Stewarding Capital Campaign Donors

Earlier this month, I participated in a special online chat sponsored by #fundchat (a weekly Twitter chat for fundraising professionals — which you should take part in if you are on Twitter!) on the topic of “Capitalizing on Capital Campaigns.”  Special guests Ian Adair and Nathan Hand shared their insights on the full gamut of capital campaigns, from feasibility studies to ribbon-cutting events for new buildings, based on their years of fundraising experience.

Near the end of the chat, I asked for any great stewardship ideas that Ian and Nathan may have, with a special focus on after the capital campaign has been completed (full disclosure: I am working on re-engaging some past CC donors and am always looking to hear what others are doing).  I thought that it would be worthwhile to share some of those ideas with you, my dear readers, so here it goes . . .

  • Invite EVERY donor to the ribbon cutting. Use DM and other means to tell them about the magic happening inside the walls they built. Turn them on to a particular program or need w/in the building. (Nathan)
  • Stewardship is key to keeping the donor well after a ribbon is cut. People like to know that organizations are good stewards of their money. I like to hold thank-a-thons just to let them know we appreciate their help and update them on everything going on. (Ian)
  • Have a 5 and 10 year reunion party. Invite some of those that ‘shined’ in the process to explore board/committee roles down the road…  (Nathan) // A great way to include them in the long term is to have anniversary parties where you invite them back to see what they were able to accomplish for the community. These are just thank you events – no asking whatsoever.
    Have those using facility tell what it has meant to them and show donors around to see programs and activities. (Ian) // Find pictures of the ribbon cutting and ID people in it, send a copy of the pic with their face circled in red sharpie – ‘Is this you??’ Join us for our 10th bday! (Nathan)
  • Most buildings get finished in the nice weather. Send campaign supporters a holiday card w/ a pic of the building in the snow – so they remember what they accomplished (Nathan)
  • Have your populations give thank you’s as well. I can say it all day, but when it comes from some of the children we serve the donor never forgets that moment. (Ian)

To see more of the strategies that Ian and Nathan shared in the chat, check out the transcript here.

How have you stewarded capital campaign donors in the short- and long-term?


Fundraising Mentee Profile: Leticia John

As National Mentoring Month 2012 draws to a close, I wanted to profile a young fundraiser that I have been mentoring.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Leticia John for probably about three years or so.  Leticia is the Development Officer at The Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut, with prior experiences at Iona College, Youth, I.N.C. and Changing Our World.  We first met while she was studying at our shared alma mater, The Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.  I have been and continue to be proud to help her in any way that I can as she builds a career and grows in the wide world of fundraising.

How did you get into fundraising?

Entering my first year as a graduate student at NYUWagner, I joined the Youth, I.N.C.’s  staff as an intern.  My program of study was a Master of Public Administration in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy.  I was thankful to obtain the position at Youth, I.N.C. because the organization worked with many small youth-serving non-profit organizations to help build their fiscal and managerial capacities to be successful in fulfilling their missions. Thus, I had a firsthand opportunity to work directly with executive directors, participate in trainings that focused on management, board development and of course strategic fundraising among many other topics. Working at Youth, I.N.C. was an invaluable experience, where I was able to learn the essentials of supporting start-up/small NPO’s and how to raise funds through one-on-one solicitations, direct mail solicitations, events and board development.

I decided to stay within the fundraising field because I realized it was an essential skill to have in the non-profit sector. Furthermore, there is always a demand and need for individuals to take on the responsibility of soliciting funds, whether through fundraising events or one-on-one interactions.  I also believed that I would develop a skill set that would be transferable in many other professions (e.g. policy and campaign management, program and event management, communications, executive leadership positions in public and or non-profit organizations and the like).  To the same extent, I really enjoy my daily activities as a fundraiser because it fits my personality — I get to plan events, meet new people, do research and make a real difference that has an immediate effect. Closing and stewarding a $10,000 gift and what that $10,000 can provide for an organization gives you an awesome feeling.


Based on your experience at Iona College, what are some pros and cons of higher education fundraising?

