, and you'll be ready to start your research and see just how much they're giving away and to whom.

Happy researching!

Need help finding foundations to support your work? Or figuring out exactly what you should ask them for? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Foundation-Tax-Forms-Free-Research-Tool.jpgFoundation Tax Forms as a Free Research Toolhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-04-04-foundation-tax-forms-as-free-research-tool
The State of Grant Seeking Todayhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-03-07-state-grant-seeking-todayWed, 07 Mar 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-405318986The State of Grant Seeking Today

If you're new to grant writing, or even if you've been at it for a while, you might have questions like these:

"How long does it usually take to get a grant?"

"What's a typical award amount?"

"If I apply for 2 or 3 grants, will I get at least one?"

Each year - twice a year, actually - you can get answers to these questions and many more.

Published by GrantStation, The State of Grant Seeking Report sheds light on trends in the "grants world."

In their words, the goal of this semi-annual report is to "understand the recent trends in grant seeking and identify benchmarks to help you measure your own success in the field."

Remember this: just like diets and exercise programs, your actual results will vary.

Even so, the data does help paint a picture of "the state of grant seeking."


You're in good company if your nonprofit applies for grants.

In recent years, in any given six-month period, more than four out of five nonprofits apply for some type of grant.

86% of respondents applied for grants during the first 6 months of 2017

The number of submissions varies widely.

5% of respondents applied for a single grant

9% applied for 2 grants

Nearly half (45%) applied for 3 to 10 grants

A full third (33%) applied for 11 or more grants


This shouldn't surprise you: the more grants that an organization submits, the more likely they are to receive an award.

70% of those who submitted 1-2 grant applications received at least one award

88% of those who submitted 3-5 grant applications received at least one award

97% of those who submitted 6-10 grant applications received at least one award


19% of respondents did not win any awards, regardless of the number submitted


Many grant seekers continue to target private foundations for grant funding. Roughly a third of nonprofits also apply to federal, state, and local governments.

Application Rate By Funding Source


Historically, foundations prefer to fund programs. However, nonprofits seek (and often win) other types of support.

43% of foundation grants funded programs

22% of foundation grants funded general operating needs.

Largest Award Support Type


Individual grant awards will vary dramatically - from a few hundred dollars, to a few thousand, to six- and seven figures, or more.

Just over half of the respondents (51%) reported total grant awards to be under $100,000.

The smallest grant from a private foundation was $400.

The median grant from all private foundations was $40,000.

Remember, nonprofits also receive grants from foundations, government funders, and other sources, like United Way.

34% of respondents said that foundations were their largest grant funding source

33% said that their largest individual grant was from a private foundation


Sometimes, writing the grant is the easy part. Waiting for a response is the hard part.

After you submit your grant, it can take weeks - even months - to learn if you'll be funded.

65% of respondents said the grant cycle was between 1 and 6 months.

31% said the grant cycle was 7 months or more.

Grant Cycle

And, even after you get the happy news, it can be even longer before you receive the funds.

72% of respondents said the funding cycle was within 3 months of notification.

28% reported that it took 4 months or more to receive funding after the approval.

Award Cycle


There's a lot of uncertainty these days, around government funding and the fate of certain programs. Maybe even yours.

One thing that's for sure, there are tens of thousands of well-funded foundations. Today's economy and the current bull market have boosted the assets of these foundations.

As a result, foundations will continue to be a source of funding for many, many nonprofits. Again, maybe even yours.

That doesn't mean that it will be easy. Nonprofits cite many barriers to their grant writing success.

Grantseeking Greatest Challenges

If you want to be successful winning grants, you need to ask the right foundations, for the right amount of funding, for the right program or project, at the right time, and in the right way.

Third Sector Consulting is your partner in philanthropy. We'll guide you on your grant writing journey - to find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money for your nonprofit. Let us know how we can help you.

* * * * * *

NOTE: All information in this post is from the Fall 2017 State of Grant Seeking Report. More than 4,000 people participated in the survey.

If you'd like to be part of the next report, take the Spring 2018 State of Grant Seeking Survey, which is open through March 31, 2018.

Image credits: GrantStation, Fall 2017 State of Grant Seeking Report

Want to learn how to write great grants? And how to find foundations that are interested in funding your work? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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What Nonprofits Can Learn from Cross-Country Skiershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-02-07-what-nonprofits-can-learn-from-cross-country-skiersWed, 07 Feb 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-703164525What Nonprofits Can Learn from Cross-Country Skiers

Every four years, the Olympics showcase the best of the best athletes on the world's biggest stage.

This year, we'll see new stars, even new sports. (Mixed doubles curling, anyone?)

What would you say if I said that you can learn a lot about fundraising from a timeless and classic winter sport?

That's right. Fundraising lessons are all around us.

And this lesson comes from a rather unexpected place - cross-country skiing.


When I moved to Montana, I fell in love at first sight - with skate skiing.

I was hypnotized by the skiers' long, elegant, diagonal side-to-side movements, like a figure skater.

As I was learning to skate ski, I also learned that "skating" was a relatively new sport - one that had forever changed cross-country skiing just a few short decades before.

A little background. Cross-country skiing originated in Scandinavia. And for years, people skied in much the same way - kicking and gliding in straight "tracks." That is, until American Bill Koch came along and changed everything.

Bill Koch was already famous for being the first American to medal at the Olympics in the classically Nordic event. He won silver in the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

As of this writing, he's still the only American to medal in an Olympic cross country event.

(UPDATE 2/21/2018: Congratulations to Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall, who won Gold in the cross-country team sprint in PyeongChang. #GoUSA)

A few years after his Olympic victory, Koch was one of the first to step out of the classic tracks and apply a one-legged skate skiing technique in competition. He went on to win the 1982 World Cup.

By the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, more and more skiers were using the technique.

Think about it. Until the 1980s, people had been cross-country skiing in much the same way, literally for hundreds of years.

Koch kicked the age-old "kick and glide" paradigm to the curb when he introduced the "skate" skiing technique on the world stage. He revolutionized the sport and completely changed the way that cross-country skiers compete today.

What about you and your organization?

When it comes to fundraising, is your nonprofit still doing the same things, in the same way, that you've done for years?

I'd bet that a lot of you would answer with a qualified yes. "Because we've always done it that way."


There's typically more than one way to do most things.

Bill Koch found "what worked" for him. He dared to be different. And, in the process, he found a more effective, more efficient way to ski.

After seeing Koch's success, skiers who had been doing the same thing, the same way, for years and years, changed the way they did things, too.

What about you and your nonprofit?

Are you running the same fundraising event, year after year?

Are you asking the same foundations, for the same grants?

Are you stuck in a "we've always done it that way" mentality?

Maybe it's time to do things differently.


I have a terrific fundraising effectiveness exercise that will help you think about the way you raise money.

What's working? What's not? And what could you do differently?

This exercise asks you to think about what you're currently doing to raise money. How much you raise, and how much time and money do you spend to raise those dollars?

It also encourages you to look at what else you could do to raise money.

Are there other activities that would take less time and less money and also allow you to raise more money, more effectively and more efficiently?

I encourage you to click here to get the exercise, then use it to think about what's working for you with respect to your fundraising.

Think about where there's room for improvement. Then decide if you're willing to try something new.

Remember, there's no one single way to raise money - and there's no one best way (although there are some ways that are better than others).

You want to set goals, measure your success, and find what works for you.

And, if you're not getting the results you want, remember the words of Albert Einstein:

"If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got."

Photo thanks to Pixabay and Skeeze

Need help evaluating the effectiveness of your fundraising activities? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/skier-659928_1280-300.jpgWhat Nonprofits Can Learn from Cross-Country Skiershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-02-07-what-nonprofits-can-learn-from-cross-country-skiers
What Fundraising Metrics Are Worth Measuringhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2018-01-03-what-fundraising-metrics-are-worth-measuringWed, 03 Jan 2018 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-700144033What Fundraising Metrics Are Worth Measuring

"What gets measured gets done."

Perhaps you've heard this saying.

With the start of the new year, it's a great time to ask, "What does our nonprofit want to get done this year?"

Then, the corollary is, "What fundraising metrics do we need to measure?"


For many nonprofits, the primary way - and sometimes, the only way - they measure their success is in total dollars raised.

They ask, "How much money did we bring in this year, and did we meet our budget?"

Yet there are so many other success metrics. In addition to straight-up dollars raised, you might consider measuring simple things like:

  • average gift amount
  • mode (or the most frequently given amount)
  • donors in the 90th percentile (or the top 10% of your gifts)
  • number of new donors (first-time donors to your organization)
  • number of renewed donors (those who gave to you in two consecutive years)
  • number of upgraded donors (those who increased this year's gift over last year)
  • number of converted donors (annual donors who became monthly donors)
  • % of board members who made a personal contribution
  • number of grants written (and awards won)
  • number of major gift visits (and commitments secured)

This list isn't exhaustive, but it should get you thinking beyond dollars raised.

I can think of reasons why each of these numbers would be important to a nonprofit.

That said, just because you can measure something doesn't mean you should.

Don't measure, just for measurement's sake. Always have a goal in mind.


Before you start tracking and reporting on any new fundraising metric, consider why you want to track that particular number.

For instance, maybe you want to increase your donor retention rate.

So, if increasing donor retention is your goal, you'd want to do a few things like:

  • Know what your current donor retention rate is. (see how to calculate donor retention)
  • Set your new donor retention goal.
  • Make a plan, then take steps towards improving donor retention.

Knowing your baseline and setting your goal are important steps. But it's the third step where things really start to happen.

You need to have strategies and an action plan for creating the change you want to see. And, you need to follow through on those actions.

For donor retention, for instance, your strategies would most likely be tied to better stewardship of your current donors. You might focus on donor-centered communications. You might also try more frequent contact and a different kind of outreach.

In this example, once you've identified your stewardship strategies, you can create specific action steps. What will you do to make your communications more donor-centered? How often will you reach out to donors? Who exactly will you reach out to, and what will that look like when you do?

Each plan will be different, depending on the goal - and also on the nonprofit.


Again, just because you can measure something doesn't mean you should. You want to have a goal - something that will help move your organization forward.

In my opinion, and at a minimum, every nonprofit should pay attention to these two areas:

Board giving

All nonprofit organizations should strive for 100% board giving.

This is a litmus test about your board members' level of commitment. Every board member should give their time, talent, and treasure.

Board members' individual capacity to give will vary, and that's okay. What's important is that board members demonstrate their leadership of the organization by making their own personal gift each year.

I'm often asked, "How much should board members give?" My answer? A personally meaningful amount. For some, that may be $25 or $250. For others, it could be $2,500 or even $25,000 or more.

So, I hope you'll ask your board members to give this year.

And, more importantly, I hope that 100% of your board members will give in 2018.

Donor retention rate

Donor retention is key to sustainability. This is because it's cheaper and easier to keep an existing donor than to acquire a new one.

Yet most nonprofits have abysmal retention rates. Across the sector, donor retention rates are less than 50%. For first-time donors, it's closer to 20%.

(That means, statistically, only 2 out of every 10 donors who gave to you for the first time in 2017 won't give to your organization again in 2018.)

If you don't know your donor retention rate, you need to calculate it now.

After that, two terrific retention goals for this year would be:

  1. set a donor retention goal of 50% (or higher, if you're already at the 50% mark)
  2. set a goal to turn at least 40% of your first-time donors into second-time donors


There are many reasons why so many New Year Resolutions fail.

One reason is because the goal is too vague. Another reason is because there's no action plan. A third reason is because there's no follow-through.

For instance, take the person who wants to "lose weight" this year. A better goal would be to lose 10 pounds by summer vacation in July. The action plan might include walking 30 minutes a day, 4 times a week, plus cutting back on snacks, desserts, and venti fraps. The follow-through includes actually getting out there and walking, then making good choices about eating.

The same holds true for your nonprofit's goals.

You want to create SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.)

And you want to create a plan for achieving your goals.

And your plan needs specific strategies and action steps.

Of course, setting the goals and creating your action plan isn't enough. You need to take action and follow through on your plans.

When you do, you're more likely to reach your goals. You, as well as your nonprofit.

So, what about you?

What's your goal for the new year?

What are you going to measure?

And what are you going to get done in 2018?

Need help creating a donor stewardship or retention plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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The Year In Review Best of LetsTalkNonprofit in 2017https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-12-27-year-review-best-letstalknonprofit-2017Wed, 27 Dec 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-830985811The Year In Review Best of LetsTalkNonprofit in 2017

As the year comes to an end, you'll see "best of" lists and recaps everywhere. We're no exception.

So, in case you missed a post from the LetsTalkNonprofit.blog, or just want to re-read a favorite, here are the top 5 articles from this past year.

You can view the full archive here.

1. What Your Donors Really, Really Want

Donor retention is key to a nonprofit's annual campaign and overall fundraising success. Yet many donors focus on getting new donors, rather than keeping the ones they have. So, how do you keep donors? By giving them what they want. And what do donors want? It's surprisingly simple. Do these few simple things, and you'll drive donor commitment, loyalty and retention - and raise more money.

2. Storytelling Differences: Grants vs. Donor Appeals

All stories are not the same. In fact, your stories should be different - very different - depending on your audience. Data may tell, but it's your stories that sell. Your grant proposals will include lots of data, but your direct appeals to individual donors won't. So what kinds of stories should you tell, especially in your year-end donor appeals?

3. Bylaws Are More than A Buzzword. A Checklist of Best Practices.

Being part of a nonprofit organization can feel a little crazy sometimes, don't you think? There's good news. Your bylaws can help stop the madness. Bylaws are an essential governance document and they should be revisited from time to time. Learn how to use your bylaws to guide and strengthen your organization. You'll also find an 11-point checklist for what your bylaws should include.

4. The Best Boards Practice Good Governance. Does Yours?

When I grow up, I want to be a BOARD MEMBER!" Said no child. Ever. So, it's not surprising that a lot of people join boards without really understanding what a board really does (or is supposed to do). The best boards practice good governance. But what does that really mean? And what does "good governance" look like? Essential governance practices are explained here, plus a 7-point checklist for you to use.

5. Demystifying the Data from 2 Key Fundraising Reports: What It Means To You

Fundraising is both a science and an art. And each year, Giving USA and the Fundraising Effectiveness Project give us lots of data and insights to the sector. Once you unlock the data, you can use the science to practice the art of fundraising. Here are some top takeaways from the reports and how you can use that information to raise more money.

In the new year, I want to help you and your nonprofit continue to grow and thrive.

So, whenever you have a question, drop me a line or give me a call.

And Let's Talk, Nonprofit.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/lets-talk-nonprofit-speech-bubbles-4.gifThe Year In Review Best of LetsTalkNonprofit in 2017https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-12-27-year-review-best-letstalknonprofit-2017
Is Your Writing Too Long, Too Short, or Just Righthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-12-06-is-your-writing-too-long-too-short-or-just-rightWed, 06 Dec 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-329259861Is Your Writing Too Long, Too Short, or Just Right

"For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

It's been said that Ernest Hemingway wrote this six-word story. While its origins may be disputed, you can't argue with the fact that those six simple words do tell a story.

What about you? Could you tell a story in six words? How about 140 characters?

If you're looking for "short" story inspiration, you can check out the #140novel hashtag on Twitter, or read some famous authors' Twitter novels online.

Speaking of Twitter, they recently increased the number of characters per tweet from 140 to 280.

Tell me this. Just because you can say more, should you?

The same question holds true for grants.

If you're writing an online application and the response allows 300 words, do you need to use all 300 words?

If it's a paper application, and you're allowed 5 pages, do you need to fill every page?

And what about your donor appeals?

What's the right length of the fundraising materials you write for your nonprofit?


I have experience here, as someone who used to read proposals for a living (I was a program officer) and also as someone who's written many winning grants.

It is not necessary - I repeat, not necessary - to use every character, every word, or every page that you're allowed.

Of course, you want to answer grant application questions clearly and concisely. And you want to present a compelling case.

That said, using more words does not improve your chances of getting more money.

My colleague, Julie Rodda, uses this example to illustrate this point.

[Gallery of Butterflies]

Imagine these butterflies are your words. You can see why you wouldn't want to keep adding words to your grant proposal, just to fill the available space.

Julie says, "Our tendency is to try and impart everything we think our reader might find helpful. Yet, when presented with volumes of text, our reader will simply skim and potentially miss what we wanted them to see."

Now, what about the opposite? What if you find yourself challenged by space limitations? Like an online grant application with a character limit or a word limit? What do you include?

Julie suggests, "The most important parts... with just enough context to give them value. Your readers really won't miss all the rest."

And when all else fails, remember Hemingway's 6-word story and the 140-character Twitter novel. If others can convey a meaningful message in so few words and characters, you can do it, too.


I bet you've already mailed your year-end appeal letter, and that's great. But don't stop there.

To maximize your giving results, it's a best practice to send both a letter and at least one email before December 31. Some nonprofits will follow up with two or more emails.

And here's another tip: If you want to raise more money each year, a simple way is to ask more than once.

Yep, that's right. You can - and you should - send more than one appeal letter per year.

Many donors will give, more than once a year - if you're doing a good job communicating and demonstrating impact...and if you ask.

Here are some tips when writing your next fundraising appeal:

If you're writing a letter, longer is better.

Studies have found that long letters outperform shorter ones.

In The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications, Jeff Brooks devotes an entire chapter to this subject.

One reason why longer works better? You want to tell a compelling story. One that draws your reader in - and inspires her to give.

A two-page letter (or longer) gives you the space to tell those kinds of stories.

A longer letter also gives you the opportunity to use a larger font. Older donors will appreciate this. (And here's another tip: most donors are older.)

With a longer letter, you'll also have room to use more images. Pick compelling ones. After all, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

If you're writing an email, shorter is better.

Consider the fact that more email is read on mobile devices than desktops.

You can tell the same stories as in your letters. You just need to make them shorter.

Repurpose, don't reinvent. You don't need to write new stories - you just need different ways of telling them.

And don't forget about social media...

Every social media site is different. Twitter is 280 characters now. Got images? Get on Instagram. And, of course, Facebook has its own fundraising platform.

Know where your donors are, then use those sites to reach them.

Using letters, emails, and social media is called a "multi-channel" approach. It's a best practice in fundraising campaigns. Not only does it help you reach a larger and broader audience, it can mean more money for your nonprofit.


Whether you're writing a grant application or a fundraising appeal, one of the best things you can do is keep it simple.

For instance, when I review and critique grants, I consider the 5 "C"s of editing. One of those C's is "concise."

When writing to individual donors, the length depends on your medium. You want to write long letters and short emails.

And don't limit yourself to just one "ask." The most effective fundraising will use a combination of messages and methods. And the most effective fundraisers will ask their donors for support all year long, not just at the end of the year.

Now, if you've already sent your year-end campaign letter, consider this complementary strategy: a 3-email series to your donors. This short video from Steven Screen tells you how.

Whether it's year-end fundraising, or next year's grants, pay attention to the stories you're telling - and how you're telling them.

Make every word count. And make those words work for you.

Need help telling your nonprofit's story through grants or appeals? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/LinkedIn-Dec2017-1.pngIs Your Writing Too Long, Too Short, or Just Righthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-12-06-is-your-writing-too-long-too-short-or-just-right
Storytelling Differences Grants vs Donor Appealshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-11-01-storytelling-differences-grants-vs-donor-appealsWed, 01 Nov 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-426330783Storytelling Differences Grants vs Donor Appeals

All stories are not the same.

In fact, if you're a nonprofit, your stories should be different - very different - depending on your audience.

When I lead grant writing workshops, we always talk about storytelling. We talk about the importance of using data to help tell the story in your grant proposals.

However, writing for individual donors is a whole lot different than writing for foundations and grant reviewers.

So, what are some of the differences?


One of the most important pieces of your grant proposal is where you define the problem or need.

In your need statement, you talk about the problem itself. How did the problem come to be? What's the impact on your community? Why is that important? What will happen if this problem isn't addressed?

In some grants, you might tell a descriptive story about a person, a place, even a principle, to illustrate the problem and its effects. Narrative can be an effective way to humanize the case you're making to a foundation.

However, almost all foundations look for the story that numbers tell. Data can illustrate the scope and scale of the problem. How big it is. How much worse it is your community, compared to other cities, states, or even the country.

In some cases, the numbers are so big, that it's hard to imagine them. As a grant writer, use context to help your reader put the numbers in perspective.

For instance, remember the rains that fell in Houston during Hurricane Harvey? That was about one trillion gallons of water - or enough water to flow over Niagara Falls for 15 days.

Consider the wildfires that are still raging in California. When the blazes reached 200,000 acres, that was about the size of New York City.

Another staggering number is how many adults lack basic literacy skills. When talking to local funders about this problem, one nonprofit I know explains that, in their own community, it's enough people to fill the local stadium - twice.

Comparisons can help paint a picture. And numbers can tell a powerful story.

And oftentimes, that's the story a foundation wants to hear.


When you're writing an appeal directly to your donors, remember that numbers numb. But stories are stored.

We're hardwired to tell and remember stories, but most of us forget data. And that's why you should avoid data when writing directly to your donors.

Unless that number is "one."

When you're telling stories to individual donors, you want to tell the story of one person. (Or one family, or one animal, or one river... you get the idea.)

An individual donor can't end hunger or cure a disease. But she can address weekend hunger, by making sure a child gets a healthy take-home snack pack. She can make sure a family has accommodations near their child, who's hospitalized and receiving treatments.

Donor psychology studies support this theory of "one." Consider these factors among the many that motivate giving:

The Identifiable Victim Effect. The idea of showing or talking about one person, for instance, "this hungry child."

The Similarity Effect. People may feel connected to one person because of their shared nationality, gender, religion, age, or any number of similar characteristics.

(Want to learn more about how psychology factors into fundraising? Download Classy's Pocket Guide to Fundraising Psychology.)

One more consideration in your storytelling. In the last year, we've seen a lot of "rage donations" from people seeking to right a wrong or correct an injustice.

That said, a recent report from Network for Good found that donors are far more motivated by "empathy and altruism" and "hope and optimism" rather than by "anger and sadness" and "fear and anxiety."

[Emotions that motivate donors to give]

Make sure your stories to donors are heartfelt and hopeful. Remind your donor that she is the hero. She's the reason your story can have a happy ending.

Image credit: Network for Good


Chances are, you're working on your year-end appeal right now. Before you seal those envelopes or press the Send button, read your appeal, and consider these questions:

Are you telling emotional stories? Or are you spouting mind-numbing statistics?

Are you telling a story that I can "see," or are you talking generally about the need?

Are you telling your individual donors how they can be part of the solution? Are you offering specific ways that her gift of $20, or $50, or $100, or more will make a difference?

Will your donor know that her gift will have an impact, no matter how large or small?

Or are you explaining how big the problem is, and why it will take many gifts - and large ones, at that - to achieve to achieve real change? (Here's a tip: Save that story for your grants.)


No donor ever made a decision to support a nonprofit based on a number alone. Data may tell, but it's stories that sell.

Donors' giving decisions are driven by emotion. They may use logic to justify their decisions; however, the decision to give is an emotional one.

Make sure you're telling emotional stories about real people, places, and principles.

Always remind your donor of the important role she plays in your story...and the happy ending that she makes possible.

Photo credit: Mabel Amber and Pixabay

Need help telling your nonprofit's story through grants or appeals? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation, and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Storytelling_Differences_Grants_vs_Donor_Appeals.jpgStorytelling Differences Grants vs Donor Appealshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-11-01-storytelling-differences-grants-vs-donor-appeals
What Your Donors Really, Really Wanthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-10-04-what-your-donors-really-really-wantWed, 04 Oct 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-323457966What Your Donors Really, Really Want

It's been 20 years since the Spice Girls debuted in the U.S.

If you're old enough to remember them, you'll undoubtedly remember their catchy debut single:

"Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want"

Back in the day, Scary Spice, Ginger Spice and the rest were singing about girl power. Just last year, the charity Project Everyone covered the anthem. The video redux promoted gender equality, telling government leaders what women "really, really want."

(You can watch the original video and remake here.)

So, what if you knew what your donors want...what they really, really want?

And, if you knew, what would you do with that information?


Penelope Burk literally wrote the book on Donor Centered Fundraising in 2003. Her oft-cited research found that donors really only want three things:

  1. prompt gift acknowledgement
  2. confirmation that gifts will be used as intended, and
  3. measurable results on those gifts at work, before they are asked for more money.

Burk's research found that, when donors get these three things, they are more likely to continue giving to a charity - and increase the value of their gifts over time.


Fast forward a dozen years and you get Roger Craver's "Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life."

In the book, Craver shares a DonorVoice study that asked donors to rate 32 essential activities in terms of their importance to the donor. Specifically, which activities would cause an existing donor to continue supporting an organization?

The choices included a series of marketing, communications, fundraising and operational activities. Craver acknowledges that the list was long because they wanted to provide as complete a list of choices as possible.

DonorVoice then ranked the results by their relative importance in improving donor loyalty and their lifetime value (that is to say, the total of their gifts over time).

From the list of 32 possibilities, the study found that there are seven key drivers to a donor's commitment. In rank order, they are as follows:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction
  3. Donor receives timely thank yous
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated (create "memorable moments," the purpose is to delight the donor)
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped

Are you surprised at what donors want?

You're not alone. When I shared this information at a workshop recently, the executive directors and development directors were shocked. A few even commented that this was the most valuable takeaway from the session.


If you'll compare Craver's findings to Burk's, the parallels are striking.

Burk found that what donors want most is "acknowledgement" and "information."

Craver found that what donors want most relates to "communication" and "impact."

What about you? Are you spending time properly acknowledging your donors? How are you communicating? Are you giving your donors the information they want to know? Are you telling them about the impact of their gifts?

Consider how you spend your time. How often do you communicate with donors, and what do you say when you do?

Roger Craver posits, "By eliminating activities that don't matter to donors and improving those that do, we're creating a meaningful different experience for our most loyal donors and deriving significantly more revenue from them with no mid-level or major gift officer required."


