Jan 052018

Happy  New Year! With the New Year comes resolutions. This year, let’s resolve to raise more money! How? PLAN for it!

Start with a Big Vision.

Successful and effective fundraising begins with a plan, which needs to be based on the organization’s desired outcomes.

Yes, you read that right. Desired Outcomes.

Think about it:

  • What would be possible if money were no object?
  • What outcomes do you most desire for your clients/customers?
  • What do they most desire for themselves?

Start with the answers to those questions, and reverse-engineer from there. What would it mean for your program design? Your staffing pattern? Your budget? The role of your board, volunteers, donors and stakeholders? Once you’ve answered these questions, put together a budget and start working towards raising the kind of money you need to really move the needle on the social problem your organization was birthed to address. Every single day.

Once you have an idea of what it would take, look at expense trends, existing sources of revenue, and where you could easily grow.  From there look at what it would take to close the gap – invest in individual giving? Conduct more grants research?

Your Annual Fund Development Plan

Next, create an Annual Fund Development Plan, which should be comprised of the following sections:

  1. Financial Goals: list the total goal for the organization, as well as each program. Under each program should be a list of anticipated funds and the sources from which they will come.
  2. Strategic Goals: these are goals that will support your fundraising efforts. For example, one of your goals might be to make sure that 100% of your board members make some kind of financial contribution. Another might be that you will discuss fundraising at each board and staff meeting.
  3. Direct Mail: in this section, list each mail campaign you intend to implement, including dates and deadlines.
  4. Special events: list all special events, along with dates and deadlines.
  5. Cultivation/Outreach Strategies: this section can include public events (e.g., Open House, your annual meeting), events you will attend that are hosted by others (ex: the local health fair), or any other strategy you plan to use to stay connected to existing stakeholders and meet new ones.
  6. Communications: your social media, email and newsletter schedules all belong in this section. If you send out an annual report, include it here.
  7. Calendar: this section lists all tasks by month.

Communication, communication, communication.

Distribute your Annual Fund Development Plan to all staff and board and make sure everyone understands their roles, responsibilities and to appoint one person who is in charge of making sure the plan gets implemented. Nine or ten months into the fiscal year, begin planning for next year, incorporating any lessons learned.  

Successful and effective fundraising begins with a plan. While an annual fund development plan will help you reach your short-term financial goals, we need to engage in long-term, aspirational financial planning that will allow us to move the needle on the social problem with which our clients struggle. Figure out what it will take for your clients to have great outcomes, and reverse-engineer from there. Next, determine how much additional revenue you’ll need to raise each year to reach that goal, and then share those dreams with everyone who cares about the cause – you might just be surprised by how many people step up the plate and hop on board!

 January 5, 2018  Posted by at 2:57 pm Fundraising
Dec 262017

When’s the last time you received a great thank you?

Maybe it was a beautiful handwritten note, or an unexpected public shout out.  Do you remember how it made you feel?  A little bit warm and fuzzy, a bit inspired, a bit motivated and excited?

Those are the feelings you want to inspire in your donors.

We need to thank our donors at least 5 times a year! Fortunately, saying “Thank You” can take many forms.

Here are some ideas as you say thank you to your donors.

 1. Handwritten Note

In an age of email and text messages, a handwritten note carries even more meaning.  One of my favorite thank you notes I ever received from an organization was a simple DIY card with a photo of a program participant on the front.  It was heartfelt and really reflected the organization. I felt truly valued. Be sure to include your logo. The personal touch makes a difference you’re your donors will notice!

 2. Social Media

Use the power of social media to highlight some of your more touching donor scenarios, whether it’s a photo of a local business office that brings their whole team to deliver a giant check, or it’s an individual who arrives with a grocery bag of much needed supplies. Whether you have photos of the donors themselves or just the fruits of their donation, post the photos and give social media shout outs. Don’t forget to tag and share so that the donor themselves see the post! They, in turn, will most likely share it via their social media, increasing your exposure.

 3. Public Thank You

You can use your newsletter and annual report to highlight donors, and/or by creating a Donor Wall at your organization, where lots of visitors and service recipients will see it. Some donor walls look complicated or expensive, but if you enlist your staff in some brainstorming, you’ll see that you can create some low-cost ways of celebrating your donors that fit your organization’s budget.

 4. Welcome Package

For first time donors, a small welcome package with a thank you note, a story or photos of the impact of their donation, and a small gift (like a book mark) can really make a donor feel appreciated and even more excited about your organization’s work. You can also set up a series of emails (otherwise known as a “drip campaign”) that your new donors receive over a series of weeks after they’ve made their donation. Research shows these people are quicker to give again, and at a higher level.