I’m not sure if my answer will be unique, but typically institutions of higher education have larger and more dynamic fundraising programs and capacities.  One of the biggest opportunities is that you have a larger pool of people to solicit.  It’s a great arena for someone to start their career; you can test materials, events, approaches, etc.  An obvious con is that higher ed (in my experience) is more bureaucratic and there may be too many “cooks” in the kitchen (for example, Vice Presidents, Assistant Vice Presidents, Directors, Associate Directors, Campaign Managers, etc.) with roles that can be very segmented or overly cloudy.  Some may also suggest that it’s harder (depending if you are raising unrestricted or restricted funds) to build a case and/or illustrate the impact of funds raised.

Nevertheless, I loved my experience at Iona because it was dynamic and there were so many opportunities to develop my skill set as a fundraiser.  The catch to any fundraising program is assessing if it has sufficient capacity and enough resources to effectively take advantage of those opportunities.

I think a larger conversation can be had on the pros and cons of working for a small or large fundraising team, though it really depends upon what you want to accomplish in your career as a fundraiser.


In your non-fundraising life, what are you passionate about?

Oh, this is thought-provoking!  I make an earnest attempt to just enjoy life.  I am very social and truly enjoy interacting with people.  There are so many beautiful places, tasty foods, fun adventures to experience — why not be passionate about experiencing it all with friends and family.


Where do you see the future of fundraising in the next 10 years?

I think the field is on an upward trajectory. However, I believe that raising/soliciting money is also becoming very personal.  We all know that people give to people, but donors are becoming much more strategic in the organizations they support and supporting organizations that are personal to them, have meaning to them, relate to them, and have an effect on them.  As a result, fundraising has to become more creative and interactive.  It will be interesting to see if nonprofits with similar missions will compete or collaborate as they grow to make impact.

I also think that fundraisers who are in senior leadership positions are more inclined to stay in their positions than ever before.  I imagine this will have a negative impact on junior and mid-level fundraisers who are trying to advance their careers.  Nevertheless I think fundraisers will always be in demand and they will become an invaluable source to an organization the longer they are there raising funds.


If you didn’t have a chance to read last week’s Fundraising Mentor Profile, check it out here.

Do you have any questions for Leticia?  Has your fundraising career been similar to hers?  Do you see the future of fundraising in the same way?

Fundraising Mentor Profile: Michele Minter

Since January is National Mentoring Month, I wanted to take this opportunity to profile one of my fundraising mentors, Michele Minter, the former Vice President of Development at The College Board and former Director of Development at Princeton University.  Michele is currently working as the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity & Diversity at Princeton.  I first learned about Michele from her father, a former community foundation leader, and have had the pleasure of knowing her for the last few years.  I hope that you take something away from her distinguished career in our field.

How did you get into fundraising?  Why did you build a career in this field?

I spent the earliest part of my career as an administrator for performing arts organizations, and it was natural to learn about grantwriting and special event fundraising in that context.  During the same time period I did some consulting for the National Endowment for the Arts by serving as an evaluator for proposals.  I was intrigued by the decisions that faced organizations as they planned their fundraising priorities and applied for funds: did they really have a clear understanding of their mission and strengths?  How much were they prepared to adjust their plans to conform to the agendas of funders, and why?  I thought the questions were fascinating and decided to consider development as a full-time profession.  Once I had made the transition to major gifts fundraising, I was deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness and commitment of both donors and fundraising volunteers.  Those relationships added another dimension of fulfillment to the work.


What has been your greatest fundraising success?  And your greatest fundraising challenge?

Although I’ve raised individual gifts at the eight-figure level, my proudest fundraising work involved Princeton University’s Women in Leadership Initiative, a program that I launched (with the help of extraordinary volunteers) to engage alumnae donors.  It has helped to build a generation of alumnae leaders for the University through a series of cultivational and stewardship activities and communications.  After more than ten years, the Women in Leadership Initiative is still thriving, still raising money successfully, and still serving as a national model and a model for other programs at Princeton.

My greatest fundraising challenges have involved federal grant competitions.  Federal proposals require huge mobilization of cross-functional teams and all-out efforts to meet tight deadlines.  At the end of the process, failure to get the grant can be deeply disheartening even though it is always a risk.  Major gifts fundraising can also involve a lot of pressure and the potential for disappointment, but even a solicitation that is declined can move the relationship forward.  Federal grantwriting is far more impersonal and the possibility of a “no” at the end is much more stark.