'Tis the season that nonprofits are planning for year-end fundraising. Updating donor lists. Drafting appeal letters. Many will add a touch point and thank donors for their previous gift, before asking for another. Maybe you're one.

Don't wait until December. Be sure you're communicating with your donors throughout the year - not just during "giving season."

Tell them exactly how you're using their money. And be sure that you're sharing the impact of their gifts.

After each new gift, tell donors what difference their contribution will make. What will happen because of his donation? What will change as a direct result of her gift?

And before asking again, make sure you've told your donors how things are different (and better) because of them and their support.

Be careful not to talk about what you (the organization) did. Instead, talk about what they (the donor) made possible. The children who aren't hungry. The single mothers who got living-wage jobs. The water that's safe to drink. The wildlife that's protected. You get the idea.

These are the messages that donors want to hear. And these are the messages that will drive donor commitment, loyalty and retention.

It's quite simple really. Keep doing your good work and give your donors what they want. When you do these two things - and do them well - your donors will keep giving.

Need help creating a donor retention plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

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What Donors Do After A Disasterhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-09-06-what-donors-do-after-disasterWed, 06 Sep 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-721287095What Donors Do After A Disaster

Turn on the TV, open the paper or log on to the Internet.

You don't have to look far to find suggestions on how to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. (In fact, I've blogged about it myself.)

The event, itself, is unprecedented. The devastation, unimaginable.

It's times like this when we see ordinary people do extraordinary things. Over the past two weeks, we've watched neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. Heroes, every one.

Acts of bravery, selflessness and kindness abound.

And the generosity! After just 12 days (as of this writing), individuals and businesses have donated more than $150 million to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Before Harvey hit, many nonprofits were in the midst of planning their year-end fundraising campaigns. Many count on their year-end campaign to provide a significant boost to their organization's annual revenues.

Are you one of those nonprofits?

Are you worried that you might lose donors this year because they're giving to the relief efforts?

Or maybe you serve South Texas and Louisiana, and you're concerned because you're not a relief organization.

What will happen, you wonder. What will your donors do?

When you consider the timing of the hurricane, its catastrophic nature, and the tens of millions of dollars that have already been donated by individuals, it's natural to think that donors may start to experience donor fatigue. That, by them time you send your year-end appeal in November or December, your donors will feel overasked - even overcommitted.

Do you fear that donors will be less likely to respond to your appeal? Or that they'll be less generous than in years past?

Here's some good news. The data suggests otherwise.

"People tend to react to disasters with small gifts, and don't dramatically change their budgets. In studies on giving in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, to the tsunami in Southeast Asia [in 2004] and to Hurricane Katrina [in 2005], the average gift was between $125 and $135. The median gift - perhaps a better measure of what is typical - was $50."

(Source: Patrick Rooney, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs and a Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at the Lilly Family Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University, via CNN)

In fact, if you look at historical giving data, overall giving actually increases in the years where there is a large national or international disaster.

Look at three recent examples. In 2005 (Hurricane Katrina), 2010 (Haiti earthquake) and 2012 (Superstorm Sandy), charitable giving in the U.S. greatly exceeded the previous year's giving.

Source image: Giving USA 2017

This suggests that donors give over and above, after a disaster. They don't reduce their annual household giving, and they don't stop giving to other organizations simply because they choose to give to relief organizations in a particular year.

That said, it's important to understand people's motivations for giving.


The very word "philanthropy" means "love of humanity."

Donors are people who love people (and animals and rivers - you get the idea.)

In The Fundraiser's Measuring Stick, Jerry Panas explains that "Donors want to know why they should give. And especially why they should give now."

After a disaster, there's a clear and urgent need.

What about you? Can you demonstrate a clear need? (Tip: People don't give because your organization has needs. They give because you fill a need - because your organization offers a solution to a problem.) Consider your clients' needs. Your community's needs. Why are those needs urgent?

Then, when you're making your appeal, tell a real story, about a real person (or animal, or river, etc.). Describe the problem, the need. Emphasize the urgency. Why should they give now? Tell them what will happen when they give. Tell them what's possible

Remind the donor that the problem can be solved. Then invite them to be part of the solution, by making a financial gift.


Think about it from your donor's perspective:

  • It feels good to give to a cause you care about. (Scientific studies have shown that the act of giving releases endorphins, which gives people a positive emotional feeling or "warm glow.")

  • It feels even better when you're properly thanked and told exactly how your gift will be used to make a difference. (It's the right thing to thank every donor, for every gift. And donors want more than a tax receipt. They want to be told how their gift will be used.)

  • The best feeling of all is when you know you made an impact. (And donors know this when somebody from the organization follows up after the gift and tells them what changed because of them and their donation. Jerry Panas calls this the "Because of You" rule.)

Ask yourself, do you make your donors feel good about their decision to give to you?

Do you thank them well? Is your thank you prompt and personal? Does it tell them exactly how their donation will be used?

Do you follow up again, after the gift, and tell your donors the impact of their gifts?

If you can answer yes to these questions, your donors will want to continue to support you. And, in all likelihood, they will.


Jerry Panas offers a simple maxim: "Givers give."

People will give to relief organizations after a disaster. They'll also continue to support the other causes they care about. Including yours.

My prediction? This is the year we'll see U.S. charitable giving (private philanthropy) exceed $400 billion. For the first time ever.

I believe Harvey will bump up the overall giving totals for 2017. However, your nonprofit shouldn't expect reduced giving from your donor base this year, provided you've been doing good work and stewarding your donors well, all year long.

Need help writing a winning fundraising appeal or creating a donor stewardship plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

Photo thanks to David Mark at Pixabay

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How To Help - After a Disasterhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-08-30-how-help-after-disasterWed, 30 Aug 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-721018962How To Help - After a Disaster

The first appeal I heard was on Friday night, after Hurricane Harvey hit South Texas. It was from a volunteer at a makeshift evacuee shelter.

"We need cots, blankets, food, water, diapers, sanitary products, pet food, kitty litter and…." His list went on and on. "We need everything," he summarized.

So much need, and so many ways to help.

Do you know best way to truly help others after a disaster?

(Keep in mind, the U.S. isn't alone in this. In South Asia, more than 1,000 people are dead - and 41 million people are recovering and rebuilding - after this summer's monsoons, flooding and landslides across Bangladesh, India and Nepal.)

When you want to help with the relief efforts - any disaster - consider these options. Some might surprise you.

First, remember that cash is always king. US AID cites three simple reasons why:

1. Professional relief organizations can use the money to purchase exactly and specifically what the disaster victims need, when they need it.

2. Money is easy to convey. (The cost of shipping items, like bottled water or canned goods, can literally outweigh the value of the items. And, with today's online giving options, you don't even need a postage stamp.)

3. When money is used to purchase items locally, it helps stimulate the local economies, provides employment to residents and helps establish a sense of normalcy.


You can give to a national organization, like the American Red Cross or ASPCA.

Now, this may seem counterintuitive, but it's an important consideration when making a donation to a national or international organization. Instead of designating your donation to the specific disaster area, consider allowing the nonprofit to use the funds "wherever the need is the greatest." That's because groups like the American Red Cross are always raising funds for the next need.

You can also give to statewide or regional organizations, groups that help a broad cross-section of people meet a variety of needs. Find a food bank, the United Way or community foundation that support the affected area(s).

If you prefer giving to smaller nonprofits over larger ones, there are plenty of good community-based organizations who will put your money to work. These on-the-ground groups will be there to help the locals now and in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Whoever you choose to support, always make sure you're donating to a reputable organization. Sadly, there are many scammers and unsavory organizations that will take advantage of your kindness and generosity, especially after a disaster.


Donate blood at your local American Red Cross. Like food and water, blood is essential. And your donation could, literally, save a life.

Donate to your local food bank, but avoid the instinct to collect and ship food and water directly to the disaster site. You might be surprised, but it's actually one of the worst things you can do.

Organize a drive and donate to your state's diaper bank. Did you know about diaper banks before Harvey? There's a special need right now, since diapers aren't provided by disaster relief organizations. And the need is real and on-going, across the U.S. You can learn about your state's program at the National Diaper Bank Network.

Volunteer. Texans are encouraged to contact NVOAD, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, to learn how to get involved with Harvey relief. Louisiana's governor has encouraged people to register with Volunteer Louisiana.

Regardless if where you live, if you're interested in free disaster training, contact your local Red Cross. You can learn how to deliver response services during the next major disaster, here or abroad.


Americans have an amazing, generous spirit.

And it's times like this when we see ordinary people do extraordinary things. Over the past two weeks, we've watched neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. Heroes, every one.

We've seen dramatic rooftop rescues of families and pets. First responders rescuing senior citizens from flooded facilities and pulling drivers from nearly submerged cars. Everyday people providing food, shelter and comfort for those who have none.

Selflessness, kindness and generosity abound.

Whether it's driven by empathy, compassion or something else altogether, Americans will not fail when it comes to helping others who are affected by disaster.

At the same time, it's a myth that "Everything helps" and that you should send anything and everything after a disaster.

(Just think of the time and energy that it takes to sort, organize, catalogue, distribute and sometimes store donations like used clothes and teddy bears. By some estimates, up to 60% of unsolicited donations go unused. Sixty percent!)

However, it is true that no cash donation is too small. When combined with others, small gifts add up to make a big difference.

You can make a difference. And if you're a donor (or a nonprofit staff person, a board member or a volunteer), you already are.

Image credit thanks to Edwin JuralMin and Pixabay

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Telling Your Nonprofits Story With Guidestarhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-08-02-telling-your-nonprofits-story-with-guidestarWed, 02 Aug 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-418099362Telling Your Nonprofits Story With Guidestar

Savvy donors and foundations are using Guidestar to learn about your organization.

And savvy nonprofits are using Guidestar to tell their organization's story.

So, what does your Guidestar profile say about you?


If you're not familiar with Guidestar, it's an online database with public information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit in the United States. That's more than 1.8 million organizations.

It's free to use Guidestar. Everyone can use it view information and learn more about specific nonprofits.

And any nonprofit can claim and update its profile for free. In fact, Guidestar promotes transparency and encourages nonprofits to share information about their organization.

It's important to note that Guidestar is not a ranking site. They don't evaluate nonprofits or tell you which one is "best."

Instead, Guidestar provides information so users can learn more about individual nonprofits and make informed decisions.


Guidestar has dozens of clients and partners, such as:

online giving partners (like Facebook, AmazonSmile and Network for Good),

donor advised funds (like Fidelity, Vanguard and Schwab Charitable Funds) and

grants management partners (like Blackbaud).

And, of course, donors, foundations, nonprofit staff and volunteers are using Guidestar to learn more about specific organizations - including yours.


Here are a few common ways that people use Guidestar:

You can verify an organization's tax-exempt status. About 70% of the organizations on Guidestar are 501(c)(3) public charities. Another 7% are 501(c)(3) private foundations. The rest are different types of 501(c)s. Social welfare groups, like the Sierra Club and ACLU, are 501(c)(4) organizations. Chambers of Commerce are 501(c)(6)s.

You can review a nonprofit's or foundation's tax returns (990s, 990-EZs and 990-PF). If your organization files a tax return, the IRS shares that with Guidestar. And, even if you don't file, the IRS Business Master File will share basic information, such as your nonprofit's name and address.

Everyday donors can learn more about your organization, calculate your overhead percentage and, in some cases, give online, directly from your Guidestar profile.

Foundations can research grant applicants, including who's on your board of directors and whether or not you follow best practices (such as having a conflict of interest statement, a whistleblower policy and a formal process to evaluate and compensate your executive director).

Nonprofits can benchmark with peer organizations (for instance, to review executive compensation).

Nonprofits can research foundations, their application guidelines, even their giving history.

Guidestar lets you do all this - and so much more.


The most obvious reason to claim and update your profile is to manage your organization's online identity.

When you claim and update your profile, you're providing the most up-to-date information and telling a well-rounded story about your organization.

You can also save time on your grant applications.

Yep, that's right. More than 200 foundations already use an online grant management system that pulls information about your organization directly from Guidestar.

Updating your profile can also increase your funding.

Foundations and donors may use information from Guidestar when making their decision to support you. Donors can give directly to your organization via Guidestar when you give them permission to add a Donate button to your Guidestar report page. And, if you have an AmazonSmile account, Guidestar will share your information so those charity-minded shoppers can learn about you, too.

You can get discounts (and even free stuff).

Many Guidestar partners offer special programs and benefits to nonprofit members. Some offer additional or deeper discounts to nonprofits that have the Gold or Platinum seal of transparency.


Guidestar isn't a ranking site - they don't recommend charities or tell you who's "best." Instead, Guidestar promotes transparency and encourages nonprofits to self-report and share information about their organization.

Bronze, Silver and Gold badges were introduced in 2013, and Platinum was introduced in 2016.

Bronze shares your basic information, in Guidestar's words, "so you can be found."

Silver shares your financial information, "so you can build trust"

Gold shares your goals and strategies, "so you can tell others about your work."

Platinum shares your progress and results, "so you can show the difference you're making."


As of this writing, only 2,693 nonprofits have the Platinum seal of transparency. (Another 12,494 have Bronze, 16,142 have Silver and 9,918 have Gold.) That's not a lot, out of 1.8 million nonprofits.

What about your organization? Do you have the Guidestar Seal of Transparency?

If you're not sure, go to Guidestar.org and search for your organization. Look for a seal, next to your name, like in the example below:


Even if you do have the Guidestar Seal of Transparency, you'll want to check your profile.

In late July, Guidestar announced that changes are coming. The changes mostly affect the basic information section. (For instance, if you previously had the Bronze seal of transparency, you may find that you need to provide additional information to reclaim it.)

Once you've updated your profile and achieved at least the Bronze level, you can share your seal of transparency badge. Guidestar has released new designs for 2017.

There's an image file that you can download from Guidestar. There's even a widget you can install on your website, which links directly to your Guidestar profile.

But don't stop with Bronze or Silver. Go for the Gold, then strive for Platinum.

The Platinum seal demonstrates that your organization is focused on measuring your progress and results. In that way, you can use your Guidestar profile to tell your story. By sharing your results and showing your improvement year over year, you can demonstrate your impact.


GuideStar's mission is "to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving."

Having the Guidestar seal of transparency shines a brighter light on your operations and your organization.

When you take the time to provide information, you're becoming more transparent in the information you share with donors, foundations and other funders.

When you have a Guidestar seal of transparency - especially Platinum - you'll help donors be more confident in their decision to support your organization.

Need help claiming or updating your Guidestar profile? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/guidestar.jpgTelling Your Nonprofits Story With Guidestarhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-08-02-telling-your-nonprofits-story-with-guidestar
Demystifying the Data from 2 Key Fundraising Reportshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-07-05-demystifying-data-from-2-key-fundraising-reportsWed, 05 Jul 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-706462467Demystifying the Data from 2 Key Fundraising Reports

There's a lot of good news to be found in the 61st annual Giving USA report, which was released last month.

Earlier this year, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project released its own set of giving data points. This annual report also focuses on giving, but provides very different information - and a different outlook.

So what, exactly can we learn from the data, and what does it mean for your nonprofit?

About the Giving USA 2016 Data

For more than 60 years, Giving USA has provided insights to annual giving. The 2017 report was compiled by the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

In 2016, charitable giving in the U.S. reached an all-time high: $390 billion. Think about that. That's more than a billion dollars given to charity, every single day last year.

And 2016 was the 7th year in a row that giving has increased.

More good news? Giving was up to all 9 subsectors for only the sixth time ever.

(The subsectors are religion, education, human services, foundations, health, public-society benefit, arts, culture and humanities, international affairs and environment/animals.)

The arts, the environment and international affairs saw the largest growth in charitable giving in last year. Many cite this as a response to the 2016 presidential election and, specifically, the new president's agenda.

Back to the data. Of the four sources of giving, living individuals were responsible for 72% of the total. Bequests (or gifts from estates) made up another 8%. This means that 80% of total charitable contributions came from individuals while living or at the time of their death.

Foundation gifts make up 15% of total giving, and corporate gifts make up the remaining 5%.

It's also notable that bequest giving was down (in dollars), whereas individual, foundation and corporate giving was up. Bequest giving is driven by the number, size and timing of high net worth individuals passing away.

Think about that. Even without any "mega" estates in 2016, the total dollar value of contributions reached an all-time record high.

How did that happen? Individual donors. Lots of individual donors and lots and lots of individual donations.

About the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and Survey Data

For 10 years, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project has measured fundraising results, by compiling data that is collected and shared by donor software firms, including Blackbaud, Bloomerang and DonorPerfect.

The 2017 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Data found that there was net growth in terms of the number of donors. Not very much (about half of 1%), but growth is good.

However, the good news ends there. The survey found that nonprofits aren't doing a very good job of keeping their current donors, year over year.

The overall donor retention rate is 45%. This means that less than half of the donors who gave in 2015 gave again, to the same organizations, in 2016.

And, unfortunately, this isn't new information. Ten years ago, donor retention was only 50%. While a few percentage points better, nonprofits simply can't afford to lose half of their donors - or more - every year.

The statistics are even more grim for new (first-time) donors. The Fundraising Effectiveness Survey found that new donor retention is 23%. This means nearly 8 out of 10 first-time donors don't become repeat donors because they don't give again to the same organization!

Yet, we know that there were more donors than ever in 2016. And they gave more money than ever.

What Does This Data Mean To You?

There's a well-documented link between the economy and charitable giving.

Although the S&P 500 is generally more volatile than philanthropy, they typically follow the same trend line. The S&P was up in 2016 - so was giving. And all signs are pointing for a strong year in 2017.

Will we see $400 billion in charitable contributions in next year's Giving USA report? It's likely.

What about in the short-term?

When the stock market is up, giving by foundations tends to go up. That's good news, if you're a grantseeker.

Thus far, the current adminstration's policies have been good for business. That should mean higher corporate profits and, correspondingly, more giving by corporations.

Gifts to arts also increase when the stock market goes up (which we saw in 2016). Coupled with the buzz that followed the President's proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, gifts to the arts have soared.

It's common for philanthropic interests - and contributions - increase as federal priorities shift. As an example, we're seeing a number of "rage donations" to groups, by individuals who are concerned with President Trump's agenda.

Take Planned Parenthood, which received nearly 80,000 donations just three days after the election. A climate action group, 350.org, saw donations almost triple in the weeks that followed. And the ACLU raised $24 million - more than seven times their 2015 total - in a single weekend (the same month that Trump took office).

Dr. Patrick Rooney with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy said this: "In 2016, we saw something of a democratization of philanthropy."

And it's true. In 2016 and so far in 2017, it's been many smaller donors - not the ultra-wealthy - who are making the donations. Lots and lots of donations.

But will these donors keep giving? And giving to these same causes?


There are countless reasons why an individual makes their first gift to an organization.

Anger, fear, frustration, disappointment.

Correcting an injustice, concern for others, to join others.

A challenge. Remember the ice bucket challenge? It raised $115 million for the ALS Association in 2014.

(And just last week, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda launched the #Ham4All fundraising challenge to benefit the "Immigrants: We Get the Job Done" coalition. Fans - including Ben Stiller and Steph Curry - have already made donations, then sung their favorite song from the musical and challenged others to do the same.)

Why else do people give? Well, there's love, hope, and the promise for a better tomorrow.

There's good news for smaller nonprofits, especially those who aren't in the news or political crosshairs and don't have celebrities supporting their cause.

Americans are very generous people. And the data shows that individuals will give to causes they care about.

Remember, too, that U.S. donors gave "over and above" last year. Even with the rage donations and surge of gifts to the arts, environment and international sectors, all nine nonprofit sectors experienced growth.

And don't forget that charitable donations reached record levels in 2016, exceeding $390 billion.

The challenge for all nonprofits is to get their donors to keep giving. (Interesting fact: donations to the ALS Association returned to pre-ice bucket challenge levels the very next year.)

So, how will you get your donors give again? And give more generously?

The answer lies in good stewardship - of your donations and your donors.

Think of each and every donation as an invitation - and an opportunity - to connect with your donors on a deeper and more meaningful level.

How will you make a connection with your donors?

Need help creating a donor stewardship plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization raise more money for your cause.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

Photo thanks to Steve Buissinne at Pixabay

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Pixabay-keys-525732_960_720.jpgDemystifying the Data from 2 Key Fundraising Reportshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-07-05-demystifying-data-from-2-key-fundraising-reports
5 Things To Do Before June 30https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-06-07-5-things-do-before-june-30Wed, 07 Jun 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-5134564725 Things To Do Before June 30

Ah, June.

School's out. Pools are open. Vacation season is in full swing.

Alas, summer isn't always a picnic for nonprofits. That's because the beginning of June also means the end of June isn't far away.

And for many nonprofits, June 30 marks the end of their fiscal year. For others, it's the midway point.

Regardless of where you are in your nonprofit's "year," there are five things you need to do now.


  1. Compare your year-to-date actuals to your budget.
    If you're in the black, congratulations!
    If you're not there yet, don't worry. You still have time to get there. Keep reading.
  2. Reach out to your donors.
    If you haven't met your budget goal yet, run a LYBUNT report. These are your donors who gave "Last Year But Unfortunately Not This." Because they gave last year, they're good prospects for a last-minute ask.
    If you've met your revenue goal for the year (and even if you haven't), consider thanking your current donors for their past support.
    Send a postcard. Pick up the phone. Organize your board and have a thank-a-thon. Just to say "Thanks for supporting us. We appreciate you."
    Your donors' support makes your work possible. You need them as much as your community needs you.
  3. Review your grants.
    Many foundations require mid-year or year-end reports. If you have a grant report due on June 30, now's the time to get it ready.
    Some foundations won't let you apply for funding again until you've filed your reports. So get yourself ready for next year's grants, by getting your current reports in. On time.
  4. Look back at all you've accomplished and think about how you'll report that to stakeholders.
    Year-end is a time to celebrate your hard work. Take time to celebrate your staff, your board, your volunteers and everyone who had a role in your successes.
    Be sure you're collecting success stories and other program metrics. That way, you'll be ready to produce an impact report soon after the end of the year. 
    And remember, dollars raised isn't the only measure of success. A job training program might track the number of people who get new jobs, promotions or raises. A free health care clinic might track how many people receive preventative services or screenings.
    Whatever program metrics you measure, don't forget to set goals for 2017-2018.
  5. Create a plan for the new year.
    I'm not talking about creating the expense side of your budget (which, for many nonprofits, starts with last year's actuals).
    I'm talking about the revenue side of the equation. How will you raise the money you need to meet - or exceed - your budget goals next year?
    You'll find an idea at the end of this post.


  1. Compare year-to-date actuals to your budget.
    Every quarter (if not every month), you should compare your year-to-date numbers to your projections. Assess, and adjust as necessary.
    For instance, maybe your signature fundraising event is next month, and you expect donations to go up. Do they?
    Maybe a grant you were counting on falls through, and you need to make up that funding elsewhere. But where?
    Take time at every board meeting to understand your financials - where you should be and where you want to be. Be proactive about what you'll do to be sure that your year ends in the black.
  2. Reach out to your donors.
    Fundraising experts say a donor should receive six "touches" for every ask.
    Imagine your donor's surprise and delight when she receives an unexpected thank you call or card - not a solicitation. Just a thank you. Just because.
    Send a postcard. Pick up the phone. Organize your board and have a thank-a-thon. Just to say "Thanks for supporting us. We appreciate you."
  3. Review your grants.
    Many foundations' fiscal year ends on June 30. They may require "year-end" reports based on the end of their year - not yours.
    If you have a grant report due on June 30, now's the time to get it ready. And get it in.
  4. Assess your year-to-date performance and think about how you'll report that to stakeholders.
    Don't wait until the end of the year to assess your performance. And don't gauge your success purely by the money you raise.
    Consider your number of new donors. Your donor retention rate. An education nonprofit might track students' improvement in standardized test scores or graduation rates. An environmental group might track the bags or pounds of litter removed from rivers and streams.
    Whatever you measure, measure it all year long. And compare it to this year's goals. (If you don't have goals, compare the numbers to where you were this time last year.)
    Remember to collect success stories and other program metrics as you go along. Then you'll be ready report those outcomes when and where it makes sense.
    In grant proposals. In your newsletter. On social media. During donor visits.
  5. Create a plan for the rest of the year.
    A lot will happen between now and the end of the year. And a lot of planning needs to happen, too.
    Yes, it's only June. However, it's not too early to be thinking about your end-of-year campaign (#GivingTuesday, anyone?)
    Beyond that, you need a bigger plan for how you'll meet your fundraising goals before the end of your fiscal year comes around.
    You'll be glad you were proactive instead of reactive. You'll be glad you planned.


Meeting your organization's annual goals doesn't just magically happen. It's a journey.

And plans are the roadmap to help you on that journey - a way of helping you get from here to there.

Maybe you have a strategic plan. What about a fundraising plan?

A robust fundraising plan is the roadmap you need to help you meet all of your annual fundraising goals.

If you're ready to start that journey, I encourage you to learn about my new program: " Plan for Your Fundraising Success." I'd love to talk to you about coming to your area.

You can raise more money. You can meet your fundraising goals. And it all starts with a plan.

Need help creating a fundraising plan and reaching your fundraising goals? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization raise more money for your cause.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.

Photo thanks to Andreas Lischka at Pixabay

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Pixabay-webandi-jcalendar-1255953_960_720.jpg5 Things To Do Before June 30https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-06-07-5-things-do-before-june-30
Overhead Its Not A Bad Thinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-05-03-overhead-its-not-bad-thingWed, 03 May 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-530067631Overhead Its Not A Bad Thing


How does it make you feel when someone asks about yours?

More and more donors are asking. So you need to know what overhead is, why it matters and why it can be good for your nonprofit.

I like Peter Drury's metaphor – that overhead is like cholesterol. There's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Just because your number is high, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing.

In fact, three watchdogs in the nonprofit sector have come together to create OverheadMyth.com. The Better Business Bureau, Guidestar and Charity Navigator want to dispel the misconception that overhead is bad.


Overhead is just another name for your organization's general operating expenses.