 5. Video

A good thank you video can go a long way. Acknowledge your donors’ gifts with a clear and simple thank you video at any time of year. A 2 – 3 minute “thank you” video will not only engage your donors, but it provides you with a way to publicly recognize them through social media and promote your organization to other potential supporters.  Make it more impactful by having your service recipients deliver the message. Don’t worry about equipment. Video technology has come so far that a smartphone can make a great video worth sharing. Don’t worry about editing, either – today’s donors don’t want a highly polished piece that’s been produced in a studio. Keep it short, so you can do it in one take.

6. Impact Updates

Make sure the donor knows how his/her donation was used. Donors like to see how their donation made an impact on the people you’re serving (because that’s who they want to help!). Give number breakdowns where applicable, be specific, give examples, and tell stories. The thank you note should be as thorough and heartfelt as the initial plea for support.

 7. From the Service Recipients

Whether you engage service recipients in making cards or take a big group photo holding a big “Thank You” sign, engaging your clients or constituents can be powerful for donors, and it helps engage your clients in what it takes to keep the organization and services running, which can be empowering for them. If you service children, hand drawn pictures and/or cards are particularly heartfelt.

 8. Phone Calls

Doing a Thank-A-Thon is a great way to engage volunteers and board members.  Divide up a list of donors, and sit down and make phone calls just to say thank you.  It’s powerful to connect directly with individuals, and they’ll feel touched by the personal outreach.  Sometimes you even learn incredible stories of why they gave to your organization or cause.

 9. Donor Cultivation Event

A donor cultivation event is an intimate affair (I recommend no more than 100 people, including board and staff) that allows you to connect with your donors and to let them feel like part of group or movement.  This can take the shape of anything from a breakfast to a cocktail hour, and can be held on-site, at a board member’s home, a local restaurant, art venue, or event space.  Think about what would fit your organization’s capacity and budget.

 10. Tour

Let your donors see your work up close. Invite them in for a tour of your facility and to see the impact of the work up close.  This can even involve a driving or walking tour, depending on the nature of your work.

(A quick reminder: when using photo or video, be sure to get a media release signed by the people you’re filming!)

At its core, fundraising is about relationships. As with any relationship, showing appreciation is central to continuing to grow and deepen the connection.

And now, we want to hear from you!

Which idea did you like best?

How do you thank donors at your organization?

Share your ideas with us so we can learn from one another!


And THANK YOU for reading my blog!


 December 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:08 am Communications and Social Media, Fundraising
Dec 182017

You know those people who can just tell an amazing story? The dinner party goes quiet as their story unfolds as everyone gets drawn in.  Or when you get so caught up in a news article that you hear nothing around you because you’re so enthralled that nothing else matters?

That is good storytelling.  And YOU can be that storyteller.

You HAVE to be that storyteller.

We need to tell our stories — not stories about ourselves, but stories about the people our organization is helping.  Becoming a storyteller doesn’t mean you have to be the center of attention at parties (in case any introverts out there are already feeling nauseous!), but you do need to make your clients the center of attention for your donors, volunteers, and fans through good storytelling.

Why is storytelling important? Storytelling is crucial, because it’s through stories that we connect to each other, to the world, and to our deepest humanity. The feelings evoked by a powerful story are stronger than anything our response to facts and figures (even for data nerds, like me!). Fundraising is, at its core, a heart-centered activity. While data is important — because people need to know you’re having an impact — sharing the story of a former client and the struggles she’s endured with her children, how she overcame them with YOUR organization’s support, and where she is now, and how she’s doing, they will feel connected and invested and will want to support her — and those like her — at any even deeper level.

We have hundreds of stories of the people we’ve supported through our work.  Make sure those stories capture the imagination, hearts, and wallets of your supporters (and would be supporters!).

Here’s How:

  1. Stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Be sure your story had a strong beginning, some tension in the middle and resolution at the end.  Before you start writing, ask yourself, what is the point of this story? Be sure your reader/listener gets that point from beginning to end!
  2. Pique their curiosity. What if I told you we’ve figured out a way to eliminate childhood cancer?  Using a bold, provocative statement perks people’s interests and entices them to hear (read) the rest of the story.  Storytellers call this an “inciting incident.” We are, by nature, curious beings — tapping into that tendency by using provocative questions opens the window wide for the rest of your story.
  3. Evoke VAK! No, Vak is not some mystical storytelling guru living in the mountains, but rather stands for Visual Audio Kinesthetic. Use visual, audio, and kinesthetic (hands-on/experiential) modalities to immerse a person into a desired experience or state. (If a story tells 1,000 words, think about the impact of video!)  When the mind begins to imagine emotional and sensory experiences, parts of the brain light up as if it’s actually happening. Using these cues to describe “the adrenaline racing through your body,” or the “tragedy that brought you to tears,” will shift the audience from passive listener, to feeling like an active participant.
  4. Engage in Conflict Resolution. Two traditional storytelling elements are conflict and resolution. Your story should outline the problem, then show how your agency/ approach/intervention provides a resolution. Be sure to come at this from the CONSUMER’S perspective, not yours!
  5. Appeal to Self-interest. The truth is, we’re wired for self-interest (otherwise, we wouldn’t survive!). Leveraging people’s self-interest helps you connect with them more quickly and on a deeper level.  Help the reader/listener understand how getting involved or providing support makes them a better person. What do your supporters care about?
  6. Shock and Awe. We humans think in patterns. We take information out, try to make sense of it, spit it out. A break in that cycle is like a splash of icy water on our face. It’s why movies like The Sixth Sense and Fight Club are captivating — the plot twist breaks our mental pattern.  Plot twists don’t always need to happen at the end. You can open with a paradoxical statement or introduce it later on. Incorporating pattern breaks anywhere within a story increases its impact.
  7. Create an Inventory. Stories are the perfect way to illustrate and impart a lesson!  Use your personal experiences and those of your clients to build up your inventory of metaphors and illustrations. Doing so enables you to add more color to your stories.
  8. Know your Story by Heart. The best stories come from the heart. Know your story by heart, but do not memorize it. Use your authentic voice. Speak from the heart. This is not a dissertation, it’s a story.
  9. What’s at Stake? Get some skin in the game!  Stakes are essential in good storytelling. What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer these questions, then think of a different story or a different way to tell this one.
  10.  An Ending. Whether it’s a hopeful or a tragic ending, don’t let your reader/listener get all the way to the end of your story only to have it peter out!  Ending with a powerful statement, and/or a call to action is a great way to make sure the story hits home and sticks.  If the story has tragic elements to it, make sure the call to action mobilizes your listeners so that they don’t feel powerless in the face of overwhelming forces.

How to Share Those Stories

Find clients, members or someone else in your organization that has a really powerful story to tell.  You might be surprised by the number of clients, volunteers, board members and other stakeholders who are willing to tell their story. The best way to capture it is on video, but if they’re reluctant to get on camera, capture it in writing. Be sure to snap their photo! How many of them would be willing to tell their story to a small group of donors or potential donors? Or to a legislator?  Or on stage at an event?  Find out who right in your midst could tell their own story.

There are many “channels” you can use to share your story — in newsletters, at annual meetings, various social media platforms, in email blasts or as part of an action alert.  For one client, we sent out quarterly story postcards — client photo and a quick summary of their story, with a link to the full story on their website. The response was phenomenal!

You can create both long and short versions of stories to use easily across different communication channels.  And if you memorize some of the stories in the form you want to share them, you’ll be ready for when you have a last minute interview opportunity or the next time a reporter calls.

As you’re putting together your strategies and plans for 2018, make sure you take the time to think about your storytelling strategy for your non-profit.  Pull your team together and brainstorm the who, what, and where, and you’ll be amazed at what sharing a story can do for your organization, your fundraising and your mission!

We want to hear from you in terms of what you need from us! Don’t forget to fill out our year-end survey.  Everyone who completes it gets a free gift AND will be entered in a drawing to win a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card! Survey is open through December 18.

Also, my book – The Field Guide to Fundraising for Nonprofits – is officially out! You can buy it here. If you’re on our mailing list, you’ll soon be receiving a postcard for 20% off!

Wishing you all the very best this holiday season. You’ll be hearing a LOT more from us in the New Year!

 December 18, 2017  Posted by at 2:28 am Communications and Social Media, Fundraising
Dec 142017

But did you know that 1/3 of annual giving happens in December?

And that 12% of it happens on the final three days of the year?

Do you have a plan to literally cash in on the giving spirit? Whether you have a fine-tuned plan or just a couple of ideas, it’s not too late to maximize the giving season!

Here are some tips:

  1. Write From the Heart: Remember: At its core, philanthropy is a heart-centered activity. I can’t emphasize this enough! Donors want to make the world a better place, but each one has their own vision for doing so. As you write content for your donors, do so with love, and your donors will be inspired to give. And an inspired donor is a generous donor.
  2. Know your donors (and prospective donors!). What are their characteristics? How long have they been giving and at what amount? What inspires your donors? What turns them off? By analyzing your donor data, you can identify smaller pools of similar donors and write more personalized content geared specifically to them. For example, in a year end appeal, your content could look slightly different than your Facebook and other Social Media posts. And when you speak right to them in the right way, they’ll be more inclined to give.
  3. Hit Your Target(s). To maximize year end giving, you’ve got to reach out to your donors in the way they best like to engage. That means you should have a
    written appeal that arrives in the mail AND that you are engaging your email lists and your social media followers. The more targets you hit, the higher your return!
  4. Language Matters. The way we write and talk matters. To create more of an intimate conversational tone, write in short sentences, use action verbs, and
    make sure to speak right to your donor, using “you” and “your.”
  5. Connect Visually. We live in an increasingly visual culture where what something looks like is just as important as what it says. Think about your fonts, colors, and even what the appeal envelopes look like. Aim for a clean look. Use color. Insert high-quality photos of clients with pull quotes or a quick story. Use high quality photos on social media as well. With really great free online tools like Canva (www.canva.com), even a novice can create graphics that look like they were done by skilled graphic designer.
  6. Tell a Story: Stories are the way we connect to one another, and illustrate your organization in a way that paragraphs of text cannot. Stories help your donors understand the scope and nature of the problem, while keeping it on a human scale. Many of your clients are eager to share their stories to encourage others who are in a similar situation and give back to the agency that helped them solve their problem.
  7. Make it Tangible. Be sure to demonstrate exactly how the donor's contribution will help create a real solution. Inform donors specifically what the funds will be used for used for and scale your ask amounts accordingly. For example, “Your gift of $250 will provide one woman with shelter and meals for one week.”
  8. Get Social. Make sure to have a social media plan for December that includes content that hits all of these points. It’s like an appeal letter, broken up into little pieces over the month, with an ask to donate mixed in a each time. You don’t want to just “ask” over and over, you want to give them reason to give, with stories of your impact and eye-catching graphics and photos.
  9. Tracking & Follow Up. Keep everyone in your organization, including staff and board, updated on your progress on a weekly basis. Are you close to meeting your goal? Great news! Are you lagging behind? Engage your staff and your board by holding a phone-a- thon session one or twice after you send out your appeal. Even if you leave a message, it’s important to make a personal connection. For some donors, hearing from a real person involved in the work can make all the difference. It’s also a great way to engage the board and help them get to know your donors. Keep your social media audience updated with graphic-oriented posts that show them your progress towards your goal, potentially motivating new gifts!
  10. Thank You! Don’t forget to send out thank you notes promptly — within one week is ideal — and to follow the appeal with information about the difference those donor dollars made for your organization!

Remember: a strong, well-planned, well-executed year-end campaign will help you maximize your year-end contributions. December 31 will be here soon, but it’s not too late to implement some of these ideas!

We want to hear from you in terms of what you need from us! Don’t forget to fill out our year-end survey:  Everyone who completes it gets a free gift AND will be entered in a drawing to win a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card!  Survey is open through December 15.

Also, my book – The Field Guide to Fundraising for Nonprofits – is officially out!  You can buy it here. If you’re on our mailing list, you’ll soon be receiving a postcard for 20% off!

 December 14, 2017  Posted by at 10:29 pm Fundraising
Jul 032017

FlagIt’s nearly the 4th of July here in the US, which means we’ll be celebrating our independence.

But independence is important for nonprofits, too! One of the best ways to maintain your financial independence is by increasing the amount of revenue you receive from individual donors.

Last week, I shared some of my thoughts about why nonprofits are struggling, as well as some tips about how to strengthen your grant proposals (http://bit.ly/MoreRevenue1). This week, I want to help you leverage more dollars from donors! Here are the techniques we use to craft powerful appeals:

  • Write directly to your donors. In order to use those seven seconds effectively, you must understand your audience.
  • If you don’t know who your donors are, you need to find out! What are their characteristics? How long have they been giving and at what amount? By analyzing your donor data, you can identify smaller pools of similar donors and write more personalized appeals geared specifically to them, which are more effective.


  • What inspires your donors? What turns them off? An annual donor survey is a great way to find out! The feedback they provide can help you strengthen your donor stewardship, cultivation, and communications programs.


  • Keep the tone casual, yet heartfelt. The letter should be intimate, as if it’s written to just that one donor. Your letter needs to come from the heart.


