In this webinar, Sandy Rees, CFRE will cover how to find ideal donor prospects, how to craft a heart-warming, wallet-opening message, and how to do it all with perfect timing so that your donors are ready and eager to give.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Speaking of knowing what they’re doing, Sandy, it’s 1:00. Is it okay if I kick us off officially?

Sandy:Heck, yeah. Let’s rock and roll.

Steven: All right, cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast, and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. I want to thank you all for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “The Fundraising Accelerator: 4 Steps to Funding Your New or Small Nonprofit Fast.”

My name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always. I just want to let you all know before we begin a couple housekeeping items. We are recording this presentation and we’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So if you have to bounce early or perhaps you want to review the content, don’t worry about missing any of the good stuff here. We’ll get you that recording.

Of course, we’d love for you to stay the whole hour because we’re going to do some fun Q&A. Be thinking of your questions as you’re listening today and send them our way. Throughout the hour, I’ll keep an eye on those, so will Sandy, and we’ll try to save just as much time as we can before 2:00 Eastern for your questions. You can even send them over on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed as well. So if you are into tweeting, don’t be afraid to send your questions there either.

One last bit of housekeeping. I just want to let you all know that you can dial in by phone if you have any trouble listening through your computer speakers. We have found that the quality is usually a little bit better by phone. So don’t give up on us completely if you have any problems. If you have a phone and don’t mind dialing in, give that a try. There is a dedicated phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that went out around noon today. So give that a try before ditching us completely.

If this is your first Bloomerang Thursday webinar, I just want to say a special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars pretty much every Thursday. We only miss a couple weeks out of the year. We bring in great guests like Sandy today to give an educational presentation. It’s one of my favorite things we do here at Bloomerang.

Other than that, we also provide donor management software. So if you are curious about our offering or maybe just want to check us out, learn a bit more, just visit our website. Don’t do that now. Wait until 2:00 because you’re going to get some good advice here, but definitely check us out later on if you’re interested in what we have to offer.

For now, I’m super excited to introduce . . . I think, Sandy, you are the reigning queen of Bloomerang webinars. I think you’ve done more than anyone. I think this is maybe your fifth or sixth one. So thank you for sticking with us, and thanks again for being here again this year. How’s it going?

Sandy:Great. What a really nice title to have, the Webinar Queen of Bloomerang. I love it. I love it.

Steven: Well, you’re the queen of other things, which I’ll talk about. I just want to brag on you a little bit here. You guys are going to find out why we have Sandy back every year because she’s super awesome.

She is a small shop expert for sure. She is the founder over at Get Fully Funded, which is a really great website and blog and resource you guys should check out afterwards. She is a fundraising coach. She’s a consultant. Like I said, she loves to help out small nonprofits with board training, strategic planning, annual giving, all that good stuff. She’s also a prolific writer. She’s authored many books including “Get Fully Funded,” “The Fundraising Buffet,” “6 Figure Fundraising,” and “Simple Success Fundraising Plan.”

She is dialing in from beautiful Knoxville, Tennessee, and we’re super excited to have her. So not only do I want you all to hear from her and not me, I have a cold. So I’m going to turn it over to Sandy so she can tell us all about helping out these small shops. So, Sandy, take it away, my friend.

Sandy: Yeah, no worries. Welcome, everybody, again. I’m so glad you’re all here. I know there are a lot of places that you could be this afternoon, and you’ve chosen to be here, and I really appreciate that.

We are going to spend the next probably 45, 50 minutes talking about how to raise money for really small organizations. So if you’re the founder and you have a brand-new organization or if your organization is young or if you’re just small and still trying to figure out fundraising, you are in the right place.

If what you’d really like is to raise money so that you can grow your programs or start new ones, I’ve got you covered. I’m going to give some ideas today that are going to work.

If you’d like to maybe hire staff or even pay yourself, which I know for a lot of founders, that’s a goal. You’d love to be able to not only start your organization but get it up and running pretty quickly. I’m going to show you how to do that.

If you’ve got maybe an organization that’s a little bit older but you haven’t yet mastered fundraising and would love it to be easier, you’re in the right place.

What we’re going to talk about today is why your current fundraising may not be bringing in the money that you need. I’m going to give you some insight into that. The first step in any good 12-step program is acknowledging you’ve got a problem. So we’re going to look at what might be going on for you and then how to fix that.

I’m going to give you my 3-part formula for successful fundraising, and I think you’re going to really enjoy that, and then my 1-10-100 Rule. I’ve shared that one hundreds of times, and people absolutely love it just for giving them a place to start when they’re thinking about what fundraising they want to do across the next year.

So that’s where we’re going today. Steven did introduce me. Those of you who are brand-new to the world of Sandy Rees and Get Fully Funded, I am a fundraising nerd, and I will easily and readily admit that. Technically, I’m a coach and consultant. I teach people how to raise money and then help them overcome any stuck places they may have.

I love training. I love it so much I actually hold my own three-day event in August, and you can find more about that on my website at Get Fully Funded. I have written a number of books. I love my animals. This is a picture of me and my dog, Lucy, who actually just won a prize this week for her really awesome ears. We’ve got to go pick it up, which is pretty cool.

Here’s my story, though. I know when you listen to a webinar like this, it’s easy to think, “Well, the presenter knows all this stuff. They’re the expert. They’ve been doing this for years.” I was not born knowing how to do this. I was not born with fundraising skills. I don’t remember signing up for fundraising at career day either. I just want you to know that I have not always known how to do this. I was actually quite a reluctant fundraiser in the early years, and it took a while for me to figure it all out.

Where I learned it was at a couple of places in the late ’90s. I started at Knox Area Rescue Ministries, which is a homeless shelter. I was actually doing corporate marketing before that and had a chance to go there for a tour, and I did, and I stared asking a lot of questions.

