On October 22nd, Keith Curtis joined us for a webinar entitled “Recruiting and Building a Strong and Effective Nonprofit Board.” Keith Curtis’ extensive work with nonprofits over the past 30 years has provided the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of nonprofit boards of different sizes and levels of experience. This webinar brought that experience to the table. In case you missed it, you can watch a replay here:

Full Transcript:

Keith: Can’t think of a better time.

Steven: Okay, great. Let’s do it. Well, good afternoon for those of you
who are on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the
West Coast. Thanks for being here for today’s webinar,
“Recruiting And Building A Strong And Effective Board”. My name
is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the VP of marketing here at
Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. And
today, I’m joined by two experts in fundraising. The first is
Keith Curtis. Hey there, Keith.

Keith: How are you? Thanks for having me.

Steven: Good, yeah, great to have you. Very exciting for you to be
here. And for those of you who don’t know Keith, he’s a 30 year
veteran who has worked with some of the largest YMCAs in the
country. He’s worked with a multi billion dollar healthcare
system, as well as RX cultural and educational organizations and
even makes time for some of the smaller nonprofits, such as free
clinics, animal shelters and hospitals.

He is currently president of the Curtis Group, where his team
has developed strategies to raise hundreds of millions of
dollars for more than 150 clients, and he’s also a sought-after
advisor and speaker, giving up to 40 presentations a year, not
including this one, which we’re very happy to have him here.
He’s going to share some of his knowledge on recruiting and
building effective boards. So great to have you here, Keith.

Keith: Glad to be here. Thank you, Steven.

Steven: And also joining us, as always, is my colleague, Jay Love. He
is the co-founder and CEO over here at Bloomerang. Hey there,

Jay: Hey, hello there and for all of you out there, if you’ve not had a
chance to hear or see Keith speak before, you’re really in for a
treat this afternoon. I’m looking forward to just joining in
here and there, watching it all unfold. Looking forward to it.

Steven: Absolutely. Yeah, and I’m also excited, this is a topic that a
lot of folks have been requesting for our webinars and it’s one
that Jay and I have wanted to cover for a while now. So, very
excited to be talking about boards here with Keith. So what’s
going to happen today is Keith is going to get started. He has a
really great presentation. I’ve had a chance to peek at some of
his slides a little earlier today.

And once he’s done, he’s going to hand it over to Jay, who is
going to talk about board membership, from sort of the other
side of the vision that Keith is going to talk about. And then,
after they’re both done, what we’ll do is we, as we always do,
will jump right into a Q&A session.

And we’d like that to be interactive, so if you hear anything
during the presentation that maybe you want explained or
elaborated on further, please do not hesitate to send questions
or comments over the chat window, right there on your webinar
screen, and I’ll see those. Keith and Jay will also see those
and we’ll try to answer just as many questions as possible
before the 2:00 P.M. hour. So with that, I’m not going to take
up any more time. I’m going to hand it off to Keith, who is
going to get us started. So, Keith, take it away.

Keith: Thank you, Steven, and I want to thank everybody who is with
us. Good morning or good afternoon to Jay and all the folks at
Bloomerang for inviting us and having us today. Also, want to
thank one of my colleagues, Aaron Phillips, who’s our consultant
and our marketing director with our firm, who’s been a big help
in pulling all of this together. So, if you have questions
afterwards, visit our site and Aaron and I can talk to you about

But as Steven mentioned, we are consultants and we work with
nonprofits and we are consultants and a couple of slides. So I’m
just going to run through these real quick for you because since
he’s already introduced. But our role is really helping to
promote philanthropy, just like you have. We’ve done it for a
lot of groups. Steven mentioned that I’ve been doing this for
over 30 years and our firm has been around. Next year, we
celebrate our 25th anniversary and we’re also involved with the
group and Jay’s been a part of that over the years, in an
organization called Giving Institute.

We have a sister organization called Giving You Faith
Foundation, which every year talks about who gives in this
country, how much they’re giving, who they’re giving to, why
they’re giving. I serve as the Vice chair of that foundation and
we’re going to talk about that a little bit today because it’s
all about giving. And as Steven mentioned, what we find in
almost every presentation we do, whether it’s a making the ask,
cultivating the donor, anything out there, people are always
talking about their boards and how do we engage them in

So we thought it would be important for you just to understand a
little bit about what’s happening in the philanthropic world as
we talk today. Also, as Steven mentioned, we do a lot of
presentations during the year. We do a lot of different services
for clients. These are just some of the national conference
firms that we have presented at. And in some cases, again, all
of these folks are asking us about what’s going on with boards.

So what are we going to cover today? We’re going to talk a
little bit about the workings of individual giving and what
roles the board members and the volunteers play in this. We’re
going to talk about how to create an effective board and really
engage your board.

One of the things that I’m really excited about is sometimes
when we’re doing presentations like this, we just have maybe
executive directors and development directors. And in this case
we’ve got not just those two groups, but we also do have
volunteers and board members posting in. So, I’m really looking
forward to it, at the end of the presentation, if you all have
some questions, who are board members of volunteers, make sure
that you get those out for us.

One of the things when we’re doing these presentations, and if
we were all together in a room, I would be asking you all about
your board. And one of the things that we find from folks,
whether we’re doing presentations or if we’re doing a campaign
planning or a feasibility study, is that we hear from people
some of these questions here.