In the grant writing world, you may hear funders refer to your overhead or general operating expenses as "indirect expenses."

Indirect expenses are all the general costs associated with running your organization. Things like rent and utilities as well as your executive and administrative staff expenses.

Direct expenses, in contrast, are what you spend "directly" on the things you need to deliver your programs and services. Things like program staff salaries, program-specific supplies or equipment and travel.


Some donors – including foundations – will ask you how much you're spending on direct services (which is a backwards way of asking how much you spend on overhead).

I recently completed a grant application that not only asked for the nonprofit's indirect expense ratio – it asked for an explanation, if the percentage was greater than 25%.


In its Wise Giving Guidelines, the Better Business Bureau recommends that an organization spend at least 65% of its expenses on program activity. This means your indirect expense ratio, or your overhead, should be less than 35%.

Charity Navigator found that 9 out of 10 charities spend at least 65% on direct expenses, and that 7 out of 10 spend at least 75% on their programs and services.

What's your number?


The calculation is easy. (TIP: Click here for a one-page PDF that shows the calculations.)

  1. Go to your last 990, and look for the section called Statement of Functional Expenses.
    Column A is Total Expenses.
    Column B is Program Service Expenses (or Direct Expenses)
    Column C is Management and General Expenses (or Administrative Expenses)
    Column D is Fundraising Expenses.

  2. Add Column C (Administrative Expenses) to Column D (Fundraising Expenses). The sum is your total indirect expenses.
  3. Divide your total indirect expenses by column A (Total Expenses) to get your indirect expense ratio %.


Not necessarily. There's a saying that "You have to spend money to make money."

In his TED Talk, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, Dan Pallotta addresses the overhead myth, saying

"We've all been taught that the bake sale with 5% overhead is morally superior to the professional fundraising enterprise with 40% overhead.

But we're missing the most important piece of information, which is, 'What is the actual size of these pies?'

Who cares if the bake sale only has 5% overhead, if it's tiny? What if the bake sale only netted $71 dollars for charity because it made no investment in its scale?

What if the professional fundraising enterprise netted $71 million dollars because it did?

Now which pie would we prefer?"


The new school of thinking is that overhead isn't a bad thing, especially when those expenses are being used for growth.

The Overhead Mythbusters say that overhead isn't the only way to measure a nonprofit's performance. And it's certainly not the best way to measure your organization's impact.

In his TED Talk, Dan Pallotta goes on to say that the nonprofits that work so hard to keep their overhead low are, actually, doing themselves a disservice. Because they're not spending money on the things they need for their organization to grow and thrive.

How about you? Maybe you need new technology. Maybe your staff needs professional development. Maybe you need to hire dedicated fundraising staff.

These investments in your organization and your people? All good expenses. And all indirect expenses.

When you think about it that way, overhead definitely isn't a bad thing.

Need help creating a plan to reach your fundraising goals? Let Laura help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura Rhodes can help you and your organization raise more money for your cause

Photo thanks to Edu Lauton at Unsplash

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Meeting Your Fundraising Goal - This Year and Nexthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-04-04-meeting-your-fundraising-goal-this-year-nextTue, 04 Apr 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-108189854Meeting Your Fundraising Goal - This Year and Next

There's been a lot of talk lately about the President's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which seeks to reduce or eliminate hundreds of programs.

I work with many nonprofit groups that could be deeply impacted by the proposed cuts. Programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers, those funded by Community Development Block Grants, and many more.

I also work with groups like community health centers, which should continue to be supported under the proposed budget.

The keywords here are "proposed," "could" and "should." The proposed cuts may or may not happen. The proposed support may or may not stay at its current level.

Regardless, what the President has proposed should serve as a reminder to all nonprofits that things change. And, that's why it's important to create and keep a diverse revenue stream.

That means not relying on one major grant. Not relying on one major donor. Not relying on one single event.

Plus, when you think bigger and more broadly, not only can you raise more money - you can do more good.



If your fiscal year ends on June 30, you have about 90 days to meet this year's fundraising goal.

Do you know where things stand with your nonprofit's finances?

If you're an executive director, I'd bet you do. What about all you board members out there?

You should be reviewing this number at every board meeting. And you should be talking strategically about what you can do – all of you, not just the staff – to make sure that you're bringing in the money you need to do your work and meet your mission.

Take a few minutes and look at your last Treasurer's Report. See where your year-to-date actuals are, compared to your current year's budget.

Then consider what you have coming up over the next 3 months – and what money might be coming in.

Give Local Day in May?

Your signature fundraising event?

Grants that are pending?

What do realistically expect to bring in over the next 90 days?

If you anticipate a budget shortfall, don't just talk about it. Make a plan and start taking steps to meet this year's budget.

As you're making your plan, think about approaching fundraising at the end of your fiscal year the very same way that you would approach fundraising at the end of the calendar year.



Assuming your fiscal year starts on July 1, your nonprofit is probably in the throes of creating next year's budget.

Far too many nonprofits use last year's budget as the baseline for next year's budget.

Instead, I challenge you to do this. Think about what your nonprofit really needs next year, and build that in to your budget.

Maybe you need a new donor database.

Maybe you need to add a new staff person (or two).

Maybe you need to be able to offer higher wages or benefits to recruit new staff or keep key staff from leaving your organization during the next year.

Whatever it is, figure out what you really need, why you need it, and what that really costs. Then build those numbers into next year's budget.

In the new book, Joan Garry's Guide to Nonprofit Leadership, Joan says, "I wish more organizations would focus on driving revenue rather than expense reductions."

Me, too, Joan. Me, too.

For a lot of nonprofits, this is a paradigm shift.

Old thinking: You let the money you have (or don't have) determine what you can do.

New thinking: You let your mission (and your needs) drive the amount of money you need to raise.

I encourage you to start talking now about what you need. AND, as importantly, start talking about what you need to do next year to increase and diversify your revenue stream. Launch a major donor campaign? Embrace peer-to-peer fundraising?

Just remember, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to raising money. What works for one nonprofit may or may not work for yours.

One thing is true for all nonprofits though. If you want to reach your fundraising goal, you need a fundraising plan - and you need put that plan into action.

In the words of legendary author and educator Peter Drucker, "Plans are only good intentions, unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."



If your fiscal year ends on June 30, now's the time to take action to make sure you end the year in the black.

At the same time, it's not too early to be thinking about next year's goals – what they are and how you're going to reach them.

Whether you're looking at the next 90 days or ahead into the next year, you should set a fundraising goal.

Then make a fundraising plan.

Then work your plan.

With a plan and hard work, you'll be on your way to achieving your next fundraising goal.

This year. Next year. And every year.

Need help creating a fundraising plan? Let Laura help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura Rhodes can help you and your organization raise more money for your cause

Photo thanks to Jonathan Petersson at Unsplash

https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Unsplash-Apr2017.pngMeeting Your Fundraising Goal - This Year and Nexthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-04-04-meeting-your-fundraising-goal-this-year-next
Bylaws Are More Than A Buzzwordhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-03-01-bylaws-are-more-than-buzzwordWed, 01 Mar 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-891526302Bylaws Are More Than A Buzzword

Bylaws. Every nonprofit has them.

Have you read yours?

Chances are, you haven't. Don't worry, though. A lot of people haven't.

In fact, a lot of people join nonprofit boards without truly understanding the roles and responsibilities of boards or what it means to govern.

If you want to be part of an effective board, it starts by being an educated and engaged board member. And that means understanding your nonprofit's key governance documents.

Nonprofit boards follow Federal and State Laws, then your Articles of Incorporation, then your Bylaws, then your own internal Policies.

Your nonprofit's Articles of Incorporation will state the organization's purpose and include basic contact information. They will also provide plan for the distribution of assets, if the organization should dissolve or cease to exist.

Articles of Incorporation rarely change. In fact, for most nonprofits, they're a static document.

Bylaws, however, are different. Bylaws can and should be changed, especially as the nonprofit grows and matures.

What are Bylaws?

Think of Bylaws as the "house rules," defined by the board for your nonprofit. Bylaws are legally binding.

And while your Bylaws aren't a public document (like your IRS Form 990), they also aren't confidential. You can share them, for instance, with a prospective board member who asks to review them before joining your board.

How are Bylaws used?

Bylaws are used to guide the board's actions and decisions. They also provide basic structure for how the board will operate. Think of them as a roadmap.

Your bylaws should be descriptive, but not overly prescriptive. For instance, your bylaws might say the board will meet monthly. However, you don't want your bylaws to say the board will meet monthly, on the first Wednesday of the month, at 9AM.

What should Bylaws include?

There's no one-size-fits-all template for nonprofit Bylaws. However, there are some recommended best practices including:


  • Minimum and maximum number of board members.
    The IRS recommends that you have a minimum of 3 board members who are unrelated by blood or marriage. (Note: Some states will specify the minimum number of board members. Check your state's laws.)

  • Terms and term limits.
    Terms and term limits are considered to be an essential governance practice.

  • Titles of officers, how they're appointed and their term.
    Boards are required to have at least three officers: President, Secretary and Treasurer.

  • Procedure for removing a board member or officer.
    By having this provision in your Bylaws, no one person has this unpleasant task if and when it becomes necessary. Instead, it becomes a vote and an action by the entire board, per the "house rules."

  • The authority to create and dissolve committees, how committee members are appointed and their powers.
    Boards should avoid defining too many standing committees in the Bylaws. Instead, define how ad hoc committees will be created and used.


  • Minimum number of board meetings a year.
    The federal requirement is one meeting per year. However, your board should meet more often to ensure that it's meeting its legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

  • Number of members required for a quorum.
    Use a percentage, instead of a number, since the number of board members you have will change. (Note: Some states will specify the minimum number required for a quorum. Check your state's laws.)

  • How an emergency or special board meeting may be called.
    There may be an urgent need to call a meeting before the next scheduled board meeting. Be sure your Bylaws state who has the authority to call a special meeting. (Note: Some states require that when notice of a special meeting is given, a purpose of the meeting is also given. Check your state's laws.)

  • Process for virtual meetings.
    In today's digital age, and especially for boards with members in multiple locations, it can be effective to have meetings online instead of in-person. (Note: Some states have restrictions on what type of business can be conducted. Check your state's laws.)


  • Indemnification of members.
    A statement that limits the board members' personal liability.

  • Amendment of bylaws.
    A statement of how bylaws can be amended. For example, you might state how notice of the amendment will be given, the manner of voting and the quorum for the proposed amendment(s).


    Compare your Bylaws to this checklist. Do your Bylaws include all of these basic provisions?

    • Minimum and maximum number of board members
    • Terms and term limits
    • Titles of officers, how they're appointed and their term
    • Procedure for removing a board member or officer
    • The authority to create and dissolve committees, how committee members are appointed and their powers
    • Minimum number of board meetings a year
    • Number of members required for a quorum
    • How an emergency or special board meeting may be called
    • Process for virtual meetings
    • Indemnification of members
    • Amendment of bylaws

    If something is missing or needs to be changed, bring it to the attention of your Board Chair or Governance Committee, so it can be reviewed and discussed with the board.

    And remember, your Bylaws are a legal document. They need to align with your Articles of Incorporation as well as comply with your state's laws.

    So, before you ask your board to approve it, be sure to have any new language reviewed by an attorney. This will ensure that changes are in legal compliance.


    Bylaws are a living, breathing document. They should be reviewed regularly and updated from time to time.

    It's a best practice to review your Bylaws every two years. This helps to ensure that they are relevant for your nonprofit in its current phase of growth.

    BoardSource reports that 57% of nonprofit boards have reviewed their organizations' Bylaws within the last 2 years.

    Will this be the year that you review, and possibly revise, yours?

    Contact me if I can help you assess your current bylaws and other board practices.

    Laura Rhodes received a Certificate in Nonprofit Board Education from BoardSource in 2016. She conducts board education and engagement sessions, retreats and trainings for nonprofits across the U.S.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    Photo thanks to James Sutton at Unsplash

    ]]>https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/LinkedIn-Mar2017.pngBylaws Are More Than A Buzzwordhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-03-01-bylaws-are-more-than-buzzwordHow Does Your Board Comparehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-02-01-how-does-your-board-compareWed, 01 Feb 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-347311099How Does Your Board Compare

    Even the best boards want to be better.

    That's why, from time to time, you should benchmark your nonprofit board.

    Sometimes, just knowing how you compare helps you see where there are opportunities for change…and improvement.

    A good place to start is by understanding what other boards are doing. Before you begin, you need to understand where you are. You need a baseline.

    Consider these questions:

    1. How many board members do you have?
    2. Do you have term limits? If so, how many years can a board member serve per term?
    3. Do you have consecutive terms limits? If so, how many terms can a board member serve?
    4. How often does your board meet?
    5. How long are your meetings?
    6. How many committees do you have?
    7. What types of committees do you have?
    8. When was the last time you reviewed and/or revised your Bylaws?
    9. Do you have an executive leader succession plan in place?
    10. Have you conducted a formal, written board assessment within the past 3 years?

    Got your answers? Great.

    Now you've got your baseline. Compare your answers to what other nonprofits are doing.


    1. Number of board members. In 2015, nonprofits had an average of 15 board members. This number has been declining over the years.

      Takeaway: There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to board size. Bigger boards aren't necessarily better boards.  

    2. Term limits. More than 7 out of 10 (71%) of nonprofit boards institute term limits. Nearly two-thirds (63%) have 3-year terms. The second most common term limit is 2 years.

      Takeaway: Term limits are an essential practice that encourage regular board turnover. This allows for new ideas and new energy, so your nonprofit can grow and thrive.  

    3. Consecutive term limits. 40% of boards limit board members to serving 2 consecutive terms. Another 22% allow board members to serve 3 consecutive terms.

      Takeaway: The most popular length of board service is 6 consecutive years. The most popular format is two consecutive 3-year terms, followed by three consecutive 2-year terms.  

    4. Meeting frequency. Boards with a local or statewide scope are more likely to meet often (e.g. monthly or bi-monthly). Boards with a national or international scope are more likely to meet less frequently (e.g. quarterly)  
    5. Meeting length. Boards with a local scope are more likely to meet for less than 2 hours. Boards with a statewide scope are more likely to meet between 2 and 2.5 hours. Boards with a national scope are more likely to meet between 2 and 4 hours. And boards with an international scope are more likely to meet 8 hours or more.

      Takeaway (4 and 5): Boards should meet often enough, and long enough, to ensure they are fulfilling their legal and fiduciary responsibilities.  

    6. Committees. Nonprofits have an average of 4.8 committees. Thirty years ago, nonprofits had an average of 6.6 committees.  
    7. Committee type. The most common committees are Finance, followed by Executive, then Governance and Development.

      Takeaway (6 and 7): You've heard the expression, "too many cooks in the kitchen?" A lot of nonprofits have too many committees in the board room.

      Subcommittees (like event committees) can roll up to a standing committee (like Development). This allows the board to remain focused on high-level, strategic issues at board meetings instead of listening to endless committee reports.  

    8. Bylaws. 85% of nonprofit boards have reviewed their bylaws in the last 5 years, and more than half (57%) have reviewed their bylaws in the last 2 years.

      Takeaway: Bylaws are a living, breathing document. They should be reviewed regularly and revised as needed.  

    9. Succession Plan. Only one-third (34%) of nonprofit boards have an executive leader succession plan, yet 50% of boards will replace a CEO or Executive Director in the next 5 years.

      Takeaway: Executive succession planning needs to be a priority for all nonprofits. Even long-time executives will retire one day. Some leaders will take new jobs. Others may have medical emergencies or even die. Will you be prepared when the time comes?  

    10. Board Assessment. 29% of boards have never done a formal, written board assessment whereas more than half (52%) have done an assessment within the past 3 years. BoardSource recommends a comprehensive self-assessment every 2 years.

      Takeaway: CEOs and Executive Directors report higher performing boards, better board orientation, and greater board engagement when the board does a regular self-assessment.

    This data comes from BoardSource, a respected authority and the national leader on nonprofit board governance and leadership. Every two years, they conduct a national study on nonprofit board practices.

    (You can download the entire Leading with Intent report here.)

    With more than a dozen years worth of data, BoardSource offers trends and insights to what's really happening inside nonprofit boardrooms.

    How does it compare with what's happening in yours?


    Share this list with your Board Chair or Governance Committee, then ask your board members to consider:

    • What are we currently doing, and why?
    • Are there things we should consider doing differently, and why?
    • What new policies or practices should we adopt, and why? And when?

    Don't forget to answer the "why" questions. And make sure you follow through on "when."

    Hold yourself, and your fellow board members, accountable for making change happen.


    Every board is different because every nonprofit is different. And sometimes, just knowing what other boards are doing (or aren't doing) can help you improve your own performance.

    The good news: You CAN build a better, stronger, high-performing board and organization.

    And whenever you need help, I'm here.

    Contact me when you're ready, and let's talk about how you can take your board and your nonprofit to a new level.

    Laura Rhodes received a Certificate in Nonprofit Board Education from BoardSource in 2016. She conducts board education and engagement sessions, retreats and trainings for nonprofits across the U.S.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.


    Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/LinkedIn-Feb2017-2.pngHow Does Your Board Comparehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-02-01-how-does-your-board-compare
    The Best Boards Practice Good Governancehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-01-04-best-boards-practice-good-governanceWed, 04 Jan 2017 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-632786448The Best Boards Practice Good Governance

    "When I grow up, I want to be a BOARD MEMBER!"

    Said no child. Ever.

    Yet imagine the child who grows up loving their pets and the outdoors. As an adult, they may want to get involved with organizations that support animal welfare or the environment.

    It's really not surprising that so many individuals join nonprofit boards because they have a passion for the cause.

    It's also not surprising that a lot of people join boards without really understanding what a board really does (or is supposed to do).

    And with more than 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the U.S., that's a lot of boards – and a whole lot of board members!


    Nonprofit boards are responsible for the governance of the organization. (The CEO or Executive Director is responsible for managing the nonprofit's daily operations.)

    What is governance?

    "Governance" comes from a Greek word meaning "to steer." When you think about it that way, it's easier to understand the role of a nonprofit board.

    Governance is the process of providing strategic leadership to a nonprofit organization.

    There are 10 essential responsibilities of boards, and they fall under 3 umbrellas:

    • setting organizational direction,
    • ensuring the organization has adequate resources, and
    • providing organizational oversight.

    Who governs the organization?

    The board – all of the collective board members, together – is responsible for governance.

    This means no one person (e.g. the Board Chair) has any more authority than any other board member.

    Individual board members and committees can do work and make recommendations. However, it is the board that makes final decisions and takes action – as one group.

    What does good governance look like?

    BoardSource is the leading authority on nonprofit board governance and leadership. They have defined these Essential Practices for good governance:

    • Meeting Attendance. Board service is a commitment, and meeting attendance is part of that commitment.

      Takeaway: Nonprofit boards should have (and enforce) an attendance policy.

    • Term Limits. Term limits allow regular rotation, which brings new people, new ideas and new energy to your board.

      Takeaway: Nonprofit boards should have (and enforce) term limits.

    • Strategic Board Recruitment. Boards should not be homogenous. It's important that board members have different backgrounds, experiences and demographics. It's important to consider individual talents and skill sets as well.

      Takeaway: Nonprofit boards should assess their current board and their future needs when recruiting new board members.

    • Strategic Planning. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

      Takeaway: "Setting organizational direction" is a key responsibility of boards. Boards should always be looking ahead and regularly engage in the strategic planning process.

    • Budget Approval. Staff and the finance committee will prepare the annual budget and present it to the board for approval.

      Takeaway: "Ensuring adequate resources" is another key responsibility of boards. Although the budget may be developed by the staff and/or recommended by the finance committee, it's the board's responsibility to that it meets the needs of the organization.

    • Chief Executive Job Description and Evaluation. The board is responsible for defining the job itself as well as managing the nonprofit's top leader. In annual performance reviews, the board and CEO/Executive Director should set performance goals together.

      Takeaway: "Providing oversight" is another key responsibility of boards. This includes the nonprofit's top leader. Plus, CEOs who have clear expectations and regular performance evaluations are more satisfied with their jobs.

    • Audit, for nonprofits with annual revenue exceeding $1 million. The board is responsible for selecting the auditor as well as reviewing the findings

      Takeaway: Regular audits are another way that boards are "providing oversight" to the organizations they serve.


    Assess how well your board is governing itself and the organization.

    Use this list as a starting point to evaluate what your board is doing well and what it could be doing better.

    • Meeting attendance
    • Term limits
    • Strategic board recruitment
    • Strategic planning
    • Budget approval
    • Chief executive job description and evaluation
    • Audit

    Bottom line: your board should be following all of these essential governance practices.

    If you have gaps or shortcomings, bring it to the attention of your Board Chair or Governance Committee, so they can be reviewed and discussed with the board.


    The best boards practice good governance.

    These best practices here are not inclusive of all good governance practices; however, they are considered to be essential practices.

    There are also a number of leading practices as well as compliance practices. The very best boards will be aware of all of these practices and adhere to them.

    All in the name of good governance.

    Laura Rhodes received a Certificate in Nonprofit Board Education from BoardSource in 2016. She conducts board education and engagement sessions, retreats and trainings for nonprofits across the U.S.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.


    Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/LinkedIn-Jan2017.pngThe Best Boards Practice Good Governancehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2017-01-04-best-boards-practice-good-governance
    The Real Value of Your Volunteershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-12-07-real-value-your-volunteersWed, 07 Dec 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-420637640The Real Value of Your Volunteers

    December 5 is International Volunteer Day, a day created by the United Nations more than three decades ago. From their website:

    "Your voluntary engagement might sometimes go unnoticed to the world, but your actions count in the communities that have benefited from your hard work."


    Nonprofits couldn't do their good work without volunteers - from board members and committee members to on-the-ground and behind-the-scenes supporters.

    And sure. You know the intrinsic value of your volunteers. Like the old Mastercard commercial said, "Priceless." But...

    What's the "real" value of a volunteer?

    The Independent Sector currently estimates the economic value of a volunteer hour to be $23.56. That's a national figure.

    It could be different, depending on where you live. In Montana, for instance, it's $20.44. In New York and California, it's $27.59. ( Click here to see the rate for your state.)

    And it could be much higher, depending on the skills of the volunteer and if they are volunteering in a highly specialized capacity. Like an attorney who is providing pro-bono legal services.

    Now, think about how many volunteers you have…and how many hours they volunteer. It adds up. Fast.

    For instance, I work with a literacy organization that has nearly 300 volunteers, mostly tutors and classroom instructors. Last year, those volunteers gave 18,115 hours of service. At the current rate, that's more than $425,000 of value.

    Does the actual "value" of these volunteer hours really matter?

    Yes! Consider this:

    • Certain funders may ask you to match a percentage of the grant award. Volunteer hours may satisfy a part or all of that requirement. 
    • It's become increasingly common for grant applications to ask how you plan to sustain your program. Most people answer in terms of their donors (and their monetary gifts). Yes, those are important financial resources. At the same time, don't forget your volunteers (and their gifts of time and talent). Volunteers are invaluable human resources.

    The bottom line? Volunteers give you greater organizational capacity to do your good work.

    Why else should I track volunteer hours?

    Chances are, you recognize your volunteers sometime during the year. (Planning tip: April 23-29, 2017 is National Volunteer Week.)

    Do you recognize your volunteers on their service anniversary? What about milestones, like 100 hours of service? Or 250? Or 500?

    If you have volunteers who volunteer this many hours over a 12-month period, you can nominate them for the  President's Volunteer Service Award.

    Regardless of when or how you do it, a milestone recognition does three things. It shows your volunteers that you've been paying attention. It says you appreciate their tireless service to your organization. And, most importantly, it demonstrates that you value them as individuals.


    You've heard the saying: Good help is hard to find.

    Well, good volunteers are even harder to find. And when you do find them, you want to do everything you can to keep them.

    Remember, volunteers add real value to your organization. They give time. They bring talent. And those two add up to meaningful numbers you can use.

    Remember, too, to thank your volunteers, and not just once a year. Thank them often. Recognize their service (especially milestones). And celebrate their contributions. All year long.

    Make sure your volunteers know just how much you value them.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Did you know that "fundraising or selling items to raise money" is the second most popular way to volunteer?

    That's according to new data from the Corporation for National and Community Service. (The most popular way is "collecting, preparing, serving or distributing food.")

    Want more information on volunteers and volunteerism?

    View national highlights about volunteerism in the U.S.

    Use this interactive map to find volunteer statistics for your state

    Read "What Your Volunteers Need to be Happy,," which includes 10 tips on how to get volunteers to come...and stay.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/GlobalApplause.jpgThe Real Value of Your Volunteershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-12-07-real-value-your-volunteers
    How to Get Donors to Like You and Give Morehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-11-02-how-get-donors-like-you-give-moreWed, 02 Nov 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-338342032How to Get Donors to Like You and Give More

    Dale Carnegie's seminal book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, was published 80 years ago.

    It's an oldie…and it's still a goodie.

    And it wasn't written for fundraisers. However, there are many lessons you can apply when you want to raise more money for your nonprofit.

    Let's consider each of his 6 principles in the section, "How To Get People To Like You."

    Carnegie's principle #1: Become genuinely interested in other people.
    Fundraising corollary: Relationships first. Money second.

    Far too many people think fundraising is all about "asking." Really, it's about helping people connect to causes they already care about.

    Successful fundraisers understand the value of relationships. If you want to develop real relationships, the first thing you need to do is get to know what's important to your donor.

    After you help your donors understand how their interests align with your work, then you'll be ready to ask.

    Carnegie's principle #2: Smile.
    Fundraising corollary: Have an attitude of gratitude.

    Whether you're talking to a donor in person, online, or on paper, give your donors a reason to smile. After all, it's their donations that make your good work possible.

    In your thank you letters, newsletters, and impact reports, look for ways to surprise and delight your donors. Always convey your gratitude as well as hope and optimism for what will change because of their support.

    Carnegie's principle #3: Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
    Fundraising corollary: Be donor-centric.