The next thing I know, they called and said, “Hey, do you want to join our board?” I didn’t know what that meant, and I said, “Sure.” I think that’s how a lot of people get on boards. I learned a lot there, and about a year later, they had a job that came open in their resource development office. I looked at it and said, “Yeah, that’s marketing. I could do that.” So we agreed that I had the right skillset. I quit my job, resigned from the board, took that job, and I’ve never looked back.

I was there for about a year and then made a move over to Second Harvest Food Bank, and that’s when the skies opened, and the angels sang, and I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be doing exactly the work that I was supposed to be doing.

Here’s how this is relevant to you. I did not know what I was doing when I took that job. I kind of knew about fundraising but not really, and I spent a year or so throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall. I tried a lot of things trying to figure out something that was going to work because they pretty much said, “Here’s the budget. Here’s how much we need you to raise. Good luck.”

That was awful. It was a lot of pressure. I needed to raise money fast, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m sure that there are some of you who feel the same way, so I just want you to know that I did figure it out. It took me about a year and a half to two years, and I started to really get some traction, and I learned a lot of things that I now show the organizations that I work with.

In 2005, I became restless and started Get Fully Funded. So here we are 12 years in, and I get to spend my days teaching people shortcuts that I figured out the hard way to raising money, and that’s what I’m going to show you today. There are so many things that you can do to raise money. There are so many bright, shiny balls that pop up all the time of new techniques and new tools online. The truth is there’s a handful of things that really work, and I want to show you those.

The other thing I want you to know, you see this really great picture. This is the board at Horse Haven of Tennessee. This is an organization that I sit on the board of, and I’m actually heading up fundraising there right now. We’ve had some staff turnover, and I find myself in a role of sort of directing what’s happening with the fundraising. So I have my hands in it every day trying to figure out what we’re going to do next and laying out the plan and managing the whole thing. That keeps me very much with my feet right in the same spot on the ground where yours are of figuring out what to do, what’s working, and what we need to do in order to make sure we have those predictable, sustainable revenue streams.

You’re here today to figure out how you can ramp up fast fundraising for your small nonprofit. So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about fundraising. Everybody’s favorite, right? If it’s not your favorite, it’s okay.

If you’re a founder, I bet that you started your organization because you’re really passionate about the cause, and then you got into it and went, “Oh, crap. I’m going to have to learn how to raise money.” It’s a whole different thing, right? For others of you, maybe you took a job that you really cared about the organization’s mission, and you’re in the same boat as I was going, “Okay. Now I have to raise money. What do I do?”

Here’s a piece of truth that we’re going to start with for today that we’re going to base everything off of, and that is when you raise more money, you can change more lives. If you’re passionate about the work your organization does, it’s about lives. It’s about people’s lives, it’s about animals’ lives, or it’s about the lives of people who are going to be enriched when you are doing something to protect the environment. It’s always about lives. When we raise more money, we can change more lives. That’s where we’re going.

If you’re not raising the kind of money that you need, you may have a fundraising problem, and I want to look at two or three or actually about five that are pretty common. You see if any of these resonate with you.

The first one is you’re barking up the wrong tree. What that means is you’re trying some things, but they’re just not working. You may be spending your time in places trying to raise money that’s just not productive. It’s not bearing any fruit, and you find yourself being frustrated with that. I remember doing that. I remember trying all kinds of stuff that didn’t work.

Maybe you’re doing it backward. Backward fundraising looks like you’re going out and just raising all the money you can, and then you come back and try to figure out how to spend it when what you need to do is start first by laying out a plan for the services that you want your organization to deliver and then figuring out what that’s going to cost and then go raise that amount of money. That’s a whole lot easier to do when you can say to a donor, “Hey. Here’s what your dollar is going to accomplish.” I’m going to show you a really cool trick to do that in just a few minutes.

Maybe you’re doing sole-source funding, which means you are relying on one grant or one event or one source of income to basically fund your whole organization. A lot of the animal welfare organizations that we support have been guilty of that where they’re living off their adoption fees, or they’re living off of their PetSmart grant or something like that, and that’s really dangerous.

I’ve had a couple of organizations call me in the last few years that were living off of a grant from the state, and the state cut the budget. The grant declined significantly, and those organizations are all of a sudden struggling and scrambling because it didn’t occur to them to go raise money anywhere else.

You may be like me. In the beginning, I was throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall just trying a lot of things, and the bad thing about trying things is that you often don’t give something enough of a chance to bloom. In other words, if you want to try an event, you almost have to give that event three years before you can figure out if it’s really working or not, and this is something that I noticed that I was doing a couple years afterward. We never notice things right in the middle of it, do we?

What I saw was I would try something and go, “Yeah, that didn’t really work,” and I would go on to the next thing where if I had gone back to that thing and said, “Okay, why didn’t I get the results I’m looking for?” I might could have been a little more successful with it.

The last thing is you may be using hope as a strategy. Don’t get me wrong. Hope is a good thing. You need to hope. You need to have faith. You need to have positive expectations that things are going to work out. But you can’t just say, “Well, we’re going to put something on Facebook, and we hope that people will give because we really, really, really need people to give.” That’s not really a good strategy. It’s not a good one.

I find when I’m working with small organizations that there is one or maybe two or three of these that are showing up at an organization. Is there a particular one that resonates with you? Probably so.

Here’s what I want you to know. It’s perfectly okay if you realize, “Yeah, I’ve been barking up the wrong tree, and I’ve been doing it backward, and I’ve been using a lot of hope.” That’s okay. What I want you to do is mentally draw a line in the sand today and tell yourself, “I’m about to learn a different way, and I’m going to do it different. I’m not going to put myself down. I’m not going to hold judgment against myself for what I’ve done.”

We all do the best we can with what we know, and if you didn’t know any better, then you couldn’t do any better, but you’re fixing to know better, and then I want you to take this information and go use it so you can raise more money.

I do a lot of study of organizations between those that are really successful and can fully fund their budget and those that struggle. I put this chart together for you, and I wanted to point out just a couple of these pieces that I think are really important. They’re really key.

