Quick Tips — Bequest Asks

While attending this year’s Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Baltimore, I sat in on an interesting session by Stephen Pidgeon about getting bequest asks right.

Since I enjoyed the session so much, I want to share a few quick tips that I learned from Stephen:

  • When asking donors and prospects to consider making a bequest to your organization, acknowledge the importance of family and friends, as this demonstrates your respect for the donors’ relationships outside of your organization and can lead you into an easy ask for a residuary bequest (leaving whatever is left after they have taken care of loved ones to your organization).
  • Providing social information about recently made (or confirmed) bequest intentions in your ask can triple the number of people who consider and make their own bequest.
  • Organizations should be asking donors and prospects to consider bequests in all modes of communication other than the telephone (e.g. personal letter, supporter newsletter, inserts/ads, events, website, etc.).
  • Asks should be made by: a beneficiary of the organization’s work, a senior trustee who has made a bequest of his/her own, or another supporter who has made his/her own bequest.

I hope that you find these points interesting and that they will influence how your organization is pursuing its legacy giving goals, as I will be integrating these into my efforts for our next fiscal year.

For more from Stephen, check out his book Love Your Donors to Death.

Have any thoughts or specific responses to these ideas? Share them in the comments.


Are you making the time to be creative?

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One of the many highlights of the first day of the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising was to hear from Grammy Award winner John Legend about his philanthropic work in education.

One particular lesson that he shared during his conversation with AFP Board Chair Bob Carter was about making time to be creative.  Legend said that he schedules studio time to write songs and doesn’t leave those sessions without at least one song.  I thought that this was a particularly worthwhile lesson for fundraising professionals, with the regular expectations that we produce fresh content — whether it be appeals, newsletter copy, annual reports, or anything else.

Do you schedule time to be creative?  If so, how?

Quick Tip: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story in the 990 Report


Last week, Association of Fundraising Professionals International CEO Andrew Watt participated in the New York City Chapter’s Annual Membership Meeting and had a lot of great things to say.  One of the smart and particularly easy ideas that he suggested was to ensure that the organizational description in your annual 990 report really tells your story, as many individual, corporate and foundation prospects & donors access these documents to learn a bit more about your group.

Commonly, since the organization’s Finance Office compiles the 990 report, the Development staff is not included in drafting the narrative text.  Even though my colleagues and I do assist our Finance Office with the 990 preparation, I am giving this section a special look in our most recent report and will have some edits to suggest going forward.

Do you and/or your colleagues collaborate with your Finance Office on the preparation of your organization’s 990?  Have you reviewed the organizational narrative?


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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 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?

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Will I See You in Vancouver?

As I write, I am preparing for the 2012 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Vancouver, Canada.  I am proud to be one the AFPeeps, a group of fundraisers who are helping provide social media coverage of the conference and some short training sessions for the attendees.

I will be live-tweeting and live-blogging from some of the sessions and doing a brief session on using Twitter for professional development (with the always impressive Beth Ann Locke).

If you are going to be in Vancouver for the conference, please let me know — I’d love to meet a few of you dear readers!  If you cannot make it, be sure to keep your eyes on this blog and the Twitter hashtag #afpmeet.  I’m really looking forward to the experience and to sharing it with you here.



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.

Quick Tips: Fundraising with Your CEO

In last week’s post, I shared some great points that I gleaned from Fund Raising Day in New York’s “Leading the Leaders: How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts” session.  Today, I want to cover some quick tips that the panelists put forth on how to work with your organization’s CEO (or Executive Director) on fundraising:

When the CEO doesn’t “get” fundraising . . .

Gregory Boroff of amfar — The Foundation for AIDS Research encouraged working progressively with your CEO when he/she does not get fundraising.  For example, you could start him/her off with thank you phone calls and slowly move into deeper donor relations and engagement efforts like donor visits, active cultivation & stewardship, accompanying solicitors on face-to-face asks and finally making the face-to-face asks.