    There are plenty of studies that show that a personal letter addressed "Dear Susan" will yield better results than the same form letter addressed to "Dear Friend" or "Dear Supporter."

    Make sure you know your donor's correct name. Even more importantly, know how THEY want to be addressed. Don't call her Deb when she prefers Deborah. And definitely don't call him Thomas or Mr. Ahern; he's Tom.

    And, if you want to be sure that all of your nonprofit's communications are truly donor-centric, take Tom Ahern's "You" test.

    Carnegie's principle #4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
    Fundraising corollary: Understand what's important to your donor.

    When Carnegie talked about listening, he was talking about becoming a good conversationalist.

    In fundraising, active listening is an important skill. You want to listen to understand and not just to respond.

    In fact, in major gift fundraising, there's a technique called "conversational fundraising." It's the process of getting to know your donor and asking questions about what's important to them, what shapes their attitude towards giving, and how they'd like to support your work.

    Carnegie's principle #5: Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
    Fundraising corollary: One size doesn't fit all in fundraising.

    Segmenting your donors is a valuable strategy when communicating with your donors – whether through targeted appeals, newsletters, or events. Don't just segment by giving history, though. Consider each donor's interest areas as well.

    Take a nonprofit that protects open spaces and builds community trails. They might segment their donors by land owners and land users (e.g. bikers, hikers).

    This organization might change its messages slightly for each audience. Perhaps they'd plan a fancy gala for one segment and more laid back affair for the other. It's possible they might even ask these two segments to support the organization at different financial levels.

    Carnegie's principle #6: Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
    Fundraising corollary: Make the donor the "hero" of your story.

    In nonprofit communications, you always want to make the donor the "hero" of your story.

    Consider doing this in

    • Your call to action ("You can help a single mother get her GED.")
    • Your thank you ("Nikki is on the path to getting her GED, thanks to you.") or
    • Your impact story ("Nikki received her GED last month, and she'll start a new job soon because of your gift and contributions from other people like you!")


    Have you heard this saying? "People give to people. They don't give to organizations." 

    How about this? "Donors don't give to your organization. They give through your organization."

    Both statements are true.

    People give to people they know…and like…and trust. They also give to causes that matter to them.

    Most importantly, your donors will continue to give when they feel appreciated and believe their contribution – no matter how large or small – is making a difference.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    If you're looking for more fundraising inspiration, check out these resources:

    Read these Great Books For Fundraisers...And None Of Them Are About Fundraising

    Learn How to Segment Your Email List, and Why

    Check out this handy Guide to Really Making Your Donors Your Hero

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/LinkedIn-Nov_2016-1.pngHow to Get Donors to Like You and Give Morehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-11-02-how-get-donors-like-you-give-more
    How to Be Your Donor, and Whyhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-10-05-how-be-your-donor-whyWed, 05 Oct 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-324687798How to Be Your Donor, and Why

    " Be Your Donor Day." Have you heard of it?

    It's not a traditional holiday and it gets little fanfare. However, this simple concept has big implications for your nonprofit.

    Think of "Be Your Donor Day" as a time to measure your donors' giving experience. From testing your donation system to tracking your back office process, you want to make sure every donor's experience is a great one.

    Why now?

    Nonprofits will see a spike in online giving, particularly online giving, at the end of the year.

    #GivingTuesday is the unofficial kickoff of the online giving season. (It's always the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.)

    And estimates are that 22% of all online giving occurs on December 30 and 31 each year.

    What should you do?

    To prepare, one thing you want to do is make sure your online donation page is working. Make sure it's easy for your donors to give now.

    You should also consider your entire giving process. Put steps in place to make your donors want to give again later.

    How do you improve your donors' experience?

    There are some obvious system features that will help your donors have a great online giving experience.

    • Test your online donation form
      Make sure it works. Make a small personal donation, and test the actual online giving form before you ask others to give online.
    • Be mobile-friendly
      Mobile giving is on the rise, so you want to be sure your giving page is ready. Know that, even if your website is optimized for smart phones and tablets, your donation page may not be mobile-friendly. Especially if you're using a third-party processor for online gifts.
    • Automate your first thank you
      Your online processing system likely sends an automated confirmation after a donation is made. Make sure it does. And, if you can control the content, consider personalizing it to a mission-oriented message instead of a generic "Your donation has been received."

    Then there are some things you should do from the office, after receiving the gift:

    • Send a gift receipt/acknowledgement
      A gift receipt is a confirmation of the amount, the date of the gift and language about the whether the gift is tax deductible. Send this promptly, ideally within 48 hours of receiving the gift.
    • Send a thank you letter
      You want to send every donor a heartfelt thank you letter. It can be typed, or it can be handwritten. Whatever the format, it should make your donors feel as special as they are.

    NOTE: A gift receipt is not a thank you (and vice versa) although many nonprofits include tax language in their thank you letter.

    After you've sent your thank you, there are still things you can do that will really wow your donors.

    • For new donors, send a welcome kit
      Along with your thank you letter, consider sending something like your most recent donor-centered newsletter, a short story about a program beneficiary, or a picture that illustrates your work.
    • For as many donors as possible, make a thank you call
      This is a great way to involve your board members. Call your donors, just to say "thank you." You can do this any time, and you can't do it too often.
    • Offer a donor-only exclusive opportunity
      A great way to thank your donors is to offer an experience that they can only get as a donor. For instance, if you're a theatre company, maybe it's a meet-and-greet with the performers.

    What else can you do?

    If you're able, consider making an online gift to another nonprofit and "test" their process.

    When you do, consider your own donor experience. How easy was it to make a gift? How prompt was the thank you? Was it personal? How did it make you feel?

    And after you make your gift, consider what the recipient organization does to make you feel special. What do they do (if anything) to make you want to give again?


    There's a saying that the best writers are always good readers. Similarly, the best fundraisers are also good donors.

    The best fundraisers understand there's a joy that comes from giving. And because they know how it feels to be a donor, they want to do all they can to ensure that others to experience the same joy and satisfaction.

    Do all you can to make sure your donors have a positive giving experience, and you'll be on your way to your next gift.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Take the time to "Be Your Donor" and go through the giving process. See what works (and what doesn't), and make adjustments. That way, you'll improve the experience for everyone who gives to your organization.

    Want more tips about ways to improve your donors' giving experience?

    Download the "Be Your Donor Day" Checklist

    Check out these 6 Best Practices for Online Donation Pages

    Read how the experts suggest you can Use The "Be Your Donor" Concept All Year Long.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/LinkedIn-Oct_2016.pngHow to Be Your Donor, and Whyhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-10-05-how-be-your-donor-why
    10 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Successhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-09-07-10-tips-for-year-end-fundraising-successWed, 07 Sep 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-12562069310 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Success

    It's back-to-school time. And if you have kids - whether they're in kindergarten, starting college or somewhere in between - you make a plan for getting ready for that all-important first day.

    What about your nonprofit? Are you getting ready for the most important time of your year? December can be make-or-break for your organization's annual budget.

    Why? More than 30% of annual giving happens in December. And 11% of annual giving occurs on the last three days of the year.

    If you haven't started planning your year-end fundraising campaign, now's the time to start. And here are a few ideas to get you going.


    1. Make a plan.

      First, set your top-line fundraising goal.

      Then, decide which channels you will use. (A direct mail appeal? A series of emails? Social media?) A multi-channel approach will be more successful than making a single ask.

      Lastly, make a calendar with activities, deadlines and names. And remember: a plan is only as good as those who set it through.


    2. Call your LYBUNTs.

      These are your donors who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This. (Not yet anyway.) When you call, you're not asking them to give again. Not yet.

      Just reach out and thank them for their previous support. If you like, you can let them know they'll be receiving information about this year's campaign soon. Close the call by thanking them (again) for their past support and saying you hope you can count on them again this year.

    3. Call your current donors.

      Thank-a-thons are a popular activity around Thanksgiving. Many nonprofits use the days before and immediately after the holiday to call donors and say "thank you" for giving.

      If you have board members who say, "I'll do anything but ask for money," ask them to help with your thank-a-thon. Nothing is easier than saying thank you.

      And if you find yourself with too many donors and not enough time (or not enough volunteers), who do you call? Conventional wisdom says start with your top donors.

      Instead, try starting with your first-time donors. Then move to your long-time donors. These donors will be surprised and delighted to hear from you. And it will improve donor retention.


    4. Use one call-to-action.

      For your year-end fundraising appeals, you want to give people one call-to-action: Give.

      Don't introduce topics like how to volunteer or how to sign up for the newsletter. There's a time and place for those messages. Your year-end appeal isn't it.

    5. Make it personal.

      Be sure your print and email appeals are addressed to a real person, not "Dear Friend" or "Dear Supporter."

      And, if your donor database allows you to, consider inserting last year's gift amount into your mail merge. That way, you can remind your donors what they gave last year (and even encourage them to give a little extra, if they're able).

    6. Be specific.

      Tell your donor exactly how her donation will help - ideally, how one person will benefit. And always share stories instead of spouting statistics. Numbers numb.

      For instance, 46.5 million Americans struggle with hunger. That's 1 in 7 people. (And a frightening statistic.) A single donor can't eliminate the problem - the problem's too big. However, one donor can make sure that Timmy and his family won't go to bed hungry tonight.

      Bonus points if you can tell your donors what different giving amounts will do. Habitat for Humanity does an amazing job at this, starting at $10 (buy a box of nails), with specific giving options up to $2,000.

    7. Create a sense of urgency.

      People tend to respond to a deadline, whether it's real or self-imposed. Deadlines require people to take action, and that's what you want. You want people to give. Now.

      Of course, that doesn't mean won't accept a gift if it comes in during January. At the same time, when you ask someone to make a gift by December 31, they'll be more inclined to do it simply because you gave them a deadline.

    8. Add a post script.

      Studies have found that donors often read the P.S. first - and sometimes it's the only thing they read.

      So, be sure to add a post script. It should restate your call-to-action, your deadline or another key message (like a matching gift).

    9. Write like you speak.

      Read your letter or email out loud. Is it conversational?

      Did you take out all the long-winded sentences? What about jargon and nonprofit-speak?

      (Did you know? The best nonprofit communications are written at or below a 6th grade level. It's called "reading ease," and you can test the grade level of your writing here.)

    10. Write to read, design to scan.

      When you're the one who's painstakingly and lovingly writing your nonprofit's annual appeal, you hope your donors will read every word. And some will. But most won't.

      Most donors will scan your letter to see if it's worth reading. They spend a few precious seconds looking at headings, pictures, captions and the post script.

      At first glance, they're not really reading. They're deciding if they want to read what you've sent.  

      BONUS TIP!

    11. Allow donors to designate their gifts.

      Charitable gifts are a popular gift-giving option for holidays, birthdays, weddings and other milestones. By offering an honorarium or memorial option, you're giving your donors a way to recognize or remember someone while, at the same time, supporting your good cause.

      Also, if you have different programs, you might consider allowing donors to designate to a particular program. (With this information, you can send more targeted, more personalized appeals in the future.) And, if you include designation options on your remittance envelope or reply device, be sure to give a "wherever my gift is needed the most" option.


    At a recent workshop, I shared the story of an American high jumper, Dick Fosbury, and his now-famous "Fosbury Flop." Fosbury's "flop" was actually a tremendous success, earning him the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics.

    You need to be willing to experiment with new ways of doing things - just like Fosbury did - until you find the fundraising strategies and tactics that work best for you.

    In the meantime, incorporate these tips in your year-end campaign and - like Dick Fosbury - you'll reach new heights.

    Photo courtesy of Pixabay and FreeGraphicToday


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    The success of your year-end fundraising campaign depends on donations from individuals. Create a plan to engage your current donors, and you'll reap the rewards.

    Want more tips about year-end fundraising and writing great appeals?

    Check out these 10 Year-End Giving Statistics Every Fundraiser Should Know

    Sending snail mail? Here are 10 Tips for Improving Your Fundraising Appeal Letter

    Sending email? Don't miss these 5 Tips To Writing Fundraising Email Appeals That Inspire Action

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/deadline-stopwatch-2636259_340.jpg10 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Successhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-09-07-10-tips-for-year-end-fundraising-success
    Anatomy of a Stellar Thank You Letterhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-08-03-anatomy-stellar-thank-you-letterWed, 03 Aug 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-671247531Anatomy of a Stellar Thank You Letter

    Want to make your donors feel like a million bucks?

    "Handwritten notes are the gold standard," says Lynne Wester, author of the The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations. "Donors rarely get those personal touches."

    Here are some simple truths: When you give someone a gift, you expect them to say "thank you." And when a donor makes a contribution to your nonprofit, you should always say thank you. Always. And always in writing.

    Your thank you letter doesn't have to be handwritten. It might be a typed letter. It could be an email.

    I do agree with Lynne, though. A handwritten note is special, and it does make you stand out.

    Whatever medium you choose, your "thank you" should have some basic elements. Follow these four simple steps and you'll take your thank you letters from average to All Star!

    1. Start by being specific. Bonus points if you don't start with the words "Thank you."
      Boring: Thank you for your gift.
      Better: Thank you so much for the gift you sent for (your event or campaign name here).
      Best: You have no idea how much we appreciate your gift to (your event or campaign).
    2. Acknowledge how the gift will be used.
      Tell the donor why their gift was appropriate, useful, and/or needed. Again, the more specific you can be, the better. Help your reader visualize exactly how their gift will be used.
    3. Include a personal note.
      It's easy to write something generic like "We appreciate your generosity" (or thoughtfulness or kindness or…). Instead, express a sentiment that is personally meaningful to the person you're writing or unique to the gift-giving event.
    4. Always have an attitude of gratitude.
      Restate your thanks again somewhere before signing off.

    These four building blocks can be stacked in any order. And this formula works in any circumstance and for any gift.

    Consider this thank you for a wedding gift:

    1. Specific. Instead of thanking me for the generic "wedding present," the bride thanked me for "the mugs in our china pattern."
    2. How the gift will be used. "Will is a huge coffee drinker, so he was especially excited about this gift."
    3. Personal note. The bride commented on my family being at her wedding and added, "It meant so much that you made the effort to be there." (Having travelled from out of state, I especially appreciated this acknowledgement.)
    4. Attitude of gratitude. The wedding weekend was "amazing and unforgettable and we're so glad you were there to help celebrate!"

    And it was, in fact, my pleasure to be there to help the happy couple celebrate.

    Now, look at this thank you for a business consultation. Four sentences. Each one has a purpose. It's simple. And it works.

    Specific. "Thank you so much for your time today!"

    1. Attitude of gratitude. "It was great to get your guidance and advice regarding the theater."
    2. How the gift will be used. "I look forward to reading through the articles you will be sending me."
    3. Personal note. "Hopefully, we will cross paths again soon."

    Lastly, here's one of several wonderfully written thank you letters that I received from local nonprofits after supporting them during the community-wide Give Big Gallatin Valley event.

    1. Specific. "What a great gift to receive your donation on the Give Big Day – May 3rd!"
      (Bonus points for starting the letter with something other than the obvious "Thank you.")
    2. How the gift will be used. "Your donation will go directly to our watershed campaign and specifically to clean up shooting areas and protect Bozeman's water supply." (Wow! I had no idea. I gave to this group, primarily because I knew they plow roads to a local recreation area in the winter. I use that area, and I appreciate that service.)
    3. Personal note. "Despite the rainy weather, our Annual Spring Clean Up on May 15th generated 100+ volunteers cleaning up several tons from the winter." (Again, wow! I had no idea – and now I appreciate this group even more.)
    4. Attitude of gratitude. "Please know your gift makes a difference to help keep Hyalite enjoyable to all." (Extra bonus points because the note was signed by all of the board members.)


    It doesn't matter if you're writing to a friend, a first-time donor or your great aunt Edna. When you follow these four basic steps, you'll have written a stellar thank you letter.

    And you know what they say: Practice makes perfect!


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Saying "thank you" is an important part of the fundraising cycle. In this 9-minute video interview with Lynne Wester, she'll give you different ways to say thank you. (And, about 5 minutes in, she'll tell the one thing you should never say in your thank you letters.)

    Want more?

    Read this short post about thank you letters: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Learn what nonprofits are doing well, what they could be doing better and what they're not doing at all.

    Use this checklist to make sure your thank you letters (and other communications) are donor-centered: Is Your Organization Donor-Centered?

    Keep this Donor Thank You Guide handy (and check out page 14 for thank you ideas that go beyond the written word and will surprise and delight your donors).

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/pen.jpgAnatomy of a Stellar Thank You Letterhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-08-03-anatomy-stellar-thank-you-letter
    15 Fun Facts from the Giving USA 2016 Reporthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-07-06-15-fun-facts-from-giving-usa-2016-reportWed, 06 Jul 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-96643687915 Fun Facts from the Giving USA 2016 Report

    "2015 Was America's Most-Generous Year Ever."

    That's the headline from this year's Giving USA Report. And that's good news for the nonprofit sector.

    If you're not familiar with the Giving USA Report, it's the longest-running annual report on charitable giving. The report was researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and it's published by Giving USA.

    Here's what you need to know from this year's report, along with 15 fun facts about the numbers.


    FUN FACT #1: Charitable contributions reached a new all-time high in 2015. The total works out to Americans giving more than $1 billion to charity every day in 2015. More than $1 billion! Every day!

    FUN FACT #2: 2015 marked the sixth consecutive year of year-over-year giving increases. Experts attribute the increases to the country's improving economy. They also believe the increases are a sign that household income and personal finances are stabilizing.

    Image credit: Giving USA


    FUN FACT #3: All four categories of philanthropic giving grew in 2015. (That's individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations.)

    FUN FACT #4: Individual giving continues to represent the largest piece of the pie. (That's 71% of total giving - or $264.58 billion in 2015.)

    FUN FACT #5: Individuals are responsible for 88% of total giving. (You can calculate that by adding individuals, bequests and half of foundation gifts, which come from family foundations.)

    FUN FACT #6: Bequest giving depends on the 5 wealthiest estates that close each year. In some cases, this category can be influenced by a single mega-estate.

    FUN FACT #7: Corporate giving includes in-kind contributions and cash. In-kind donations, namely pharmaceuticals, make up a large percentage of corporate gifts.

    Image credit: Nonprofit Quarterly


    FUN FACT #8: Eight out of nine recipient types saw year-over-year increases in 2015. This is the same as last year - 8 out of 9 saw growth - although there was a change in the 2015 winner and loser.

    FUN FACT #9: International was the only subsector NOT to see growth in 2014, yet it realized the largest growth in donations in 2015 (+17.4%). This is attributed to the number of large scale, international incidents including the Nepal earthquake and the Syrian refugee crisis.

    FUN FACT: #10: Giving TO foundations was down in 2015 (-4.0%). This is attributed in part to the rise in popularity of donor-advised funds. Many donors find these funds less expensive to set-up and much easier to manage than a traditional foundation.

    FUN FACT #11: Three of the United States' top 10 "qualified public charities" are commercial donor-advised funds, according to the Philanthropy 400.

    FUN FACT #12: It's expected that the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund will soon take over the top spot as the largest U.S. charity. Last year, Fidelity Charitable received only a fraction less (less than 1%) in private donations than United Way Worldwide.

    Image credit: AFP, Advancing Philanthropy (Spring 2016)

    FUN FACT #13: Two sectors (Religion and Education) represent nearly one half of total giving. This can be attributed to a large and loyal donor base. (Think weekly churchgoers and alumni.)

    Image credit: Giving USA

    FUN FACT #14: Forty years ago, Religion, as a sector, represented fully one-half (51%) of total giving. However, in absolute dollars, giving continues to grow. It's only the percentage that has changed. (Religion's piece of pie may appear to be getting smaller; however, the reality is the overall size of the pie is growing.)

    Image credit: Nonprofit Quarterly


    FUN FACT #15: There's a correlation between giving and volunteerism. People are more likely to give money to the same places where they give their time. However, the number of volunteers has been flat and, in fact, has declined in recent years.

    Image credit: Nonprofit Quarterly


    Individuals continue to be the single largest source of charitable gifts, and we're beginning to see considerable growth from bequests. Gifts from individuals and estates are expected to continue to increase.

    But, remember: charitable gifts don't just happen - especially estate gifts.

    First, you need to develop meaningful relationships with donors. Educate them about your work. Get them involved. Ask them to volunteer. And yes, at some point, ask for a donation. Then, repeat the cycle.

    In Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, Ken Burnett reminds us that charitable contributions should be the result of your relationship with donors, not the reason for it.

    Relationships first. Fundraising second.

    This post was inspired by the Spring 2016 issue of Advancing Philanthropy and the Giving USA 2016 report.


      Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

      If you're interested in learning more about the Giving USA report, get your own copy of the report (Highlights are free), then check out these resources:

      Check out these charts, showing year-over-year changes and some 60-year trends.

      For a deeper dive (like giving as a % of GDP and how giving tracks with the S&P), read Bloomerang's top 5 takeaways.

      Use these tools to make the most from the latest Giving USA results.

      Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

      Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Giving-Up.jpg15 Fun Facts from the Giving USA 2016 Reporthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-07-06-15-fun-facts-from-giving-usa-2016-report
    5 Fundraising Lessons from Give Big 2016https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-06-01-5-fundraising-lessons-from-give-big-2016Wed, 01 Jun 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-6114498185 Fundraising Lessons from Give Big 2016

    Have you heard about Give Big Day?

    It's a young and growing movement. Communities come together and raise money for local nonprofits during a single 24-hour period. And they raise a lot of money. For instance, my adopted hometown of Bozeman, Montana raised nearly $240,000 on its first-ever Give Big Day in 2015.

    Now, have you heard about Give Big 2016?

    As the concept has grown, more communities are participating, which means more donors - and more donations. As a result, this year, donation sites were overwhelmed on Give Big Day (May 3, 2016).

    All across the country, donation pages were sluggish. Many users received error messages when trying to give online. Others reported being double-charged when they gave online. One major fundraising platform even crashed, making the system unavailable to donors for most of the day. This included Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley.

    The organizers had previously announced Bozeman's goal: raise $300,000 during the 24-hour giving event. And giving had started at 12:01 a.m.

    I woke up that morning to see $67,057 already on the community tote board. I continued to watch throughout the morning, but the numbers didn't change. And when I tried to make my own donation, I couldn't.

    Something was wrong. Very wrong.

    Later, I talked to Bridget Wilkinson who is the executive director of the Bozeman Area Community Foundation. Bridget and the community foundation lead Give Big Gallatin Valley each year.

    "I had spent months preparing for every scenario," she told me. "And unfortunately, this one was out of my hands."

    By mid-morning, when it became apparent that the national Give Big online giving portal wasn't working, event organizers across the country began canceling their Give Big Day. But not Bozeman. And not Bridget.

    In about 20 minutes, Bridget says, she and her team had come up with their Plan B. And it worked.

    Three days later, the preliminary total was announced. Not only did Gallatin Valley meet its $300,000 goal, they crushed it.

    Here's what they did. And, just like Bozeman, you can raise more money when you apply these five overarching themes to your fundraising.

    1. Listen To Your Donors...and Give Them What They Want

    During Gallatin Valley's first Give Big Day in 2015, donors were directed to an online giving portal. Bridget learned that, while many liked the convenience of using their credit card, some preferred to write a check.

    So, for Give Big 2016, Bozeman area donors were given the option of writing a check or using their credit card.

    2. Make It Easy To Give

    With the introduction of the new check writing option, one of the local banks offered to act as a Check Donation Station. Donors could drop off their checks at the First Interstate Bank downtown all day during regular business hours.

    Additionally, pop-up donation sites offered the ultimate in convenience. Instead of asking donors to go out and find a giving location, these "donor lounges" were located where the people were. Venues ranged from a popular wine bar at midnight, to a gym at 7AM, to retailers and restaurants throughout the day.

    3. Be Creative

    To encourage giving, many donor lounges offered discounts or promotions when you made your Give Big donation at their location.

    The donor lounges were also equipped to accept checks as well as credit card donations. However, due to Kimbia's system outage, it wasn't possible to process credit cards as originally planned. So, Bozeman came up with two alternatives.

    First, a local company offered its office and call center employees to serve as a phone bank. Foundant Technologies' employees staffed the phones all day, taking credit card and donor information. After hours, community volunteers were on-site at Foundant, taking calls – and donations – until 9PM.

    As another, donors were directed to the Bozeman Area Community Foundation's website and giving page. Once there, they could make a single, secure, online contribution and designate it to any of the more than 130 participating charities.

    4. Communicate Often and Use Multiple Channels

    Early on, when problems began, Bozeman's organizers started communicating with the participating nonprofits by phone, email and social media. The nonprofits then used their reach to contact and update their own supporters.

    Throughout the morning, organizers continued to use social media to keep people posted on what was happening. They started using the hashtag #glitchwontgetusdown, and they even hinted that Plan B was in the works.

    In an official email in the noon hour, organizers promised, "In the event that Kimbia is unable to repair the site by 1:45 p.m., we are going transition to alternative donation plans."

    Right on schedule, Bozeman's organizers announced a clear and complete plan. With Plan B, donors had the option of going to the bank's Check Donation Station, or calling the newly established phone bank, or making an online donation online via an alternative giving page. And all three options allowed donors to make one gift and designate it to multiple charities - just as the original system was designed.

    It didn't take long for the word to get out. Between email from the organizer, social media shares as well as community buzz, Gallatin Valley residents knew exactly where and how they could give on Give Big Day.

    5. Remember, No One Can Do It Alone

    Bridget had a team supporting her from the beginning – from the early planning stages, to the event execution, to when she decided to call an audible to try and meet the original $300,000 fundraising goal.

    The end result? Bozeman area community members gave more than $433,000 on Give Big Day 2016. That's 82% more than last year's total and 44% more than this year's goal.

    But Give Big Day didn't end for Bridget on May 3rd. During the days that followed, a legion of volunteers donated their time to process checks, manually enter donations in the accounting system, even calling donors to ensure that their gifts were being allocated properly.

    "Without this team of volunteers, this day simply would not have been possible. And I very sincerely mean that," Bridget said.

    What should you take away from this?