Organizations that struggle, we don’t want you to be one of these. We do not want you to be an organization that struggles. I want you to be one that can leapfrog over that struggle stage and go right to being successful and confident in your fundraising.

The ones that struggle are all focused on the fundraisers. They’re all about the event or the activity. The organizations that succeed wildly get it that it’s about donors. It’s about building a donor base. It’s about making those donors happy. It’s about connecting with those donors in a way that’s meaningful to them.

That’s a big difference. It’s basically the difference between focusing on the goose or the golden egg. Which one do you want? You really want the golden eggs, but in order to get them and keep them coming, you’ve got to pay attention to the donors.

Underfunded organizations tend to live from one cash infusion to the next. They get a grant, and they kind of let off the gas of fundraising until that grant’s gone, and then they hit the gas again, and they go do an event. Then money comes in from the event, and they let off the gas a little bit. Then that money runs out, and they hit the gas again. You don’t want to do that. You want to make sure that you have some steady streams of revenue all year long, which means you’ve got to pay attention to it all year long.

The biggest thing is the bottom line on this chart, which is underfunded organizations are all about the money. It’s very transactional. They forget that there’s a person who’s given that money who really cares about the mission for the organization, and if you value the relationship more than the money, you can actually set yourself up for success in the future pretty quickly.

Let’s talk about the myth of the shoestring budget. I think a lot of us have seen that. What that means is you may have seen nonprofits that struggle, and you may be believing that in order to have a successful nonprofit you have to struggle or you have to go through a period of struggle. It’s just really not true.

It’s perfectly okay for you to have all the money you need to fund your budget. It’s perfectly okay for you to have all the supplies you need, to have the staff that you need, to have the tools and equipment or vehicles that you need. It’s okay to do that.

You don’t have to make do. You don’t have to just take whatever you can get, although all of us are going to be very happy when we get all kinds of donations. You can get furniture donations for your office. You can get vehicle donations. You can get all kinds of things, but if there’s something specific that you need that would help you deliver service, you don’t have to fall into that myth that you can only have whatever crumbs you are given. It’s perfectly okay.

I don’t like to see organizations struggle, especially organizations with great missions that can be doing amazing work. I think it’s time for us to do something. I think there’s a lot of crap in this world right now. There’s a lot of lives that are struggling. There is a lot of people and animals in need. There’s a lot of change that needs to happen, and I think we in the nonprofit industry are uniquely positioned to do something about it.

I think we can make a difference. We can do it faster. We can do it more efficiently. We can get right to the heart of the problem. We can get upstream from the problem. We can make a difference in the world pretty quickly. I think the best way to do that is to raise more money. When we raise more money, we can change more lives. Remember that? That’s where this all comes right back into.

Good fundraising, then, if that’s what we need to do, we’ve got to get really focused on that. It’s all about the donor and giving that donor the opportunity to partner with us and understanding that when we give somebody the opportunity to give money to your organization, that is transformational for them and for you.

Think about this for a minute. Think about the biggest donation that you have ever given to an organization. Hopefully, it’s a different organization than the one you’re with. How did that make you feel? How do you feel when you can support somebody, when you can be there for someone, or when you make a big donation? Maybe it was a donation of money, or maybe it was a donation of something else, a car or some land or something. How did that make you feel?

I remember the biggest financial donation I ever made. It was amazing, and I felt very satisfied and very joyful, and I was very full of that feeling, and I wanted to do it again. I wanted to do it again and again and again.

That’s what we have to remember. When we’re doing good, donor-based fundraising, we’re not taking advantage of anybody. We’re not manipulating anybody. We are giving them the opportunity to partner with us in the amazing work that we’re doing.

It’s not about hitting anybody up or begging or selling stuff or twisting anybody’s arm. That’s not what it’s about. I tell people all the time fundraising is not a contact sport. We don’t hit anybody up. If you have that mindset, that tells me that we’ve got an issue around money, which is a very interesting thing if you think about it. Money is a taboo subject in our society, and yet here we are raising money where we have to talk about money with people. We have to talk about a subject that’s not exactly comfortable for people.

What happens sometimes is in order to make ourselves feel a little more comfortable about all of this, different beliefs and values and mindsets can pop in, and it really gets in our way. We could talk all about that, but I want to focus on the fundraising, what it is and what it is not.

Now that we understand we want you to be a fully-funded organization and we want you really value the donor and the relationship with the donor over the money, let’s look at what it takes to actually get a donation.

I’m going to give you my three-part formula for fundraising success. Here it goes. If you can get in front of the right people at the right time with the right message, you will get a donation. There’s just no way around it.

The right people are those ones who already care about the work your organization is doing. They just maybe haven’t heard of your specific organization yet. They already believe in the mission. They’re bought in. They’re right there with you that those needs need to be addressed.

Timing is really important. We’ve got to ask when the time is right, and I’m going to explain more about that in just a minute.

We’ve got to have the right message. If we don’t have the right message, if we’re being boring, if we’re yammering on or we’re talking about something that just isn’t relevant, we’re going to lose people.

If we can get in front of those right people and say something to them that motivates or inspires them and we do it when the time is right, there will be a donation every time.

So let’s dig into these. I want to explain a little more about each one of these and then give you a specific tool or a specific strategy that you can use right away. I don’t like webinars where it’s very theoretical and then you’ve got to go think about it and figure out how to implement it. I’m going to give you some tools that you can take and use immediately this afternoon or tomorrow, whenever you want to start with them.

Let’s start with the right people. Who are the right people? The first thing you have to understand is not everybody gives to charity. I know that’s kind of crazy, but they don’t. In your community or wherever you think about where your community is, that’s the space where you need to raise money. If your organization is nationwide, then your community is the whole nation. If you’re working with something that’s in another country, then your community may be the whole world. Whatever your community is, think about that there are people in that community who do not give to charity, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Of the ones who do give to charity, people have their favorites.