This is their board, their board will do anything but ask for
dollars. Or their board thinks its

[inaudible 00:06:37] to raise
dollars. And then often times what we find, as we’re talking to
people was what’s happening is that many of these board members
haven’t really been recruited with clear expectations. And so
sometimes we can’t really expect that a board member is going to
do that fundraising if we haven’t told them in advance that’s
what they’re wanted to do.

We have a client that a gentleman said, when we were
interviewing him for a [inaudible 00:07:03] study, “You know,
when they came and asked me to serve on the board, I told them
that I didn’t want to help them raise money. I had already done
that.” They said, “Well, that’s okay. We just need your name.”
And he said, “And also I feel like I’ve given you enough money,
so I’m not going to give you any more money.” And they said,
“That’s okay. We just need your name because you’ve been a great

And what ultimately ended up happening is, about six months
later, they decided to go into a capital campaign and they went
to this person and they asked him to chair the campaign. And
when he said no, they got upset at him. And the fact was that
they didn’t recruit him clearly with what those clear
expectations were. He told them what he would and would not do
and they decided that they were still going to go ahead and take
him on and were convinced that they would change his mind.

So you have to make sure that you have those clear expectations,
and we’re going to talk about that. Your board really has two
roles. It’s the governance piece, which is frankly the easier
piece for most boards, where there is [inaudible 00:08:07],
there’s policymakers.

But what we’re really talking about today is the support piece.
Because it’s hard to be a [inaudible 00:08:15] finances if you
don’t have dollars coming in. And so you have to make sure that
your board understands that support role when they are helping
to donate or they’re helping to raise dollars where they’re a
participant in the life of the organization. So that’s what
we’ll be talking about today.

But as we go through today what I want you to think about is,
again, if we were in a room, we would get that feedback from you
of how are you engaging your board and how do you recruit new
board members? And do you actually meet with board members
annually, individually, to talk to them about what their role
is? And these are things you need to be doing. So think about
those, how you do it now and how you can improve upon those
things as you go through this afternoon or this morning,
depending on where you’re located.

This is a chart from Giving USA that I want to make sure that we
touch on. We’ll not spend a lot of time on this, but here are a
couple of things that I want to remind people. This is giving
from last year. Americans continued being incredibly
philanthropic, so people are giving away a lot of money: over
$316 billion last year, with the third straight year of

But the other key thing that I really want you to look at here
is that individual giving. And if you look at that, you see that
72% of the money in this country comes directly from
individuals. But the other piece is foundations in the quest.
Half of the foundation money in this country comes from private
family foundations, which are individuals or couples who have
set up a structure for their giving or from the quest, which is
an individual who has made a gift at their death.

So if you look at this, about $9 out of every $10 in this
country comes from individuals. And the reason that that is
important for you to know is that your board needs to realize
that they get to be connectors because of that. What’s also
important to realize is that of that individual giving, about
half of that comes from high net worth individuals, those people
that you really get to because your board members of volunteers
know them.

And the thing is that once those people give, they have a
tendency to give every year, as long as you’re continuing to
build relationships with them. This is important to know because
it ranges to this piece that is all about leadership. We always
used to say people give to people and over time we realized that
people don’t just give to anybody. If you know me and I called
you up, you wouldn’t see me. But actually what happens is
people, they give to great causes. They invest in great causes,
but they give appointments to the right people.

So part of what we try to do is get your board members and you
volunteers to realize it’s really not about the asking. It’s
really about telling the stories and opening doors. Because
these donors, if they don’t know you, aren’t going to open their
door to an executive director they don’t know, but they will
open a door to somebody they do know. And you have to think
about that in your own giving. It’s so relationship-based.

As we go out and we interview people, people tell us over and
over again that what they’re doing is they’re looking for causes
to invest in but, because there over a million nonprofits out
there, the only way that they can find some of those investments
and really validate them is that somebody they know is talking
to them about it.

So as we looked at this, what we realized is that board
leadership and volunteer leadership, that is it. And as I’ve
mentioned at the beginning, as Jay mentioned, we hear over and
over from people, “How do we engage our board more? How do we
get them to participate more?” So what we want to do is, again,
keep in mind, some of your board members may never ask for gifts
but they can participate.

So when we do a lot of our presentations, in every one of them
we ask people, “How would you all like to ask for a gift?” And
probably if I could just get a show of hands today, maybe I’d
have a few hands go up. Because people don’t like to ask for
gifts. But if we ask people, “Are you comfortable telling the
story about the organization and are you willing to tell that
story,” what we find is a lot more hands go up. So if you can
start to talk to your board about, “It’s not just about the ask,
it’s about knowing the story.”

And in order to make sure you doing that right, you’ve got to
have an effective board. So here are some of the traits, as
we’ve looked over the years, of effective board members. The
first is that they really understand your story and your
message. And don’t assume that they do. I was doing a session
not long ago with a board and we do.

During these sessions, we let board members tell their story
about why they’re involved and why they are excited about your
organization. And it was really interesting; this one board
member just starts talking about this particular program that
he’s so excited about it. And the executive director’s is at the
other end of the room, just looking quizzically, “What is this
person talking about?” It was a program in the organization that
was not done for two years.

