How long should you stay in your job?

I recently attended an event with the founder of a national search firm that manages many fundraising searches annually.

One of the interesting things that he advised was to stay in a fundraising position for a minimum of 3 or 3.5 years.  In his opinion, results from your first two years of any position are predominantly a result of things done by a predecessor (unless of course it is a new position or there are other mitigating circumstances to consider) and that it isn’t until your third year on the job that your own ideas and initiatives begin to produce results.  While I don’t totally agree with this assertion, I do understand it.

Do you agree or disagree with this assertion?  I’m very interested to hear your thoughts.


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A Story of Salutations

As I am currently knee-deep in data for International House’s Fall Appeal, I thought it would be timely to share a dear friend and mentor’s story of a year-end appeal that she received from a school that she attended.  I’ll let her tell it . . .

I received the company’s year-end appeal — a very long, boring, obviously mass-directed letter with this salutation “Dear Jane Arthur-Arthur Doe” — so many mistakes right off the bat.  For years, I’ve received mail from the company addressed this way and for years — by phone, emails, and snail-mail — I’ve tried to correct the error without success.  The letter’s BRE attracted me because it included a check-off box for donors-on-the-fence; it followed the box with something like, “If not now, perhaps later” and included a few lines for an explanatory note.
I took the company up at its offer, checked the fence-sitting box and, without resorting to verbal violence, told the Director of Development that: 1) Basic English usage for salutations required “Dear First Name or Dear Nickname or Dear Ms./Mrs./Miss/Mr./Dr./Professor/Reverend/Pastor/Rabbi (etc.), followed by a Last Name; 2) I’m an alumna known as Jane Arthur Doe — one Arthur and no hyphens, please; 3) As an alumna, I deserve a special letter when you’re asking me for money or telling me anything — “attention must be paid” (all credit due to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman) with a letter based on some research, not only for the correct use of my name, but in acknowledging my status as a former dancer and contributor to the company’s remarkable history.
My note obviously took up more than a few lines so I inserted it into the BRE and mailed it — prepaid, of course.  Two weeks later, I received a brief note from the DOD.  She corrected the salutation and hoped that I’d reconsider and support the company in the future.

Since my dear friend told me about this, I’ve been pre-printing the donor listing as we have it on file for each donor on the buckslip that comes in their direct mail appeals.  Though most people have not paid it much attention, it has been nice to receive updates from I-House alumni and donors confirming how they prefer to be addressed.  As my mentor said, it is important to provide these opportunities to meet the prospective/current/lapsed donor on their own level.

How do you assure that your organization’s donor data is up-to-date and correct?  Do your direct mail appeals provide an opportunity  for donors to update or correct their contact information and listings?

3 Elements of Successful Annual Appeals

I recently contributed a piece on 3 Elements of Successful Annual Appeals to BenchmarkEmail’s Presence for Non-Profits blog series.  I hope that you’ll check it out and share your thoughts here or on the BenchmarkEmail site. 

In my experience, most annual fund appeals consist either of a letter or a brochure/flyer with a short note seeking your support. Whether you are at a large organization or a small operation, asking donors to make charitable contributions is one of the most important things on your annual to-do list. While there are a myriad of variables to consider in regard to your annual fundraising strategy, I have boiled them down to three key elements of successful annual appeals:

Read more . . . 

Conference Recap: Fundraising IS Community Organizing

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network’s Leaders Conference and  one of the amazing people I met was Renee Bracey Sherman, today’s guest blogger.  She mentioned that she would be attending this amazing conference, so I asked her to share some of what she learned there with you.  As always, share your thoughts and responses below in the comments section.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training’s Money for Our Movements fundraising conference in Oakland, California. This wasn’t your average fundraising conference – it’s a conference specifically for grassroots fundraisers and community organizers working in social justice movements across the country. Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training  (GIFT) is “a multicultural organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice, and movement-building.” GIFT’s vision for social justice fundraising includes working to break down the stereotypes about who can give and who cannot and working to ensure social justice organizations are owned by the communities they serve.

Previously, I attended GIFT’s Fundraising Academy for Communities of Color in Fresno, California and learned how to create a community of donors among my organization’s constituents and how to create a culture of fundraising with all staff in my organization – including how program staff can talk about their work and make a basic ask of community members. As a fundraiser of color, I often feel left out of the typical fundraising training because they are teaching how to talk to the stereotypical White, older donor; however, they are rarely my organizations’ communities of donors or constituents. GIFT’s trainings also address the power and privilege, as well as the oppression felt when discussing money and asking for large gifts – something not taught at any other fundraising training. GIFT changed my fundraising life and helped my colleagues feel at ease when talking to donors – which can be scary for non-fundraising staff. The most important thing I learned, and taught my colleagues, was that ANYONE can be a donor and invest in your organization and the larger movement. Fundraisers should never forget that donor relationship building IS community organizing.

