Cheat Sheet to Get Your Board Fundraising

Most organizations I meet are frustrated with their board.  Hey, I hear you.  I was frustrated with my board too. How can you make it better?  Here’s 6 tips to give your board a fundraising makeover:  

#1 Remember they’re volunteers.  You are paid to do this work.  And you’re an expert at it.  But your board members are busy people with full time jobs and family obligations.  This means they’ll never be the expert you are.  They’re going to need your help and guidance.  Moreover, they need you to keep them motivated.  Do you know what motivates them?

#2 Set the right expectations.  You wouldn’t hire someone to work for you without explaining the job and how their performance will be evaluated.  What do you do if your whole board has the wrong expectations?  Can they be saved?  Yes.  You’ll need the board chair on board.  Hiring outside expertise for some board training will also work wonders.   

#3 Frame fundraising correctly.  I often see resentment between staff and boards over the board’s lack of participation in fundraising.  My advice?  Start with the need and case for support.  Don’t lead with the task you want them to do, i.e. sell tables, or name the prospects they know on our list.       

#4 Offer different ways to support fundraising.  You likely have some board members who are introverts and others who are extroverts.  Different activities will appeal to each of them.  Approaching everyone with a “one size fits all” expectation will frustrate some of your board members.  This can frustrate other board members and most certainly staff.  Get 10 ways board members can support fundraising in this guide, The Board Member’s Guide to Fundraising.

#5 Remember that fundraising is staff led.  Your board members are not going to wake up tomorrow and start soliciting donors.  You have to mobilize them, coach them and provide  support.   

#6 Manage up.  Supporting and leading a group of volunteers is seriously tricky business.  You need to excel at leading without authority, also known as “managing up”.  This means flexing your communication style, putting yourself in another person’s shoes, and being a proactive communicator. 

Want more help?  Enjoy this free webinar, "The One Hour Board Makeover".

Stay classy,



Craft a Killer Thank You

A good thank you does more than set up your next ask.  It’s the key to retaining and upgrading your donors.  Penelope Burk found in her research that donors define oversolicitation not by an excessive number of appeals but by being asked to give again before they knew their first gift had an impact.

The sad state of our sector is that most donors aren’t properly thanked.  You could be reading this blog post right now thinking, “Oh, I thank donors.  I’ve got an email autoresponder set up.” Or “I’m fine, we send them a tax receipt letter on our letterhead.”  But if you gave to your own organization would either of those pieces of communication inspire you to make another gift? 

Let’s face it, we like in a world of instant gratification.  On top of that humans want feedback.  Who doesn’t pay attention to gossip, report cards, or performance reviews?  Donors overwhelmingly desire more information about how their specific gifts are being used in order for them to feel motivated to keep giving.  Jeff Brooks says “Donors need rich, emotional proof that their money accomplished something.”  Is the homeless man off the street?  Did the child get the vaccine? 

Here are a few tips for crafting a killer thank you’s that never go out of style from Penelope’s first book, Donor Centered Fundraising.  

1.       Don’t be predictable.

Everyone is expecting you to lead with the perfunctory “Thank you on behalf of the board, the staff and the clients we serve…”   Yawn, yawn, yawn.  Stand out!  Make them feel they are there in the room with you.  “The screams and squeals from the 9th grade class at the Ann Richard’s School for Young Women Leaders when they found out thanks to YOUR generous gift they’d be going to the nation’s capital were positively deafening.”

2.      Do not ask them to do anything, like take a survey or make another gift. 

This is a time for expressing gratitude and sharing the meaning of their gift, not for giving them homework or potentially offending them with another ask.

3.      Do not recycle the same copy indefinitely.  Make it meaningful!   

How often do you change out you thank you copy?  I recommend changing it monthly.  Be transparent and provide insight as to how the gift will be used. Show the gift in action.

4.      Make it personal

I spent 12 years running a nonprofit organization and we gained scale and efficiency with our thank you cards by using branded cardstock and preprinting a variety of close up photos of the programs in action in each.  We even engaged students and volunteers in the fun and had them write the cards.  If possible include a personal touch, such as a photo of someone the organization has helped through the mission.