So you’ve got to make sure not only do people tell the story,
but they’re telling the right story. You’ve got to also make
sure that you are educating them on development. Even if they
are not making the ask, they understand the process of doing
that. That they are not just looking at the staff and saying,
“Hey, here are three or four names that you should go call on
them,” but they are identifying these people, cultivating them
and helping to recruit these folks either as donors or maybe as
new board members. And that they understand that they’ve got to
be involved in this planning process and that it’s just not the
staff’s role to do it.

This is a chart that ASP has put together, not long ago, talking
about the board’s different roles. When you talk about being,
really, that supporter of an organization, you’ve got askers and
ambassadors, advocates. The advocates are good; they’re getting
the story out there, they’re telling people why the organization
is important.

But you’ve really got to have more ambassadors. You’ve got to
have people who can assist with cultivation and stewardship, in
identifying the donors. And, really, if you’re going to be a
successful organization, you’ve got to have the askers
successful in fundraising. So it’s more important. really, to
have those askers and ambassadors, who are willing to do more
for the organization.

So when we talk about creating effective boards, a lot of times,
people will come up to us and say, “You know, we’ve got a board
and right now our board’s not willing to do anything. They talk
about making calls, they tell us we need to raise money, but
they’re not doing it.” And part of that is because we are
starting the process a little late.

What we’re doing is we’re really trying to get people to
understand the role of the board when they are already on the
board, when we should be doing this much earlier in the process.
It’s sort of like hiring somebody. You don’t decide, “Oh, I’m
not really going to tell them what’s expected of them and maybe
they’re not capable, but we’re going to hire them anyway and
then they’re going to be able to do their job.”

So what we want you to do is start creating an effective board
during the recruitment process. I had a major philanthropist
tell me once that, “The most important committee that you have
on a board is your board recruitment committee, you’re
nominating committee.

Because they are the ones that will make sure that all of your
committees function.” So we want people to have a year-round
recruitment committee. We want people to make sure that they are
developing the poll process. We want people to make sure that
when you are asking them to serve, that you go through their
roles and responsibilities and if getting a gift is part of it,
then you are telling them that upfront, essentially making those
expectations clear.

You also, then, need to orient people. We had found ones that
they weren’t big enough to have their meetings on-site and there
were some board members that had been on the board for a year
and had never actually toured that site and had not met the
staff. So it’s important that you are doing this formal
orientation process and figure out maybe using board members who
can help mentor your new recruits and talk to them every now and
then and see if they have questions.

And then, as that person comes onto your board, making sure you
educate them, train them and don’t do what the typical nonprofit
does. The typical nonprofit agenda in this country hasn’t
changed in the last 50 years. And what happens is development is
usually at the bottom and you spend about three minutes on it.

What we encourage people to do is really spend time during the
board meeting, sharing successes, talking about calls, talking
about challenges, getting people to tell their story. And then,
finally, what we want you to do is engage those board members.
Include them in cultivating and stewarding people, getting them
to talk about the names that they know and meeting them once a
year and letting them outline two or three key things that they
would like to focus on as an organization.

So once you’ve recruited these people properly and you’ve
oriented them, how do you engage them in the fundraising piece?
Part of what we’ve got to do is make sure that people are really
talking to people that they know. They are much more comfortable
with that and sometimes we go ahead and we say, “You know, who
are people that you know that are connected to our
organization?” And we forget about those current donors.

So what we want you to do is let your new board members or your
current board members, looks through your donor list and say,
“Hey, I know these people. I could call them; I could thank them
for their gift. I could say, ‘Hey, when was the last time you
were out here? Come out, see what we’re doing. And I’d like to
spend some time, just letting you know what we were able to do
with your last gift, how that had an impact for us.'”

But remember that when the talking about engaging your board in
fundraising, it is not all about the ask. There are many ways
that your board members can participate. They can invite
somebody to your special event, your gala, your anniversary
event. They can make personal visits, as I have talked about, to
go and talk to someone about how their gift has had an impact.
Share stories of the kids you’ve helped with, the animals you’ve
worked with, the art collection, the exhibit you were able to
bring in. Bring them by for a tour and, again, make thank you

We have a number of our boards, they pull out their mobile
phones at the beginning of a board meeting and they all make
four or five calls to people. Just thanking them for their gift,
the gift they made last month or in the past quarter. And the
thing is, it’s a very easy thing for board members to do
because, most of the time, what’s happening is they are reaching
somebody’s voicemail and they can leave that nice message there.

Of course, one of the things that you really want your board
members to do is help you make the ask. The volunteers, whenever
they meet with somebody in person, they have a plan and what we
want folks to do is keep in mind that when we’re making this
ask, they need to think about it and talking about how they are
involved with the organization, why this organization is
important to them. Explain what their gift can accomplish and
really talk about it from a standpoint of opportunities that are
there and how their gift can make those opportunities possible.

Studies tell us what upsets them about an organization is the
only time they hear from an organization is when that
organization wants money. So it’s good to let them know what
their gift has accomplished.

And whatever you do, be positive on the call, don’t make excuses
for why people should or should not give. I know the economy has
been tough the last five years. I know that you’ve got two kids
in private school. I know your business is going through a
difficult time, or your daughter is getting married in a couple
of months. Be positive and really don’t make excuses for folks.