In your non-fundraising life, what are you passionate about?

I do a lot of volunteering in my community.  One of my passions is the Fund for Women and Girls at the Princeton Area Community Foundation, where I co-chair a giving circle that brings together local women to raise money to support the needs of girls in Trenton, NJ and the surrounding communities.  I’m also passionate about my family, and especially my two endlessly fascinating (and confounding) kids.


Who have been some of your fundraising mentors?  How did they impact your career?  What did you learn from them?

My first boss at Princeton University, the then vice president of development, taught me virtually everything I know about working with donors in the field.  His coaching on strategy, his example of how to handle conversations effectively, and his skill at follow-up were the best possible training that I could have had as a young fundraiser, and he has continued to be a resource and friend ever since.  I was fortunate to have had that opportunity to learn the ropes from a senior colleague who took such a personal interest.  I also learned a lot from the Princeton alumni volunteers with whom I worked on soliciting their classmates.  In many cases they had a depth of knowledge and experience of fundraising that surpasses that of professional development officers.  Working with so many alumni volunteers and watching their different styles taught me how to be nimble, read cues carefully, and be prepared to adjust strategies on the fly!


Now that you are no longer actively working in fundraising, how are you remaining engaged in the field?

This year I chose to make a transition out of professional fundraising in order to focus on Higher Education administration more broadly, but I am still deeply committed to and involved with philanthropy and the advancement field.  I’m co-editing a book for CASE on donor education, which will be a resource for advancement professionals who want to understand better how to organize a family philanthropy program, a giving circle, or activities that will help donors become more confident, informed and effective in their philanthropy.  I also serve on the Leadership Council of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and as a steering committee member for the Women’s Funding Network’s “Millions Give Back: A Black Women’s Philanthropy Campaign” project.  And I try to keep my development skills from getting rusty by doing some fundraising for local causes.


Stay tuned for next week’s profile, which will be of an impressive young fundraiser that I have been fortunate to mentor over the last few years.

Do you have any questions for Michele?  Did anything in Michele’s experience stick out to you or resonate with you?  How have you benefited from mentors in your fundraising career?

Do You Survey Your Donors?

While looking through Lynne Wester’s website last year, I came across a sample donor survey that she used and this inspired me to integrate these surveys into my stewardship efforts.  As a result, I included a survey and return envelope with the annual President’s Report to Donors (which went out in hard copy and via e-mail), and was mailed to a few hundred donors last Fall.  Of the approximately 400 surveys that were distributed, I received about 7% of the surveys back (between hard copies mailed in and web submissions).

While I was primarily interested in gathering feedback from our donors on this stewardship piece that was just in its second year, I was also able to:

  • deepen relationships with donors based on their responses to a question about what areas of our work they would like to learn more about
  • gather more information about the donors through follow-up phone calls and letters

Because of the survey, I identified donors who are interested in I-House’s music programming and its history (which provided a way to connect with a donor who is a second-generation alumnus).  It also resulted in a donor making an Annual Fund gift twice as large as what she usually gives (which helped us with the multi-year challenge grant we completed at the end of last month — and about which I will be sharing in a future post).  I found this to be a really great way to touch donors without making an ask and provide a rare opportunity to get their input.  If you can, you should definitely integrate surveys into your stewardship strategy.

To learn about an interesting donor survey strategy, check out Pamela Grow’s blog post — Could You Borrow the Smartest Thing I Ever Did?

Have you used donor surveys before?  What kind of response did you get?  Did you find them useful?

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The Good Steward in 2012

Happy New Year TGS Readers!  I hope that your new year is off to a great start; mine has been very busy and chock full of experiences that are leading to plenty of new ideas to share with you this year.

I cannot come into 2012 without thanking you for affirming me by reading this blog and joining in the community that I have been building here for fundraisers to learn from each other.  This has been an amazing experience in the last year and I cannot wait to see where this journey will take us in 2012.

The big developments to come in 2012 will include: some interesting opportunities, profiles of some accomplished and up-and-coming fundraising professionals, more great guest posts showcasing great strategies from which we can all learn.