  • Write in short sentences. When you’re talking to others, you don’t talk in long, drawn out sentences. Using short sentences in your letter helps create an intimate, conversational tone. Short paragraphs work better, too. And while you’re at it, please leave the jargon on the cutting room floor
  • Use action verbs. Action verbs bring life to the letter and create a sense of urgency.
  • Talk about what the donors gets from your organization. If you’re not entirely sure, ask your board and top donors what they get out of supporting the organization. You might be surprised by some of their answers!
  • Use “you” and “your.” You can throw in us/we/our once or twice, but mostly it’s about them.
  • Get personal. Use your mail merge function to personalize letters. Acknowledge how long the donor has been giving and/or have staff, board members and/or clients write personal notes on their letter.
  • Tell stories. Stories illustrate your organization in a way that paragraphs of text cannot and help your donors understand the scope and nature of the problem while keeping it on a human scale. Many of your clients are eager to share their stories to encourage others who are in a similar situation and to give back to the agency that helped them solve their problem.
  • Give your donors’ eyes a break – use lots of white space. Throw those ole spacing rules out the window! If you want to have a single sentence paragraph because that one sentence is going to make your donor stop and say, “OMG,” go for it!  Bullets, photos, headings, and graphs can all provide visual interest and help keep the reader engaged.
  • Consider the shapes you use. Did you know that there is actually a ratio that is most appealing to the human eye? It’s called the Golden Ratio or the Divine Proportion, and it produces a shape similar to a widescreen television or a cinema screen. Use it.
  • As often as possible, use color. Graphic designers have long known that color plays a major role in the success of any marketing campaign. Specific colors tend to stir certain emotions in customers, thus creating brand relevance and motivating purchases.
  • Consider your font. The whole point of an appeal is to have people read it, so it’s important to give some thought to what font you use. At a minimum, it should be 10 point, especially if you have donors who are over the age of 50!
  • Forget the #10 white envelope. Consider creating something that’s an odd size, produced in bright colors – anything that will make it stand out from the rest of the mail in the pile a donor grabs out of their mailbox at the end of the day. Making sure your donor opens your direct mail at all is the first challenge you must overcome!

We hope these tips will help you craft compelling appeals that help you generate more revenue than ever before! On average, our clients see at least a 10% increase when we craft their appeals. Put them to work and see how you fare!

Next week, we’ll share some creative ideas for using social media to get donations!

Meanwhile, if you’ve got questions, feel free to get in touch! Sarah@newera4nonprofits.com

Fighting for your freedom,


 July 3, 2017  Posted by at 3:41 pm Fundraising
Jun 262017

Money StairsI realize that I haven’t been around in a while. I apologize…

The last six months have been a whirlwind:

In February, I was in the Vagina Monologues, then took an 8-day trip to Iceland

In March, I finished my book

In April, I went to China for 10 days to train nonprofit leaders

Later in April, I went to see my Dad, who’s battling cancer.

In May, my son finished up school and we went to spend some time with my Dad.

And this month, I went to CA for 5 days, presented @ the Network for Social Work Management Conference, and
spent a long weekend with my Dad.

As you might imagine, it’s been hard to find time to write.

But it’s been more than that, too.

I feel like once I finished my book, I needed to hibernate for a while. Take a breather. Rest. Recharge. Writing 110,000 words will do that to ya!

But now I’m back, ready to help you raise more money, build better boards, engage in strategic planning and strengthen your communications programs!

Today’s blog is the first in a four-part series on creative ways to generate more revenue. I hope you find it helpful!

I don’t have to tell you that things are tough out there right now in terms of funding. That being said, there are 5 things that nonprofits do that undermine their ability to attract and raise the funding they need.

  • We fail to invest in fundraising.

Most nonprofits do not have staff capacity to adequately perform all the functions necessary to maximize the organization’s fundraising potential. Many of our organizations need to raise more money, yet do not want to invest additional resources into fundraising. So where is this new revenue going to come from?

  • We fail to invest in our board.

Most Executive Directors cite under-performing boards among the top 3 challenges they face.

We need to remember that our boards are comprised of volunteers, who may or may not work in the nonprofit sector, and often do not have experience, skills or expertise in fundraising. If we want them to raise money, we have to teach them how, then give them very specific projects to work on and specific tasks to execute.

  • We fail to engage our community.

Donors, volunteers, and other members of our community have a bevvy of gifts they bring to the table, yet we often fail to identify and leverage them. The work of our organization does not always need to be done by staff – I have seen volunteers do the most amazing things for the nonprofits they love!

  • We have bought into a set of limiting beliefs that serve to suffocate us. These beliefs prevent us from “playing it big.” They are:

–Our organization has to stay in business forever.

–Our organization cannot be profitable.

–Our organization must rely solely on subsidies (private, corporate, government grants, donations, etc.).

–Growth will only make things harder.

–We must focus on expenses, not results.

–We cannot raise the capital we need to meet our needs.

–We must do more for less.

These are just stories we’re telling ourselves. What might shift if we let go of these beliefs and starting playing it big?

  • We believe we can only budget for break-even, which keeps our expectations low.

Just changing one of these things will make a world of difference in your fundraising program!


So will integrating these 8 creative strategies into your grant writing!

