Virtual gathering

Seeking Sponsorships and the Art of the Ask

Navigating the ‘ask’ for corporate investment in your event or programs has always been a tricky effort but now we are mired in a pandemic.  Does that mean a nonprofit should give up on this type of financial support?

The short answer: no.

Just like with any fundraising activity, it always comes down to this cornerstone principle: it is all about the relationship. Be honest with your sponsors about how you are navigating these times of uncertainty.  Although it may not be a wise moment to ask for a financial gift from your corporate partners, it surely is the perfect time to just check in with them. Just like any relationship, it is good to keep in touch.  One piece of advice shared is the worst thing you do is to do nothing. Send your partners a note to see how they are doing and to thank them again for previous support as it is allowing you to continue to provide much needed services during this critical time. 

This may prove to be the perfect time to hone your impact data to make an even stronger case for support.  Perhaps your nonprofit can create a special COVID-19 service program to better support the community you serve and your corporate partners can engage in that program. 

Another suggestion is to double down on the public recognition of our corporate sponsors from previous years on LinkedIn and your monthly e-newsletter.  One of the main reasons why for profit businesses sponsor events is to raise awareness of their support of the community.  It also helps raise brand awareness for the company. There’s nothing like a social media shout out by staff, board, and key volunteers to help a corporate partner feel appreciated. But keep in mind this important information provided by

Sponsors can be recognized by the organization, but this recognition must not endorse the sponsor’s product, use comparative language, or mention price information. Once you cross into advertising for the sponsor, the contribution becomes taxable income.

Look at programming collaborations with other nonprofits.  In that case, you can ask for a large dollar amount that will go twice as far when it comes to impact. Engage your corporate partners in conversation about how you can collaborate with them on more effective ways to leverage their investment during these times. Perhaps exploring a virtual event may just be in order.  

However, if a virtual event is not feasible, consider postponing the event altogether while you regroup on the next best steps.  Perhaps engaging your corporate partner in a new and clever way to leverage the purpose of your event. 

Of course, your sponsors may still pull their support due to the changes.  Be proactive and seek alternative corporate partners who may be more aligned with the current environment and willing to be more innovative in supporting your nonprofit. As always is the case, look at the synergy between your mission and the company’s focus of service. Be very aware of potential conflicts of interest, too. Keep in mind that many corporations require employee support of a nonprofit before they will donate the big dollars, so be sure to check in with their human resources department or designated employee to find out the company’s process of working with nonprofits. 


Photo by Ben White

Investing in your Major Gifts Program

Cultivating serious financial investments by your donors takes time and authentic relationship building. Investing in your development department builds the capacity to invest in the donor.

A few things to keep in mind when setting up your major gifts program involve realistic expectations of how development staff spends their time.  When staff participates in meetings, this takes away from the critical time of spending time getting to know donors.  

It is also important that leadership and fundraising staff have very clearly defined expectations when it comes to deliverables. Leadership should participate in setting goals, providing support, and determining what resources are needed to be successful, but leave the “how” to the professional development staff. 

Your donors have options. They may work with you directly or with a community foundation when it comes to investing major dollars in the community.  Due to recent changes to the tax structure, more donors are taking advantage of vehicles known as DAFs – Donor Advised Funds. 

A donor-advised fund is like a charitable investment account, for the sole purpose of supporting charitable organizations you care about. When you contribute cash, securities, or other assets to a donor-advised fund at a public charity, like Fidelity Charitable, you are generally eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. Then those funds can be invested for tax-free growth and you can recommend grants to virtually any IRS-qualified public charity.

Donors make a gift by transferring assets to a community foundation and then make several gifts from the established fund. Because of the simplicity, many donors will do this instead of setting up a private foundation to disburse funds. Donors can set up these funds with a reasonable amount of money – about $5,000 in many cases. 

However, if donors do not want to spread out the term of disbursing their donation and wish to do so in a lump sum, donor-advised funds are not the best route. Instead, they will opt to determine the recipients of their gifts and if you have a solid major gifts program, your donors who wish to pursue this option are excellent prospects.

