Cheat sheet: 16 Can't Miss Sessions at the Bridge Conference

I admit it.

Fundraising conferences are my jam.  The Bridge Conference for Integrated Fundraising & Marketing is like my superbowl.  It’s loaded with innovative content that spans digital, direct mail, creative, modeling, major gifts, planned giving, boards and more.  There’s something for everyone!  You can’t attend and not be inspired. You also can’t walk through the exhibit hall without tchotchkes for yourself or the kids at home.   

The hardest part of Bridge is picking which session to go to because there are so many great ones!  So, I made you a happy guide.  I combed through the amazing lineup of speakers and their slide handouts to curate a cheat sheet just for you of can’t miss sessions.  Enjoy! 

Don’t forget to come see me in my sessions, “How Would Your Favorite Brands Steward Your Donors” with Kris Leja, CDO of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco and “Extreme Board Makeover” with Anna Kennedy, Executive Director of Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation.  I’d love to hear what sessions you loved most, so please, email me and we’ll be conference buddies.

Not going?  No problem!  Browse through the sessions and get the session handouts. 

Here’s my top picks (sweet sixteen to be exact) of sessions you don’t want to miss!


I’m all about getting teams and departments to bust through silos for the good of the donor and if that’s you jam, this session promises insights, case studies and tips!

Digital-First Strategies in an Ever-Evolving World with Misty McLaughlin, VP, Consulting, Jackson River, Alice Hendricks, Chief Executive Officer, Jackson River and Luke Franklin, VP, Member Communications, ASPCA.  I’m a longtime fan of Misty McLaughlin and this session promises to be a gem!   

Communicators are from Mars, Fundraisers are from Venus: How Branding Can Cross the Organizational Divide

What do you get when you put Mark Rovner, founder of Sea Change Strategies, Kivi Leorux Miller and Kristine Leja, Chief Development Officer, Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco in a room together?  A whole lot of awesome.  This is a can’t miss session full of insights and tips! 

Hey...These Appeals Got Even the Most Seasoned Direct Marketers to React! Plus Handy Tips that Could Help Your Programs

One of my favorite things about going to Bridge is seeing all the eye candy examples of great direct mail and email appeals and this session is sure to be loaded with examples to leave you inspired!

Truth or Consequences - What's New Online That Truly Works

I’m as excited about the content of this session as the fun game show style format Sanky and Covenant House is planning.  This should be as enlightening as it is fast paced and fun!

Telephone Town Halls & Voice Capture: Engaging Supporters & Fundraising with Phones

Emily’s List and Stones’ Phones say “There is A LOT more you can do with phones other than telemarketing.”  Agreed!  They’ll be sharing 5 overlooked ways to dramatically improve donor stewardship and how to capture statements of donor support to increase giving.  I’m in!

Come Back and See Us: Increasing Your Donor Retention with Rachel Clemens, Chief Marketing Officer, TradeMark Media and Erin Samson, VP, Development, Austin Habitat for Humanity.  Fresh content and eye candy examples are my jam and that’s exactly what these ladies are delivering!  Plus, good tips on segmentation. 

The Do's and Don'ts of Effective Email Fundraising

This session with Sage, Save the Children USA and World Wildlife Fund is loaded with tips to get your emails opened, email enhancements, holiday examples, welcome series, thank you series and oodles of examples for ensuring you'll win at email. 

 Changing your Economic Engine Through Improved Donor Experience

This session led by DonorVoice, Project HOPE  and Catholic Relief Services boasts a thoughtful examination of retention and before and after makeovers by each organization to address it and solicit donor feedback.  Can they mail less and raise more?  Join them to find out what worked! 

How Journey Mapping Can Modernize Your Organization's Engagement, Communication and Fundraising with Michael Johnston, President and Founder, HJC.  Heard a lot about donor journey mapping and ready to try it?  Don’t miss this hands-on session where you’ll be led through it!

What can Hollywood teach us about Fundraising?  A lot!  You’ll find out in Lights, Camera, Transaction: What Fundraising Can Learn from Hollywood with Wheeler Mission Ministries and Brewer Direct.  This session promises tips and workshopping.


Pssssst…are you speaking your donor’s love language?  Join Tammy Zonker Chief Philanthropy Officer, The Children's Center to learn The 5 Donor Love Languages.

Hungry for acquisition insights?  Check out The Path to a Successful New Donor Acquisition Control with Sage, Save the Children and EDF. 

Good storytelling is your donor’s love potion!  It’s also the virtual equivalent of taking your donors on a field trip.  I recommend checking out The Rise of the Citizen Storyteller: How to Build an Organizational Culture that Encourages and Engages Your Natural Storytellers. 

Want a better understanding of how to market planned giving and target it to the needs of millennials, generation x, boomers and matures?  Attend Data to Design with YMCA USA.

Finally, the handouts for this session were not live when I write this post but I’m a fan of Danielle Johnson so I’m excited to see her and Stanford Health Foundation in The Alchemy of Golden Ideas: Morphing Dull Facts into a Message with Power to Change.

I hope to see you at Bridge in one of my sessions.  I’d love to hear from you what your favorite sessions were!  If you aren’t going I hope you’ll browse through the session handouts and consider adding this gem of a conference to your professional development budget next year. 





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!