So you have to figure out who is the right person. Who is the ideal donor for your organization? If we look at this grid on the slide, there’s a lot of different people represented there, and if that represents your whole community, who are you looking for? Do you need the guy in the bottom-right corner with the reddish-colored jacket on? Is that your ideal donor, or is your ideal donor the lady in the upper-left corner with the light blue shirt on and two thumbs up?

Who represents your ideal donor? Why is that even important? Well, once you figure out who your ideal person is, you can go find them. You can go find them in the community. Then you can start to build what we call a big, loyal donor base. A big, loyal donor base is going to be made up of people who love the work your organization does, and they want to see you succeed.

It’s kind of like having a mountain of cash at your disposal. That’s a little crass to think about a mountain of cash, but it really is. When you have hundreds or thousands of people who are wanting to see you succeed, they’re right on the sidelines. They’re encouraging you. They’re right there. They’re excited. They’re willing to help. It can build your confidence, and any time your organization needs something, then you can go invite them in as a partner, and they’re going to give. It’s just that simple. I saw it myself a couple of different places that I was the development director, and I have clients that see it now. It’s a lot of fun.

Here’s what can get in the way of building that big, loyal donor base. The first is what we call the passion myth. The passion myth goes like this. “I need to find people who are equally as passionate as I am to join our donor family.” That’s really just not true. You don’t have to find people equally as passionate. All they have to do is care. If they care about what you’re doing, great.

I remember a founder several years ago. That was pretty much her belief that people needed to be passionate about the mission in order to give, and she missed out on a lot of really good opportunities to build her donor base because she was just too limited. She kind of squelched it off.

The next thing that’s going to get in your way is what we call broad appeal, and that’s the belief that everybody ought to support the work that you’re doing. I get it. You believe that, and you need to believe that. You’ve got to hang on to that belief that what you’re doing is so worthwhile that everybody ought to find a way to care about it, but the truth is not everybody is going to. So instead of trying to reach out to the entire community, we need to laser in a little bit on those people who are most likely to care.

The other thing that’s going to get in the way is inconsistent outreach. You’re not going to build a big, loyal donor base if you’re only working on it a couple times a year. You’ve got to work on building the donor base all year long.

Bloomerang provides us with a lot of information about donor retention with the donor retention surveys every year, and we know that retention is not great. What retention is all about is how many of your donors are you keeping from year to year. What that means is you’d better go out and find some new ones to replace the ones you’re losing just so you can break even.

For small organizations and new ones, it’s imperative that you’re building your donor base because you’ve got to get it to the place where it’s big enough to sustain the operational income that you need.

What do we need to do? If you want to shortcut this whole process, you don’t want to have ask everybody in your community. You need to figure out who your ideal donor is, and this is actually a pretty simple process. It’s a hardcore marketing technique that I’m going to show you, and this is going to make a lot of sense to you. What I want you to know is it doesn’t have to be incredibly scientific. You can do this very easily.

What we want to do is create a profile of your best donors right now. I want you to think about the donors that you know something about, and you don’t have to really know them well. You just need to know something about them. I want you to think about what they have in common, and just start jotting down what they have in common.

I’m going to give you some things just to make you think. Think about, for the donors that you know something about, do they tend to be men, or are they women? Maybe you’re saying, “Well, I’ve got some of both.” Then that’s not particularly helpful. Go on to the next thing.

Do they seem to be of a particular age? Are they young? Are they middle-aged? Do they seem to be 40s and 50s? Are they older? Are they retired? Again, if you see that most of them are in a particular age range, jot that down. If they’re not, then say, “Well, they’re all over the board,” and that’s fine. Go on to the next thing.

Do they have family? Do they spend a lot of time with their family? What do they value? What’s important to them? What do they do for fun? Sometimes you can find ideal donors based on what they’re doing in their free time. Where do they spend their time? Where do they spend their money, and what else?

I remember when I was at the food bank, we had a consulting company that was helping us with direct mail, and they came in and said, “Look. Here’s who you’re looking for. You’re looking for women 55-plus. They’re volunteering their time in the community. They’re professional. They’re attending religious services somewhere every week,” and there were two or three other things I don’t remember.

I do remember thinking, “That is very interesting. Where could I go find that kind of person easily and in large numbers?” What would you think? Church groups, right? Women’s groups at churches. So that’s what I did. I asked around to my coworkers and my board members and said, “Hey. Do you go to church someplace, and is there a women’s group, and do they have people come in and speak?”

I lined up probably a half a dozen speaking gigs pretty easily. I went out with a great talk, had a great call to action, and I left every single one with a complete list of names and email addresses of the people who had been there. I had cash and checks in hand. I had invitations to speak other places. It was great. That worked beautifully and helped me build my donor base very quickly. What I like about that technique is it doesn’t have to be scientific, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

Now, if you don’t have donors yet, if you’re just getting started, then I want you to think about the people who are already around you. Do this exercise for your volunteers or the board members you’ve pulled together or just whoever is around you and willing to support what you have going on. If it is literally just you and you don’t have anybody else, then think about you. How would you describe you? That’s a great place to get started.

Once you do get a few donors in, then you can do this exercise again. You can also go back through and refine this profile a couple of times over the next two or three years just to see if you’re still on track.

The big question here is the question I asked myself. Once you figure out your ideal donor profile, where can you go find these people easily and in large numbers? Now, I’ll go ahead and give you a tip on this.

If you have rotary clubs in your area, go talk to rotary. Rotary tends to be a really good pool of donor prospects for a lot of organizations. You’ve got professional people who are going to have some discretionary income. They tend to be very supportive of charities in the community. A lot of them tend to be either volunteers or board members already or supporters of organizations. That’s a great place to start, and the nice thing is they need a speaker every week, so you can find a place to go speak.

Speaking of speaking, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got a message that’s going to resonate. This is part two of our three-part formula for success, getting your message right.

You can be like this girl in the picture with your big megaphone, your bullhorn, out there just shouting to everybody, trying to tell people what a great organization you are, and that doesn’t always work. In this day and age, we’re not going to get very much of somebody’s attention, so we’ve got to make the most of it. We have to be able to say something that’s going to resonate quickly.