These individuals most likely already know a lot about your organization through social media (if you have been actively putting information out on the digital landscape) or possibly even know someone who has used your nonprofit’s services.  The key is providing a concrete reason to give.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that someone who has been identified as wealthy but has yet to donate to your organization is a prime major donor.  If the individual has not yet donated to your organization, they are unlikely to donate a large amount even with the most compelling of cases.  They have to share some belief in your mission to be a good prospect. As always, it is key to have total buy-in for the major gifts program across the organization: leadership and staff.  

Prospecting takes a lot of time to get to know your donors and build a relationship.  CauseVox offers this overview of that cultivation path:

1: Qualify Donor– Ensure they meet prospect criteria

2: Research Donor Interests– Research past and current philanthropic affinities, check donor notes in your CRM for any suggestions on passions.

3: Direct Mail Outreach– Acknowledge your donor’s history with your organization, and tell them you’ll be following up to schedule a meeting

4: Phone Call/Email- Schedule the meeting and confirm the donor’s interests

5: Send Targeted Marketing Materials- Use the donor’s preferred communication methods to send heartwarming stories of impact and any other inspirational donor materials.

6: In-Person Meeting- Meet at the donor’s preferred time and location, such as over coffee, at your office, or in their home. Talk about key clients and community impact.

7: Ask-Present major donors with an offer to support a specific program or initiative, either during step 6 or at a later date.

8: Thank- Thank your new major donor.

9: Follow-up Meeting- A month or so after your major donor gives, follow up on their experience. Ask if there are any other ways they’d like to get involved and give them the name and contact information of a point person in your organization who they can reach.

The bottom line is that fundraising should always be a relationship-based activity, not transactional. As you start – or grow – your major donor program, be sure to be organized and authentic. This will lead to engaging the people to support your mission and who have a vested interest in making an impactful investment in your important work in the world.


Boosting Major Gifts Is A Matter Of Timing

What is a donor-advised fund?

Donor-advised funds sidestep tax constraints

4 Major Donor Cultivation Best Practices In Today’s Connected Economy

Are you in tip top shape for a strong year?

One of the best things you can do for your nonprofit is to assess your strong points and the missing links in your overall fundraising efforts.  That’s where the development audit comes in. It is your measurement tool to help monitor how you are doing and how you can improve. Often times, some small tweaks to your development efforts can result in a large increase in revenue.

Basically, it is taking some time to assess your program and to evaluate if you are ready to level up your fundraising efforts.  The development audit should take a 360 degree view of your organization, including board engagement, staffing, the effectiveness of your database, return on investment with your current tactics, your reputation in the community, systems, volunteer engagement, how your donors view you, and stewardships, It is a fantastic tool at the start of a strategic planning process or considering a capital campaign effort.

The Association for Fundraising Professionals partnered with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute on the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and offers an assortment of resources and tools that are of great use in audits. It focuses on growth-oriented fundraising programs.

It is best completed by a consultant to offer objective feedback on findings and once it is completed, it can offer useful insights to identify your strengths and course correct on your weaknesses. It is a fantastic tool to help your organization grow and can reconnect all of your internal stakeholders with your mission and purpose. The bottom line: investing in a development audit will point you in the right direction to grow your fundraising income.

Free Download from the Association of Fundraising Professionals to help you map out your audit!


The Million Dollar Question: How do I boost year end giving?

The season of year end giving is upon us and with it, both the challenges and opportunities to engage more donors in supporting their favorite charities.

A big chunk of annual giving is in November and December with a significant portion coming in the last three days of the year.  Donors are using digital means, more and more, to make those gifts. 

According to SAGE Intaact, over half of donors use an online access point to make a donation and almost 70% want their tax letter emailed to them, not sent via snail mail.  

It is the time of smart devices with instant access to any nonprofit website – is your digital presence ready?

Most donors are doing online research before they give and websites must be mobile friendly and super easy to navigate.  Offering your powerful statement of purpose on your home page with an urgent call to action are still necessary.  Interconnecting with your various social media channels is also a must.

So how do you convey that messaging?  