    The event organizer and her team put their donors' wants and needs first. They spent countless hours planning the 2016 Give Big Day. Then, when the situation changed and was outside of their control, they worked together to identify new possibilities and quickly put a Plan B into place.

    There's a saying about ducks when they swim: They look calm on the surface when they're really paddling like crazy underneath. That saying accurately portrays Bridget Wilkinson and the Give Big Gallatin Valley team on May 3, 2016.

    Bridget shared, "I learned that it's easy to be a leader when things are going well. It's a whole different ball game when you want to crawl into a hole and hide, yet you have to make very hard decisions."

    "Our team made some critical decisions early on that I believe not only helped our day to continue - but helped it thrive."

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Plan_B.jpg5 Fundraising Lessons from Give Big 2016https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-06-01-5-fundraising-lessons-from-give-big-2016
    How You Should Be Talking To Your Donorshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-05-04-how-you-should-be-talking-your-donorsWed, 04 May 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-710159623How You Should Be Talking To Your Donors

    Penelope Burk literally wrote the book on Donor Centered Fundraising in 2003. So, the idea of donor-centricity isn't new.

    What's donor-centricity, you ask? It's organizing everything you do around the wants and needs of your donor.

    And in nonprofit communications, there's nothing more important than making the message about your donor.

    So, how should you be talking to your donors?

    Organization-Centric v. Donor-Centric

    Nonprofit communications experts (like Tom Ahern, Jeff Brooks and Kivi Leroux Miller) have long touted the virtues of donor-centric communications.

    Everything you write – from your website to your newsletter, from your fundraising appeals to your thank you letters – it should be written for and about your donor.

    Yes, you want to tell stories about all the good work you're doing. But remember, it's your donors who make all of your work possible.

    Tell your donors how great they are. (That's donor-centric.) Don't just talk about how great you are. (That's organization-centric.)

    If you're not sure if your communications are donor-centric, take Tom Ahern's "You" test.

    Grab a green pen, a red pen, and the last thing you wrote. Every time you wrote "you" or some variation ("your," "you'll") or the donor's name, circle it in green. Every time you wrote your organization's name or "we," circle it in red. You want to see at least a 2:1 ratio, green to red.

    How did you do?

    Donor-Centric v. Community-Centric

    Okay, so now you know you should talk more about the donor in your nonprofit communications and less about your organization.

    However, there's a new and growing trend in nonprofit communications that makes it okay to say "we," as in "We're in this together."

    Look at this infographic that compares what nonprofits want to tell donors and what donors want to hear. That intersection? That's community-centricity.

    Now, consider these three fundraising appeals:

    [Organization-centric] Our food bank campaign is underway, and we need your support.
    [Donor-centric] Your monthly gift ensures that the food pantry shelves are never empty.
    [Community-centric] Together, we can make sure none of our neighbors are hungry.

    Do you hear the difference? Which version or versions do you think your donors would respond to?

    What should you take away from all this?

    Donor-centricity will help you attract new donors. It will help you keep your existing donors. And in the end, it's just good business.

    Are you ready to take the "donor-centric" pledge? This is a 23-point statement, which was created by Tom Ahern and Simone Joyaux for their book, Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships.

    Take the pledge, then follow through and keep your promise.

    You can do it. And your donors deserve it.


      Do your nonprofit communications pass the donor-centered test? Check your last appeal, thank you letter, even your newsletter against this donor-centered checklist.

      Then check out these other resources to make sure your donor is at the heart of your communications.

      Use these 5 tips to write donor-centered fundraising appeals. Click here.

      Follow these 3 simple steps and you'll be writing donor-centered thank you letters in a snap. Click here.

      Here are 6 things that you'll want to do in a donor-centered newsletter (and 3 things you don't!). Click here.

      Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

      Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/fundraising-paradox.jpgHow You Should Be Talking To Your Donorshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-05-04-how-you-should-be-talking-your-donors
    Cool Google Tools and How Your Nonprofit Can Use Themhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-04-06-cool-google-tools-how-your-nonprofit-can-use-themWed, 06 Apr 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-908273618Cool Google Tools and How Your Nonprofit Can Use Them

    Google. Can you imagine life without it?

    We use it every single day – and in so many ways. There's Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Hangouts, Maps and more. And we can't forget where it all started: good old-fashioned Search.

    And as much as you use Google, I'd bet there are tools and programs that you're not using…and that could benefit your nonprofit.


    As a kid, I remember watching my dad read the local paper while I ate breakfast. I'd read the headlines upside-down, while he read the paper cover to cover.

    I can still see him clipping articles, typically a business or civic announcement about someone he knew. He'd always pen a quick note before mailing the clipping off to a colleague, friend or family member.

    My dad would have loved Google Alerts.

    Google Alerts will monitor what's being said about people (or businesses or themes) that interest you, and email you a link to new content. You can choose to receive daily alerts, weekly alerts or notices as they happen.

    Set alerts for your board members, your major donors and your key volunteers. Then, when you get a notification, you can send them a quick email or note acknowledging what they did.

    It's an easy and effective way to keep up with – and stay connected to – people who are important to you and your organization.


    By now, I'm betting your nonprofit has a website. And you might very well be one of the two-thirds of Americans who have a smart phone.

    If you do have a smart phone, you've likely experienced the frustration of visiting a site that's not "mobile-friendly." Often, websites look great on a PC, but they don't look right – and often they don't behave well – on a phone or tablet.

    Even if you have a smart phone, the best way to test your website is to use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool. (Just click here, https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/, and type in your URL.)

    If your site is mobile-friendly, you'll get a thumbs up. More importantly, if your site isn't mobile-friendly, Google will make specific suggestions about what makes it incompatible.

    IMPORTANT! Just because your site is mobile-friendly, that doesn't mean that your donation page is. If you're using a third-party processor, be sure to test your donation page as well.

    Keep Google's mobile-friendly recommendations in mind when designing your next website. Also know that most designers today will use what's called Responsive Web Design, so your site looks (and works) great on all devices.


    Google is always tweaking its algorithm to give users better search results. Did you know that Google makes between 500-600 changes a year?

    Most changes are minor. Among the more major ones, earlier this year, Google announced that mobile-friendly sites will get preference in Search. And last year, Google changed its algorithm to give preference to secure sites.

    How do you know if your site is secure? Look for the "s" at the end of https:// in the address bar when you visit a website.

    If you don't see the https:// on your website, talk to your web developer.

    Remember, people will still find you when they type in your direct URL. It's when someone is doing a general search that having a mobile-friendly and secure site can help people find you and your website.

    For example, imagine someone searches "music camp for kids." If your organization offers that kind of programming, you want to be in the top results. Your website content has always been important in helping people find you online. And now, having a mobile-friendly and secure site helps, too.


    Another way to help people find your website is with Google Ads. These are the top line and bottom page advertisements you see when you search in Google.

    Businesses pay for this service, and nonprofits can get a $10,000 monthly Google Adwords credit thanks to Google Grants.

    There are some eligibility requirements for getting started and also steps for maintaining your eligibility. 

    You can learn more about Google Grants, what they are and how they work here.


    Google is bigger and better than ever. And it's much, much more than just a search engine.

    Make sure you're putting the power of Google to work for you.


      Alerts and Search and Grants – Oh My!

      Want to know more about how Google works and, specifically, how you can make it work for you? Check out these resources and ways to reach more supporters.

      Want to create better alerts? Click here.

      Want to know how Google Search Works? Everything from Algorithms to Answers.
      Click here.

      Hubspot offers these 10 ways for nonprofits to get the most out of Google Grants.
      Click here.

      BONUS: Want more? Check out these 8 Google Tools You May Not Know About

      Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

      Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/google-tools-logo.jpgCool Google Tools and How Your Nonprofit Can Use Themhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-04-06-cool-google-tools-how-your-nonprofit-can-use-them
    How To Have Better Board Meetingshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-03-02-how-have-better-board-meetingsWed, 02 Mar 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-201110922How To Have Better Board Meetings

    Board meeting: An event where minutes are kept and hours are lost. –Unknown

    Do your board meetings feel like a necessary evil? Well, there's hope. You can have better board meetings.

    Whether you're a board member, an officer or the board chair, there are things you can do to improve your board meetings.

    IF YOU'RE THE BOARD CHAIR, here are some tips for more efficient and more engaging board meetings.

    • Have a meeting with the executive director in advance.
      Remember, the board president (not the executive director) is responsible for leading board meetings. Staff may help organize the meeting, but it's the chair's job to lead the actual meetings and the board itself. Meet with the director to create the agenda and to understand any issues at hand that need the board's attention.
    • Send out all meeting materials at least three days prior to the meeting.
      Your meeting package might include this month's meeting agenda, the previous meeting's minutes, the current financial reports and any committee reports. By sending these out ahead of time, board members can read them all in advance, instead of listening to reports at the meeting.
    • At the meeting, have an agenda and stick to it.
      Honor your fellow board member's time by starting each meeting on time – and ending on time. (Trust me, you'll be a hero if you adjourn early.)
    • Get more done in less time.
      Consider using a consent agenda, where a single motion carries regular business such as approval of minutes and acceptance of committee reports. That way, the board can focus on big picture items instead of meeting minutia.
    • Share a "mission moment."
      Each meeting, take a few minutes to share a story about the good work of your organization. Sharing stories (especially success stories) connects people to the cause, and reminds everyone about the important work your organization is doing.

    IF YOU'RE THE BOARD TREASURER, try a different way of showing financial reports:

    • Present a financial "dashboard" of organizational health
      Financials aren't everyone's forte. So instead of producing system-generated reports, consider a one-page summary with key indicators like
    • Month-to-date performance (compared to last year)
      Year-to-date performance (compared to last year)
      Number of months (or days) of operating reserves on-hand
      Number of new donors
      Number of lapsed donors
      Number of board members who have made a financial gift this year 

    • Do the math (so others won't have to)
      Another disadvantage of system-generated reports is they don't always show the variance. Be sure your financial reports clearly show where your organization is ahead or behind.

      Color coded indicators (green = healthy, yellow = watch, red = warning) are another way for the board members to understand the financials at-a-glance.

    IF YOU'RE THE BOARD SECRETARY, try these ways to document who's there and what happens at your board meeting:

    • Attendance record
      Minutes should list who was present, as well as the time and location of the meeting. Consider circulating a sign-in sheet at meetings (names down the left side, meeting dates in columns across the top). Not only does this provide the secretary with an accurate record of who was there, it also allows everyone to see who should get a star for perfect attendance.
    • Remember, they're minutes, not a missive
      Minutes should accurately summarize any discussion (and the decisions made), but they don't need to capture all of the banter and conversation that often accompanies such conversations.
      Also, make them easy to read – literally. Consider formatting, font size, etc. when publishing the minutes in written form.

    IF YOU'RE A BOARD MEMBER, here are some ideas to make your board experience a great one.

    • Show up on time and stay for the entire meeting
      Technically, you're needed so the board has a quorum and can conduct business.
      Furthermore, being fully present at the meeting allows you to hear and engage in conversations that aren't always captured in meeting minutes.
    • Be prepared
      Read the minutes and the committee reports prior to the meeting. Come prepared to ask questions or make a motion to approve.
    • Be fully present
      As a board member, your input and involvement at board meetings is critical. So silence your phone. Don't check emails on your phone or tablet. Respect the other people in the room and remember the reason you're all there.
    • Learn how to read and understand financial statements
      Among your other duties, board members are charged with protecting the organization's assets and providing proper financial oversight. This is not the responsibility of the Finance Committee – this is the responsibility of every board member. Be sure you have a basic understanding of financial statements so you can ask appropriate questions. And if you don't understand, ask.
    • Learn how to be a better board member
      Ask your Board Development Committee to present short, mini-trainings that will help you and your peers become better board members. For instance, at a board meeting, talk about why it's important for board members to make "thank you" calls to donors, then pair up and do a quick role-play.

    What should you take away from this?

    Great board meetings are possible, but they don't just happen. They take planning, preparation and a commitment from everyone, from the board president and officers to each board member.

    Want more ideas? Check out this post: "Do You Have Bored Members?"

    If you're thinking about board training, let's talk! I'd love to customize a training just for you and your board. Choose from one-hour to full day. Contact Laura for information.


    Yes, Virginia. Great board meetings do exist. You can evaluate your own board meeting's effectiveness with this checklist from BoardSource

    And don't miss these resources that will help you have your best board meeting yet. 

    HubSpot shares these 7 tips for running effective board meetings

    The Best Board Meeting Ever? Check out these 10 must-haves from Les Wallace, PhD.

    Susan Detwiler shares 7 ways to keep your board focused, so you're spending time talking about real issues

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/learn-practice-improve.jpgHow To Have Better Board Meetingshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-03-02-how-have-better-board-meetings
    Do You Have Board Members or Bored Membershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-02-03-do-you-have-board-members-or-bored-membersWed, 03 Feb 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-301017591Do You Have Board Members or Bored Members

    You know those conference name badges with the colorful ribbons that say "Speaker," "Sponsor" and the like?

    I attended a conference recently where some attendees were wearing strips that said "Bored Member." (They were tchotchkes from the exhibitor's hall, and they were the hottest item there.)

    Silly as it seems, it does make you think.

    Does your nonprofit have "bored members?" Are you one yourself?

    More importantly, how do you change that?

    IF YOU'RE THE BOARD CHAIR, here are some tips to create more engagement and ensure your board members are anything but bored at meetings.

    • Send out all meeting materials at least three days prior to the meeting.
      Your meeting package might include this month's meeting agenda, the previous meeting's minutes, the current financial reports and any committee reports. That way, board members can read them all in advance, instead of listening to one report after another at the meeting.

    Why is this important? When you spend less time listening to committee reports, your board members can engage in more dialogue about important issues.

    • Share a "mission moment" at every meeting.
      Each meeting, take a few minutes to share a story about the good work of your organization. Mix it up!
    •      - Ask staff tell a specific story about a client: How has their life changed or improved?
           - Invite a program beneficiary to tell their own story: How has this program helped you?
           - Ask a volunteer or donor to share: Why do you give time and/or money to our cause?
           - Encourage board members to tell their own story: Why did you decide to join this board?

    Why is this important? Sharing stories (especially success stories) connects people to the cause, and reminds everyone about the important work your organization is doing.

    • Make board development a priority.
      Dedicate time for discussions and training that will help your board members become better board members. This includes everything from understanding your roles and responsibilities as board members to learning The Ultimate Board Member's Book, Kay Sprinkel Grace reminds us that all board members have a responsibility to evaluate their own effectiveness as a board member.

      If you're feeling more like a "bored member" than a board member, Kay suggests asking yourself questions like

      • Do I still have the time, energy and commitment to serve as a productive board member?
      • How would I rate my own performance as a board member relative to the performance of others? Top, middle or bottom third?
      • What are my strengths? How do I feel I've used them to help this organization? How could I use them better?

      After you've answered these questions, talk to your board chair. Share your experiences – and your ideas. You'll be glad you did, and your board chair will, too.

      Regardless of your position on the board, you can take steps to make the experience a good one – no, make that a great one – for you and your fellow board members.

      If you're thinking about board training in 2016, let's talk! I'd love to customize a training program just for you and your board. Choose from one-hour to full day. Contact Laura for information.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/bored-member-2.pngDo You Have Board Members or Bored Membershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-02-03-do-you-have-board-members-or-bored-members
    Do You Have Too Many Competing Prioritieshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-01-06-do-you-have-too-many-competing-prioritiesWed, 06 Jan 2016 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-400417287Do You Have Too Many Competing Priorities

    The new year. It's a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. It's a time for plans...and priorities.

    If you're like most people, you probably feel like you have too many things to do. And you wonder how you'll get them all done.

    There's no doubt that most nonprofit employees are charged with doing a lot of different tasks. And almost always with limited resources.

    So, I ask you: What's your organization's single most important priority for 2016?

    What if you focused your time, energy and resources on a single priority?

    Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, says this:

    "The word 'priority' came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.

    Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple 'first' things."

    I've talked to nonprofits whose 2016 wish lists are longer than Santa's list of all the good little boys and girls last month.

    They want this to be the year they take their websites, social media platforms and donor communications to a new level.

    They want to experiment with crowdfunding. And Giving Days.

    They know mobile giving is on the rise. They know there's opportunity in monthly giving, too.

    They know donor retention is important, and they want to be sure to attract new donors as well.

    There's no question about it: it's all important. The more important question is, is it all doable?

    Short answer? No. So ask yourself: what's most important?

    With that answer, you can focus on doing the most important thing. And doing it exceedingly well.

    How do you stop doing it all and focus on the most important thing?

    I can hear some of you saying, "Yes, but my board [or my executive director] expects me to do X and Y and Z... and it's all important."

    Remember this: identifying your organization's "most important thing" starts with your leadership.

    Your board of directors is responsible for setting the mission and the vision. Your executive director is responsible for seeing these through. The board (often with input from the executive director) creates the strategic plan, and the staff executes the plan.

    That's why it's critical for everyone to understand what the "most important thing" is for your organization this year. With this newfound clarity, it's much easier to distinguish between what McKeown calls "the trivial many" activities and "the vital few."

    And when you focus on doing "the vital few" activities, you'll be laser-focused on what you need to do to achieve your organization's top-level goal.

    What should you take away from this?

    One of McKeown's tenets of Essentialism is this: "I can do anything, but not everything."

    Likewise, your nonprofit can do anything. But not everything. So, focus on the most important thing.

    That might sound incredibly easy. And it might sound impossibly hard.

    Either way, it sounds like a good New Year's Resolution to me.


    A lot of people make personal resolutions to kick off the new year. What about work resolutions? Does your organization make New Year's Resolutions?

    Check out these nonprofit resolutions and suggestions for the new year.

    Fundraising consultant and copywriter Mary Cahalane offers some suggestions for Nonprofit Do's and Don'ts for the upcoming year. (My fave? Do review what went right and what didn't in 2015.)

    Nonprofit consultant and coach Susan Detwiler offers this open letter to your board of directors. Read Susan's New Year's Resolution for a Nonprofit President.

    Nonprofit communications expert Kivi Leroux Miller shared her 2016 work resolution: No net growth of the to-do list. Read Kivi's post: 7 Ways to Say No Without Actually Saying It.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/priority.jpgDo You Have Too Many Competing Prioritieshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2016-01-06-do-you-have-too-many-competing-priorities
    Last-Minute Tips for Year-End Fundraisinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-12-02-last-minute-tips-for-year-end-fundraisingWed, 02 Dec 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-428623039Last-Minute Tips for Year-End Fundraising

    Whether your nonprofit operates on a calendar year or fiscal year, what happens in December is critically important to your annual fundraising success. Did you know that giving spikes at the end of the year, every year? Fully one-third of December's gifts occur on December 31.

    So, how can you raise more money in the last four weeks of the year?

    Look at LYBUNTs
    What's a LYBUNT? In fundraising terms, it's someone who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This. Donor retention is critically important, yet it's easy to overlook in the quest for new donors.

    So, who are your LYBUNTs and what do you need to do to get them give?

    1. Run a report to identify who gave last year and who hasn't made a gift yet this year.
    2. Consider the names on your list. 
      • Can you reach them all, or do you need to prioritize?
      • How will you approach these donors? (phone call? email? personal letter? multi-channel?)
      • What will you say? (Hint: "Thank you for your past support" is always a great way to start.)
    3. Ask them to renew their gift.

    Need more help? Gail Perry offers 5 tips that will help you renew these donors and bring in more gifts before the end of the year.

    Send an email series
    Did you know? According to the 2014 M+R Benchmark Study, the average nonprofit sends 7 fundraising emails in December.

    Yes, I know, that's a lot. And there's no denying that email appeals have become an important part of many nonprofits' online fundraising strategy. However, instead of sending so many emails, think about sending a short series, right at the end of the year.

    Steven Screen shares a simple formula for a successful 3-part year-end email series. No one knows why it works, he says, but it does. (Watch the video here.)

    Basically, it works like this:

    1. On December 28, send a short email with a single call to action (Give!), and remind people they only have a few days left to do so this year. Include instructions on how to give, including a link to your online donation page.
    2. On December 30, send another (shorter) email with the same message.
    3. On December 31, send a final (even shorter) email that is focused on the deadline.

    Make sure it's easy to give online
    This time of year, most people go to your site to give. They don't go to learn about your programs or meet your staff and board or read your mission statement.

    A few things here. (You may need to put some of these on your New Year's Resolutions list.)

    1. Make sure your online giving form works. (Seriously. Consider making a small personal donation to test your online process before you ask donors to give online.)
    2. In your emails and digital communications, when "Give Now" is the call to action, don't send donors to your home page. You will improve your conversion rate and increase donations when you send donors directly to the online giving page.
    3. Ideally, you want a single-page donation form with as few required fields as possible. When you have too many fields or too many pages, you will lose between 50-70% of potential online donors.
    4. Don't forget mobile! Mobile giving is on the rise, and your online giving form needs to be optimized for smart phones and tablets.

    Cut through the clutter
    If you're sending an email appeal, you need the recipient to open it (then read it, then click-through) before they'll give. Let's focus on getting it opened. What can you do to stand out in the inbox?

    1. SENDER: This should be a real person with a real name. Don't send email from the organization as an entity. Ideally, the sender should be someone the reader knows (or at least recognizes), likes and trusts.
    2. SUBJECT: Pay attention to your subject line. 80% of people will read the subject line and 69% of people decide to open an email based on the subject line alone. Using the recipient's name in the subject line can improve open rates.
    3. TIMING: Consider this. Fewer emails are sent at night and on weekends. Yet we're a highly connected society, often checking email – yep, you guessed it – at night and on weekends. If you send your email when there's less activity in your donor's inbox, you just might get their attention.

    The last few weeks of the year will fly by, so consider which of these tips are the most doable this year. Make a list and check it twice. Then you'll have your year-end fundraising in the bag.

    Need help? Send me a message and let's talk about how Third Sector Consulting can help you raise more money.


    Did you know that some words (like "Helping," "Fundraising," and "Donate") actually hurt your email open rate? Others (like "Important" and "Urgent") can actually improve it.

    Check out these tips for writing winning email appeals and, of course, getting them opened.

    Quick tips for writing effective year-end email appeals

    Subject lines: Choose your words wisely

    Get insight and find inspiration from 400 fundraising email subject lines from December 2014

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/december.jpgLast-Minute Tips for Year-End Fundraisinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-12-02-last-minute-tips-for-year-end-fundraising
    10 Essential Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boardshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-11-04-10-essential-responsibilities-nonprofit-boardsWed, 04 Nov 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-62606369610 Essential Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards

    There's no "one-size-fits-all" answer for what a board should look like, in terms of size or demographics. However, there are some fundamental responsibilities that are shared by all nonprofit boards.

    Simone Joyaux, ACFRE is a nonprofit fund development and governance guru. In her teachings, she makes an important distinction between the board and board members. She says,

    • "Board" and "board members" are not interchangeable terms.
    • The "board" is a collective. The board is a group of people working together to govern the nonprofit and to ensure the effectiveness of the organization.
    • The "board members" are the individuals who comprise the board.

    With that in mind, does your board - and its individual board members - understand their
    10 basic responsibilities?

    1. Determine the organization's mission and purpose.
      Not only is this key during the formative stages of a nonprofit, it is also necessary that the board review and revisit the organization's mission and purpose from time to time. As circumstances and community needs change, your mission and purpose may need to change as well.
    2. Select the chief executive.
      The board has the responsibility to hire, manage (see #3) and, if necessary, fire the organization's top leadership position. In the case of succession planning, the current executive (and other stakeholders) may have input; however, it is the responsibility of the board to select the executive as well as determine his/her compensation.
    3. Support and evaluate the chief executive.
      The board - and, indeed all board members - should recognize and acknowledge the chief executive's accomplishments. The board should also provide candid and constructive feedback. Sometimes the Executive Committee or the board chair is charged with the executive's formal evaluation; however, the full board should provide input.
    4. Ensure effective organizational planning.
      Boards must actively participate in organization's overall planning and goal-setting process. "Planning" is a general term and may apply to the organization's operational (day-to-day) needs, annual (operational/fundraising) needs or short- and long-term (strategic) needs. The board also has oversight responsibility and should monitor, review and adjust plans as needed.
    5. Monitor and strengthen programs and services.
      The board has a responsibility to determine whether current (and proposed) programs and services are effective and align with the organization's stated mission. The board is responsible for revisiting programs and services or, alternatively, revising the mission and purpose. (see #1)
    6. Ensure adequate financial resources.
      Boards are responsible for making sure that the organization has the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. That means every board member has a responsibility to help with fundraising, which doesn't necessarily mean "asking." For instance, every board member should make a personal donation every year. Board members should also help identify new donors and help thank donors when they give.
    7. Protect assets and provide proper financial oversight.
      The board, as an entity, has a legal and fiduciary responsibility to the organization. The board is responsible for seeing that financial controls are in place and the organization manages its resources wisely. The board is ultimately responsible for the financial decisions and related actions of the organization.
    8. Build a competent board.
      Boards have a responsibility to determine proper board composition, recruit and orient new board members and provide on-going board training opportunities. Boards should have a board member job description as well as a board member commitment form so individual board members understand their responsibilities and the organization's expectations. Boards should also assess their own performance and effectiveness regularly.
    9. Ensure legal and ethical integrity.
      Your board - and your board members - are responsible for adhering to legal standards and ethical norms. Often referred to as the Three D's, all board members have a Duty of Care (acting as and reasonable person would with respect to planning and decision-making), a Duty of Loyalty (acting in the best interest of the organization, not personal self-interest) and a Duty of Obedience (not acting in a way that is inconsistent with the organization's goals).
    10. Enhance the organization's public standing.
      Your board - and your board members - should act as ambassadors and advocates of the organization. They should be knowledgeable about organization's programs and services. They should know and be able to tell organizational "success stories."

    Source: Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Second Edition, by Richard T. Ingram (BoardSource 2009).

    How does your board score against this checklist? Send me a message and tell me if your board is a perfect 10.

    And if you have some areas where your board needs work, ask how Third Sector Consulting can help.