I have also left some room for what you are interested in learning about here on The Good Steward, so please take a moment and leave a comment with anything you would love to see covered here in 2012 that would deepen your fundraising knowledge base.  I look forward to making this year more informative for you.

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3 Simple & Impactful Ways to Thank (and Steward) Your Donors

As my fellow Americans are coming off of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be a good time to share a few ways to be more impactful in how you thank your donors.  To be clear, I see saying thank you as something that is not done only once after a gift is made, as it is really the first step in the ongoing stewardship process.  These three strategies can be deployed by any non-profit organization regardless of its size to thank donors and deepen donor relationships:

  1. Acknowledge every gift
    All non-profit organizations should be sending an acknowledgment letter for every gift that they receive in a very timely manner (some advocate for a 24- or 48-hour turnaround, though I believe it should be done within a few days to avoid falling out of the donor’s memory); these should not simply be the standard form letter, but include some sense of authenticity and a handwritten note from the author.  In addition, it is particularly useful to call or e-mail donors when a gift is received to extend a more personal and immediate thank you; this interaction also provides an opportunity to directly engage the donor in conversation about your work, his/her interests, upcoming events, etc.  During my career in fundraising, I am continually surprised by how few donors get some sort of thank you and how appreciative people are for such a small act.  If your organization does this, you will definitely stand out more to your donors, who will then have another reason to support your mission.
  2. Clearly reiterate key points from solicitation to acknowledgment
    Whether you are at an organization with one annual appeal and one special event or a fundraising shop with multiple appeals and events, it is imperative that you maintain the appropriate message across your communications.  For example, we sent out targeted appeals earlier this year to the alumnae of our Women’s International Leadership Program in commemoration of the program’s 20th anniversary, so I made sure that the celebratory tone was carried through from the acknowledgments, to the thank you e-mails that went out and the gift acknowledgment letters.  By maintaining your message this way, you will not confuse your donors and keep them engaged by invoking what originally inspired them to make a gift.
  3. Connect donors with beneficiaries of your organization’s work
    You should take full advantage of any and all opportunities to bring your donors and the beneficiaries of your work together, whether or not in person, so that they can “see” how their giving is making a difference.  A few examples of this strategy from my work in the last few years have included: inviting a small group residents to I-House’s annual gala (and other special events) to interact with the major donors, honorees and guests to let them see firsthand who benefits from their generosity; regular reports to named room & scholarship donors to provide regular assurance that their gift continues to positively affect our resident community; and the use of a resident-produced video at our 2011 gala to provide a clear perspective of the resident experience, which we have been able to re-purpose for friend-raising and more awareness-building efforts.

As I said earlier, saying thank you should only be the first step in the process of stewarding your donors.  I hope that these three strategies can help you improve your thank yous and overall donor stewardship efforts.  What are some other simple and impactful ways that you have thanked your donors?

Why Fundraisers Should Use Twitter — Reason #1: Prospecting

Every now and then, I will share a quick anecdote that can serve as a reminder to all of you wonderful fundraisers out there why you should be taking part in the ever-expanding community of fundraising and non-profit professionals on Twitter.  Here’s my first one, so please do enjoy . . .

When I first joined Twitter almost two years ago, I really had no idea that other fundraisers were using it, let alone how they were making use of it.  Now I never imagined that I could end up using Twitter as a source of prospect research, but it turns out that I did earlier this year.  While checking the latest tweets of the day, I stumbled upon a link to an article from Bloomberg Markets magazine entitled “Hidden Billionaires: Eight Really Rich People You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.”  Now if you know me (which some of you dear readers do, if only through this blog, LinkedIn and/or Twitter), you know that I see this sort of list as a bit of a challenge; when I see things like this, I always check the names on the off chance that someone is in our alumni database or is perhaps related to someone who is.  Occasionally I find a connection and this was one of those great times — it turns out that one of the billionaires on this list is married to an I-House alumnus.  Now I can say with great certainty that there is very little possibility that I would have stumbled upon this information at a later date, because we did not even know that this alumnus was married.

I say all of this to strongly encourage you to join Twitter, to start following your fellow fundraising & non-profit professionals (along with those news sources that interest you), and to join this dynamic community!  And when you join, be sure to tweet me @dan_blakemore.