Remember, there are a million-plus nonprofits in this company
and people are going to be asking for money. And people need to
hear it from you volunteers that help validate why your
organization should be one of their top priorities. So as we
wrap up and I get ready to turn it over to Jay, this has been a
quick 20 minutes, I’m going through some of the things you can
do, engaging the board.

But remember that it all really starts with this board
recruitment process and making sure that your board members and
volunteers are clear with what you want them to do. And if they
tell you they can’t do it, it’s okay to say, “You know, this is
what we need. Maybe there’s another way that you could help us
for serving on a committee.” And make sure that there is a
constant training and education of your board and that you will
involve them, not just in the ask but in that cultivation and

There’s money out there. People are going to give. I doubt
anybody on this call woke up this morning and said, “I have got
to give some money away.” There’s money out there. People have
to be asked and if nobody’s asked, they are not going to give.
So if the board can tell that positive story and invite somebody
to participate, they typically will. Jay, I’m going to turn it
over to you now.

Jay: Thank you. Thank you, Keith. Getting ready for this meeting, one of
the tools that we work with within the Bloomerang database is
connecting up with prospect research databases. And I locked
myself up in there for a particular reason because one of the
things we show to Keith is it shows all of the boards that
people sit on and how many direct relationships they have with
current and past former board members. And it shows how many
more terms that each of those have had.

So I looked there. I wasn’t quite sure in my 30 years in this
sector. I have now served on 29 different board terms, spanning
14 different boards. Some of them are two terms, some of them
are three terms before that. But what I thought was fascinating,
Keith, was bringing this all to focus is I had a direct
relationship with people that I sit in board meetings with
currently or in previous years, to over 1,830 people that I’ve
sat in boards with and I thought. “That is so significant
because I know I’m not uncommon. I mean, I’m still in my 50s.
Can you imagine people that are in their 60s, 70s and 80s?”

How many direct relationships have they had, Keith? As you all
know, it can exceed that very easily. So I want to talk a little
bit about the missing piece in the puzzle because the effective
use of a donor database allows board fundraising to be a natural
progression of the relationship. And what I’m talking about
there is the fact that we want to be able to find and know about
engagement. And Keith touched on this already.

It’s not so much trying to introduce people that don’t already
know the organization. How many of your current supporters do
your board members have a relationship with in some way shape or
form? And I like to use the comparison to a linchpin. A linchpin
is literally the person that holds the various elements of a
structure together, and that’s what our board is all about.
Governance is one thing, but holding the structure together
makes a big difference and how we go about bringing in the best
practices for this.

I know Keith probably knows one or both of these individuals
very well. We worked very closely as we created the software in
figuring out what was important for people to use with two very
national experts on the writing is Dr. Adrian Sargent, our Chief
scientist, whose sort of the father of donor engagement and
donor retention. And on the left is Mr. Tom Mayhern, who is our
donor communications head coach. So much of what we’re referring
to here revolves around communication.

So I’m going to spend a little bit more talking a little bit
about Tom’s influence and how it ties into what Keith has been
talking about here. Because this engagement, we measure by this
engagement meter that you see right here, and people can move
from cold, cool, to warm, to hot, to on fire and you’ll see
examples of those as a show a couple of other screenshots.

But, the engagement meter is sort of neat and it’s the
thermometer of your database. It’s the thermometer for each of
the individuals that you have in the database and it’s updated
based upon all these different factors, and I’ll show you some
of these factors. We used Adrian and Tom’s formulas and
algorithms on what is important.

For instance, how many points or how much juice should you get
for upgrading your gift from one year to the other? How much do
you get for being a board member? How much do you get for being
a volunteer or attending an event? So, those are all items that
work behind the scenes to update that every single day, and it
doesn’t require any setup but the users.

I have worked with larger database systems where there was some
sort of a point value system and I’ve literally watched people
spend 12 months, 18 months, 24 months trying to figure out this
point system in order to move forward and I thought, “Wow, how
much time did they lose in 18 months, when they could’ve been
contacting and working with people?”

So we wanted to be, as Keith talked about, a springboard for
major giving and legacy giving from this. So here’s a good
example of an organization, an individual that’s in a warm
category and you’re someone that’s on fire. So you can see it
literally moves up or down based upon the factors that you see
listed here.

And those factors are a combination of communication,
transactions and just relationship-building that takes place in
general. We take a look at whether they are a cash donor or a
sustaining donor, where they are doing a recurring gift or a
multi year pledge. The number of years of consecutive giving,
whether or not they’re upgrading or downgrading, whether or not
they lapse.

We also take a look at these two items here, on whether or not
they volunteer or attend events, as I was referring to. And,
most of the time, that comes over from the linkages with the
websites. So people can sign up for an event or sign up to
volunteer via your website or some other device. That
automatically comes into your database and updates it. And then
we focus in on some communication areas.

Since Bloomerang has the complete email engine, we can see
whether or not someone opens your emails, whether or not they
click on links, whether or not they forward it to people,
whether or not they unsubscribe, whether or not we have their
communication preferences on file. Those all come into play. Are
we making small little movements in that communication area? Are
we connecting with them? Do we have inbound interactions? We all
know how much different it is when someone calls us or emails us
or, as Keith was alluding to, people stopping by for a tour.

The nonprofits I’ve been on the board of, when people stop in on
their own to go for a tour for that, I’ve hoped that the
organization would get someone indirectly to the executive
director or to the development or the VP of development, so we
can see because this is someone who’s gone out of their way to
show a genuine interest in us.