  • Communicate clearly and concisely who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why the funder should support your cause. Identify and broadcast your niche and strengths. Prove that your organization is the best one to carry out this project/program by demonstrating that you have a proven track record and can produce results.
  • Focus on the problem and the impact it’s having on the PEOPLE YOU SERVE, positioning your agency as the vehicle through which change happens. Remember – philanthropy is a heart-centered activity, and philanthropists want to help people.
  • Tell stories! Many people feel overwhelmed by today’s social problems. Issues like homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, etc. can feel too big to tackle. Telling stories helps break the problem down into manageable bits and helps people to connect to the people you’re serving through their heart. Be sure to emphasize the benefits for your clients and the community.
  • Keep your audience in mind. Most foundation grant review sessions are held after work, so most of the people reading your proposal are volunteers who may have already had a long day. They will have most likely just eaten before sitting down to read your grant application, and thus may slip into a carb coma… To keep them awake – and interested in what you have to say! — avoid jargon, use short words, shorter sentences, and shorter paragraphs. Say it in 5 pages instead of 8. Leave plenty of white space and use a sans serif font in a size no smaller than 10 to give the readers’ eyes a rest. Consider using 1.5 spacing as well. A happy reader is one who is more inclined to say “Yes!”
  • Did you know that you only have 7 seconds to capture someone’s attention? Be sure to start and end your grant narrative with a bang, and punctuate your proposal with action words.

Please don’t start your grant narrative with something like, “We are pleased to submit this grant application to Foundation X to support our food pantry.” Remember that carb coma I told you about? Well, your reader is now asleep! Instead, try something like, “Did you know that the prevalence of hunger in Worcester is SIX times that of the Commonwealth? That means 1 in 3 children live in households unable to meet their basic food needs.” End with something like, “A $5,000 grant from Foundation X will ensure that fewer children go to bed hungry tonight.” Bam!

  • Find – and use! – your voice. Remember, you are trying to connect with a bunch of people (and their hearts!) through your writing. They are more likely to make that connection when you write from an authentic and honest place.

Grant applications are not academic papers. Writing a grant is more like writing a letter or persuasive essay to a single person, or a small group of people. (That is, after all, exactly what you’re doing!). Use the first and second person, not the third, to create a sense of intimacy.

  • Use visual devices to direct your readers. Headings and bullets to guide the reader through the proposal and demonstrate that you’re adhering to the guidelines. For example, if the funder has asked you to outline your goals and objectives, create a heading called Goals and Objectives.

Be bold! Unless it’s forbidden, use photos, graphs, pull quotes, and infographics to break up the narrative. Using visual aids like these helps reinforce the words and also accommodates visual learners.

  • Submit testimonials, articles, support letters, before/after photos, etc. to reinforce your narrative (provided they are allowed). When I worked for a community development corporation, when possible, I used to include a map of the neighborhood in which we worked. Each one of our projects was marked with a white dot with a number in it, which corresponded to a photo at the bottom of the page. That way, viewers could get a “bird’s eye view” of the impact we were having on the entire neighborhood, as well as see what each project looked like. This map was a huge hit!

The rejection rate with grants is upwards of 50%, but we’ve got an 83% success rate, because we use these strategies to make our grant applications more interesting, appealing, and compelling. Put them to work and see how you fare!

Next week, we’ll share some creative techniques for increasing the revenue you generate through direct appeals!

Meanwhile, if you’ve got questions, feel free to get in touch! Sarah@newera4nonprofits.com

Back in action,


 June 26, 2017  Posted by at 6:23 pm Fundraising
Feb 212017

Greetings from Iceland! I’m here on a photographic vacation – having a good time and learning so much about photography — and myself!

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last day that also apply to life – and to fundraising!

  • Be aware of what’s going on around you. The winter weather here in Iceland can be intense, as can the landscape – if you don’t watch where you’re going, you can break your ankle in a lava field or go tumbling over a cliff!

In life – and in fundraising – we are better served if we’re paying attention to what’s going on in our environment – not only in terms of what our next step is, but also, looking at the horizon. We need to look at the big picture, then figure out the details. Maintaining this dual focus is what helps us to succeed.

  • No chimping! This is a term for deleting photos in the field.

When we’re disappointed by the outcome – from the last photo we just took, from a visit with a donor, a special event, or anything else in life, don’t give up! Give it time, take a step back, and see what you can do to improve the situation. Often times, what at first glance appeared to be a failure can turn into a success (photo editing software is my new best friend)!

  • “Right place, right time, right light.” That’s what photography is all about. Yesterday, we were at this huge waterfall, when a huge, vibrant rainbow appeared in the spray. We all went a little nuts, because it was one of those amazing, magical photographic moments. The rest of the time – especially here in Iceland! – you’re working with what Mother Nature dishes out. Rain, clouds, snow, hail, and changing light conditions.