    Not sure if your board is operating at peak performance? Check out these resources from Simone Joyaux, ACFRE and Charity Lawyer.



    TOP 15 NONPROFIT BOARD GOVERNANCE MISTAKES (from a legal perspective), by Charity Lawyer

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/checklist-1.jpg10 Essential Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boardshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-11-04-10-essential-responsibilities-nonprofit-boards
    21 Tips for Your Year-End Fundraising Appealhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-10-07-21-tips-for-your-year-end-fundraising-appealWed, 07 Oct 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-92322467521 Tips for Your Year-End Fundraising Appeal

    When it comes to fundraising, what do you need to know?

    First, abandon the idea of a single "annual appeal." Asking for money is no longer a once-a-year activity. In fact, donors expect you to ask more often (and they respond when you do!), so don't wait until this time next year to ask again.

    Second, consider these numbers from Roger Craver, author of  Retention Fundraising. According to Craver, the average nonprofit has:

    • a 60-70% chance of obtaining additional contributions from existing donors
    • only a 20-40% chance of securing a gift from a recently lapsed donor
    • less than a 2% chance of receiving a gift from a prospect

    So, the primary focus of your appeal should be to keep your current donors as opposed to getting new ones.

    With that in mind, think about your appeal this way. You want it to do one of three things:

    1. RETAIN donors: Encourage your donors to give again, even if their giving stays flat.
    2. UPGRADE donors: Ask for the next level up. (e.g. if they gave $100 last year, ask for a little bit more this year)
    3. CONVERT donors: Ask for a monthly gift instead of an annual gift. (e.g. if they gave $100 last year, ask for $10/month this year.)

    Lastly, remember that while all appeals have the same overarching goals, letters (direct mail) and email asks require slightly different approaches.

    All appeals should...

    1. Be personalized.
      No "Dear Friend" letters. Address the donor by name. Bonus points if you refer to their previous gift amount, since this is a powerful reminder of their past support.
    2. Speak directly to a donor, as opposed to writing for the general public.
      Nonprofit authors and fundraising gurus say the best appeals are written with a single donor in mind. For Jeff Brooks, it's his Aunt Ruth. For Tom Ahern, it's his mother-in-law, Jane. When you know who your donors are, you can picture them, then write to them.
    3. Be donor-centric.
      Try Tom Ahern's "You" test. Grab your letter and a green and red marker. Circle the words "you," "your" or the donor's name in green. Circle the words "we," "our" or your organization's name in red. You want twice as many (or more) green circles as red ones.
    4. Include emotional triggers, including conflict and a believable solution.
      Tell more stories, show less data. Remember, donors don't care that you have a need - they care that you fill a need. When you tell your story, introduce conflict and the way your donor can help. For instance, $100 isn't going to end hunger. However, it's a different story when you tell me, "Winter is coming, and your $100 gift will provide 150 hot meals for the homeless."
    5. Be easy to scan.
      Here's the truth: most readers scan, especially web readers. (Yep, even those of you reading this post.) Use bold, underscore, bullets and other writing devices to make your appeal easy to scan.
    6. Be easy to read.
      For those who do read your appeal, you want it to be easy for them to read. Ideally, you should write at a 6th grade level, which makes it easier for your reader to process the information. How? Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

      Also be sure to eliminate jargon, buzzwords and insider talk. Remember, most donors don't speak nonprofits' language...so be sure you're talking so donors understand.

      Did you know? Microsoft Word has a built-in tool that will tell you your readability statistics.

    7. Have a specific call-to-action.
      In a year-end appeal, you're most likely making a call for donations. Be sure to ask for a specific amount within the appeal. Avoid vague requests like "Please send your gift of any amount." And don't bury the lead! Ask early, and ask again at the end of your letter.

    Sending a letter appeal? (direct mail)

    1. Use a serif font (like Times New Roman or Georgia).
    2. Increase your font size. Donors are aging, and 14 is the new 12.
    3. Include plenty of white space. Increase line spacing. Use paragraph indents. And never adjust the font size or margins to make it all fit on one page.
    4. Longer is better. Really, long letters outperform short ones.
    5. Add a handwritten P.S. or note (bonus points if this is written by someone who knows the donor).
    6. Include a self-addressed return envelope.
    7. Include a link directly to your online donation page.

    Sending an email appeal?

    1. Write a compelling subject line that makes your donors want to open it.
    2. Use a sans serif font (like Arial or Calibri).
    3. Shorter is better.
    4. Incorporate compelling images.
    5. Use photo captions to help tell your story.
    6. Include a clearly marked "Give Now" button, and link directly to your online donation page.
    7. Always test on multiple email clients AND mobile devices.

    How does your last appeal compare to this checklist? Send me a message and let me know what you'll do differently next time. And remember, when you do things differently, you'll achieve different results.

    Here's to your fundraising success!


    Wondering about ways to write a better appeal? Check out these resources.

    5 Writing Rules All Nonprofits Should Break

    11 fundraising experts answer "What's the most important component of a donation request letter?"

    12 appeals that wowed the nonprofit experts. Read the appeals and what the experts say makes them great.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/helpful-tips.jpg21 Tips for Your Year-End Fundraising Appealhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-10-07-21-tips-for-your-year-end-fundraising-appeal
    Before You Start Planning Your Next Fundraising Campaignhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-09-02-before-you-start-planning-your-next-fundraising-campaignWed, 02 Sep 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-718025483Before You Start Planning Your Next Fundraising Campaign

    So, you want to raise money. A lot of money. But you don't know where to start. Well, you're not alone.

    Here's the good news. You can raise more money. But first, you need a plan.

    Ben Franklin famously said, "If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail." This definitely applies to fundraising. Sandy Rees, CFRE and creator of the Get Fully Funded system agrees.

    Sandy told me, "In my experience, fundraising without a plan is pretty chaotic. It leaves you open to whatever happens to come along or whatever crazy idea one of your board members comes up with. When you have a plan, you have a clear direction and goal, and it's easier to handle their hair-brained ideas."

    Need more proof? A recently released study of small nonprofits (less than $2 million budgets) found that, when it comes to fundraising results, "the ONLY thing that matters is whether your organization has a fundraising plan."

    Okay. So, where do you begin?

    A lot of nonprofits start their fundraising campaign by setting a dollar goal. A goal is good.

    However, instead of setting an arbitrary goal (something like, "We need to raise $100,000"), Sandy says you should start by asking (and answering) these five questions.

    1. What, very specifically, do we want to fund?
      For instance, a new staff position? A community playground? Twice as many meals as we're currently serving at our senior center? "General operations" isn't a good answer. Like its name implies, it's too general. Be very specific here.
    2. Why do we want to fund #1?
      Another way to think about it is by asking "What will happen if we don't raise the money we need to fund #1?" The answer becomes the basis for your appeal to donors.
    3. How much do we need to fund #1?
      Let your mission and the need drive the amount of money you need to raise. Don't allow the money you have (or don't have) to determine the work that you're able to do.
    4. When do we need the money to fund #1?
      Be proactive when planning what you need and when you need it. Think of your fundraising campaign as a springboard to future success and on-going sustainability.
    5. Who can help us raise the money we need?
      Large campaigns (and the most successful ones) will have a strong campaign leader who is not a staff person and who may - or may not - be a board member. You might ask them to co-sign general fundraising letters. You might ask them to open doors for you. And you might even ask them to help you approach and ask key donor prospects.

      In Forces For Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, there's a terrific anecdote about how the founder of a small, Georgia-based nonprofit persuaded former president Jimmy Carter to become an advocate for their program. President Carter's involvement changed how that small nonprofit was able to raise money - and how much they were able to raise. The organization? Habitat for Humanity, which grew from $3 million in annual revenue to more than $100 million in the first decade after President Carter became their chief evangelist.

      Granted, most of us don't know former presidents. So, instead, ask who you (as staff and board members) know that fervently believes in your work (see #2) and would be willing to support your campaign at a leadership level.

    With those five questions answered, you're ready to start developing your actual fundraising plan.

    What, then, should your plan include?

    • Your top-level dollar goal. Ideally, you should set goals for how much you want to raise from each source (grants, individuals, special events, etc.)
    • Your strategies for each funding source (e.g. For grants = research grant opportunities, then create a deadline calendar, then write proposals).
    • Specific action steps that you'll need to take. Don't forget to assign a person to each action and set a deadline. (e.g. Laura will research and identify grant opportunities in October and November. Laura will create a 2016 deadline calendar in December. Jill will begin writing proposals in January.)

    Bottom line: if you want to raise more money, you need to answer a few questions first, then create a solid fundraising plan and put it to work. Remember, too, your plan needs to be more than a list of ideas and intentions. Add specific actions and create accountability, then you'll be ready to raise more money.

    This post was inspired by Sandy Rees, CFRE, and her presentation "Create and Run Your First Big Fundraising Campaign." Sandy is the creator of the Get Fully Funded system


    There's a saying, "A plan without action is futile, and action without a plan is fatal."

    Check out these resources before you start your next fundraising campaign. They will help you get started with your planning and give you ideas for what you need to do to ensure your fundraising success.

    DOWNLOAD A FUNDRAISING READINESS CHECKLIST from Andy Robinson (shared with permission)

    DOWNLOAD FUNDRAISING PLAN TEMPLATES from Sandy Rees' Get Fully Funded workbook (shared with permission)

    USE THIS CALCULATOR to see how many gifts - and how many prospects - you need to make your fundraising goal.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/plan.jpgBefore You Start Planning Your Next Fundraising Campaignhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-09-02-before-you-start-planning-your-next-fundraising-campaign
    Do You Have An Attitude of Gratitudehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-08-05-do-you-have-an-attitude-gratitudeWed, 05 Aug 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-315967385Do You Have An Attitude of Gratitude

    It's been three months since Give Big Day, the nationwide day of giving that raised more than $68 million for nonprofits on May 5, 2015.

    And I contributed to the cause - ten causes, in fact.

    I gave 10 very modest, but equal, gifts to nonprofits on Give Big Day. Then I watched to see what would happen.

    The good news? It was a very positive donor experience overall. Most nonprofits did a good job of thanking me, and some did a great job.

    Let me explain how I selected the nonprofits. Each of the nonprofits serves Bozeman, Montana, where I live. I had a general working knowledge of each of the organizations, but not a working relationship. None of the selected nonprofits were my clients, although I do know staff members at each of the recipient organizations.

    I had previously given gifts to five of these nonprofits, so I was a first-time donor to the other five. (This information was asked on the donation form - First-Time Donor? Yes/No - then shared with the nonprofit.)

    Overall, here's what happened:

    • 9 out of 10 organizations thanked me in some form or fashion.
    • 5 out of 10 sent an email acknowledgement.
    • 6 out of 10 sent a thank you letter via snail-mail.
    • 2 sent me an email acknowledgement AND a written acknowledgement.
    • In 8 out of 9 cases, I was thanked personally (Dear Laura,).
    • 3 notes were handwritten.
    • 1 form letter included a handwritten P.S. from a staff member.
    • 1 letter was signed by the top ranking staff member and the board chair.
    • 1 letter was signed by every member of the board of directors.
    • The fastest thank you (email) was sent less than 3 hours of making the donation.
    • The slowest thank you (letter) was sent within 10 days of making the donation.
    • And 1 nonprofit still hasn't acknowledged my gift 90 days later.


    Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I received an email and this picture from the organization's CEO.

    This was the first acknowledgment that I received on Give Big Day, just a few hours after making my donation.

    This thank you was prompt. And it was personal. What more could a donor want? Well done, friends.

    I was also impressed with two notes, in particular.

    The first was from a nonprofit that I've supported before. Although they didn't acknowledge that gift, they did acknowledge my choice and decision to give to them on Give Big Day.

    "We especially appreciated your gift because of your familiarity with the varied, amazing nonprofits in this town."

    Another nonprofit made me feel special for several reasons. First, the letter was donor-centric. They talked about me (the donor) and used my name or "you" five times, while only referring to their organization once.

    Then, they told me how they were using my gift and gave me a specific call to action.

    "Take a walk along the Story Mill Spur trail and East Griffin Drive in July and see the progress you are helping to achieve!"

    Lastly, there was an acknowledgement of something unique to me.

    "Neat feature on Give Big Gallatin Valley in your newsletter!"


    Do your thank you letters have this level of personalization? Do your donors feel like you truly appreciate their gift? I can tell you that I do.


    Be sure you're thanking your donors - each and every one - no matter how large or small the gift may be.

    Do it in a way that is meaningful, memorable and genuine. Focus on the donor as the hero, not your organization. Find ways to make the "thank you" personal. And be prompt.

    Thank your donors well, and their first gift to your organization could be the first of many.

    This post was inspired by Bloomerang's $5 Donor Communications Experiment.
    Want to see how your nonprofit compares?

    To view their 2014 results, click here.

    To view their 2015 results, click here.


    Those of us who work in the nonprofit sector are accustomed to asking people to support our cause. But how often do we take the time to think about it from the donor's perspective?

    Take time to be a donor, then apply what you learn on #GivingTuesday, Give Big Day...and every day!

    Get a checklist and learn how to Be Your Donor.

    So, you want to host a giving day? Download a playbook and start planning for #GivingTuesday (December 1, 2015) or Give Big Day (May 3, 2016).

    Learn (and use!) the most powerful word in fundraising.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/GiveBig_Thanks.jpgDo You Have An Attitude of Gratitudehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-08-05-do-you-have-an-attitude-gratitude
    What You Need To Know From the Giving USA 2015 Reporthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-07-01-what-you-need-know-from-giving-usa-2015-reportWed, 01 Jul 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-714598262What You Need To Know From the Giving USA 2015 Report

    Nonprofit data nerds have been waiting for this for six months. The Giving USA 2015 Report is here!

    This year, the longest-running annual report on giving is celebrating six decades of charitable facts and figures. The report was researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and published by Giving USA.

    This year, there's a lot of good news across the nonprofit sector. And here's what you need to know from this year's report.


    Charitable contributions topped $358.38 billion in 2014, the highest in the report's 60-year history.

    U.S. giving increased 7.1% over 2013. And 2014 marked the 5th consecutive year of year-over-year giving increases.


    U.S. charitable giving is broken down in terms of individual gifts, bequests, foundation giving and corporate support. All four categories grew in 2014.

    Of the four sources, bequests saw the largest increase (up 15.5% over 2013).

    Individual giving continues to represent the largest piece of the pie. When you add bequests (8%) and gifts from family foundations (7%), individuals are responsible for 87% of the total giving.

    FUN FACT: Corporate giving is largely in-kind donations, and pharmaceuticals make up a large number of those gifts.


    Eight out of nine recipient types saw year-over-year increases. Three sectors (Religion, Education and Human Services) represent more than half of total giving.

    Religion, which includes houses of worship, continues to receive the highest percentage of gifts.

    FUN FACT: Thirty years ago, Religion, as a sector, represented two-thirds of total giving.

    Arts has shown an especially strong recovery since the recession. The increase in giving to Arts reflects the general recovery of the economy. Also, since high net worth individuals are often patrons of the arts, the increase in giving also suggests the recovery of these donors' investment portfolios, which is good news for U.S. charity in general.

    Giving BY foundations is up (8.2%). However, giving TO foundations is flat (0.1%). This is attributed in part to the rise in popularity of donor-advised funds. Many donors find these funds less expensive to set-up and much easier to manage than a traditional foundation.

    FUN FACT: Fidelity Charitable is currently the #2 U.S. charity, thanks to contributions to its donor-advised funds. It won't be long before Fidelity Charitable overtakes the top spot, currently held by United Way.

    International was the only subsector that did not see growth from the previous year. This is attributed to fewer global scale disasters as well as an increase in the number of donors who choose to support non-U.S. charities and local, on-the-ground efforts during times of need.


    Individuals continue to be the single largest source of gifts, and we're beginning to see considerable growth from bequests. Gifts from individuals and estates will continue to increase.

    That's why it's imperative that your nonprofit has a four-point donor development plan that includes identification, cultivation, solicitation and, most importantly, stewardship.

    If you don't have a donor development plan, let's talk! I can help you create a plan to help you identify and connect with more donors, which will help you raise more money for your nonprofit.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    If you're interested in learning more about the Giving USA report, check out these resources

    Get your own copy of the Giving USA 2015 report. (Report highlights are free.)

    Read highlights from the Giving USA 2015 report

    View an infographic that summarizes key findings from the Giving USA 2015 report

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/giving_usa-2015-1.jpgWhat You Need To Know From the Giving USA 2015 Reporthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-07-01-what-you-need-know-from-giving-usa-2015-report
    Whats In Your Writing Toolboxhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-06-03-whats-your-writing-toolboxWed, 03 Jun 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-410179977Whats In Your Writing Toolbox

    Grant writing is a skill that you hone over time. And just like a good craftsman, you need a good set of tools if you want to do the job well.

    Maybe you have one (or many!) of the grant writing books that are on the market today. Maybe you have an APA style guide. If you're old school, you might even have Mr. Webster's or Mr. Roget's work sitting nearby.

    However, when it comes to proofreading and review, I'll bet you're probably using your word processor's spell check and grammar check features. And that's good. But there's more.

    In fact, there are a lot more writing and editing tools out there.


    If you're using Microsoft Word, did you know there's another tool that can help you improve your writing?

    There's a built-in readability score indicator that will tell you how easy it is to read what you've written. Just turn the feature on, and you'll get your scores every time you run a spell check.

    A higher Flesch Reading Ease score is better. And the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is just that - it tells you the grade level of your writing. Ideally, you want to write at a 6th or 7th grade level.

    No, that doesn't mean that your grant reviewer has only a middle school education. Lowering the grade level of your writing actually increases your reader's ability to process what you're saying.

    This newsletter is written at a 6th-7th grade level.

    You want your writing to be easy to read and you want it to be easy to understand. So keep your writing simple and straightforward.

    Want to know if your writing is clear and concise? Check out these online editing tools.


    Ernest Hemingway was known for his short sentences and concise language. Follow his lead, and the Hemingway Editor will reward you with a good "grade" (readability score).

    The Hemingway Editor helpfully highlights and color codes problem areas like complex sentences, complex words and passive voice.

    Hemingway costs $6.99 to download.


    After The Deadline is a free service. Like Hemingway, it will check your spelling and grammar, and it will also look for complex words and passive voice.

    Also like Hemingway, After The Deadline will mark the problem areas. However, unlike Hemingway, After The Deadline doesn't offer suggestions to improve the problems. (Hey, it's a free service.)


    Like its name implies, Grammarly is a grammar checker. It's a subscription service with monthly, quarterly and annual plans.

    The website will tell you that Grammarly "eliminates most writing mistakes" and finds "10x more mistakes than your word processor." (Nobody's perfect.)

    Grammarly highlights the grammatical errors, tells you what's wrong and makes suggestions. It will also make vocabulary suggestions.


    This last tool is free, and it's a good one to use for all of your nonprofit communications.

    Wordifier identifies overused words in the nonprofit sector (You know the ones: help, support, give...).

    Simply type in a word and Wordifier will give you a red flag if you need to stop using the word or green if you're good to go.

    Wordifier will also tell you what types of nonprofits are overusing which words. It will also offer alternative words that cut through the clutter and will make your communications stand out.

    Do you use any of these online writing tools? Or maybe something else?

    Send me a message and let me know your favorite online writing resource. I'm always looking for good tools to add to my toolbox.

    NOTE: Third Sector Consulting is not an affiliate of any of these products.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Here are three articles that compare some of the top online editing tools.

    From Grammarly to Wordrake: A Review of 6 Online Editing Tools

    How Did a Real Life Proofreader Perform Against 4 Online Editors?

    7 Free Online Proofreading Tools

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization in 2015.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/swiss-army-knife.jpgWhats In Your Writing Toolboxhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-06-03-whats-your-writing-toolbox
    How One Small Community Raised 240,000 In 24 Hourshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-05-06-how-one-small-community-raised-240000-24-hoursWed, 06 May 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-410168214How One Small Community Raised 240,000 In 24 Hours

    In Bozeman, Montana, this year's Give Big/Give Local community fundraising goal was $100,000. The outcome? More than twice that.

    In case you missed it, May 5, 2015 was Give Big Day – a national day of giving. Organized by Give Local America, local community foundations and United Ways, Give Big Day raised more than $53 million for approximately 7,700 nonprofits across the country last year. In 2015, in only its second year, Give Big Day was expected to be much BIG-ger!

    This was the first year the small Bozeman community participated in Give Big Day.

    So, what did they do and how did they do it? That's what I asked Bridget Wilkinson, Executive Director of the Bozeman Area Community Foundation.

    "The Bozeman Area Community Foundation felt that Give Big Gallatin Valley was a great way to bring together the nonprofit sector in Gallatin County," Bridget explained. "We had seen the success of Give Big Days in other communities and we knew there was a great opportunity to make this event a success in our own community."

    Bozeman's 2015 goal was to raise $100,000 for 100 participating nonprofits in one day. By mid-afternoon, they had reached their goal. By midnight, they had more than doubled it. [UPDATE - Final tally: $237,615.55]

    Here's how they did it:


    One-day events like Give Big Day and #GivingTuesday last for 24 hours. Bridget and her team of volunteers made it easy for people to give wherever they were - all day long. For instance:

    • From midnight until 1:00am, Give Big volunteers held a Kickoff Cocktail Hour at a wine and cocktail bar on Main Street.
    • During the early morning hours, you could find volunteers at fhe gym and a downtown coffee shop.
    • During lunch and again near the close of business, volunteers could be found at downtown restaurants and other popular meeting places.

    At each location, called a "donor lounge," volunteers were available to answer questions and also to facilitate giving using iPads and a secure website. Participating nonprofits also encouraged their supporters to give at home via the same secure website.

    Donors could select up to 10 nonprofits, then "check out" with one, convenient credit card payment. Donors received an instant email, acknowledging their gift and providing a tax receipt.


    As an added incentive, each "donor lounge" offered special promotions when individuals donated $10 or more from their establishment. Restaurants offered free and discounted food and beverages. Retailers offered free merchandise and entries into raffles for larger prizes. Montana State University hosted a photobooth.

    There were more than a dozen additional giving bonuses throughout the day. The Bozeman Area Community Foundation designated $5,000, which was awarded in $250 and $500 increments and rewarded donor participation.

    For instance, the first and last donors of the day were allowed to designate another $250 to the nonprofit of their choice. Throughout the day, randomly selected donors had as much as $500 added to their donation.

    The day ended with a community celebration featuring food, friends, a photobooth and music with one of Bozeman's favorite DJs.


    The Bozeman Area Community Foundation and 13 local businesses contributed to a "stretch pool," which was used for giving incentives. As a result, every dollar that was donated to a Bozeman-area nonprofit on May 5th will get a boost from this pool of matching funds.

    "We truly believe that every donation, no matter how large or small, makes a difference," Bridget said. "You really get to see the collective impact when a whole community comes together."

    When asked how she developed the strategy for the first Give Big Gallatin Valley day of giving, Bridget was quick to credit the extraordinary team of volunteers who made this happen.

    Bridget also said, "We used a mix of ideas from Community Foundations all over the county. We were able to exchange ideas and to learn what is working and not working nationwide. I tried to take some ideas and adapt them to what I believed our community would best respond to. And on May 5th, we'll see what worked!"

    Well, Bridget. It worked. Congratulations on a job well done.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." There's more to fundraising than grants

    Whether you're planning an online giving event or simply looking to improve the donor experience, take the three lessons from Bozeman's first Give Big Day and apply them to your nonprofit.

    Make It Easy: [DOWNLOAD] Review and Improve Your Donor's Online Experience

    Make It Fun: 20 "Fun" Fundraising Ideas

    Make Every Gift Go Further: Challenge Gifts and Matching Gifts

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/give-big-GV-1.jpgHow One Small Community Raised 240,000 In 24 Hourshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-05-06-how-one-small-community-raised-240000-24-hours
    Every Board Member Can Be A Fundraiserhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-04-01-every-board-member-can-be-fundraiserWed, 01 Apr 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-707492121Every Board Member Can Be A Fundraiser

    Does this sound familiar?

    You ask your board to help with fundraising, and you can hear a pin drop. Your board members start shifting in their seats. Some get that deer-in-the-headlights look. Others avoid making eye contact altogether.

    Why does this happen? Most likely, it's because when you say "fundraising," they hear "asking."

    It doesn't have to be this way. There's more to fundraising than asking. A lot more.

    The key to effective fundraising is building strong relationships. And every board member can help you do that.

    Start thinking of fundraising as a cycle. In technical terms, there are four phases: Prospecting, Cultivation, Solicitation and Stewardship. I prefer using kinder, gentler words when I talk about fundraising, and your board members will, too.

    When you start talking about fundraising differently, your board will start thinking about it differently. And when you all start doing things differently, you'll begin to raise more money for your nonprofit.


    Fundraising starts by thinking about who you know. No, fundraising isn't about monetizing your board members' friends and family. However, when people know someone who is personally involved with a cause, they are more likely to give to that cause.

    In the 2014 Burk Donor Survey, first-time donors reported that, by itself, "a compelling appeal sent by the nonprofit" was not a strong motivator for giving. However, "knowing someone involved with the organization" or "the cause was recognized by a friend or family member" both influenced first-time giver's decision to support a particular nonprofit.

    The top motivator for giving? The nonprofit's work aligns with the donor's interests.

    So, start here. Ask your board members to answer this two-part question: "Who do you know...that might be interested in the work that our nonprofit is doing?"

    EDUCATE AND ENGAGE (Cultivation)

    Prospective donors need to know what your organization does. One of the most effective ways for board members to help here is by telling their story.

    What story? Their own personal story - "Why" they are involved with your nonprofit?

    This is different from memorizing the mission statement or reciting a prepared elevator pitch. Every person's story will be different. These stories are heartfelt and emotional. And because they are your board members' personal stories, told in their own words, they are easy for your board members to tell.

    It's great when your board members talk to people about "what" your nonprofit does. Encourage them to start telling people "why" they're involved, too. It's a subtle change, and it will make a big difference.

