Fundraising Blog

Whose Calendar Are You Using?

“Whose needs are being met?” is the mantra of a volunteer counseling organization I know.  This wisdom applies to fundraising as well.  Take a look at the timing of spontaneous donations to discern when is the best time to make future approaches.

Gone are the days when all donors made their annual gifts during the month of December (to maximize their tax deductions).  For constituents today, the annual flow of finances may occur differently.  The donor may make a gift on the anniversary date of a specific event in the donor’s life. Your particular appeal (a summer camp, perhaps) may spike interest/publicity/passion at another time of year.  A donor’s payday, annual bonus, or annual date of investment payout may reveal the best time to make the next contact. The patterns of giving in your community may be influenced by an unusual factor.

Identify patterns or individual preferences in the timing of gifts received and consider trying a system to make your next approach on the donor’s time schedule.  Try this approach on new donors, or others whose triggers you are aware of.  Let us know your results.

Meet the donor’s need and see if your response rate improves!

Thoughts of a Monthly Giver

Three or more years ago, I changed my practice of making one annual gift to my public broadcasting affiliate.  With the one gift, I was never sure which year I was in with my giving.  Sometimes I made the annual gift in response to a particular pledge drive or Christmas special; other times I responded to a renewal mailing.  My perception was that the renewals started about six months  before the renewal date, so I didn’t always respond to the first renewal notice.

 At this juncture five years ago, it became clear to me that:

                I want to be a strong supporter of this organization.

                I am a daily consumer of their services—and most thankful for its existence.

                Signing on as a sustaining member by making a regular monthly gift certainly made more sense than the annual confusion I currently had.

                And:  the amount I could give as a monthly withdrawal from my account was easily double or triple what the annual gift I had been making.

Further, having done the hard work of fundraising myself through the years, it would give me great pleasure to be a donor whose ongoing giving was predictable, reliable, and took minimal time to administer.  I wanted to do my part to focus the organization’s prodigious efforts on programming and serving the community; I didn’t want to  contribute to their administrative effort when we both knew that the gift was forthcoming.

 At the time I initiated monthly giving, I pledged an amount double what my previous annual gift had been.  Today, with much appreciation for the gift of monthly giving, I will again double the amount.  Now I am wondering why I don’t convert my other charitable gifts to this Win-Win method.

 Although the growth of monthly giver programs doesn’t occur rapidly, it’s always a good time to make a new pitch.  Donors come to understand/choose monthly giving at their own individual rates.  Putting some spark into your “monthly” pitch is a good idea anytime!

Save the Date: FrontStream Philanthropy Solutions Conference

FrontStream Philanthropy Solutions Conference
June 2-3, 2014  I  Charleston, South Carolina

Mark your calendar for the FrontStream Philanthropy Solutions Conference, a user conference for our family of brands: Artez Interactive, FirstGiving, GiftWorks and TRUiST.

Join us for tips and tricks on maximizing your fundraising efforts using our social fundraising, peer-to-peer fundraising and employee giving solutions. You’ll have a chance to meet our executive team, engage in conversation and discuss best practices with fellow users and industry experts. This is a can’t-miss event for our clients and partners!

Visit the FrontStream Philanthropy Solutions Conference website for more information.

Join the conversation on Twitter! #FSCon14

GiftWorks Data Secure Against Heartbleed Vulnerability


FrontStream Payments Nonprofit Division confirms our brands Artez Interactive, FirstGiving, GiftWorks and TRUiST were not vulnerable to the Heartbleed OpenSSL bug.

Recently, the development community was made aware of a vulnerability in the OpenSSL software library that has the potential to put a significant number of the internet’s websites at risk.

Dubbed “Heartbleed”, this bug allows information to be accessed that would normally be protected by some versions of OpenSSL.

GiftWorks can confirm that our servers and products were not vulnerable to Heartbleed and your secure client data was not affected. If you have any further questions about this issue, please contact the Account Manager or support team in your location.

The Heartbleed bug is considered a significant security threat. For more information about how to protect yourself, see The Heartbleed Hit List: The Passwords You Need To Change Right Now for a list of potentially affected websites and recommendations for further action.

Giving the Story Zing

Once a constituent tells you a wonderful story that demonstrates the heart of your organization, the next job is to hone that raw gem into words that will work best to fill the bill.  You won’t change the meaning of what the person said, but you probably will find ways to say it more succinctly, emphasizing key words, painting a human picture, and focusing on a single benefit.(if you have multiple benefits to include, you may need separate speakers.)

Just two or three sentences works best.  Keep the tone conversational, just as you heard it, but get rid of extraneous phrases and ideas:

“When my daughter was in a car accident at the junction of Route 40 and University Drive, the police called us from the emergency room and told us her condition was critical. They told us to come to the hospital immediately.”