Much like somebody who contacts us and says, “Hey, my address
has changed and I want to stay on your mailing list. Keep me
informed on what’s going on.” Those are people, those inbound
interactions. You’ll love this because Adrian tells us to count
those double. Soft credits, any sort of stewardship, so they are
bringing in a matching gift company or a family foundation or
they are bringing people to sit at their table at a gala. Any
type of stewardship, we give a lot of additional juice to.

And then one of the things we’re going to be doing in the near
future is bringing the entire social media aspect in, whether or
not they like you once Facebook, whether or not they follow you
on Twitter or LinkedIn or whether they’re saying anything about
you. Those all come together to move this meter up or down or to
make a difference for them.

So it really allows you to make that come to life. We also show
this in a timeline. Yes, go ahead Keith.

Keith: Can I just jump in real quick here?

Jay: Sure.

Keith: What’s interesting is when you talk about this engagement
piece, and I’ll just spend a second on this, oftentimes we also
find members of boards are saying, “Where do we find these
people and where do we find board members?” And they always want
to go off, looking somewhere else, whereas you just ran through
the volunteer engagement, the people that are coming to your
event, there is your pool, right there. It’s important to really
look at these engagement factors and help people who are
participating. So, sorry about that, wanted to just really jump

Jay: Oh, please do, Keith, because we want to tie it all together through
your entire best practices for the board. One of the other areas
that we do is we pull this together in a timeline. Does someone
know what a Facebook timeline is? You can see over on the left-
hand side there all of the touch points. And then on the right-
hand side, you can see the highlights of what moved and needled
the most in any one particular year for that.

So you can imagine, in addition to showing someone on your board
a list of donors, if they know somebody, could you imagine
popping this up on their phone, Keith? Before they make phone
calls, so you can see how many times that they’ve communicated
with other people at your organization and what’s been happening
in a summary fashion?

It would make those communications much, much easier because we
really pull all this together and, once again, use the formulas
and algorithms to decide what weightings come into play and
makes it very easy to use, for a smart phone or tablet, in order
to be able to keep track of every single touch point that we’ve
had with that donor. In the case of board members, obviously,
they would be one of the ones there.

Now the next thing I want to talk about is focusing a little bit
on some of the communication best practices from our
communications coach, Tom Mayhern. And I love one of his quotes
here, “Successful direct mail appeals are quite simple and, at
heart, they are love letters to donors, prospects, woven through
with clear cries for help.”

And what I wanted to talk about, just briefly, is that first
touch point with somebody. And what I’m referring to here is
engagement, in my book, begins with the thank you. And I’ve told
this story many times. Keith, you may have heard me speak in the
Giving Institute, when I was a speaker there a couple of times.

But one of the experiments I ran for many years, with one of my
technology companies that was involved with the nonprofit
marketplace, is for every new employee, I gave them a $100 bill
and I said, “Your job is to make 20 gifts to various nonprofits
of $5 each and watch how they begin to engage with you and to
see who creates a relationship with you and who does not.” And I
gave them to rules and this is a little exercise or experiment
out there that every one of the listeners can do too.

Those 20 gifts, I told them they had to divide them so that have
four of them went to local nonprofits and half of them went to
national nonprofits. And the other rule that I instituted was
half of them were online donations and half of them they had to
send in, via the mail and watch what would happen.

And what was interesting, Keith, over a ten-year period, at
least one third of those $5 gifts were never acknowledged and
some of the ones, when they were acknowledged, you could just
tell it was a very straightforward form letter to do that. But
what I thought was the most insightful is that people would
report back to me at the end of the six months and tell me who
had built a relationship with them. And some of my employees and
former employees are still supporting those organizations in a
much bigger way today, based upon that.

Keith: You know, as you look at it from an anecdotal piece of doing
that, doing all the research, Jay, it just backs all of that up.
People want to be thanked and if they are not, they remember it
and they move on. And major donors do the same thing. It’s not
just the $5 donor.

Jay: And the fact of being called an old fogey that just tells stories,
let me tell you a story when I talk about this little grid, here
on the on the chart. One of the things that I’ve done over the
years is help so many people put out database software, and
there was a particular organization that I helped install the
software that was in Chicago. They will remain nameless.

I had an opportunity to be back in Chicago for a non-profit
conference, approximately eight years later. And when I’ve
visited that nonprofit, Keith, one of the things I ask about is
you better take a look at your thank you letter. And lo and
behold, eight years later, they were still using the same single
thank you letter to thank every type of gift, whether it was
from a board member, and existing donor, a new donor, a high-
level donor, a low-level donor. They had not changed the words
or the phrases in that thank you letter for eight solid years.

Keith: Wow.

Jay: And so often is the case, the reason being that we often leave that
acknowledgement process in the hands of an administrative person
who really doesn’t, in some cases, know a lot about fundraising
and how to do segmentation and how to take care of this.

So let me give you a little clue here and a little way of going
about that. If you could just divide your thank you letters into
four quadrants, the line going across the middle here, we’re
going to make that line. Anything above that is people that have
made a gift, above your average gift amount and here are the
folks that are below your average gift amount. So, if you can go
in your database and you can say, “The average gift in my
organization is $172.57. Anything above 172.57 is in the top
half, anything that’s low is below. And then this line here is
whether or not they are a new donor or a repeat donor.

