June 3, 2019

Storytelling…just some thoughts

What cool cards from Ireland’s cool company, askdirect. 

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling

“Because if we, the storytellers, don’t do this, then the bad people will win.” Christiane Amanpour

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Joan Didion

“We’re all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on.” Charles de Lint

Think about all the great storytellers you know… Fiction writers. Historians.

February 4, 2016

My stories…NOT YOURS!

Every fundraiser knows that story telling is critical. And stories are full of feelings. You know…all those emotions…like anger, fear, greed, guilt, flattery, exclusivity, salvation. And hope and love and and and…

Suddenly reason steps in. The fundraiser is explaining the rational rationale why you, the donor, should give. Oh my. Oh dear. Could we be any dumber? Yes, just plain dumb according to tons of research. (Just visit Tom Ahern and all his writings about neuroscience from all those neuroscience researchers. Read Seth Godin’s great blog, “A reason persuasion is surprisingly difficult.” And check out the research he’s referring to.

That’s bad enough….pursuing reason when emotion is what makes action happen. (I just love this quote by Canadian neurologist Donald Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.” As a fundraiser – or marketer of any kind – I hope you want action!)

But too often, fundraisers (and their board members and staff colleagues) get confused about which stories and whose stories. Then the story listening part of the work gets lost somewhere in translation. You’re not listening to my story. And rest assured, that can get pretty ugly. Check out this article about fundraisers denying me my story.

Seth is pretty darn great at talking about story telling and story listening and who the story belongs to. Here’s one of my Seth all-time favorites. “The brand is a story. But it’s a story about you, not the brand.” And the “you” is the prospect, the donor, the customer, the buyer…

Here’s how Seth describes marketing – and what I call the non-listening problem. “Marketing is the empathetic act of telling a story that works, that’s true for the person hearing it, that stands up to scrutiny. But marketing is not about merely sharing what you, the marketer believes. It’s about what we, the listener, believe.”

And here’s one last thought: “Everything is a tale. What we believe, what we know. What we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.” [Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game]


August 31, 2015

Personal solicitation for your annual fundraising

I first wrote this back in 2008. Wow. 7 years ago. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much change.

Do you solicit charitable gifts – personally – as part of your annual fundraising for programs, services, operations?

If not, start now! If you already do personal, face-to-face solicitation every year, then expand it.

When I left my job as chief development officer for Trinity Repertory Company in January 1988, a major component of our annual fundraising effort was face-to-face, personal solicitation. We solicited 500 individual and corporate prospects by using 75 volunteers to help with the work.

Face-to-face personal solicitation should be the foundation of your annual fundraising program. We all know that this is the least expensive, most productive way to raise charitable gifts.

With key volunteers, I analyzed our donor and prospect database and segment the market. Which donors and prospects would we solicit via mail? Which ones would we solicit face-to-face?

This annual fundraising campaign required approximately 3 months of work.

I recruited team captains who, in turn, recruited volunteer solicitors. My team captains helped me follow-up with and graciously nag the solicitors.

I used the annual report (which I wrote) and a case statement (about our annual programs and services) as resource materials for solicitors. (The Tom Ahern guy we all know and respect now, didn’t exist then. I mean he existed. But he and I weren’t together most of my Trinity Rep days. Most importantly for fundraising, he wasn’t the great Tom Ahern of donor communications.)

The campaign began with a kick-off, mini training, and selection of prospects. Solicitors signed personalized letters requesting a meeting. And off they went, the theatre’s wonderful solicitors. They contacted their prospects personally. Often they had personal face-to-face meetings. Sometimes they solicited over the telephone.

The solicitors secured pledges and reported those pledges to my office. The office sent thank-you letters and reminder notices for pledge payment.

And we repeated this process every year that I worked there. Over and over.

Do it. Do it now!

For a detailed description and materials to use with your solicitors, visit the Free Download Library on this website.

Also look at these useful books: Andrea Kihlstedt’s Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power. Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops by Amy Eisenstein. And The Ask by Laura Fredricks.

November 17, 2014

Great solicitation idea!

Instead of the oh-so-traditional proposal…

You share a draft press release celebrating the donor’s investment and the donor’s impact.

I think it’s great. And that’s what the executive director of Rhode Island Urban Debate League did.

And the prospect loved it!


October 24, 2014

Fundraising from Valros, France

Hi. It’s moi (me) again. Yes, I’m still in France. The guests have left. (We had such fun with sister and cousin and their respective in-law partners.)

So now it’s email every day. And I read a lot and then I want to share with you. So here goes….

Some more research:

  • Ah, fundraising and technology. Check out this research,  2014 Fundraising Technology Trends. In this study with fundraisers, 80% believe that “better technology leads to more effective fundraising.” You’ll also find info about specific tech strategies, software, etc. — all focused on fundraising.
  • Did I already tell you about the newest research from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative? Check out their  “Nonprofit Fundraising Study – Mid-year Update (January – June 2014).” This regular study reviews charitable gifts for Canadian and U.S. charities.

Here are some keepers for all us nonprofit organizations, we leaders, us fundraisers… And some short little things to read and share with your colleagues. Please. Please. S’il vous plaît. Share these with your staff colleagues at an all-staff meeting. Help your program staff and the receptionist and the janitor understand staff.

Short little things to read. Good powerful little things to share. Please please please ….. S’il vous plaît. Share these things with your staff colleagues … Like at the all-staff meeting. This stuff is great to help your program staff and the receptionist and janitor understand stuff. And for your board members, too.