The point is to persevere; to lay the groundwork so you’re ready for when That Moment arrives, so you can take full advantage of it.


  • You don’t have to have a lot of fancy gear to get a great shot! I felt a little uncertain about coming to Iceland with only my iPhone in tow. Everyone else has all this fancy gear – cameras, lenses and filters that do different things, rain and sun covers, camera bags… Because I don’t have any fancy gear, I’ve been forced to explore all the tools on my iPhone, and to find different angles and vantage points from which to take photos (which, by the way, have been stunning!), which has made me into a better photographer.

Bottom line: you don’t need fancy tools to get great results.

Fundraising is a heart-centered activity. It’s about connecting with people who want to make a difference, who believe in our mission, who want to partner with us to create a better world for the people who are turning to us for help. All that takes is a full heart, a voice, and some people who want to hear the stories that your clients want to tell. No fancy tools or equipment needed!

Who knows what else I’ll learn here in Iceland – about photography, myself or fundraising? I’ll let you know next week, when I’m state-side again!

Yours in all weather,


 February 21, 2017  Posted by at 10:01 pm Fundraising
Feb 132017
Donor Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Since I can often be heard comparing fundraising to dating, what better time to write about what it takes to demonstrate your love and commitment to you donors?

The most powerful way you can strengthen your individual donor program and increase private donations is to become a donor-centric organization.

What does this mean?

It means building a culture of philanthropy.

Ok, but how does one do that?

In short, that “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Gandhi)

Building a culture of philanthropy means that your nonprofit embodies this. Every last person must lead by example & demonstrate their own dedication to the cause.

This is the foundation of a Culture of Philanthropy. It’s what gives you the credibility to ask others to join you, to support your cause. It’s what inspires & motivates others to give.


Bottom line: we must WALK THE WALK. Our organizations should, at all times, demonstrate their love for humanity (philanthropy). Be places where people feel safe. Welcomed. Cared for.

The entire organization must operate in a way that motivates a “giving response” from anyone who relates to and cares about the mission. This encompasses core values, beliefs & behaviors.

Keeping these 3 key points in mind will help you become a donor-centered organization:

  1. Philanthropy is a heart-centered activity. For maximum success, connect to your donors heart-to-heart. Stories are the fastest, most powerful way to do this.
  1. YOU are a mattress company. Yes, I just said that. Stick with me on this one, and you’ll see what I mean:

When we’re shopping for a mattress, do we really care how many coils it has? Whether or not it’s a pillow-top? Or      is our primary concern whether or not we’ll get a good night’s sleep?

It’s the same with your donors — they want to know, what is your organization’s version of a good night’s sleep?
Yet often, we expend a lot of time and energy telling them how great the mattress is… I’d invite you to stop,
because it’s turning your donors off.

  1. Donors are not ATMs! Please stop treating them like one.


In a donor-centered organization with a strong culture of philanthropy:

  • People are excited about the mission and about getting people involved in advancing it
  • Everyone helps identify new friends & partners
  • The organization makes it easy & comfortable to give & for donors to engage in dialogue
  • Everyone can articulate the case for giving & describe how donations are used
  • Consumers are at the heart of the organization & encouraged to share their stories
  • Organizational leaders lead fundraising efforts, both in the form of participation (time, talent) & contributions (treasure)
  • 100% of the board makes a monetary contribution that is in alignment with their giving capacity
  • Donors are provided with information on a regular basis and in a timely manner and are given multiple opportunities to deepen their relationship with the organization.

The charge needs to be lead from the top of the organization (e.g., Executive Director and Board Chair), but everyone can participate.

And if you’re not at the top, lead the charge, anyway!

Because really, who’s going to say no to bringing in more money?!


If you want to learn more about what being donor-centered means, I’d encourage you to read Penelope Burk’s books, Donor-Centered Fundraising and Donor-Centered Leadership. You can find them here: http://cygresearch.com/shoponline/

Enjoy dating your donors – you might just be surprised what happens when you do!

Yours with love,



 February 13, 2017  Posted by at 5:22 pm Fundraising
Jan 302017

On Wednesday, January 25, I ran a webinar — Writing Winning Grants — for the Network for Social Work Management, an international organization that focuses on promoting best practices 21 areas of management competency for social work managers.

We are pleased to offer you free access to the recording of this workshop! To access it, go to:

You’ll be asked to provide your name and email in order to access the recording.
This will add you to the NSWM mailing list, but you can always unsubscribe later.

Happy viewing! 🙂

 January 30, 2017  Posted by at 5:35 pm Fundraising
Sep 272016
Dumper truck unloading construction gravel, granite and crushed stones at building foundation

One of the things I often say is that fundraising is akin to dating.