Let me show you this. Let’s see if we can get you to understand this. If you can see this picture on the slide, it is a display case of a variety of delicious-looking, yummy, dripping-with-calories cheesecake. This is from my favorite restaurant. It’s called The Cheesecake Factory.

What I love about The Cheesecake Factory is no matter which one you go in . . . and I’ve been in probably two or three dozen of these across the country. I know. Just go ahead and laugh. I’m a nerd. It’s okay. You go in The Cheesecake Factory and almost right inside the front door is this display. They’re right there inside, and the whole point is to get you to come look. They want you choose your cheesecake before you even sit down and look at a menu.

If you’re like me, you’re going to be glued to it because it’s yummy, and there are so many. The only thing that you’re going to turn your attention away from the cheesecake display for is when they say your table’s ready. We need your messaging to be this delicious. We need your messaging to be like that giant, chocolatey, yummy, gooey, rich cheesecake that people can’t take their eyes off of and that they’re very interested in more of. That’s what your messaging needs to be all about.

Here’s what can get in your way – self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is when you’re talking more about your organization and you’re using the words “we, us, and our” a lot. You’re saying, “Hey. We are a great organization. We’ve been around for 20 years. We did this. We have this many programs. We’re certified. We, we, we. Us, us, us.” All of that sort of stuff is not interesting. It’s kind of like the person that you know that all they do is talk about themselves. It’s boring.

What we have to do is flip that around and be very donor-centered in the messaging and talk about things that our donors are interested in, and I’ll tell you right now what they care about. They care about lives that are being changed. They want to know about stories. They want to know about how you’re making a difference, which leads us to the next thing.

Talk more about impact and less about existence. What this means is don’t ask people to help you fund your budget. Ask people to help you change lives. That’s a big difference. Don’t ask people to give to your annual fund. Ask people to help sponsor a child in your program so they can learn to read.

Don’t ask people to support you reaching your financial goal. I’ve seen this just last Christmas. “Hey. We’re almost to our goal of $85,000. Please give so we can reach it.” As a donor, I don’t care about your goal. Ask me to help you save lives, change lives, and make a difference. Talk about the impact and the outcomes.

We have to really be careful of the jargon. I think this one is a little bit slippery because if you’re in your organization every day, you know it inside out, upside down, backwards, forwards, sideways, and six ways to Sunday, and it’s easy to talk about all of that detail because you know that detail. Internally, if you have other staff or you’ve got volunteers or even a board, you may be using a lot of insider language that your donors just don’t understand. We have to strip all that stuff out.

I’m going to do a little exercise with you. I think you’ll find this fun. I’m going to show you a jargoned-up version of a very common phrase, and let’s see if you can figure out the common phrase.

Here it is. Here’s the first one. What’s the common phrase version of this jargoned-up language? Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate. If you said, “Birds of a feather flock together,” you got it. A lot of you are typing that in. You’ve got it. Go ahead and laugh about that. That’s fun for a giggle, right? Yet some of us do that. We use the language that we’re used to using every day, and our donors don’t know what that means.

Think about how you feel when there’s somebody around you who’s talking about something that you have no idea about. How do you feel about that? It’s very easy to feel left out or excluded or dumb, and that is the last thing that you want any of your donors to feel.

Just for fun, let’s try another one. It’s impossible to indoctrinate a superannuated canine in innovative maneuvers. What’s the common phrase version of that? You’ve got it. Suzanne says, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick.” You’ve got it.

Because this is super-duper fun, we’ll do one more. Oh, my slide didn’t change. Hold on. I’ve got a problem. Let’s see if I can figure it out. Here we go. All right, sorry. Here we go. Freedom from encrustations of grime is contiguous to possessing divine attributes. Suzanne said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” You’ve got it too.

That’s fun, yeah? Yeah, so go back and look at some of the things that you’re using in your social media posts, in your Thank You letters, even in your grants, in your appeals, in your annual report, in your newsletters. Where are you guilty of using jargon, of acronyms, of insider language that people may not know what you’re talking about? Use simple language. Use conversational language. Conversational language will always win.

Here is a trick. This is one of my ninja tricks for finding something to talk about that will totally intrigue people almost every time. It’s what we call a core number. Your core number is a way to express what it costs you to deliver a unit of service. Here’s what that looks like.

First you have to figure out what is your unit of service. For an animal shelter, it might be a day of care, and that’s going to include shelter and food and veterinary care and all that sort of thing. For a homeless shelter, it might be a hot meal. It might be a bed for the night.

You have to figure out what your unit of service is, and it’s actually pretty easy to do right now. You should have your numbers from 2017, so you can calculate the total number of units of service that you delivered in 2017 and divide that with the total expenses that you had for 2017, and you can crunch out a number.

I wanted to show you these three. These are three actual numbers. It’s $6.20 a day to feed, shelter, and care for a dog. That is The Humane Society in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. We crunched their number a couple years ago, and that’s what it came up to. That’s a really easy thing to ask for. It’s a really easy thing to message to people. It communicates very quickly what the organization is doing and how effective they are.

It’s $1.87 for a hot meal for a homeless person. That’s Knox Area Rescue Ministries where I got my start in nonprofits. It’s a real number. I don’t know about you, but I remember the first time I saw that number, I’m like, “How can they do that? I can’t feed my family for that. How the heck are they doing that?” I’ll tell you what. They raise money hand over fist using that number.

Here’s another one. It’s $35 a month for education to lift a girl in India out of poverty. True thing. I want you to notice these three numbers. Notice that the first two are what I would call weird numbers. It’s not an even number. It’s a weird thing. The third one is an even number. Which one is more believable? The weird numbers are more believable, right? You want $6.20. You want $1.87. That odd amount is more believable, and people are going to go, “Oh, you actually calculated that.” There’s this weird, little piece of intrinsic trust that goes right in there with it.