Managing expectations

Kerry Kruckel Gibbs of WNET-Thirteen stated that she is very clear with her CEO at the beginning of each year about what she expects and needs him to do in regard to fundraising, with details about the number of asks, visits, etc.  When facing resistance to meeting these expectations, she is clear about the role that charitable gifts play in the organization’s budget and why the CEO is an important part of reaching the overall fundraising goals.


In those situations where she is preparing the CEO for an ask, Ms. Gibbs will always be sure to rehearse the aforementioned ask with him/her.  Not only does this get the solicitor comfortable with the major points that should be covered and what to expect from the donor, it should provide the fundraiser with sufficient comfort that the solicitor is fully prepared.  Now, Ms. Gibbs did note that there have been some occasions where her CEO went off-script during an ask and that it was not always a bad thing, so do keep in mind that possibility.

I hope that you have found these quick tips helpful.  What other tips would you share for successfully and effectively reaching your fundraising goals through the direct efforts of your CEO?

Seminar Recap: Engaging Your Board in the Major Gifts Program

As I noted in a recent post, I attended Fund Raising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference for fundraising professionals here in New York City, last month.

The other workshop that really caught my eye was entitled “Leading the Leaders — How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts.”  Gregory Boroff, Vice President of Development at amfar, The Foundation for AIDS Research; Kerry Kruckel Gibbs, Vice President for Development and Communications at WNET-Thirteen; and Andy Robinson, an author and consultant served as panelists with Kevin Allan, Senior Managing Director at Changing Our World, moderating.  I have summarized below some of the major points that I gleaned from this talk.

Ms. Gibbs was very clear about the board of WNET-Thirteen’s responsibility to give and get.  She also advocated for the implementation of term limits for board members, as an opportunity to shift off those members who are not as effective, but also to  keep exposing new groups of prospects to your organization’s work.

Mr. Robinson made a great point (that also came up in last week’s Michael Chatman Giving Show) about how we (non-profit staff, but especially fundraisers) need to stop defining fundraising only as asking for a gift, as it should be regarded as an entire process of engagement.  He also made note what he called “The Incentive Plan,” where specific grants are solicited from longstanding supporters that will incentivize the behavior that you want out of your board members (e.g. a small to medium grant that will be awarded on the condition that the board attends fundraising training or a certain percentage of trustees come along on donor visits).  He found that this is a form of aversion therapy, as the board members will be more likely to be open to doing a specific activity after having a positive experience with it.

Mr. Boroff stressed the importance of annual meetings with trustees to set an agenda for the year and clearly express the organization’s fundraising expectations.  He also made a point to encourage fundraisers not to overlook the fact that trustees also need to be treated like donors by cultivating the relationship, sharing the impact the organization is having and engaging them in the work.

Ms. Gibbs shared a great story about identifying who would make a leadership gift for a capital campaign.  After talking with five trustees, she found that they all agreed that the same fellow trustee would be the ideal person to make this gift and motivate others to support the campaign.  Based upon their recommendations, Ms. Gibbs was able to approach that trustee with the angle that others were “counting on him” to make this gift.  After the trustee made a $15 million gift, they turned things around and had him make asks of the other trustees who had recommended him in the first place to make their gifts and follow his lead.

Mr. Robinson had another great idea about setting clear expectations for your board — let them know that you want your organization to be one of their top 3 charitable priorities during their tenure.  This supplement to the overall expectation that they give and get should also aid in the recruitment of serious and committed board members when they know what they are getting themselves into, in contrast to many organizations that only have unspoken expectations (which tend to frustrate staff members and leaders, though these unspoken expectations are not fair to the board members if there is a lack of clarity and candor).

At its simplest, Ms. Gibbs said that trustees are leaders (whether or not they realize it) and as such should be motivating others to support the organization and sharing why they are involved in this work.

I have taken some of these ideas to heart and hope to use some to more deeply engage board members in various aspects of I-House’s fundraising.  Of course, you can look forward to hearing more about these efforts in the coming months.

In my next post, I’ll share a few tips that I picked up from the panelists about working with your Executive Director/CEO on fundraising.

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