Strategies vary depending on your audience. For example, Millennials prefer to watch videos while Generation X most likely wants a relationship with the nonprofit as a volunteer.  Baby Boomers typically are big fans of sustaining support while older donors still like receiving a letter in the mail.
Your best bet in serving your donors with meaningful opportunities is to communicate the urgency of why your service is needed and craft methods that will speak across the digital board to your various demographics of donors.  Transparency demonstrating how those dollars help you do good work will go a long way in establishing trust with donors, too.  

Another thing to keep in mind as your look to next year’s efforts, be sure to start building your email lists to engage with potential donors.  Be sure to personalize those communications in order to build a relationship with those donors who have opted in to support your cause.

Make your impact easy to find and clear to understand.  As donors look to open their digital checkbooks this holiday season, you want to be responsive to them.


The Future of Fundraisers

A recent report on job satisfaction produced by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals found that 51% of development professionals who responded said that they did not expect to be in their current job two years from now and 30% said that they did not expect to still be in the profession two years from now.

What does that mean for the future of the profession?

How can you build relationships, which is the basis for fundraising, if staff changes every two years? The short tenure of development staff has had an impact on many organizations for years. These issues were raised in UnderDeveloped, a 2013 report from CompassPoint. We have seen little change since then.

Organizations that can retain staff have a distinct advantage over those who have a revolving door in the development so every organization should be examining their development shop and personnel policies with an eye to maximizing staff retention. Here are some common complaints I hear from fellow development professionals:

  • Unrealistic expectations: Organizations often expect a new development professional with proven success to begin getting results immediately. In my experience, a new development professional starts hitting optimal performance about 18 months into the job and continues seeing moderate increases annually after that. But some organizations are expecting more by the time a new employee meets their first annual evaluation. This is exacerbated by budget committees who set fundraising goals based upon the gap between what they want to do and what they made previously. Setting goals should be a result of a conversation beginning with revenue projections based upon fundraising opportunity and a strategic development plan that takes advantage of those opportunities.
  • Under-staffing: Many organizations do not have adequate development staff for the amount of activity required to meet the desired goals. The burden is even greater if the organization has opted for lots of fundraising events to meet goal. Although events serve lots of purposes including publicity in the general community, donor acquisition, and an avenue for corporate giving through sponsorships, they are the least cost-effective way to raise money. Every organization should have one signature event as part of their comprehensive development program, but ideally, they should do one event and do it really well. Under-staffing is a barrier to an appropriate work/life balance which leads to burnout.
  • Low compensation: Nonprofits do not have the resources of for-profit companies, but many nonprofits also operate from a position of poverty. They think that cutting corners with each expense is the only way to operate with limited resources. Nonprofits can’t compete with for-profit companies, but mission-driven individuals with professional skills are attracted to the organizations that provide adequate compensation (including benefits). Higher salaries are an investment in the people who can bring you higher revenues.

Infographic by AFP

Meeting Your Fundraising Goals Starts With The Correct Tools

Your constituent relationship management system, often referred to as your donor database, is one of your most important tools. Having a suitable database is a key investment so your organization can develop meaningful relationships with your biggest fans: your donors. One should not take lightly the decision to select the right system.

A good system will help track your conversations and help you segment your donors based on their giving history and interests. It will also manage connections to board members and other leadership staff at your agency as you develop your major gifts program.

The first step is evaluating the goals of your organization and researching what databases are available to tackle your needs. Next you need to determine what information you want to track and how to organize the data. You can make changes down the road, but setting everything up right initially will save everyone a lot of time later. One should put a great deal of thought into how to customize the structure and how to input the information.

My expertise includes conducting an assessment of your database needs and providing you with options for the best system to track your relationships with all your constituents. I can use my experience working in a variety to donor databases to help you plan how you organize and customize your database. I can also evaluate the strengths and challenges of your nonprofit’s development systems and provide solutions to identify your biggest opportunities.

If you are looking to set up a new system or clean up an existing one, please contact me for more information!

“I am so grateful for James and his extensive experience in fundraising and management of donor records. Our organization had limped along for years with an archaic gift tracking system. As a result, it was a challenge to develop meaningful relationships with our donors. James cleaned up our information and now we know who they are in order to cultivate lasting relationships!”

Kate Van Ummersen – Executive Director 
Salem Public Library Foundation