“The police called, saying our daughter had been in an accident and asking us to come to the hospital immediately.”

You’ve said the same thing without clouding the point with details.  But take care not to polish what was said beyond what is believable, as in:  “The phone rang.  With sirens and beeping monitors sounding in the background, Officer Hughes asked if we were sitting down….”

Get right to the point.  If the reader doesn’t immediately know who’s talking (client, family member, board member) and what they’re talking about—before the first comma—then you’ve lost them. Here are a few examples of the ho-hum start:

“I support XYZ because I believe in the importance of education.”

“When asked about her experience, Wendy said, “I was very pleased. Everyone was wonderful! I don’t know what I would have done without XXX.”

 “I applaud your efforts in helping others and wish you well as you work with other young people….”

Compare those to:

“I was using a lot; I would not be alive right now….”

“ Now that Darby’s (service dog) with me, I can’t wait to ….”

“The best part of volunteering to feed the homeless is the faces of the people.”

Winning copy for nonprofits doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, doesn’t put the reader in a fog of introductory phrases, mentions actions and people who can be visualized.  This is what grabs readers across the board.


When Others Ask

Asking volunteers to ask for money is a great way to multiply the efforts you and your staff are making.  But don’t forget that many people have a fear of asking others for money.  Your best bet is to make the volunteer comfortable with the process.

Try role-play to give the volunteer the chance to practice what to say, how to pace the conversation, how to close. Once someone has said the words, had the chance to rethink and resay them, heard others do the same thing, the challenge is much less daunting.  After all, the volunteer has heard himself saying the right words.

The best place for a volunteer to start is to share the story of why he/she agreed to volunteer. You may need to coach the volunteer into finding the most effective way to tell his story—he may start with “Well, Sally asked me.”  But with a little probing you can lead him to—“My friend’s son uses the services of XYZ and I’ve seen what a difference it makes in his life—he’s happier, busier, more involved, and anxious to learn….”  Telling his own story will come naturally to your student; the words, the ideas, the experiences are personal.  This puts him at ease, builds his credibility with his audience, and offers a natural transition to the reason for the visit and the ask.

By role-playing the volunteer through his early asks, you build his confidence, shape the picture he’ll project, (ward off no-no’s), and prepare him for success.  A great benefit to all parties involved!


Reaping Great Testimonials

At a recent thank-you event for major donors, the host (nonprofit) invited attendees (perhaps pre-selected, but it didn’t appear that way) to step over to a corner and say something about why they give to the organization.  In the corner was a professional videographer set up with lights, reflective umbrellas, camera to capture your words.  He was a charming young man (familiar with the organization) who pinned a microphone to your jacket and then asked you opener questions: 

 Tell me what you think is the most important reason to support XYZ.

Which program interests you most?

How did you first learn about XYZ?

 The guests wandered over to the set-up as they wanted to, submitted to the microphone and lights, and said some of the most wonderful things.  (They did sign a permission.) Those guests who didn’t want to participate, just didn’t.

 In this way the organization captured lots of “impromptu” endorsements from their most valued and articulate donors, from which they crafted a two-minute video which could be used in many situations to encourage others to give.

 In the final product, the speakers were all relaxed, candid, and smiling.  Special personal reasons for giving were captured.  Rambling and stilted comments could be edited out. Community leaders were shown as donors, without mentioning their names; what they said was not a canned and rehearsed testimonial, but spoken from the heart.

 I imagine the nonprofit netted wonderful testimonials that would never have been captured with a formal request from the director of development and staged in a business office.

 Couples spoke together, family members of clients, business leaders, foundation types—offering a wide variety of reasons for giving.  In the editing, the video moved at a nice speed from one speaker to the next, capturing only the “juiciest” of what was said, and probably sequenced to create the desired effect.  What the donor-speakers highlighted no doubt included some messages especially appealing to other people like themselves—who will step up and donate in the near future.

 A creative approach to an old workhorse is always refreshing.

3 Things To Do Before Starting Your Major Gift Program

By Amy Eisenstein, CFRE

Is your small nonprofit considering a major gift program? Good – you should be! For one thing, major gift fundraising is much less expensive than holding events or sending bulk mail (though you should continue doing both, in addition to your major gift efforts). And for another, it’s possible to start a solid, successful major gift program in only five hours a week.

Before you can start going out and soliciting three, four, or five-figure gifts, though, there are three steps you need to take first to make sure your major gift program will succeed:

1. Get your donor information in order and into a database.
Capturing donor information and history in an organized way is one key component to successfully raising major gifts. Here’s the minimum information you need to have about your donors to start: their name and complete contact information, their giving history (dates, amounts), and exactly what they give to (your work with children vs. your adult services, for example, as well as what campaigns they responded to). Whether you have the capacity to invest in fundraising software or need to rely on a basic database application – you’ll be far less stressed and far more effective once you’ve completed this step!