    ASK (Solicitation)

    At some point, there is an "ask," an appeal, a call for donations. Many nonprofits use direct mail to ask people for financial support, although face-to-face asks are far more effective and typically yield much greater returns.

    Let's assume your nonprofit uses an annual letter campaign to ask for donations. Have your board members given you names of people who might be interested? (Let's assume yes.) Have your board members talked to people and told them about your organization as well as their personal story about why they care? (Again, let's assume yes.)

    Now, will your board members write a personal note or P.S. on the letters to people they know?

    This is an easy next step for board members, and one that can move a prospective donor to becoming an actual donor.

    THANK AND ACKNOWLEDGE (Stewardship, part 1)

    After you receive a gift, the donor should receive a prompt thank you letter and receipt. Failure to properly thank a donor is the #1 reason why donors stop giving. That's easy to fix, folks.

    Now, once you've sent your official thank you from the organization, go above and beyond. Ask your board members to write or email people they know who made gifts and say thanks again. Or ask your board members to participate in a thank-a-thon, calling other donors just to say thanks.

    There's nothing easier than saying thank you, and every single one of your board members can do this. Plus, when you say thank you for your last gift, you're taking the first step towards getting the next one.


    Don't just say thank you. Continue to tell your donors how you're using their money. Tell them about the impact of their investment.

    Make sure your board members know your organization's success stories. Encourage board members to share these impact stories when they are talking to people about what your organization does.

    By keeping your donors informed and involved in your work, you're building stronger relationships. Your board members can help build those relationships. Each and every board member can do that.

    The bottom line: the more connected a donor is to your cause, the more likely he or she will be to give...and give again.

    Send me a message and tell me how your board members help with fundraising (or what you wish your board members would do). I love hearing from you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." There's more to fundraising than grant writing, and there's more to fundraising than asking!

    Here are three resources to help your board members become an active - and effective - part of your nonprofit's fundraising efforts.

    How Your Board Members Can Become Door Openers

    9 Ways Board Members Can Raise Money Without Asking

    9 MORE Ways Board Members Can Raise Money Without Asking

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/ill_do_anything.pngEvery Board Member Can Be A Fundraiserhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-04-01-every-board-member-can-be-fundraiser
    Proofreading vs Editing Whats The Differencehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-03-04-proofreading-vs-editing-whats-differenceWed, 04 Mar 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-805076762Proofreading vs Editing Whats The Difference

    It's called grant writing. Alas, there's so much more to grant writing than just "writing."

    Successful grant writing always starts with comprehensive and thorough research, and it always ends with a careful and thoughtful review.

    Your review should be a combination of proofreading and editing.

    So, what's the difference?


    Proofreading looks for and corrects basic mistakes including typos, grammar and punctuation. Editing looks for these same errors and more.


    One type of editing is simple copy editing. In copy editing, you're fixing basic mistakes and also correcting the formatting and style of the work, ensuring consistency and correctness.

    A second type of editing is substantive editing. Like it sounds, this is a more substantial edit. Sometimes, it's called a "heavy edit." The goal is to make your writing more readable. You want to take out jargon and buzzwords. You want to present a logical, coherent and persuasive case. Heavy editing may involve rearranging sections or rewriting them altogether.


    When you're writing a grant proposal – and especially as you're editing one – ask yourself, "Is the writing...?"

    • Clear
    • Correct
    • Concise
    • Comprehensible
    • Consistent

    Let the 5 'C's be your guide as you're writing and editing your grant proposals, and you'll produce better proposals every time.

    Send me a message and let me know if you're challenged by editing, proofreading or both. I love hearing from you and finding ways to help.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Like editing!

    Here are three resources that will give you more insight to grant writing and copy editing and how to do both better.

    8 Grant Proposal Writing Tips

    12 Tips to Help You Edit and Improve Your Writing

    Copy Editing Tips, including a detailed explanation of the 5 'C's

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/editing.jpgProofreading vs Editing Whats The Differencehttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-03-04-proofreading-vs-editing-whats-difference
    Improve Your Writing Tips for Writing for Older Donorshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-02-04-improve-your-writing-tips-for-writing-for-older-donorsWed, 04 Feb 2015 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-501789235Improve Your Writing Tips for Writing for Older Donors

    Do you know your donors' ages? At the very least, you should know when they were born.

    Why? When you know their age group, you can tailor your messages and use the best delivery channel for that audience. All donors are not the same.

    If you're not sure who's who, here's the breakdown: Matures were born before 1945, Boomers between 1945-1965, Gen X between 1965-1985 and Gen Y/Millennials after 1985.


    There are several reasons why you should pay special attention to older donors.

    Americans' generosity increases with age. According to Blackbaud, 72% of Boomers and 88% of Matures give to charity. It's closer to 60% for Gen X and Gen Y.

    Older Americans tend to give more. Boomers make up 43% of total giving and Matures add another 26% to the total. That means nearly 70% of all charitable donations come from donors who are age 50 and above. (Click to Tweet)

    Older Americans tend to have more to give. A typical Boomer and Mature donor gives anywhere from two to three times more per year than their Gen X and Gen Y counterparts. In 2015, Boomers are expected to donate $62 billion to charity compared to $16 billion from Gen Y. (Click to Tweet)

    Lastly, older donors are your best prospects for major gifts and bequests. And those types of gifts can be truly transformational for your nonprofit.

    That doesn't mean younger donors won't give or should be ignored. Just the opposite. What's important is getting the right message in front of the right donor at the right time and in the right way.


    With all the ways we have to communicate today, you might be surprised to learn that many older people still prefer mail. Yes, snail mail.

    Direct mail still works, especially for an older demographic. (Click to Tweet)

    Yet a recent report found that nearly one-third (32%) of nonprofits don't plan to send print newsletters in 2015. And more than one in 10 (12%) don't plan to send any print appeals. Are you one of those nonprofits? Let's hope not.

    Assuming you're still sending print materials, how easy are they to read?


    There are a number of rules that apply to nonprofit communications in general. For instance,

    • Serif fonts (like Times New Roman) are preferred for print materials. Sans serif fonts (like Arial) are preferred for digital communications, like email and your website.
    • Limit your use of ALLCAPS and script fonts. Use italics and bold wisely.
    • Dark type on a white background is easier to read.
    • Bullets, lists and sidebars are easy to scan and, therefore, easy to read.
    • Short paragraphs, short sentences and short words are easier for readers to process. In fact, the maximum recommended length for paragraphs is six lines.

    Today, there are some new rules for print materials and older donors. For instance,

    • Bigger is better. 12-point Times New Roman is no longer the standard. Use at least a 13-point font. 14 is even better for older audiences. (Click to Tweet)
    • Allow sufficient leading around your characters. Leading adds a little white space around the letters. (In Word, you'll find it under Font > Character Spacing > Spacing = Expanded.)
    • Increase line spacing to 1.2, or even 1.5. Create even more white space by increasing the line spacing. (In Word, you'll find this under Paragraph > Spacing > Line Spacing.)
    • Don't use glossy paper. It can be reflective and harder for older eyes to read.
    • Present articles and stories on a single page. Allow your reader to read through an entire passage, without having to flip to another page to finish.

    Send me a message and let me know if these tips will change the way you write to your donors and prospects. I love hearing from you.

    Special thanks to Leah Eustace, ACFRE, for sharing her tips on how to design print materials for older donors.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Check out this month's recommended reading (and watching!) to gain additional perspective on donors, their differences and how to communicate with each.

    [VIDEO] Watch The Next Generation of Giving, learn who's who and how to maximize giving

    Download your free copy of Blackbaud's Next Generation of Giving report

    Download your free copy of Kivi Leroux Miller's 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends report

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/magnify.gifImprove Your Writing Tips for Writing for Older Donorshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-02-04-improve-your-writing-tips-for-writing-for-older-donors
    Fundraising vs Grant Writing Whats Right For My Nonprofithttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-01-07-fundraising-vs-grant-writing-whats-right-for-my-nonprofitWed, 07 Jan 2015 10:00:00 GMTMeg Scofieldletstalknonprofitblog-627971770Fundraising vs Grant Writing Whats Right For My Nonprofit

    Guest column by Meg ScofieldTwo Coffee Cups Consulting in Washington, DC.

    Your organization needs money to do its good work. A lot of nonprofits think grant writing is the way to raise a lot of money quickly. If you're a new nonprofit, it's important to understand that grant writing is just one part to successful fundraising.

    What's the difference between fundraising and grant writing?

    Simply put, fundraising is how you raise money (or "funds") for your organization. Grant writing is one type of fundraising activity. Grants ask foundations or government entities for support, whereas other fundraising activities might target individuals and businesses.

    It's also important to remember that grants are often awarded for specific projects. These are called "restricted funds" and they must be used exactly as the donor specifies. On the other hand, the "unrestricted funds" that you raise from general fundraising activities can be used for any of your organization's expenses, such as staff salaries or rent.

    Is grant writing hard?

    Grant writing isn't easy. And competition is intense. Large foundations might easily receive thousands of proposals each year. Government agencies get even more. Yet, grants can be a viable fundraising activity for many nonprofits.

    Are you detail-oriented? You have to be when writing grants. You'll need to research and find funders that are interested in your work. You'll have to write your proposals to each funder's exact specifications. And be ready for deadlines, lots of deadlines.

    I'm a good writer, so should grant writing be my first step in fundraising?

    Grant writing is easier if you're a good writer. Like all fundraising, grant writing is about telling your organization's story and asking someone to support your work.

    However, most foundations want to see that your organization has a track record of success – including money raised – before they invest in your program. You need to have a strong base of support from donors before you apply for grants.

    Okay, so what are some good ways to raise more money?

    Fundraising has changed a lot. Fussy black-tie dinners and galas aren't the only option anymore. With social media and new developments like crowdfunding (using online avenues to attract lots of small donations that add up), there are many creative possibilities to explore. Don't forget to add the "donate now" function to your website so it's easy for people to give online.

    Most nonprofits have an annual letter writing campaign (also called a "direct mail appeal"). Others will host special events (like fun runs, raffles and auctions) to raise money as well as awareness. Remember, events take time to plan, and they typically cost money to present. It's important to weigh the costs against the benefits when deciding to host a special event. And after your event, evaluate if the money raised was worth the time and effort. The answer will help you know where to put your valuable energy in the future.

    As an alternative to special events, major fundraising (asking individuals for large gifts) can be an effective way to raise money. It's not quick and easy, though. This process involves identifying prospects, cultivating them as donors, then asking for a gift. "Making the ask" can be hard for some people, especially if it's a face-to-face ask. You'll need to have strong verbal skills. It helps if you're articulate, comfortable with asking others for something directly, and passionate about your organization's work.

    Final thoughts

    There's more to fundraising than writing a grant or "making the ask." Fundraising involves many different activities like telling your nonprofit's story, inviting people to events and getting involved with your organization, and simply saying thank you to your donors. Everyone in your organization – from staff to board to volunteers – can play a role in your fundraising success.

    Meg Scofield is a Washington, DC freelance writer who specializes in technical writing and blogging. She's also a certified grant writer.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Here are three articles that will help you determine what types of fundraising activities will help your nonprofit achieve success in 2015.

    Rate Yourself: Are You Ready For Fundraising?

    10 Questions To Answer: Are You Ready to Apply for Foundation Grants?

    Creating Fundraising Opportunities All Year Round

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/hands.jpgFundraising vs Grant Writing Whats Right For My Nonprofithttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2015-01-07-fundraising-vs-grant-writing-whats-right-for-my-nonprofit
    What You Need To Know About GivingTuesday and GiveBIG Dayshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-12-03-what-you-need-know-about-givingtuesday-givebig-daysWed, 03 Dec 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-924867713What You Need To Know About GivingTuesday and GiveBIG Days

    After Thanksgiving, there's Black Friday. Then Cyber Monday. And now there's #GivingTuesday.

    If you're not familiar with #GivingTuesday, you're not alone. It's still fairly new. #GivingTuesday started in 2012, and it's a movement to create a national day of giving. It follows one day of giving thanks and two days of getting deals. It encourages us to think about giving to charity. And for many nonprofits, #GivingTuesday is the unofficial kickoff for their year-end fundraising activities.

    A similar movement that is growing in popularity is GiveLocalAmerica, a 24-hour online "give-a-thon" that takes place in the spring. Different communities have their own names for the event such as GiveLocalNow, GiveBIG Day and the BIG Day of Giving. The idea is to stimulate giving and to get people to give locally.

    GiveLocal events are often sponsored by local community foundations on behalf of their area's larger nonprofit network. Here's a shout out to my friend Bridget and the Bozeman Area Community Foundation for planning the first ever Give Big Gallatin Valley event, which will take place next spring.

    So, how can your organization take advantage of these special giving days in 2015?

    Mark Your Calendar

    The 2015 "Give Local" and "Give BIG" events will be held on May 5, 2015. #GivingTuesday will be December 1, 2015.

    Click here to sign up to learn more about organizing or participating in a "Give Local" event in May 2015.

    Click here to sign up to learn more about organizing or participating in #GivingTuesday next December.

    These sites will offer suggestions for helping you plan and market the event as well as engage donors.

    Measure Your Success

    There's an old saying, "If you fail to plan, then you can plan to fail." So you need to create a plan to help you measure the success of your giving day. And you want to set goals to help you get there.

    Obviously, you want a financial goal. Consider establishing giving tiers and determine how many people you want to give at each level (e.g. X $25 donors, Y $50 donors, Z $100 donors) in order to meet your overall goal.

    Consider tracking the number of new donors and their average gift. And if you've participated in a giving day before, you might also track the number of recurring donors and whether they give at the same or increased levels as previous years.

    Manage Your Donors

    You can never say "thank you" too soon or too often.

    Regarding timing, some experts say you should "Thank before you bank." With respect to an online donation, you want to send an automatic (immediate) acknowledgement. Ideally, you want to send your online donor to a unique thank you page.

    Don't forget to follow up with a physical acknowledgement/receipt, ideally within 48 hours of receiving the gift. Bonus points if you add a handwritten note or a P.S. And triple bonus points if you call the donor later, just to say "thanks."

    Remember that saying "thank you" doesn't complete the giving cycle. It's actually the first step to getting your next gift.

    Send me a message and let me know if you plan to participate in a GiveBIG event or in #GivingTuesday 2015. I love hearing from you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Here are three articles that will help you with your year-end fundraising and give you a jump start for 2015.

    A Step-By-Step Guide to Year-End Fundraising

    GiveLocalAmerica - Frequently Asked Questions

    #GivingTuesday - Frequently Asked Questions

    BONUS: 11 Great Online Giving Tips for #GivingTuesday and Every Day!

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/Giving_Days.jpgWhat You Need To Know About GivingTuesday and GiveBIG Dayshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-12-03-what-you-need-know-about-givingtuesday-givebig-days
    Improve Your Writing Keep It Simple Seriouslyhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-11-05-improve-your-writing-keep-it-simple-seriouslyWed, 05 Nov 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-819060521Improve Your Writing Keep It Simple Seriously

    The U.S. Navy is credited with creating the "KISS Principle." The acronym stands for "Keep It Simple, Stupid," and the premise is that most things work better when they're kept simple instead of being made complicated.

    You should apply the KISS Principle to your nonprofit's writing. Whether you're writing a grant proposal, a direct appeal or website content, you want to write so your audience will understand...and be inspired to take action.

    "The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words." -George Eliot

    There's a reason that Latin is a dead language. Yet many people still write using words with Latin roots (originate, communicate, recognize) instead of their simpler Anglo-Saxon counterparts (begin, talk, know).

    How do you know? Words with Latin origins are usually multisyllabic. Not only do they have more sounds, they also have more letters than their simple Anglo-Saxon counterparts. (Tip: those extra letters can be important when writing an online grant proposal with character limits.)

    Words from Latin roots may sound impressive (like utilize, which is usually the wrong word, by the way). Latinate words might also sound pretentious. These words tend not to be conversational, which can make it harder for your audience to process what you're saying.

    Need an example? Click here to read the same passage, written using Latinate and Anglo-Saxon words. (Example courtesy of Stephen Pidgeon.)

    "One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." -Jack Kerouac

    Did you know that when you lower the grade level of your writing, your reader's comprehension goes up? That seems simple enough.

    Nonprofit communications and fundraising experts, like Tom Ahern, Jeff Brooks and Kivi Leroux Miller, recommend writing between a 6th and 8th grade level. This does not mean you're "dumbing down" your material. Instead, you're speeding up your reader's ability to process your message.

    So, how do you do this? Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. The ratio of short-to-long determines how easy it is to read your text.

    "Easy reading is damn hard writing." -Nathanial Hawthorne

    This newsletter is written at a 7th grade level. What grade level is your writing?

    It's surprisingly easy to check your actual "readability" score. You'll find a built-in scoring tool, right there in Microsoft Word's spell check/grammar check. All you have to do is turn it on. The Nonprofit Marketing Guide recently published a great post on how to use Microsoft Word to check the grade level of your writing.

    And it doesn't get any easier than this. You can cut and paste text directly into Readability-Score.com.

    Just for fun, find the last piece you wrote for your nonprofit. Maybe it's a grant proposal. Maybe it's your year-end appeal. Or maybe it's a simple thank you to a donor.

    Whatever it is, run it through a readability tool, then send me a message. Tell me your score and if it surprised you. I love hearing from you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    Here are three articles that will help you write better...and more simply.

    8 Grant Proposal Writing Tips

    8 Steps For Writing Successful Fundraising Appeals

    7 Rules For Writing An Effective Press Release For Your Nonprofit

    BONUS: 6 Types of Modern Jargon to Avoid

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/keep-it-simple.pngImprove Your Writing Keep It Simple Seriouslyhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-11-05-improve-your-writing-keep-it-simple-seriously
    Why Grant Writing Is Like A Three-Leggedhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-10-01-why-grant-writing-is-like-three-leggedWed, 01 Oct 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-716918217Why Grant Writing Is Like A Three-Legged

    There are two catchphrases that you'll hear in my grant writing workshops and webinars. The first is "Grant writing is more than writing." The second is "Grant writing is like a three-legged stool."

    A three-legged stool functions most efficiently when you have three legs of equal size. If one leg is bigger (or smaller) than the rest, then you'll be off balance. And your stool may fail altogether.

    In grant writing, if you're only focused on "writing," then the legs of your stool need to be adjusted. Otherwise, you'll be writing a lot of proposals, but you won't be winning many grants.

    That's why grant writing is more than just writing. And why your grant writing stool needs three legs.

    The first leg is Research

    When you're looking for grant funding, you want to find foundations whose mission and interests align with your own. You're looking for foundations that accept applications. (Fun fact: an estimated 60% of foundations don't accept applications.) You need to understand a foundation's capacity to give, what they've given historically and what they're likely to give to an organization like yours. And, of course, you need to know when and how to apply.

    If you use Google to do your grant research, you're just scratching the surface of what's available. (Another fun fact: an estimated 70% of foundations don't have a website.)

    Never fear. The information is out there. You just need to know where to look for it. Better yet, a grant prospect report will put everything you need right at your fingertips.

    The second leg is Writing

    Grant proposals must be written to each funder's specifications. This means answering their questions (not offering boilerplate language or writing only what you want them to know) and presenting the material in the format they request (e.g., adhering to word counts, page limits, font styles and sizes).

    Successful grant proposals will clearly document a need and how you, as the requesting organization, will address it. Nonprofits will often be asked to state their goals, objectives and outcomes related to the request. Also be prepared to address the timeline and activities to be undertaken during the funding period.

    Remember, if you've done your research, you'll be competing against organizations that do similar work and/or that serve a similar population. So be sure to explain why your nonprofit is the best suited to do the work and is most deserving of the funding.

    The third leg is Review

    Obviously, you want to proofread your proposal. Spell check is a fine place to start, but there's more to check than spelling. A lot more. Like grammar. Punctuation. Consistency. Clarity. General readability.

    And don't forget to review your budget, especially if you're using Excel. Double-check all of your formulas for errors.

    You can review your work yourself (or ask a coworker or board member), or you can hire a professional proofreader/editor. Regardless of who is doing the review, your goals should be to find and fix avoidable mistakes and make your proposal the very best that it can be.

    Send me a message if you'd like to learn how I can help you with your grant research, grant writing or proposal review. I'm always here for you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants, although grants can be an important part of your strategic fundraising plan.

    This month, I have three recommendations for books that will help you get started and improve your grant writing efforts.

    Grant Writing for Dummies, by Beverly Browning
    (includes information on foundation and government grants)

    The Only Grant Writing Book You'll Ever Need, by Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox
    (includes information on foundation and government grants)

    The Grantseeker's Guide To Winning Proposals, published by The Foundation Center
    (includes 35 actual proposals, printed in their entirety)

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/3-legged-stool.pngWhy Grant Writing Is Like A Three-Leggedhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-10-01-why-grant-writing-is-like-three-legged
    Part 2 of 2 Your Nonprofit Can Get This 10,000 Granthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-09-10-part-2-2-your-nonprofit-can-get-this-10000-grantWed, 10 Sep 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-912334629Part 2 of 2 Your Nonprofit Can Get This 10,000 Grant

    This is part 2 in a series. Click here to read part 1.

    Imagine...$10,000 a month in guaranteed grant awards. Sounds good, doesn't it?

    With Google Ad Grants, your nonprofit is eligible for a $10,000 in-kind credit each month on Google Adwords.

    Google Adwords can be a great way to drive traffic to your website, but it isn't a Field of Dreams. Just because you get the Google Grant doesn't mean that donors will come. Not right away, anyway.

    What do you want your website visitors to do?

    Think about it this way, when someone visits your website for the first time, what do you want them to do? Sure, you want them to give. (And you have a big "Donate Now" button on your home page, don't you? If not, download a "Donate Now" button here.) But that's not the first thing someone is likely to do.

    So, if they won't "Donate Now," what will they do? Will they sign up for your newsletter? Will they sign a petition? What do you want them to do? Your web pages need a clear call to action.

    Content is King (and Relevance is Queen)

    Here's another consideration: when using your Google Ad Grant, the content on your website needs to be relevant to the keywords you bid on originally. What that means is you can't run Google Ads on keywords if you don't have that content on your web pages.

    Getting started with Google Adwords

    To make the Google Ad Grant work for you, you have to commit to setting up and managing your Adwords campaigns AND your website. That means keyword identification, bidding, ad writing, A/B Testing, website content creation (landing pages), tracking and measuring results, then adjusting your keywords, bidding, ad writing....

    Bottom line: Google Ad Grants are easy to get, but harder to manage. Effective use of a Google Ad Grant depends on a successful Adwords campaign, which depends on a robust and relevant website.

    If you're feeling overwhelmed, know that there are people who can help.

    Contact me if you'd like a recommendation for someone who can help you create and manage an effective Adwords campaign. I'm always here to help you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    If you're ready to apply for Google Grants or want to learn more about how your nonprofit can use them, check out these resources:

    Apply for Google Ad Grants

    Quick Guide to Google Grants: Google Adwords for Nonprofits

    How nonprofits can get the most out of Google grants

    UPDATE: At the end of 2017, Google announced significant changes that impact the Google Ad Grant program. Click here to read about Big Changes for Google's Ad Grants Program in 2018: What This Means for Your Nonprofit.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/google-grants-charityhowto.jpgPart 2 of 2 Your Nonprofit Can Get This 10,000 Granthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-09-10-part-2-2-your-nonprofit-can-get-this-10000-grant
    Part 1 of 2 Your Nonprofit Can Get This 10,000 Granthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-09-03-part-1-2-your-nonprofit-can-get-this-10000-grantWed, 03 Sep 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-912332009Part 1 of 2 Your Nonprofit Can Get This 10,000 Grant

    How would you like to get a $10,000 grant? What about a monthly $10,000 grant? Guaranteed?

    You can! Really! Your nonprofit can get $10,000 each month in the form of a Google Ad Grant.

    What's a Google Ad Grant?

    Google Ad Grants are $10,000 in-kind grants that are given to nonprofits for free advertising via Google Adwords. There are some eligibility requirements for getting started and also steps for maintaining your eligibility.

    Wait, what's a Google Ad?

    Google Ads are the top line advertisements and/or sidebar ads you see when you search in Google. You use Google Adwords to set up and manage your Google Ads. 
    [UPDATE: In early 2016, Google removed its right-side banner ads.]

    How does Google Adwords work?

    You bid on "keywords," then Google displays your ad when someone is searching for those keywords. Adwords uses a pay-per-click (PPC) model, meaning you only pay when someone "clicks" your ad. So $10,000 in free clicks can really add up.

    So, how do Google Ad Grants work?

    Your nonprofit gets $10,000 in Adwords credit each month. There are some limitations, such as a $2 maximum bid on a keyword or keyword phrase. And multiple people may be bidding on the same keywords. So, the highest bidder gets the top placement, the next highest bidder gets second placement, and so on. Also, if you bid on the same keywords as a paying Adwords customer, then their paid ad gets higher placement. (That's only fair, don't you think?)

    What do Google Ads do?

    Just like traditional advertising, Google Ads should generate interest. You want someone to learn more or do something. The beauty of Google Ads is that a user is only one click away from doing just that.

    Google Ads bring people to your website. And you want them to land on pages that will inspire them to take action.

    That sounds easy. Is it?

    Yes and no. Applying for the Google Ad Grant is easy. Making it work for you is harder.

    If you want to learn more about Google Grants and how your nonprofit can use them, check out these resources:

    UPDATE: At the end of 2017, Google announced significant changes that impact the Google Ad Grant program. Click here to read about Big Changes for Google's Ad Grants Program in 2018: What This Means for Your Nonprofit.

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/google-grants-charityhowto.jpgPart 1 of 2 Your Nonprofit Can Get This 10,000 Granthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-09-03-part-1-2-your-nonprofit-can-get-this-10000-grant
    The New IRS Form 1023-EZ Good Or Bad For Nonprofitshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-08-06-new-irs-form-1023-ez-good-or-bad-for-nonprofitsWed, 06 Aug 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Hoehnletstalknonprofitblog-718123411The New IRS Form 1023-EZ Good Or Bad For Nonprofits

    Guest column by Laura Hoehn, attorney with Trister, Ross, Schadler & Gold, PLLC in Washington, DC.