5.      Make it speedy.

Ideally you are getting this out within 24-48 hours.  Don’t exceed 5 days, but late is better than never.  When you approach your big gala, end of your fiscal year or the holidays make sure you are prepared to allocate time and staff accordingly.  I recommend a weekly or daily stewardship “power hour”. 

The longer you keep your donors and cultivate them effectively, the more they will give over time!  Want more tips from the pro’s on the profit and process of retaining your donors?  Join me and my friends at Abila on Tuesday, August 9th for a free webinar, “Maximize the Post-Gift Glow”


Stay classy!





My #1 Fundraising Mistake

I sat down for lunch with a generous donor. 

Her last gift was six figures.  She’d recently received a sizable settlement.  Her net worth had mushroomed.  We made small talk.  We ordered salads.  I mustered my wits and invited her to consider a capital gift 5 times bigger than her last to create a technology center for girls. 

Her face turned as white as a sheet. 

She peppered me with questions.  Who else had come in at the level?  Who was on our campaign cabinet?  Who was the chair?  Where were the other lead gifts from?  All excellent questions.  Only I didn’t have the answers. 

I was new to capital campaigns.  I “didn’t know what I didn’t know”.  I lost that gift but it’s still my favorite mistake.  Why?  It forever changed me as a fundraiser. 

A capital campaign is the biggest fundraising challenge a nonprofit can ever assume.  What are the most dangerous myths and mistakes people make when launching a capital campaign?

Myth: Believing you have enough donors without testing it. Truth bomb:  It doesn’t have to be this way!  There’s a simple cure here and it’s called a planning (or feasibility) study.  It’s a critical first stop to test the waters with your donors.  It tells you if your vision resonates with your donors AND if they’ll buy the price tag.  Fundraising is not mind reading!  Skip this important step and you’ll flounder.

Myth:  Corporations and foundations will fund it.  Sure they will…when you’ve almost hit your goal.  The majority of your funds will come from a very small and generous group of individual donors.  Campaigns start at the top with lead gifts.  The percent of US giving by foundations and corporations has been on a steady decline for the past 20 years.  80% of all giving in the US is by individuals and nowhere is this truer than capital campaigns where half the money can come from as few as 12 gifts. 

Myth:  Believing the board’s role is minimal.  Leadership is EVERYTHING in a campaign.  No other single factor will influence the degree of campaign success more than leadership. 

Myth:  Assuming because you feel ready your donors and volunteers are ready too.   Let’s face it, as the passionate leaders of your organization you’re always 5 steps ahead of everyone else but your donors and volunteers may not feel the same sense of urgency.   

Myth: Thinking it’s about the organization.  Hint: it’s about the donor.  It’s always about the donor.  It doesn’t matter how much you love the project or the case statement you crafted to sell it.  Donors give for their reasons, not yours. 

Myth: Believing that giving is rational.  It’s not.  It’s emotional.  Giving is a profoundly emotional experience.  We may rationalize our gift later, but we give for emotional reasons.  Jeff Brooks advises:  “Give your cat cat food.  Give your donors emotional information.”      

Myth: Wealth indicates generosity.  Wealth does not predict generosity.  Also, capacity does not equal interest.  

Myth: “We’ll just ask Oprah.”  Oprah is not a fundraising strategy.  If you don’t have access to Oprah and if Oprah is not passionate about your cause you can cross this off your to do list. 

Myth: “We don’t have to get help, we can do this on our own.” or “Sure we’ve never done this before but how hard can it be?”  Launching a capital camign is one of the most ambitious leaps your organization will ever make.  You can’t afford to fail.  It demands experience and expertise.  At bare minimum read several books on capital campaign.  Secondly, I would urge you to hire outside counsel to do your planning (feasibility) study.  That is the only way to reveal if the case is compelling and who/how it will be funded.  A planning study done without hiring outside counsel is a community assessment.

Wondering if you’re campaign ready?  I’ve got your back.  Take this simple quiz to rate your readiness! (Hyperlink:

Stay classy!