2. Start creating a culture of philanthropy at your organization.
A “culture of philanthropy” covers a wide range of things, the most important of which is recruiting and training a board of directors that is willing and able to both give and get gifts. Some sample steps in this process include creating a donor expectation form and including fundraising discussions and trainings at all of your board meetings and retreats. You can continue this process while working on your major gift campaign – but your major gift campaign will almost certainly fail unless at least a substantial minority of your board members are fully engaged.

3. Create your stewardship plan.
Before you start soliciting major gifts make sure you have a plan in place to insure your donors are thanked multiple times by multiple people at your nonprofit. Who will make the first post-gift thank you call? Who will sign and write personal notes on your thank you/tax receipt letter? It’s also a good idea to have your thank you letter drafted and approved before your first donor meeting – that way you will be able to send it quickly after the excitement of receiving your first major gift!

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is an author, speaker, coach and fundraising consultant who’s dedicated to making nonprofit development simple for you and your board. Her books include ’50 A$ks in 50 Weeks’, ‘Raising More with Less’, and her current Amazon bestseller ‘Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops‘.

Special offer: Be one of the first 100 people to purchase ‘Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops’ between 6 am – Midnight on Tuesday, March 18 and receive free access to Amy’s webinar, The Art of the Ask (a $129) value.

Get copies of Amy’s free eBooks here. Stay tuned for a fantastic GiftWorks webinar with Amy Eisenstein coming this Spring!

Don’t Call It a Testimonial!

Sounds like something to do with death, or late-night commercials.  Testimonial is Bruce Jenner on the Wheaties Box. What you’re looking for is a story.

Current fundraising refers to these gems of praise and endorsement as “telling the story,” a much more attractive and upbeat definition.  To develop these stories to describe your offerings requires art and skill. 

You are asking your sources to put into words their feelings about your organization which they have not yet fully formulated in their minds.  It’s not an easy thing to do, but your efforts in helping them to do this will provide you with words and ideas that ring true and that focus on what a prime member of your audience (and potentially others) consider important. 

So how do you find/elicit these gems?

 First of all, not with a box request in your newsletter.  A general Call for Testimonials will produce, if anything, general testimonials from the choir.  Instead, ask new contacts/donors/volunteers.  You want to know what is attracting interest at the current time. You’re looking for something New to say, not more of what you already have.

Ask specific questions, something requiring a thoughtful and potentially original response.   The question “Why do you give to the SPCA?” elicits answers like “I like dogs” or “I don’t like to see dogs injured.”  Asking  “When you called to volunteer, what specifically lead you to make the call?” sounds more like a personal question of interest and is more likely to elicit the sort of personal story you are looking for.

Ask for three things the person likes about _(whatever their action was)___.  This leads to a more thoughtful answer, and you may strike gold  in the answer #3.

Ask what the person thinks the greatest value/benefit of your work is.  This way you learn what is important to people who take part and new prospects.

Ask what is the greatest benefit to them personally.  This question alone might deliver exactly the “pitch” you’re looking for.

Once you’ve gathered the new ideas from your source and massaged it to best effect, don’t forget to get permission to use.  Send the edited version with attribution to the source for approval, showing them exactly how it’s going to look with the attribution (or not) included. Save the confirmation email you receive in return. In about 20% of cases, you’ll be gifted with a revised (testimonial) story that’s even stronger than the original.


First Lines First

You’ve designed and written a killer email or letter for your next solicitation. Don’t let it miss the mark.  If no one opens the piece, you and they have missed the opportunity to share the word and work of your organization. Don’t waste your openings.

The subject line on an email, the first sentence or the envelope teaser on your annual mailing, the first thing a speaker says:  all these go about 50% of the way toward capturing the attention and getting follow-through from your target audience.

Give the action step.  This is usually a verb, fortified by Now.

People respond to people—be sure the reader knows who’s doing the ask (you!)

Your subject should feature something they care about.  (If you don’t know what content in particular your donors care about, time to ask!)

Don’t waste people’s time.  The reader will only consider your headline or opener for a few seconds before deciding to look further or move on to other things. Put the attention-getter right up front.  Open rates are much higher for quick-to-read headlines than for ponderous ones.  Consider that the typical inbox preview pane shows only 30 to 40 characters; mobile devices even fewer.  It does no good to have your action word beyond what’s seen at first glance.

Numbers (dollars, 5 ways, 100%) always convey a message with easy interpretation. Don’t forget urgency (only 3 days left to…).  Make it personal, not by plugging in the reader’s name, but by using “you” and “your.”

Avoid looking like a spammer.  Resist the temptation to use all caps or extra exclamation points.  (Check your own Junk Mail for good examples of what not to do.)

Never waste a chance to communicate by failing to optimize your opening line.