    On July 1, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service released a new three-page, online application ( Form 1023-EZ - "Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption") that it believes as many as 70% of applicants for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status may be eligible to use.

    Previously, all organizations - regardless of size - had to file the 26-page Form 1023, along with organizing documents and a detailed description of programs and financial data, before receiving a 501(c)(3) determination letter. Now, many small nonprofits (typically those with low actual or projected annual gross receipts) will be eligible to use the 1023-EZ.

    What does this mean for the nonprofit sector?

    The Number of 501(c)(3) Organizations May Increase

    The number of 501(c)(3) organizations started to drop in 2011 when the IRS automatically revoked the status for thousands of nonprofits that failed to file annual returns. The new Form 1023-EZ may help reverse that trend. Why?

    It is much shorter and takes less time to complete.

    Because Form 1023-EZ is easier to review, the IRS says it can devote more attention to reducing the current backlog of 60,000 applications for 501(c)(3) exemption.

    Many small organizations that had their exemption automatically revoked can use Form 1023-EZ to apply for reinstatement.

    New Organizations May Be Less Prepared To Fundraise Effectively

    The new three-page form (Form 1023-EZ) asks for more general information and uses many check-boxes and yes-no answers compared to the original 26-page form (Form 1023) that requires more detail about the organization's past, present and planned activities.

    Organizations that use Form 1023-EZ may have done little to clearly describe their mission, programs and financial profile in writing, which may make them less prepared when approaching donors and asking for support. Previously, some of this work would have been required as part of the organization's tax exempt application.

    Donors and State Charity Regulators May Be Skeptical

    Form 1023-EZ is vastly simplified. While this makes the application easier to complete, donors and state charity regulators may be less confident that, under closer scrutiny, an organization that used this form is fully compliant with nonprofit requirements. This could make future fundraising more challenging for those nonprofits that choose to file for their nonprofit status using the Form 1023-EZ.

    For more information, contact Laura Hoehn at (406) 219-3511.

    Laura Hoehn is an attorney who specializes in advising nonprofit organizations, foundations and donors. She is based in Bozeman, MT.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants. And before you get started with fundraising, your nonprofit needs its tax-exempt status.

    If you're interested in learning more about the Form 1023-EZ and see who's weighing in, check out these resources.

    About the 1023-EZ (video)

    The Internal Revenue Service explains who is eligible to use the 1023-EZ

    Philanthropy News Digest reports some of the pros and cons of the IRS Easing the Process of Approving Tax Exempt Organizations

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura Rhodes can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/1023EZ.pngThe New IRS Form 1023-EZ Good Or Bad For Nonprofitshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-08-06-new-irs-form-1023-ez-good-or-bad-for-nonprofits
    What You Need To Know From The Giving USA 2014 Reporthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-07-02-what-you-need-know-from-giving-usa-2014-reportWed, 02 Jul 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-114836693What You Need To Know From The Giving USA 2014 Report

    It's here! The Giving USA 2014 Report is here!

    For nearly six decades, the Giving USA report has presented the most comprehensive charitable giving data available. The annual report, which is researched and written by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, gives us a detailed overview of charitable giving in the U.S., by source and by sector.

    It's finally here. And here's what you need to know from this year's report.

    How much did U.S. donors give to charitable causes in 2013?

    $335.17 billion (that's billion, with a "b"). That number represents gifts from individuals, foundations and corporations.

    How do the numbers break down by source?



    $240.60 billion

    (+4.2% from 2012)



    $27.73 billion




    $48.96 billion




    $17.88 billion


    How do the numbers break down by sector?



    $105.53 billion

    (-0.2% from 2012)



    $52.07 billion


    Human Services


    $41.51 billion


    Gifts to Foundations


    $35.74 billion




    $31.86 billion


    Public-Society Benefit


    $23.38 billion


    Arts, Culture and Humanities


    $16.66 billion




    $14.93 billion




    $9.72 billion


    Gifts to Individuals


    $3.26 billion

    How did 2013 giving compare to 2012?

    Overall, charitable giving was up 4.4% in 2013 over last year.

    Did some sectors fare better (or worse) than 2012?

    Education, Arts and Culture and Environment/Animals were the big winners in 2013, with giving up 8.9%, 7.8% and 7.5% respectively. People continue to give the most, overall, to churches, places of worship and other religious causes; however, giving to the Religion category was flat in 2013. Giving to foundations was down 15.5% from last year.

    What should I take away from this?

    Individuals (and bequests) continue to be the single largest source of gifts, making up 80% of total giving. It's imperative that you have a solid development plan that identifies, cultivates, solicits and, most importantly, stewards those individuals who are passionate about the work you do and who will support your cause.

    If you don't have an annual gift program, start one. This year. If you're not thanking each and every donor for each and every gift, you need to start. Today. Then be sure to take the time to identify your top donors. (I know, you thanked them already.) Thank them again. You'll be glad you did.

    Send me a message and tell me how you thank your top-tier donors. I love hearing from you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

    If you're interested in learning more about the Giving USA report, check out these resources

    Get your own copy of the Giving USA 2014 report. (Report highlights are free.)

    Read key findings from the Giving USA 2014 report

    View an infographic that summarizes key findings from the Giving USA 2014 report

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/givingusa2014.jpgWhat You Need To Know From The Giving USA 2014 Reporthttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-07-02-what-you-need-know-from-giving-usa-2014-report
    3 Statistical Facts That Will Improve Your Fundraisinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-06-04-3-statistical-facts-that-will-improve-your-fundraisingWed, 04 Jun 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-7043972313 Statistical Facts That Will Improve Your Fundraising

    The good folks at npENGAGE compiled a list of 50 Fascinating Nonprofit Statistics that covers the gamut -- from how many nonprofits there are in the U.S. (1.4 million) to how much is donated to them ($316 billion in 2012), by whom (Boomers give to more charities than Millennials) and how (online giving is growing).

    If you're a regular reader of this newsletter, you've read my thoughts on some of these themes. And, I'll admit, the numbers ARE fascinating!

    65% of nonprofits require donors to click three or more times to give online

    What this statistic doesn't tell you is that 50-70% of website visitors ABANDON your website at the donate page. They were interested enough to click your "donate now" button, yet they didn't complete the transaction. Are you making it easy for your donor to give online?

    84% of nonprofits' donation landing pages are not optimized for mobile

    Sure, your "donate now" button is prominent on your website. But is your website - and, more specifically, your "donate now" button - optimized for mobile? There's been a lot of talk lately about the rise of the mobile-only user. Tablets and smart phones are the new go-to online device, so you need to think about your website - and your donation page - differently.

    50% of donors say that personalization is more important than promptness of a thank you

    Now, that's not saying you should take your time when acknowledging a gift. What it is saying is that you should take the time to personalize your thank you notes. Toss your stale thank you letter template, and make your donors feel like every letter was written just for them.

    Send me a message and tell me if these three facts surprise you and why. I love hearing from you.


    Just like there's more to grant writing than just "writing," there's also more to fundraising than just grants.

    Here are three more fun facts from the full list of 50. Think about how you'll approach your fundraising differently with this information.

    72% of charitable donations come from individual donors
    (Source: Giving USA)

    63% of donors want to know their money will be used
    (Source: Money For Good II Report)

    Nearly 7 out of 10 donors don't give again after making the first gift
    (Source: Blackbaud)  

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/sweet-success.jpg3 Statistical Facts That Will Improve Your Fundraisinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-06-04-3-statistical-facts-that-will-improve-your-fundraising
    Do Your Board Members Know What They Should Be Doinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-05-07-do-your-board-members-know-what-they-should-be-doingWed, 07 May 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-101322645Do Your Board Members Know What They Should Be Doing

    The first time I was asked to join a board, I was so honored that I said "yes" without understanding what it truly meant to be a board member, let alone how to be an effective board member.

    I think a lot of people do the same thing. And, honestly, I think a lot of nonprofits ask people to serve on their boards, often not fully understanding - and therefore, not clearly communicating - the responsibilities that the board members have in the management, oversight and success of the organization.

    Board Members Have A Legal Responsibility

    That's right. Board members are legally responsible for your nonprofit. These responsibilities are often called the "Three Ds": the Duty of Care, the Duty of Loyalty and the Duty of Obedience. Board members are responsible for the governance of the organization while the executive director is responsible for its management.

    Board Members Have A Fiduciary Responsibility

    In addition to their legal responsibilities, board members have financial responsibility for your nonprofit. Among their duties, board members maintain oversight of your nonprofit's finances. They review financial reports. They approve budgets. They ensure that the organization has sound financial policies and internal controls. The board ensures that your nonprofit is both transparent and accountable to your donors and the general public.

    Board Members ARE Responsible For Fundraising

    As part of their financial responsibility, board members are responsible for ensuring that the organization has the resources it needs to be effective. Fundraising expert Gail Perry offers these 10 practical ways that board members can help with fundraising. I love this list because every single board member can successfully complete all ten items. I promise.

    The #1 thing that your board members should do
    is make a personally meaningful annual contribution to your organization. When a grant application - or anyone - asks how many of your board members make a gift, there is only one correct answer.

    Send me a message and tell me if you've received a gift from 100% of your board members. If you haven't gotten there yet, don't worry. You will when you employ these 7 proven ways to get your board members to give.


    Just like there's more to grant writing than just "writing," there's also more to fundraising than just grants. And board members are a key to your fundraising success.

    Check out this month's tips for how your board members can be an active - and effective - part of your fundraising efforts.

    How Your Board Members Can Become Door Openers

    The Big Mistake That's Hurting Your Organization (and The Recipe For A Nonprofit Elevator Pitch)

    9 Ways Board Members Can Raise Money Without Fundraising

    BONUS! 9 MORE Ways Board Members Can Raise Money Without Fundraising

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/does-your-board-know-what-to-do-3.jpgDo Your Board Members Know What They Should Be Doinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-05-07-do-your-board-members-know-what-they-should-be-doing
    SHIFT The Way You Think About Fundraisinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-04-02-shift-way-you-think-about-fundraisingWed, 02 Apr 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-207599655SHIFT The Way You Think About Fundraising

    Last week was the 51 st Annual International Conference of the Association of Professional Fundraisers. The theme was SHIFT – as in "shift your perspective and get a whole new focus on fundraising."

    The conference truly was international, with attendees from around the globe. London and Rome, Hong Kong and Japan, South America and South Africa, Australia and Alaska, and many more!

    Dozens of nonprofit thought leaders – including Tom Ahern, Penelope Burk, Simone Joyaux and Beth Kanter – shared ideas that inspired the nearly 3,000 of us fundraisers who were in attendance.

    Here are a few takeaways:

    SHIFT #1: Stop talking about who you are and what you do.

    How do you introduce yourself? I bet you say "I'm Friendly Fundraiser, and I work for A Great Nonprofit." Period. Maybe you add, "We're based in Some Location and we serve Some Number of people."

    Sure, who you are and what you do is good to know. But what's really important is WHY your organization does what it does...and WHY THAT MATTERS.

    If you're not sure why what you do matters, ask yourself "What would happen if my organization ceased to exist tomorrow? Who would be impacted? How would lives change?

    Shout out to Tom Ahern for this donor-centered communications exercise.

    SHIFT #2: Stop thinking about soliciting (fundraising) as selling.

    The easiest way to raise more money? Connect with what's already in your donors' hearts. Donald Calne, a Canadian neurologist, coined the phrase "Emotion leads to action." So, instead of "selling," focus on "telling."

    Tell your donors stories that are filled with emotion. Fear, anger, disgust, disappointment, sadness, happiness, hope, promise. You get the idea.

    Remember, most donors want to help one person. So tell them a story about someone they can help. Then tell them how their contribution will change that person's life for the better.

    High net worth donors (think Bill and Melinda Gates) and foundations want to solve larger problems. Tell them the same story, add the scale of the problem and the impact that their dollars will have. Tell these donors how LIVES will be changed with their financial support.

    Hat tip to Stephen Pidgeon for sharing ways to match your message to your donors.

    SHIFT #3: Stop saying "Thank you..."

    No, I don't want you to stop thanking your donors. I want you to change the way you say "thank you." Great gift stewardship works for all donors...and it will lead to renewed (and even increased) contributions.

    Do you have different stewardship levels for the different amounts of gifts you receive? You should. Every donor deserves a thoughtful (and timely!) thank you letter. A higher level donor should also get a handwritten note or a phone call just to say thanks.

    Remember that saying "thank you" is just as important as making the "ask." Writing notes and making calls is a great way to get your board members involved in your organization's fundraising.

    Kudos to Sandy Rees for emphasizing donor segmentation as a retention strategy.

    Send me a message and  tell me which of these "shifts" will inspire you to do things differently. I love hearing from you.


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." There's also more to fundraising than just grants.

    This month, I'm sharing three presentations from the AFP International Conference. The slides are easy to understand, and their lessons will change how you think about fundraising.

    Oh No, You Didn't! Real mistakes nonprofits make in fundraising

    From About.me to Zillow. Using online tools and social media in fundraising.

    The Next Generation of American Giving. Matures, Boomers, Gen X and Y, oh my!

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/AFP_131101_ShiftAdsBA_160x300_RED-1.jpgSHIFT The Way You Think About Fundraisinghttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-04-02-shift-way-you-think-about-fundraising
    Improve Your Writing Commonly Confused Wordshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-03-05-improve-your-writing-commonly-confused-wordsWed, 05 Mar 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-601431860Improve Your Writing Commonly Confused Words

    March 4 is National Grammar Day. Isn't that fun? At the very least, you'll have to admit that grammar can be funny.

    Watch Brazilian schoolchildren learn English by correcting celebrities' tweets

    View this photo collection of embarrassing misspellings and more

    Read the children's illustrated version of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"

    Grammar can also be frustrating, which is why I'm sharing some common errors with you.

    Use and Utilize

    A lot of people use the words "use" and "utilize" interchangeably. However, "use" and "utilize" do not mean the same thing. "Utilize" means using something as it was not originally intended. For instance, you could "utilize" a dime as a screwdriver or a hard-soled shoe as a hammer, although you would probably prefer to "use" an actual screwdriver or hammer since they are right tool for the job.

    Continuous and Continual

    Similarly, "continuous" and "continual" are not synonyms. They are both adjectives, and they both describe a period of time. Here's the distinction: if something is "continuous," then it has no interruptions. None. So, the radio station that says they play "Continuous Soft Rock" is wrong. News, commercials and even the promotions for "Continuous Soft Rock" all interrupt the music, so it's not "continuous."

    Alternate and Alternative

    Like the previous example, "alternate" and "alternative" are easily - and often - confused. For instance, when reporting a traffic jam, a newscaster may recommend that drivers look for "alternate" routes. Long story short, taking an "alternate" route isn't wrong, but taking an "alternative" route would definitely be right.


    "Impactful" is one of those words that has been used (ahem, misused!) so much that it has become widely accepted - even though it doesn't appear in most dictionaries. People use it to mean "having a lot of impact." The next time you're talking about something that is "full of impact," consider using an alternative word, like "meaningful," "effective" or "influential."

    If you ever have a question, just ask Grammar Girl at QuickAndDirtyTips.com. Grammar Girl dispels all the myths, and the website is a great resource for all of your questions about grammar, punctuation and word usage. The lessons are easy to understand, and the archive is a grammatical treasure trove.

    Send me a message tell me if you'll stop "utilizing" that word (except, of course, when it's the right word to use!).


    Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." A careful review of your grant proposals is the last step before submission.

    Check out this month's tips to improve your grammar and eliminate the jargon in your writing. Everything you write will be better when you follow these simple tips.

    15 Grammar Goofs That Can Make You Look Silly (infographic)

    11 Common Grammar Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

    50 Alternatives To All The Jargon You're Using

    BONUS! 50 MORE Ways To Fix All The Jargon You're Using

    BONUS! 50 FINAL Ways To Fix All The Jargon You're Using

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/grammar-goofs.jpgImprove Your Writing Commonly Confused Wordshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-03-05-improve-your-writing-commonly-confused-words
    How To Score More Donors and Volunteershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-02-05-how-score-more-donors-volunteersWed, 05 Feb 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-900329243How To Score More Donors and Volunteers

    I think it's ironic that the NFL limits the use of its most recognizable brand by controlling who can legally use the words "Super Bowl" in the events leading up to the "Big Game."

    If you're a football fan, then you know that the Big Game is the Super Bowl, and vice versa. This clever wordplay works with this audience. However, you and your nonprofit should be careful. Ambiguous words and vague concepts can confuse your audience.

    Every time you communicate with your past, present and potential supporters, you want to be clear about what you do and how they can help. When you suggest a next step (a call to action), you'll have a much better chance that your audience will respond in the way that you want.

    Say What You Mean

    When you ask someone to "Please help," what do you really want? Do you want a donation? Do you need them to volunteer? Do you want something else altogether?

    Don't make your audience guess what you want them to do. Be very clear in your call to action, and tell them exactly how you want them to help you and your cause.

    Be Specific

    If you ask someone to "Please consider making a donation to our nonprofit," that's better because now you're asking them for a contribution. However, it's still not very good because you haven't told them what you need or how their donation will help.

    Ask for a specific dollar amount and, if you can, tell them exactly what that money will do. Food Banks are great at this: "Every dollar provides 9 meals" or "$56 will feed a family for 6 weeks."

    If it's hard to calculate what it costs to provide your services, that's okay. Try this: instead of asking someone to "Please support our prison literacy program," tell them that "You can help prisoners get their GED." The second sentence is specific, and it could attract a new donor, a new volunteer or both.

    Avoid Vague Words, Like Programs and Services

    Most people outside of your organization - especially first-time donors - don't understand what your "program" does on a daily basis or what kinds of "services" you provide. So stop talking about your nonprofit's programs and services. Tell people exactly what you do. (For instance, "We feed more than 1,200 hungry families every day.") Then tell them exactly how they can help.

    The Bottom Line...

    Be specific when talking to your supporters, and always offer a next logical step. When people understand what you do, why it matters and how their contributions (time or money) make a difference, they are more likely to support your cause. And when you add a strong call to action, your audience is more likely to respond...and respond favorably.

    Send me a message and tell me what you'll say to donors in your next call to action. I love hearing from you.


    Just like there's more to grant writing than just "writing," there's also more to fundraising than just grants. And how you ask for support is key to your fundraising success.

    This month, I have three book recommendations that will help you speak directly to your donors. If you don't have the time to read the books, at least click the authors' names and follow these thought leaders' blogs.

    "Seeing Through A Donor's Eyes," by Tom Ahern

    "Donor-Centered Fundraising," by Penelope Burk

    "Nonprofit Marketing Guide," by Kivi Leroux Miller

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/score-more-support-2.jpgHow To Score More Donors and Volunteershttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-02-05-how-score-more-donors-volunteers
    What a 10-Year-Old Can Teach You About Thanking Your Donorshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-01-01-what-10-year-old-can-teach-you-about-thanking-your-donorsWed, 01 Jan 2014 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-431171981What a 10-Year-Old Can Teach You About Thanking Your Donors

    We're taught as children that you always say "thank you" for a gift. Children may be able to get away with a verbal thank you or template-like letters. But your nonprofit can't.

    If my 10-year-old niece were a nonprofit, you can bet that I'd support her cause. Let me tell you why.

    Make It Memorable

    Last month, I received a picture via iMessage from my niece. She had spelled out "THANKS" with pretzel sticks. That's all she sent. And it's all I needed. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

    Really Mean It When You Say "Thank You"

    The pretzel thank you was an acknowledgement of a package that I had sent to her and her 6-year-old brother for the holidays. How exciting it is to be the child (or nonprofit) who receives a gift! And how thrilling to be the aunt (or donor) who gets a sincere thank you that conveys that excitement and genuine appreciation.

    Say and Show Your Thanks In Multiple Ways

    The pretzel picture actually came BEFORE the package was ever unwrapped. Then, a week or so later, I received a handwritten card where my niece had drawn a picture of the gift. Wow! Two expressions of thanks for one gift?

    At 10 years old, my niece already shows her appreciation for each and every gift she receives. Every thank you is as unique as the child. And, as the gift giver, that honest and heartfelt expression of thanks means a lot to me. So, you can bet that when the next occasion presents itself, I will send her another gift. Not because I have to, but because I want to.

    Will your donors want to send your nonprofit another gift? Do they know how very much you appreciate them? To make sure they do, throw out your stale templates and send a sincere (and don't forget, timely!) note of thanks. Surprise them, whether it's through your words, your actions or both. And never, ever stop saying thank you to each and every donor, for each and every gift.

    Send me a message and tell me some of the creative ways that you'll be thanking your donors in the new year. I love hearing from you.


    Just like there's more to grant writing than just "writing," there's also more to fundraising than just grants. And an important part of fundraising is the art of saying "thank you."

    Make it your New Year's Resolution to follow these three inspiring and thought-provoking nonprofit communicators: Tom Ahern, Kivi Leroux Miller and Katya Andresen. Their names link to posts specifically about thank you notes. Read their work. It's a resolution that you can keep...and you'll be glad you did.

    In the meantime, here are three links to interesting blogs and articles that will help you thank your donors (and keep them coming back) in the new year.

    12 Ways To Thank Donors That Will Keep Them From Saying Goodbye

    Creative Low Cost Ways To Thank Your Donors

    Thank You Letters: Powerful and Profitable

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/IMG_8404.jpgWhat a 10-Year-Old Can Teach You About Thanking Your Donorshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2014-01-01-what-10-year-old-can-teach-you-about-thanking-your-donors
    Are You Ready to Ask for and Receive Year-End Donationshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2013-12-04-are-you-ready-ask-for-receive-year-end-donationsWed, 04 Dec 2013 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-528672421Are You Ready to Ask for and Receive Year-End Donations

    December 3, 2013 marked the second annual Giving Tuesday.  Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday challenges us to rethink how we give during the holidays.

    Giving Tuesday is a day that encourages us to give to charity. It's particularly timely since 'tis the season...the end-of-year fundraising season, that is. And, in order to get people to give, you need to ask. It's as simple as that.

    Direct Mail Appeals

    If you haven't already sent out your last appeal of the year, there's still time. Here's a checklist of 8 ways to make the most of your year-end campaign.

    And even if you have sent your direct mail solicitation, don't forget to take advantage of a final email ask. (You have been collecting email addresses, right?)

    Email Appeals

    Be sure to match your message to the medium. If you're asking a donor to give electronically (via email), make it easy for them to click to give via your website.

    Did you know that one-third of online giving occurs in December, and 22% of annual giving happens in the last two days of the year? That's why it's especially important to have a donor-friendly website now.

    Is Your Website Ready To Receive Online Donations?

    If your website isn't there yet, you'll want to check out this month's Tips Of The Trade (at the end of this email) to make sure you're ready to receive online donations next year.

    Will you accept my challenge and make it your New Year's resolution to make your website more donor-friendly? More user-friendly in general? Maybe even mobile-friendly?

    Send me a message and let me know what changes you'll be making to your website in 2014. I love hearing from you.


    Just like there's more to grant writing than just "writing," there's also more to fundraising than just grants. Like online giving.

    Mid-year numbers showed that online gifts represented about 10% of total giving in 2013. However, online giving is growing nearly 1,000% faster than overall giving. (Source: Network for Good)

    Here are links to three useful articles that will help you improve your website and your online fundraising.

    Is Your Website Turning Away Donors?

    Is Your Nonprofit Website Open for Business?

    15 Techniques Used By Top Nonprofits To Boost Donor Acquisition and Online Fundraising Results

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

    https://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/cms/img/december-31st.jpgAre You Ready to Ask for and Receive Year-End Donationshttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2013-12-04-are-you-ready-ask-for-receive-year-end-donations
    3 Ways To Celebrate National Philanthropy Dayhttps://www.letstalknonprofit.blog/2013-11-06-3-ways-celebrate-national-philanthropy-dayWed, 06 Nov 2013 10:00:00 GMTLaura Rhodes, CFRE, CGWletstalknonprofitblog-3286702003 Ways To Celebrate National Philanthropy Day

    Every year on November 15, National Philanthropy Day gives us a chance to recognize and honor the people who make a difference in our lives, in our communities and in our world.

    You won't find any cards at Hallmark that celebrate this annual event. Even so, I'd like to suggest that you send a card anyway. In fact, I encourage you to thank at least three different supporters this month. 

    Send a thank you note to a foundation that has funded your work in the past.

    Sure, you thanked them when they awarded you the grant. No doubt, you'll thank them again when you submit your final report. And, you'll likely thank them again when you seek future funding.

    The difference is, this time, there's no ask and no expectation. You're simply letting them know how much you appreciate their support - today and every day.

    Thank a foundation that hasn't given a grant to your organization.

    This one might seem counterintuitive. Why would you thank someone who hasn't supported your program? That's easy: they haven't supported your program...yet.

    Take the time to thank a foundation that supports your local nonprofit community. Not only will the foundation appreciate this unexpected gesture, they will remember it.

    Don't forget to thank donors, volunteers and other key supporters.

    Foundations aren't the only ones that are helping to move your organization forward. Donors, volunteers and staff all play an important role in your nonprofit's success. A simple, heartfelt "thank you" can really make someone's day...and go a long way.

    You won't be able to thank everyone, so consider enlisting your board to help. Although many board members are uncomfortable making calls to ask for support, nothing is easier than calling a donor or volunteer just to say "thank you."

    How many thank you cards will you send this month? How many calls will you make?

    Send me a message and let me know who you'll be thanking on National Philanthropy Day and why.


    Just like there's more to grant writing than just "writing," there's also more to fundraising than just grants.

    With year-end fundraising right around the corner, here are three links to interesting blogs and articles that will help you to get it right.

    3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Fall Direct Mail Fundraising Appeal

    Get Your Year-End Fundraising Right

    6 Ways To Raise More Money with Your Annual Appeal

    Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders and win more grants.

    Send a message to learn more about grant writing support services.

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