The other thing about those first two numbers is they’re very low. $6.20, that’s a fantastic number to raise money for. It’s almost a no-brainer. $35, that’s a little higher. That actually is from an organization called Illuminate India, one of my favorite clients, and they do raise money with that, but I’ll tell you the $6.20 is a whole lot easier because it’s a much lower number.

Sometimes when you’re crunching your core number, you have to be a little creative about it. You have to look at it a different way if you crunch it and you don’t like how it came up. I had somebody in my Project SmartSprout program just the other day say, “Okay. It costs us $3,000 to provide transitional housing for a family.”

What I said to them was, “Okay. Then let’s look at the average number of people in a family and how long that period is of transitional housing. Let’s get it down to per person per day, and it’ll be way, way less than $3,000.” So that’s what they did. They decided they would go work on that, and it came back to right around the $10 mark. I don’t remember exactly, but it was a much better number.

If you don’t know your core number, go figure it out and then really look at what delicious thing are you asking people to support. How are you talking about your organization? What are you sharing about the impact your organization is having?

For those of you who are brand-new, if you’ve got a brand-new organization and you haven’t really provided any service yet, then you can estimate. What are you planning to do this year? You should have a budget, so you can look and see what you think it’s going to cost, and then you can divide that out and say, “We estimate that it’s going to cost us $10 a day to provide,” fill in the blank, whatever that is.
Kristen was asking what the equation is for finding your core number. You want to look at your total units of service that you delivered for the year. Take 2017 and look at the total expenses. Then you just divide the core number into the expenses and see what you get. If it’s still a very large number, look and see if there’s a way to take that unit of service and make it even smaller. Is there a way to divide it even down further?

We talked about the right people and the right message. Let’s look at the right time. Now, if you can see this slide, I’ve got a picture here of a young couple. It looks like something important probably just happened. What do you think is going on? It looks like they just got married, don’t you think?

Now, do you think she showed up in that dress on their first date? Probably not, right? It probably would have scared him. Probably didn’t work. What happened between the day that they met and this day right here?

What happens between the day they met and the wedding day is a lot of getting to know you, right? It’s that process of dating. It’s finding out what you have in common. What are your common values? What do you both like? What do you both dislike? What are your dreams for the future? There’s a whole lot of relationship building that goes into getting to this point in a relationship.

What we have to do is realize that we are very used to relationships growing organically. It happens all the time. You’re in relationships right now that are in some stage of growth. When we have to do it with donors, we just have to realize we’re doing it on purpose. That’s all.

What I want you to know about this particular couple, that’s actually my daughter and son-in-law. They just got married last year in May. It was very fun. I was very excited to be able to use that slide.

Relationships with donors are very similar to relationships with anybody else. We’re just doing it on purpose, but that can make you feel a little weird. Again, if you think about donors as partners in your work and not as a source of money, that will help you. That will give you a mindset shift.

One of the easiest ways to think about that relationship is to think about it as a piggybank. It’s a bank account in a piggybank. Every time you do something nice for the donor or you make them feel good, there’s a deposit. Every time you ask for something or you ask for money, there’s a withdrawal. You don’t have to be an accountant to figure out that you’ve got to keep a positive balance or the account is going to shut down. That’s how you lose people. That’s how you lose donors is when that bank account goes below zero.

If you’re not doing enough stuff to stay in touch with them, you’re not making them feel good, they’re going to go away. I believe it’s as simple as being nice, keeping them in the loop, giving them an update, giving them another reason to care. I think a lot of times in fundraising we get really busy, and we forget that that’s very important and that we need to take the time to do that. That’s the easiest way to think about it.

Here are some things that could get in your way. Desperation mode is one thing. If you are desperate for money, you may be saying things to donors like, “If we don’t raise $10,000 by Tuesday, we’re going to have to shut down.” That’s what I call a crisis appeal, and you can do that once. You are not going to be able to do that very often. I think you can do it once, and that’s it. Even if you are desperate, don’t come across as desperate. Desperation stinks, and donors can smell it.

Something similar is the ick factor. If you’re one of those people that you just do not want to ask for money, you don’t want to talk about money, it feels icky, that is also going to come across, and donors are going to wonder what is wrong. What’s wrong with your organization that you are so uncomfortable asking for money? That’s one where you need to get some coaching and get some practice in asking for money so that you don’t come across so nervous and you don’t come across as very uncomfortable about it.

One other thing that can get in the way of building relationships with donors is skipping the ABCs. What is that? What are the ABCs? Let me show you. The ABCs of timing start with adding value. It is your job to add value to the relationship. People only stay in relationships that they’re getting something out of. Think about that.

If you remember back to your dating days, weren’t there people that you stopped dating because all of a sudden it just wasn’t as fun anymore and all the little things that person did started to really get on your nerves? There was no value. There wasn’t enough value anymore in that relationship for it to overcome the things that were getting on your nerves, and so your decision was, “I’m just going to get out of the relationship.”

Donors do the same thing. They only stick around and give to organizations where they feel good about giving. If they start to feel that their gift doesn’t matter, if they feel they’re just a number, they have no idea what you just did with their money that they gave, then they’re gone. They’re out. It’s your job to add value.

It’s also your job to build trust. People give to organizations that they trust. They volunteer for organizations they trust. So it’s your job to build trust. What does that mean? That’s really as simple as being transparent and being open. If you really want to be transparent, put your 990 on your website. Just put it right out there and let people have a look at it.

For those of you who are brand-new and you just really haven’t gotten started enough to have a 990 or maybe you’re doing the postcard version, invite people to call with questions. That’s a simple thing to do to put on your website or in your signature line in your email like, “Hey. If you ever have a question about our organization, if you would like a personal tour, call me. I’m happy to show you around.” That is an open invitation that shows people you have nothing to hide, and that builds trust.

It’s your job to cultivate interest. Donors are not going to wake up in the morning and go, “You know what? I wonder what is happening over there at Horse Haven. What are they up to these days?” Donors are busy people. We’re all busy people, right? What is on top of your mind every day? It’s your family, your job, your work, your priorities. After all, a donor has the same priorities. They’re just not your priorities. So your organization is not in the top of their mind all the time. It’s your job to cultivate interest.