At Money for Our Movements, attendees had the chance to attend workshops of all levels discussing everything from how to raise $300 to $10,000 online in six weeks to how to have a 100% grassroots fundraising program at your organization. They also had workshops that focused on the history and politics of fundraising including how fundraising and organizing go hand in hand, the history of people of color and fundraising, and an anti-racism for White folks in in fundraising. As you can tell, all of these workshops dealt with everyday issues that arise in our society, but often aren’t discussed or taught in most fundraising spaces. The conference was also simultaneously translated in Spanish for Spanish speaking attendees and also had several workshops only held in Spanish and had childcare for attendees – a direct effort to engage more communities and accommodate more attendees’ needs.

On Friday morning, the conference was keynoted by Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), an organization that fights for the rights of restaurant workers across the country, and by Attica Woodson Scott, the District 1 representative to Louisville Metro Council and former coordinator of Kentucky Jobs for Justice. Both women spoke eloquently about how organizing workers and community members can create sustainable change in local communities and on a larger scale through laws. However, while change can be made politically, implementation is a very different game and that is where community involvement and education is important to change the day-to-day experiences of your constituents.
One of the highlights of the conference each year is the Saturday morning debate. This year, the debate, “From Moment to Movement”, featured two teams debating the Occupy Wall Street movement – is it a moment to be captured in history or is it a long-term movement for social change. They also debated whether it being helped or hurt by nonprofit organizations, which are seen as organizing in silos. Saturday afternoon, the conference was brought to a close with Kim Klein’s keynote, “What is Our Demand?” Klein is an internationally known speaker, author, and fundraising consultant, as well as the co-founder of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Klein discussed with the audience how as fundraisers we can change our movements with the power of our constituents’ dollars. She noted that we have to be conscious of who we raise money from because they are the people we are accountable to – if we raise the majority of our money from our community, we stay accountable to our community and our organizations’ missions.
Klein also tied in the earlier discussion of the Occupy movement and said, “We’re not going to turn this [our movements] around with money. We’re going to do it with people. The 1% doesn’t have people!” Her last point was about educating our constituents and movements about our nation’s current tax structure. She reminded us that you can see a nation’s values based on what they fund through their tax structures – education, roads, healthcare, firefighters. Klein also said that as organizations “we will only raise the money we need when we have a fair and just tax structure” since many of our organizations replace the work once done by the government or the work they never had the funds to do. Klein stressed that we as leaders in our communities need to start having more conversations around our values and taxes. By simply having conversations or thinking about it ourselves, we become more engaged in the larger movement in society.
GIFT puts on several amazing trainings and one hell-of-a conference. Sadly, their conference is only every other year, so your next opportunity is in the summer of 2014 – which I highly recommend you attend! Until then, check out their amazing and insightful tips on their website, in their newsletter, and subscribe to their magazine, Grassroots Fundraising Journal which has practical ideas for grassroots fundraising as well as case-studies of organizations all around the country in all social justice movements. GIFT has turned me in to a better fundraiser and gave me practical tools to share with my community. I am thankful for their great and continued work.

To learn more about Grassroots Fundraising Training, visit or follow them on Twitter @gift_tweets. To see some of the Twitter conversation from the conference, search the hashtag #mfom12.

Renee Bracey Sherman is from Chicago, Illinois where she graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, studying economics and sociology. Renee found a passion in working to break down barriers of multiple oppressions that women/people of color/LGBT/low income/immigrant folks face each day through story sharing. By day, Renee is a fundraiser for Wikimedia Foundation and in her spare time, she volunteers with ACCESS Women’s Health Justice, serves on the Board of Directors of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, and is a Pro-Voice activist with Exhale.
Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman
Connect with Renee on LinkedIn:

Quick Tip: A New Approach to Board Fundraising Expectations

While attending a session on Working with Your Board at last month’s Fundraising Day in New York, one of the speakers shared how her organization frames the fundraising expectations of its board: give, get or connect.

While most fundraisers are used to the give-or-get concept, but I found it interesting that value was placed on making meaningful connections.  I think that it is particularly important to acknowledge those connections that are made, whether in supporting program operations or identifying new donors, especially those made by board members who may not have as much money to give directly as some others.

How do you measure your board’s fundraising effectiveness?  Does your organization have a give or get policy?  If so, what is it?  And if not, why?

Quick Tip: Bank of America Grants Search


While attending last month’s Fundraising Day in New York, I sat in on a session focused on understanding family foundations.  During the conversation, one of the panelists reminded me of a very useful resource that some fundraisers may not be aware of: the Bank of America Philanthropic Solutions Grant Search.  On this site, you can do some quick prospecting among a group of foundations for which the Bank serves as a trustee or co-trustee.

This is another resource that I wanted to be sure to share with you, dear readers.  Please let me know if you come across any good prospects and especially if you end up building new relationships with potential funders (or get a grant!).