So you have new people above, repeat above, new below, repeat
below and if you can set up so that there are four different
letters and more importantly, on these top two, this should also
include a telephone call here, maybe a handwritten note.
Anything that allows you to make that much more special.

Keith, I loved your story about the board members, at the
beginning of the board meeting who pick up the phone to do that.
I’m on the board of a well-known nonprofit in Indianapolis. One
of the things that’s waiting for me in every board meeting are
five little notes with the name of the organization and the name
of five new donors. And as a board member, I write a handwritten
note thanking them for making their very first gift to our
organization and telling them what that money was going to be
used for.

Keith: That’s a great.

Jay: That makes an amazing difference. So if you can, come in and come up
with these four different segments and map out a little bit of a
communications strategy for each one, particularly for this left-
hand side, for the new donors, for this one and this one here.
Map out a 90-day plan. So I’m going to try it out with my free-
form mouse here. My hope would be, based upon the best
practices, that you have some sort of a touch point with them at
least two or three times in that first 90 days, so that they
know that they are welcome and they know that they have a chance
to be part of your family.

Now, I want to take it one step further by showing you something
that we also developed with Tom that will apply to these
letters. We have a little something up here called the Mayhern
audit and, Keith, you’ll get a kick out of this. Any letter that
you are about to send out of the system, whether it is an appeal
letter or a thank you letter, you can touch this button and it
will come back and it will run to little tests for you in five
seconds or less.

I’m not going to talk about the test at the bottom of the first.
What we’ll do is scan the letter and tell you what grade level
it is written for, using the flash Kincaid Reading test. It says
here that this letter was written at a sixth grade reading
level, which passes our test because any appeal letter and thank
you letter is best written if it’s written between the sixth
grade level, because people scan these letters. They are not
reading a book; they are scanning your letter.

And then the top one, which is even more important, is the You
test. And this is where it looks at all the pronouns in the
letter and it determines if you’ve used pronouns focused on the
donor or the prospect more times than you have pronouns focused
on yourself or your organization. So in other words, you’ve used
“you” words, in this case, 11 times and me words five times. So
you have a 2:1 ratio to pass the test. If it did not pass the
test, we mark it sort of a reddish pink here and. in this case,
it flunked both the You test and the flash Kincaid Reading test.
And, Keith, a ripple went through our customer base the first
time all of the users of our software checked their letters to
see how they came out on this?

Keith: What were the results?

Jay: It was really, sort of a mixed bag. There was a lot of celebration
when their thank you letters and appeal letters passed the test,
but there were a lot of people saying that they had to go back
and make a little bit of adjustments, particularly those letters
that had been approved by a committee.

Very seldom do the committees ever allow them to pass the test
because they usually end up adding too much verbiage and taking
things out and they talk more about the organization and it
really causes that to not be the case that happens. So it allows
you to bring that there. One of the things that I would like to
also talk about is just five little principles that can
drastically improve first-year retention and help you with your

Number one is the 48-hour rule. If you can respond back within
48 hours of a given gift coming in, that is the ideal time for
that because people are used to in this world, for instant
gratification. Be different from the rest. That’s where the
handwritten note or the phone call or the slightly more
personalized letter can make a difference. The handwritten rules
of communication: anything that’s handwritten, people will
sometimes keep those for years, particularly if it’s something
personal in nature.

Another key factor there is state exactly what the money will
fund and then, if you can, as a secondary part of this, call or
see the person, in some way shape or form after the fact,
particularly those that are brand-new donors or people that are
above the average gift amount. You will truly differentiate
yourself from the rest of the pack there with that.

So with that in mind, I’m going to leave you with those five
thoughts. Steven, are there some questions that you want to
throw at Keith and I? I understand we’ve got about 15 minutes
left and here.

Steven: Yeah, we’ve got some time for questions and there are a lot of
good ones coming through, especially after Keith finished. So,
we’re just going to jump right back into them, not waste any
more time.

So, this first question comes from Catherine and she was
wondering, what you should do if a board chairperson doesn’t
understand the need to recruit new members who are going to be
involved in all the things that Keith mentioned. You know,
asking for donations and all these things. What can you do to
sort of start at the top there with the chairperson of the

Keith: Well, I think part of the reason is you need to make sure that
you’ve got active committees, and I know that’s easier said than
done. But oftentimes, what we find is usually when you have a
chairperson like that, they are sort of running the organization
on their own and they are not really engaging these committees.

And oftentimes what we find is other people don’t necessarily
feel that way. So I think, one, if you can make sure that you’re
getting a nominating committee together and really starting to
look a little bit and discussing, what are the expectations that
we should be having as a board, and really beginning to present
those back.

Now, a lot of times what we find is that these board chairmen
are saying, “Oh, no, we can’t ask people to do this. We can’t
ask them to do that.” But when you end up doing that with a
committee, you are starting to form some of those alliances with
these other board members who are really starting to back up the
process and the importance of doing it. I think you also need to
start to look at board members and showing them some of the
statistics of giving.

For instance, where money is coming from and why that is so
important, for board members to help open doors. And again, I
think part of it is maybe not think of it as the board member
has to do the ask, but what we’re trying to do is open doors and
tell their stories, essentially, being an ambassador for the
organization. Get them to be ambassadors before we get them to
be askers.