All these people are your ambassadors and your partners in philanthropy and fundraising. Ambassadors… So here’s a great one about brand ambassadors from Seth Godin. I hope you read Seth regularly. Yes, his comments are useful for fundraising and any business and pretty much most lives. Everyone is a brand ambassador for your charity. Everyone!

And there’s more! 

Every single one of these items could be a good conversation starter at your organization. Leaders stimulate conversations. Leaders bring in strategic and cage-rattling conversations to generate perspective and engage in meaningful conversation.

Yes, there is time to have these conversations. Yes, there is time to use conversation as a core business practice. If you cannot find / make the time… then what are you doing?!

Okay. That’s it. Back to vacation.

October 15, 2014

New research – which, of course, fundraisers always read!

Of course, good fundraisers read the new research. And figure out where good research comes from so they can follow good research.

And then, the really good fundraisers make sure that their boss and staff colleagues and board members and the board’s fundraising committee understand the highlights and implications of the research for the organization’s fundraising.

So check out the semi-annual update from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. Share the infographic with your colleagues.

Also check out the new report from Wealth-X and Arton Capital.

I’m reading them because I expect to learn something.


June 13, 2014

Who knew? Tips for fundraising

I hope you find these tips useful – and even curiously enjoyable.

1.  Over and over I hear about the increased giving through social media, through an organization’s website. But is this giving? Or are people just paying through your website. Were they actually solicited through direct mail or telephone or? “Giving” and “paying” are a distinction that makes a big difference. Read this:  The Agitator Communication Versus Transaction.

2.  Read Norma Cameron‘s A Fundraiser Bill of Rights, posted on SOFII. Thanks, SOFII for sharing this globally. Tom  and I talked about writing one but never got around to it. Wow. Norma! This is great!

3.  Have you seen Every Annoying Conference Call — if it were in real life.  This is sooooo funny and sooooo true and sooooo frustrating.

4.  Check out Pamela Grow’s e-news, February 27, 2014: The cult of donor-centricity. This is sooooo good!

5.  And finally, for today, check out social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk: Your body language shapes who you are. Remember that old saying, “Fake it till you make it.” And check out Albert Mehrabian’s communications research:

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.
May 15, 2014

New on my website! Podcasts

Would you like to hear me talking about firing lousy board members? How about training your board members to solicit gifts? Or insights about board chairs (great, mediocre, and rogue!) Do you want to hear about good governance?

All of these workshops are now available as podcasts in the Free Download Library on my website.

You’ll hear me. And you can download a great handout.

All this is thanks to AFP International. Are you a member? Do you attend local chapter workshops and conferences?

May 5, 2014

Personal face-to-face solicitation should be part of your annual fundraising

When I was the chief development officer at Trinity Repertory Company, 75 volunteers joined me to solicit 500 individual and corporate prospects every single year. Only 10 of those volunteers were board members. The rest were subscribers who loved the theatre.

This annual operating support/core program campaign ran from January through March. The campaign began with a kick-off, mini training, and selection of prospects.

Solicitors signed personalized letters requesting a meeting. And then off they went, those wonderful solicitors. They contacted their prospects personally. Mostly they had face-to-face meetings. Sometimes they solicited over the telephone. (Although I discouraged that, of course.)

The solicitors secured pledges and reported those pledges to the office. The office sent thank-you letters and reminder notices for pledge payment.

And we repeated this process every year that I worked there. Over and over. The first year, it was 10 prospects and 2 solicitors. And then it grew and grew.

Yes, sure…some people didn’t fulfill their commitments (the solicitors!) So I graciously took away the prospects and did them myself or assigned them to other solicitors.

I’m always startled when organizations – no matter the size – tell me they don’t do this every year. Why not? We all know that personally meeting and listening and talking with a donor – and then asking… is pretty much the best way to raise money.

Visit the Free Download Library on my website for sample materials. Check out Andrea Kihlstedt’s book Asking Styles. Visit CharityChannel Press to see all the great fundraising and soliciting books there. Amy Eisentein’s Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops.  Read Jerry Panas’ book Asking. See Laura Fredricks’ book The Ask.

Please please please…. Do personal face-to-face solicitation every single year to support general operations. Good luck.

April 28, 2014

I hate the term “annual fund”!!!

I get so frustrated with the term “annual fund.”

What does the term mean? Is it the once per year (how dumb was I) annual solicitation letter that I sent out 30 years ago when I was a development officer? And I even had letterhead that said Annual Fund?

What was I thinking? Did I actually think that someone would be emotionally touched by that term?

Everyone I know tells me that the “annual fund” is the annual letter sent out to everyone for annual operating support. Well… We should all know by know that for the direct mail segment of our donor/prospect base — we should be sending them different themed letters multiple times per year. Even if they responded to a previous solicitation. And why do we do that? Because if they love us enough, they give again. Not to the “annual fund.” But to the sad little kitty who needs a home. And the happy kitty who got home. And for kitty classes to help them develop their family skills so we can find them a kitty family.

And what is the annual fund? It’s everything that the organization does – every solicitation strategy – for the 12 month fiscal year…. To support annual operations / core program support. So that is what the annual fund is. Multiple direct mail letters with different themes spread over the fiscal year going to the direct mail segment. Personal face-to-face solicitation for gifts that support core program support and operations for the fiscal year. The fundraising special event you do each year for annual operating support and core programs.

All that is the annual fund. Not some letter! Please please please.

Next blog is about personal face-to-face major gift solicitation for annual operations/core program.

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