And that regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, when it comes to fundraising, YOU are always the “man” in the relationship.

(In other words, it’s YOUR job to “make the moves.”)

Like it or not, it’s always OUR job to take the lead, to deepen the relationship, to let donors know that we’re interested in and care about them, to ask the donor to take the next step with us, be that by making a larger donation, volunteering, engaging in peer solicitation, or joining a committee of the board.

If we don’t take the time required to date our donors, then we will in all likelihood get dumped, unceremoniously, without so much as a Dear John letter.


Donor retention is a HUGE problem in the nonprofit sector! Did you know…

  • We can expect to lose up to 50% of our donors between their 1st and 2nd gift?
  • We can expect an annual attrition rate of up to 30% among donors who make more than one gift?

We’re engaged in the process of fund-raising, but we seem to be donor-losing!


What’s going on?

There are two primary reasons our donors are dumping us and looking for a better date:

  1. We tend to focus on donor acquisition instead of retention.
  2. We generally treat donations as transactions, rather than an extension of a relationship.

When you look at the attrition rates, you can see that the scale of lost opportunity is huge.

And it’s costing us money!


Donor retention is important for several reasons:

  • Cost: It costs about 5 times as much to acquire a new donor than to keep one. It costs our organizations 2-3 times more to recruit a new donor than they will give by way of their first gift. Even after the donor has given, it can take 12-18 months before the relationship becomes profitable.
  • Increased Revenue: Only existing donors can increase the amount of their gift and make additional donations. They are also more likely to attend your events and/or purchase merchandise that supports your cause.
  • Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Existing donors are the only donors who provide word-of-mouth “advertising” to their friends, family members and co-workers, and other people they know. As any business owner will tell you, word-of-mouth marketing it worth its weight in gold!
  • Help: Existing donors are more likely to volunteer, join a committee, or join the board. And – volunteers give twice as often as annual donors!

Without proper attention to cultivation and stewardship – which are the underpinnings of donor retention – we’re leaving money on the table.


We have about 95 days until the end of the year. This gives us a narrow window of opportunity before the holiday giving season kicks in to rekindle that lovin’ feeling with our existing and lapsed donors.

Here are 3 tips to avoid getting dumped by your donors:


Relationships usually fare better when there’s a good flow of positive, heartfelt communication.

It’s no different with donors – they need and want to hear from you!

–When did your last newsletter go out?

–How long has it been since they heard from you via email?

–Is your website up to date (74% of all gifts begin on line!)?

–Are you posting to social media channels on regular basis?

Communication helps build donor confidence. If it’s been a while since you reached out and touched your donors, you have a few weeks in which to reconnect with them and remind them of all the great work their gifts are helping make possible.



The personal touch helps establish a connection and maintain the bond in a relationship.

Donors too want to have that personal connection!

When was the last time you saw your donors?

–Have you ever had an Open House or other small, intimate event that allowed them to get an insider’s view of your organization? If not, you’ve got a few weeks to organize a reception or some other type of low-key event.

Turn it into a schmooze-a-thon! Have your entire staff, board and key volunteers attend so there’s a high ratio of organizational reps to donors – having extra help will allow you to make a personal connection with your donors.



All people want to be treated with respect, to be valued and accepted, loved, and cherished. People also want to feel they are making important contributions and that they are being heard. When people feel seen and validated, it builds cooperation.

Just like any other human, your donors need to be acknowledged, validated, heard and respected. When was the last time you said thank you to your donors?

–Does your organization hold an annual Thank-a-Thon? Giving Tuesday is on November 29 – why not use it as an opportunity to thank your donors?

–Are your thank you notes hand-written? You don’t have to be the only one in the organization writing these – board members, other staffers, volunteers and clients can write them, too (be sure to provide them with samples)!

Try using hand-written notes this year — it’ll make a qualitative difference in your donors’ experience, which will help significantly with retention.


While every donor knows that an organization requires many contributors, not a single one of them wants to feel like a number, a transaction, an ATM. We need to treat every donor – and every dollar – with respect and gratitude. Because at the end of the day, we have no idea what any specific donor may be capable of. I could tell you dozens of tales of low- or mid-level donors who made a mind-blowing donation out of nowhere!

Investing more time and energy in dating our donors (aka cultivation, stewardship and retention) literally pays off in the form of higher donations, multiple donations, habitual donations (e.g., giving every year), volunteerism, word-of-mouth marketing, etc.

We have only a few short weeks in which to evaluate our individual donor program and implement the strategies that will help improve recurring gifts and retention among our donors. Try one of the strategies listed above – and be sure to let us know how it goes!




 September 27, 2016  Posted by at 4:48 pm Fundraising