Steven: Great. There’s another question here from Cassie. She was
wondering, what’s an optimum size for a board? Is there a size
that’s too large? Should you try to keep it under 20, try to
keep it under ten? What’s been your experiences with the sizes
of a board?

Keith: Do you want me to take that one, Steven?

Jay: Sure, yeah. Go ahead, Keith, and I’ll have a comment on that

Keith: You know, actually, personally, we’ve always advised our
clients that the members ought to be somewhere between about 14
and 18. But there was actually a study done about a year or so
ago, through Giving USA and a couple of other folks, ASP did,
looking at some boards and boards that were successful in

And the board is somewhere in between. If you have less than
ten, you are not going to be successful with fundraising because
you don’t have enough people. What was also interesting was the
organization that said think, “The more, the merrier,” what they
also found if you had over 30, you want successful. So the big
number in there, where most organizations saw the most success
with fundraising, the percentage that met their goal, they had
somewhere in between 11 and 20.

Now, the next was group that had between 21 and 30. I think if
you are a national or a statewide organization, maybe you look
somewhere in that 21 and 30 range. But I think otherwise, if you
are a local nonprofit, somewhere probably, again, within about
that 14 to 20 range would work for you.

Jay: And I will certainly second that. The ones that I’ve found to be most
successful and have met annual fund goals and capital campaign
goals have been in that 15 and 20 range. And more importantly,
taking the next step, the committee size that has worked the
best regarding that were three people because if you get more
than three on a committee, that’s taking some sort of action,
except the recruitment committee.

People sometimes think they can share the responsibility with
somebody else. But when it’s just three people, that committee
tends to get a lot done and everybody takes an equal amount of
the work to be accomplished for that. I’ve been involved where
there were committee sizes of five, six, seven and they didn’t
seem to get as much done as the committee size that had just
three people on them. Except, like I said, the exception being
the recruitment committee; a lot of times we had for five people
involved with that group.

Keith: And you know, Jay, just to add on to that, I like your point
about committee size. If you end up having too many and you
have, let’s say, 15 board members and you have six or seven
people on each committee, all of a sudden your board members,
they are just serving on way too many committees. As you said,
“Oh, I can miss that one because somebody else will pick it up.”

And it’s really not just even in the committee side. It’s sort
of on the board side. Part of the reason is, we feel like, if
you are up on that 20 plus range, then people start to say, “Oh,
you know if I missed that meeting, it’s really not a big deal
because somebody else will pick it up,” and you’re not engaging
and building emotional connections with people. Because if they
miss one meeting and you meet every two months, you are not
going to see them again for four months.

Jay: If your board chair is talking in terms of, do we have a [inaudible
00:49:05] today? You may have a [inaudible 00:49:08], but you
also have a problem.

Keith: Right.

Steven: Great. A question just popped in from the chat from Elizabeth
and there was something, I was actually wondering since Keith
finished up his presentation. And she loves all the strategies
for recruiting new board members, but she’s wondering what
advice you might have for trying to implement these things for
current board members, who maybe aren’t as engaged and maybe are
resisting some of these things? How can you engage those folks?
Is it appropriate to maybe relieve them of their board
membership? What can you do for folks who are already part of a
board that’s not really working?

Jay: Keith, can I jump in with that one first?

Keith: Sure, go ahead.

Jay: One of the things that have always tried to bring within the board
that I’ve had the privilege of serving on is I insist that they
have some sort of a board orientation process. And that
orientation can be the hour before the board meeting; it can be
a three day orientation. I’ve seen them be as long as half a

And one of the things, if they’ve not done a board orientation
process before, I highly suggest that the first time they run it
for new members, that all of the existing members who have never
been to a board orientation get to go through it too. And if
people are resistant to that, then you’ve really got a clue that
maybe as they finish up their current term, that should be their
last term.

Keith: I think, Jay, that’s a great point. We’ve actually done that
with some groups, where we were doing capacity building work for
it. It was funded by a local community foundation and we found
that a number of the current board members had never been
through an orientation. It really added a level where it needed
to be and when they went through that, it really opened up their

I think the other thing is we are very big advocates on having
term limits and term limits that are real. Because people,
frankly, get tired and so what I mean by real is it does mean
that you serve a two-year term and it can go on for 20 years.
That you serve, as a two year term, three two-year terms or
whatever it is, but at some point, you’ve got to get off that
board. Doesn’t mean you can’t come back at some point, but
that’s the way to get people engaged and to move people off who
aren’t doing as well.

And I think the other is, as part of that orientation, is really
starting to use some of your board meetings where you can let
people just talk, tell stories, do some education sessions. Let
a board member who made a successful ask or got a big gift talk
about that and what happened, and they are going to be charged
up about it. It’s a way to help educate those board members.
Having said that, it will not happen overnight. You are going to
have to do a lot of small things to make that work and spend
some time doing it.

Jay: This was a smaller nonprofit. I’m sure you can pull this off on a
bigger one. We had a board of about 14, 15 people involved with
it and when I took over as chair of it, at the first screening I
said, “We are going to disband, we’re not going to do the normal
quarterly reports and etc.”