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I’m Back . . . and Married!

Dear TGS Readers,

Please accept my apologies for the radio silence of the last few weeks — I got married on the 15th and spent a week in Italy for our honeymoon (from which we just returned).

I am returning to the wide world of fundraising refreshed and ready to get back to work.  I am looking forward to what the rest of 2011 holds for this work and to engaging with you about it all.

If you have any ideas that should be covered in a future post, please feel free to be in touch.

All best,



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How Often Do You Knock On An Open Door?

While on a recent trip to Austin, I read an article in The New York Times about how New York City Mayor (and uber-philanthropist) Michael R. Bloomberg and George Soros are providing $60 million to the city government to support an effort to improve the circumstances of African-American and Latino male youth — with the rest of the funds provided by the Bloomberg Administration.  This particular passage caught my attention:

A few weeks ago, Mr. Bloomberg called Mr. Soros, who has spent millions of dollars on programs to help black men in Baltimore and other cities, and invited him to lunch. The mayor asked the financier to match his donation for a program in New York, and Mr. Soros quickly agreed.

“When the mayor approached us,” Mr. Soros said, “he was knocking on an open door.”

In this instance, Mr. Soros meant that because he has long supported programs focused on these demographics,  this new initiative was a perfect fit for him.  I know that most fundraisers are happy just to keep the funders that they have on board in this rocky economic climate, but this article was a nod to the critical job of identifying and cultivating new donors.

Earlier today, the live broadcast of The Michael Chatman Giving Show reminded me of the importance of knocking on these open doors.  April Northstrom, President of Jigsaw Communications, was the guest on the show with guest host Ian “On-Air” Adair; they reviewed the show’s Top 10 Foundations List (see here for April’s recap of the show and for more on the  list) and later discussed the importance of actively seeking out those funders who would be logical partners in your organization’s work.  April and Ian were particularly emphatic when it came to being proactive about sharing your organization’s work with prospective funders and seeing where it leads (especially in situations where you can capitalize on the relationships that your board members may have).  As fundraisers, it is our duty and responsibility to identify those prospective funders who could support and further our organization’s respective missions (a point that I make regularly here at The Good Steward).

With all of this in mind, how often do you go knocking on an open door?  How many open doors need to be knocked on for your organization?  And how many closed doors can be opened with some effort?

You should check out April on Twitter and her Grant Savvy blog!  You should also be listening to The Michael Chatman Giving Show every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. — you can stream it live here and/or follow the #GivingShow hashtag on Twitter.  You never know what you may learn from this informative 30-minute show!

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Leaving Your Mark As a Fundraiser

While completing a major stewardship mailing last week, I recalled that I needed to document the production process for this mailing (one that I first introduced last year to provide an annual report of sorts to all of our donors).

As someone who is a tireless cheerleader for the fundraising profession, I know firsthand why it is important to document these processes and assure continuity for our organizations.

Institutional memory is a critical part of the foundation of all organizations, but especially for non-profits and most especially for the development office in non-profit organizations.  When this memory is lost through staff turnover, the organization’s fundraising message can get muddled, relationships that were being actively managed can be squandered and overall fundraising efforts can become stalled indefinitely.

Smooth transitions among fundraising staff can significantly reduce the amount of time that a new staffer needs to get up to speed with the usual workings of an organization.  In my current role, I have been the beneficiary of well-documented work processes and it has made all the difference, especially when it came to executing major mailings and reports for the first time.  In addition to documenting processes, I have found it helpful to remain available for your successor (ideally in situations where you have left your position amicably) as he/she begins to pick up where you left things.  After leaving a past position, I willingly responded to queries from my successor for months and did so out of respect for the organization and my contributions to that fundraising program; now everyone is not as over the top as I am and I don’t expect them to be, but these realities of transitions are rarely discussed.

I sincerely believe that it is a vital part of our duty to our organizations as fundraising professionals to do all that we can to assure that they can go on in the future without us; I believe that the best way to assure this is to leave a clear record of how things were done in the past.

How are you documenting your work in your current position?  Have you benefited from your predecessors documenting their work processes?


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