You can easily cultivate interest, add value, and build trust with some good, steady communication if you will just stay in touch with your donors. Remember, you’ve got to have some positive deposits into that bank account or it’s going to shut down. A good newsletter, a newsletter that is well done, will add value, cultivate interest, build trust, and make a deposit. A good annual report will do that too, a video update, an email update.

There are so many ways to do it, but you have to do it. You can’t just show up with your hand out all the time and expect people to give. That gets old real fast. You’ve all had that friend that the only time you hear from them is when they want something. That’s not fun, so don’t be that way with your nonprofit.

Now let’s talk about, then, that whole asking and communications piece because I want to show you something. People ask me all the time, “All right, I get that. We need to be communicating, and I’m going to work on that, but how often can we ask during the year? What’s the right number here?”

That’s where we get to my three-to-one ratio. You can ask as often as you want as long as in between the asks you have three really good, warm, delicious, juicy communications. So it can’t be a boring newsletter that you slap together. It can’t be anything that is solid text and has no pictures. It has to be good, good, good, good, good, good, a good newsletter.

I’ve got some really good examples on my blog. There’s a couple of articles. One is called “Ask for This, Not That.” You’ll find some good examples of good communications there. There’s also another one. There’s another one right before or after that about a non-ask, “Nailing the Non-Ask.” There are nine ideas to nail the non-ask. You can find that on my blog as well. You’ve got to have good communications, and if you have three for every time you ask, you’re fine. You can ask as often as you want to.
Speaking of asking, I want to give the 1-10-1000 Rule. Let’s talk about strategies. Mike is asking, “Does this mean you should not include a donation form or minor ask in every newsletter?” You can do a very, very soft ask in your newsletter, and what that looks like, let’s say you’re doing an email newsletter. You’re using MailChimp or Constant Contact. You can have at the very bottom like the last thing a donate button. That’s a very soft ask. I wouldn’t do anything more than that because you have to have those good, warm communications to offset the asking. Do your asks well and do your communications well and just let that process work.

Let’s talk about strategy. What do you do? How do you plan out your year so that you are getting in front of the right people and building your donor base with the right message that’s motivating people to give and the timing is right so everything is well balanced? How do you do that?

Well, what you want to avoid are nickel-and-dime activities, those things that are barely bringing in any money at all, and these are really hard. I know when you have a young organization and you really want to raise money fast, it’s tempting to jump on anything that can raise money, but what you’re going to figure out fast is that you have to have some standards.

You have to have a line in the sand somewhere that says, “If we can’t raise more than $X, we’re not doing it.” Your $X might be $500. It might be $5,000 or something in between, but you need to have that so that you’re not spending a ton of time on something that generates $50. That’s not worth your time.

You also can’t do the same old thing, and you’ve got to be really careful with the shiny ball syndrome. You don’t want to be jumping after something because it’s the latest, greatest thing out there.

What I’m going to show you is my 1-10-1000 Rule. It will help you [inaudible 00:51:26]. If you’re not sure what else to do, this is going to be really helpful.

The first is one event. Do one event and then move on. I’m talking about fundraising events here. Depending on your organization, you may have volunteer events. You may have adoption events or some other kind of event, but I’m talking about fundraising events here. Do one. Do it really well. Hit it out of the park. Make it a signature event, and then move on. What makes it a signature event? Everybody in town knows that it’s your event. They associate it with your organization, and it’s a fun event.

This picture you can see on the slide, that’s a photo from last year’s event for Horse Haven. I mentioned Horse Haven earlier. I sit on the board there. This is our event called Dancing for the Horses. It’s kind of a dumb event, but it works really, really well.

Three years ago, this event made $16,000, and that was gross. I got [inaudible 00:52:26] convince our director we needed a committee. We revamped everything about this event. We put a lot of energy into it. We brought a lot of new people in. We got a lot of corporate sponsors, and in three years, we went from $16,000 to $117,000. That is a signature event. We raised $117,000 at that event last May.

Now, if that boggles your mind, if that’s like, “There’s no way my organization can do that,” yeah, you can. You really can. In 2014, we were in that space of struggling with this event. “Do we do it? It’s such a hassle? Why are we doing this?” It took somebody, which was me at the time, just saying, “Let’s do it different. Let’s change it up. Let’s make it the biggest party in town. Who do we need to pull in in order to make it the biggest party in town?” We changed a whole bunch of stuff up, and there we go.

Do one event. Hit it out of the park. Move on. Don’t do small event after small event after small event. It will wear you out. It wears your volunteers out. It wears your community out.

After that, go fill up your grant pipeline. We say 10 grants. Why? We have a couple of really great grant writers on staff here, and we can almost always find 10 really good, hot leads for grants for an organization. My point here is don’t leave grant money on the table.

Now, if your organization is really young or if you’ve just gotten started, you may need to put a few things in place first. You may not be ready. You may not be eligible for some grants because a lot of foundations want to see three to five years of experience under your belt before they’re ready to give you a grant, but there are things you can do to get yourself ready to get all your ducks in a row and all the attachments you’re going to need and get your budget ready and your outcomes defined. There’s a lot of work you can do. Just don’t leave grant money on the table.

This newspaper clipping that I’m showing in the photo here actually was from an organization that, when they got this grant from the Doris Day Foundation, their organization was, I think, two years old, two and a half years old. So it can happen, and that was their first grant. They were very excited to get that.

Now, the last part of the 1-10-1000 Rule is donors. Go build your donor base to 1000 donors. Why 1000? I’m going to show you in just a second. It is a great goal, and if that really seems way too far out of reach to you, go add 100. Start with 100 at a time, and if 100 seems out of reach for you, start with 10 or 20, whatever seems doable, but start. Start building that donor base. Look for new donors everywhere you go.

When you build up to 1000, then work on the next 1000. I’m telling you this is where the sustainability is going to be long term for your organization. Having a donor base of people who care about what you’re doing, that’s the game changer right there.