And I had one of the administrative people pass out everybody a
sheet of paper and I said, “I want you to write down on that
sheet of paper, what you think the average gift from all of our
donors is to this organization. Make that your first number and
then I want you to write as the second number: what do you think
the average amount of years that someone is a donor to our
organization.” And I collected all those and out of 14 or 15
people, only two people were even close to the two actual

It became the most strategic hour that we’ve ever had as a
board, as we talked about what those numbers really were and

Keith: Yeah. And part of that, Jay, is also because sometimes boards
don’t talk about fundraising at their meetings. And once they
do, it gets the mood in and so, that’s a great idea.

Jay: Yeah, because most people just don’t have an idea, and of course,
Steven knows what I’m getting at. Those two numbers, when you
combine them, equaled the lifetime value of a donor.

Steven: Absolutely. Well, here is a question from Dreamy that is along
the same lines. And, Jay, you’ve served on a lot of boards and
still do, and Keith, obviously, you’ve worked with a lot of
boards too. So what can you do about a board that maybe is a
little too involved and is maybe micromanaging the actual
programs and events and some of the activities, that the
nonprofit is doing? What can you do about that situation?

Keith: That is one of the most difficult challenges with the board.
And board members need to realize that it’s the staff who need
to run the programs, and they oversee the organization. One of
the things that we find a lot of times is that the board members
who are micromanaging, it oftentimes means is that the board is
meeting too often. For instance, unless you’ve got some
emergency crisis that’s been going on or you’ve got some major
building project, most boards don’t need to meet every month.

Jay: Amen, brother. I cannot say that hardly enough. That is far too often
for any board.

Keith: But what happens is, by the time you are done with one meeting,
gosh, you are getting ready for the next one and you don’t even
have time for committees in between. And so I think the way
you’ve got to take micromanaging away is starting to look at
your organization more strategically. How often do we meet?

You’ve got to have active committees. Don’t let your board be a
committee in whole and, frankly, you’ve got to have a board
chair that’s going to look at people and just say, “That’s not
our role.” And that’s the tough part. So I wish there was a real
easy answer for that, but I’m not sure there is.

Jay: Well, one of the things I think too, Keith, can keep that from being
the case is if your typical board meeting is not 90% comprised
of giving reports from those types of areas that are about the
day-to-day running of the nonprofit, instead of more on a
strategic level. I’ve been at board meetings where they’re
giving operational reports and that’s just begging the board to
get involved, ask questions, do this and do that.

You are waiving the bait right in front of the folks there, as
the old saying goes, and you are just asking for that to be the
case. So one of the things that I always try to do is make sure
that the operational reports, we summarize them and maybe show
something at a very high strategic level, once a quarter. But
don’t get into any of the weeds anymore about those.

Steven: Great, great advice. Well, we are approaching the 2:00 P.M.
hour and we’re just about out of time for questions. I know we
didn’t get to all of them, but I do want to be respectful of
everyone’s time, especially as we approach the 2:00 P.M. hour
here. So, just in the final minute or two we have left, Keith
why don’t you tell folks how people can learn more about you?
Hopefully, folks can ask you some questions that we didn’t get
time to answer.

Keith: Yeah. Thank you, Steven. One of the key things you see is the
slide up now that lists everything, from our website to our
Facebook, to our Twitter. We do a lot, where, whether it’s
information that we’re doing, based on a webinar like this,
we’ll probably do a posting on it. We do a lot with Giving USA.
We do a blog a few times a month. So you could go to our site
and get a lot of good information, either through our Facebook,
Twitter or just going to our blog.

And if you do have other questions, because we didn’t get
everything today, we’d be happy to answer those. And I just wrap
up and I would turn it back over to Jay and Steven. I just
really want to thank you guys for the opportunity to do this
today. It was a lot of fun. Thanks.

Steven: Yeah, it was a really great presentation. Jay, you are also
active on social media. I’m sure people can get a hold of you if
they had any additional questions about us or Bloomerang.

Jay: Very much so. Just check our website. It’s bloomerang.co and the
slide’s up at what we’re talking about. You’ll find out a little
bit more about the database and CRM. But more importantly, as
you look at our blog there, you’ll find we have guest blog
posts, much like Keith with 30 and 40 years of experience in the
sector that really has some excellent advice. So it’s well worth
coming back to, almost on a daily basis.

Steven: Absolutely, and if you enjoyed this webinar, we do these
webinars weekly. Next week, we’ve got a really fun presentation
planned; we’ve got Nathan [inaudible 00:58:53] who is a dynamite
fundraising consultant. He and I are going to be talking about
social media and some ways that you can employ some good social
media strategies to help your fundraising. So be sure to visit
our webinar page.

Jay: So are you both going to have your Halloween costume on?

Steven: Yeah, we might have to turn on the video sharing here, so folks
can see that. Yeah, check that out. Definitely register for
that, if social media is something that interests you,
[inaudible 00:59:23] fundraising. So, we’re just about out of
time. I want to say a final thanks to Keith for joining us and
to Aaron, helping put all of this together. It was really a joy
to have you guys speak about boards and share all your
knowledge. So thanks again.

Keith: Thank you.

Steven: Thanks, everyone and thanks to everyone who took an hour out of
the day to listen to us. To those of you who maybe had to cut
out early or missed the beginning, we will be sending out the
slides and a recording later this afternoon. So look for an
email from me in just a few hours. So with that, I’ll say have a
great rest of your afternoon and a great rest of your week. Bye

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.