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The Power of a Simple Thank You

While recently moving, my wife and I made numerous trips to our local Goodwill store and donation center.  On one particular trip, I dropped the bags in the large donation bin and one of the store associates asked if I wanted a receipt and I politely told him no.  After this, he thanked me for the donation and for helping support the Goodwill’s work — this was the first and only time during our visits that I was thanked in this manner, or at all.  (I don’t mean this to be a critique of Goodwill’s employees, but more recognition of a job well done in this case.)  This thank you really resonated with me and I wanted to be sure to share this experience with you, my dear readers; it made me feel like I was helping make a real difference.

When did a thank you or acknowledgment from a non-profit really touch you?  Why did it reach you?  Did it spur you to action?  Do you support this organization now?  And how do you adjust your organization’s acknowledgment strategy to touch your donors?


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Speaking in Others’ Voices

While reading this New York Times article about ghostwriting for celebrity cookbooks last month, it made me think about how fundraisers spend their careers writing in the voice of their organizations and its leaders.  Now I don’t think that we require the same sort of acknowledgment as book ghostwriters, but I wanted to draw attention to this skill and how it is something that is not easily explained (or replicated).  As I write, I can still mentally revert back to writing for the Executive Director at my former organization (not to mention the elected officials for whom I worked while in high school and college).

If you are not familiar with this phenomenon, ask some of your colleagues about it.  When I started at International House, I made a point to read through recent correspondence from my boss and the President, as I knew that I would be responsible for preparing document drafts (appeal letters, acknowledgments, stewardship reports, etc.) and wanted to get an idea of their respective voices.  After that, I jumped into my writing assignments and got their direct feedback along the way to learn those subtle nuances (e.g. which words they never use, which phrases are their favorites, what they only say to donors with whom they have close or personal relationships).  I think that it took me about a full year to feel reasonably confident writing in the voices of the Director of Development and President, though even after being at I-House for almost three years they still surprise me every now and then with very particular edits for outgoing correspondence.

How have you honed this skill during your fundraising career?  Do you think that non-profit organizations effectively identify people with this skill?

The One Trick to Fundraising

Greetings from Toronto Pearson International Airport!  As I write this, I’m waiting for my connecting flight to get to the AFP International Fundraising Conference in Vancouver.  Since the airport has free wi-fi — I knew that I could trust my neighbors to the north — I can share this with you in reasonable real time.

While coming through customs, the customs agent asked me why I was coming into the country and of course I told him about the conference.  He was very curious about professional fundraising . . . it was a nice change to have someone genuinely interested in our work after learning what I do for a living.  After I gave him the 15-second intro on International House and he stamped my passport, the agent asked me what was “the one trick to fundraising” and after briefly considering the question, I told him that there wasn’t a silver bullet.

But as I left the customs area and proceeded to grab my bag, I realized that I know the one trick to fundraising (wait for it) . . . . KNOW YOUR DONORS!  Now I cannot claim that I came up with this bright idea, so I must acknowledge Lynne Wester and the recent ADRP NYC Regional Conference for really bringing this point to the surface for me.  It’s a very simple idea and one that should really be at the heart of all of our fundraising programs.

If you don’t know your donors, you can’t:

  • effectively engage them in your organization’s mission and work, as you don’t know what first attracted them to it or how they prefer to be engaged;
  • easily cultivate them for major and planned gifts; or
  • personalize your messages based on their interest areas.
The only way that you can get to know your donors is to TALK TO THEM!  You can do this through surveys, by picking up the phone on a regular occasion or just asking a few good questions when you see them at your events.

How have you gotten to know your donors?  Did this engagement allow you to deepen their relationship with your organization?

Photo credit — Toronto Pearson International Airport

The Importance of Professional Development in Fundraising

After attending the Association of Donor Relations Professionals New York City Regional Workshop last Friday, I am feeling a bit refreshed and full of new ideas to try in the next year.  It’s one of my favorite times of the year, as the conference season is getting under way.  I say it all the time and will say it again — fundraisers need professional development opportunities (and many other things) to stay sane and effective.

There are many reasons that professional development is critical for fundraisers, but here are my top three reasons:

  1. Time to recharge — We all can benefit from some time away from the office, which allows us to see the bigger picture and return to our work refocused.
  2. Source of new ideas and inspiration — Conferences and workshops are always full of the latest and greatest ideas and strategies.  As Lynne Wester reminded us at the ADRP Regional Workshop, we can all learn from each other and borrow ideas  that will help our fundraising efforts.
  3. Expand your network — Being able to pick up the phone or send a quick e-mail to a few fellow fundraisers with a question or issue is absolutely priceless.  Professional development events are the best place to make these connections and you should capitalize upon these opportunities to meet and get to know your colleagues.

What professional development events and associations have been useful in your fundraising career?  What events will you be attending this year?

For your information, I’ll be attending AFP’s International Conference in Vancouver next month (which I’ll be writing more about very soon), the New York Philanthropic Planning Symposium in May and Fundraising Day in New York this June.  I look forward to sharing some of the lessons I glean from these upcoming events with you.