Let me show you really quick how this math can work. If you have a signature event that’s generating $25,000, maybe you’ve got 10 grants at $2,500 each, and 1000 donors each giving $50, look at that. It can add up to $100,000 really quickly.

Now, the nice thing about this is you can play with it. You can scale it up if your budget is more than 100. You can scale it down if your budget is way less. If you’ve got something else going on – maybe you’ve got a really good monthly giving program started or you’ve got maybe a thrift store or something else that you’re doing – you can add those revenue streams in there as well. You can play with the math a little bit.

The point is to think strategically about how you’re going to generate the revenue so that you’re not at the beginning of every month going, “Crap. How will raise the money this month?” That’s what we want to get you out of is the last-minute-Lucy, the trying to figure it all out, the, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.” I want you to have a plan, and I want you to have the confidence, and I’d love for you to have the skills or at least an idea of what you need to do in order to generate the revenue that your organization needs.

We have covered a lot of ground in the last about 50 minutes or so. We talked about getting in front of the right people at the right time with the right message and then putting it together in a plan. I showed you the 1-10-1000 Rule. What do you need to do now?

From here, I would recommend that you set some goals. Honestly, what I’d love for you to do is go back through your notes, highlight some of the best ideas, and pick the very top idea. Then mark off some time on calendar next week and get started with that top, hot idea that you have. Set some goals around what you want to accomplish. Put a plan together and get it in writing because if it’s not in writing, it’s not real. Then get some help and get busy. Get busy.

I do have something for you because I know that this is a lot of information and you may be going, “Where in the world do I start?” We do have a one-page, quick-and-simple fundraising plan that you can go download. It’s on my website at, and you can go download that right now, and that will help you get started with the 1-10-1000 Rule. It will give you a place to think through how you’re going to do donor acquisition and think about the timing and balancing so that you have enough of the deposits into that account and not just withdrawals. So go grab that.

I know we have some questions. I’m going to stick around for a few minutes and answer some questions. Thank you all for being here today. This has been just a ton of fun, and I hope you’ve gotten some good ideas.

Steven:Well, thank you, Sandy. We owe you the thanks for sharing all this knowledge. This was great. I love the small shops, so lots of great ideas here, and I know you answered some questions along the way. We don’t quite have enough time to get to all the ones that came in, but Sandy, can people reach out to you maybe individually maybe by email or Twitter for questions if we don’t get to them?

Sandy:Yeah, you bet. If you guys want to email me directly, it’s You’re welcome to shoot me an email and ask questions, and I’ll be happy to answer those for you.

Steven: Nice. We’ve got a couple interesting ones here I thought I’d touch on.

Sandy: Sure.

Steven: A couple of people asked some questions that are similar to each other, so I’m going to kind of aggregate them. Sandy, how long should you wait before you sort of pivot on something that’s not working, whether it be the entire strategy or maybe an individual tactic? How long do you usually wait, or is there a blanket answer to that? Does it just kind of depend on the organization and what’s going on? When do you give up [inaudible 00:58:51]?

Sandy:I think it’s a great question because you don’t want to spend a ton of time on something that’s not working. However, you want to make sure that you’re giving something a fair shake.


Sandy:What I like to do the first time I do anything, whether it’s an event, it’s an appeal, it’s a Giving Tuesday, whatever it is, stop afterwards and do a lessons learned and say, “What worked about that, and what didn’t, and what can we do better next time?”

If you do that with everything you do, you’ll get to the place where you know either, “We’ve done everything we can with this event, there is nothing we can do to make it better, and it is time to let it go,” or you’ll have that sense like I did with that Horse Haven event where I was like, “There is so much room for growth here. We can do way better with this.”

I think sometimes it’s a matter of doing the lessons learned and being really honest about what can be done better and different, but definitely, I think we all kind of get that Spidey Sense in our tummy sometimes that it is time to let something go.

Steven: Yeah. I’m going to try to sneak one last one in here before it gets too late. A few people asked about volunteers, Sandy. I don’t know about you, but my experience with small shops is there’s sometimes some fear of maybe asking volunteers for money. You’ve got volunteers, and you’ve got donors, and never the twain shall meet or however you want to say it. What advice would you give to people who may recognize the value of asking volunteers for money but are maybe a little bit afraid to do it?

Sandy:I think what you have to realize there is that if people are giving you their time, that’s actually more valuable than people giving you their money.

Steven: Yeah.

Sandy: Time is such a precious resource. If you decide not to ask your volunteers, you’re actually taking the decision away from them, which is kind of rude. Go ahead and give your volunteers the opportunity to make that choice for themselves. If they want to give, they will, and if they don’t, they won’t, and it’s all good.

Steven:I love it. I like the way you put that too. Man, this is awesome. I know you and I could talk about this all day, but we’re already out of time. I just want to be respectful of everyone’s schedule but fellow fundraising nerd here too. Sandy, any last words for folks? What would be the best thing to do? Definitely download that plan. I shared the link to the plan in the chat but final thoughts from you?

Sandy: Yeah, go download the plan and just remember that your mission is important. You’re here to do this good work. Learn to raise the money so that you can do the work your organization is here to do. You’ve got this. You can do it.

Steven: I love it. This is awesome, Sandy. Thanks for coming back for the seventh or eighth time, however many it is. This is great.

Sandy:Thanks for having me back. You guys have a great day.

Steven:Yeah, thanks, all of you, for taking an hour out of your day as well. We’re going to get you the slides and the recording later on today, so be on the lookout for that, and we’ve got some great webinars coming up too.

Next week, we’re going to talk about major gifts, a nice dovetail from this presentation, I think. So check that out. It’s totally free. It’s one week from today, same place, same time, and if you’re not into major gifts, there are other webinars you can register for. So check out our webinar schedule. We’d love to see you on some other Thursday.

We’ll call it a day there. Have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend. Stay warm out there. Hopefully, we’ll talk to you again next week.

Nonprofit Sustainability

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.