Author Archives: David Mersky

Four Secrets to Major Gift Fundraising

By David A. Mersky

Recently, I reached out to a former client, now friend, as she was about to experience an important moment in her life — her eldest child was graduating from middle school that evening. I’ve known her and her family for years and I called to wish them well.

She is the Chief Development Officer of an independent school. After catching up a bit, I asked how things were shaping up for her coming fiscal year which begins July 1.

She explained that she is facing an unrealistic goal. Her Board, challenged with increased expenses and not wishing to raise earned income (tuition), decided they would simply raise the target number for development to make up the difference.

In essence, the fundraising goal for the coming year is based on balancing the budget, rather than as a result of a donor-centered analysis and a realistic appraisal of what is possible.

Your Input Determines Your Output

Faced with this challenge, my friend and her team decided to do the best they could. In the coming year, she convinced the leadership of the school to expand staff to enhance their fundraising capabilities and meet the new goal. This was very smart. By changing the game and adding resources to increase revenue, she has moved to solve a short-term challenge with a long-term solution.

It’s worth noting that this won’t occur immediately. Indeed, we counsel our clients when hiring that they should expect new staff to generate zero revenue in year one, achieve breakeven in year two, and experience 5, 10, or even 15x revenue thereafter. Hiring front-line fundraisers is a worthwhile, but long-term investment.

Further, and beyond revenue generation, the investment in staff creates an increased capability to connect with donors on a more personal level. In its current state, my friend’s team lacks the bandwidth to maintain connections and deepen relationships with its donor base. Absent that connection, past, present, and potential donors may find other places to go that are better equipped to show the love they seek.

My friend’s insightful response to her current situation demonstrates an understanding of what it takes to be successful in major gifts fundraising. Specifically…

#1. Fundraising is not Transactional

Philanthropy succeeds as a result of long-standing and deep personal relationships.

For example, if I want to see a play, I go online and buy tickets. It’s a transaction, one in which most theatres do not see anything other than an exchange of money for a seat in their inventory.

Great theatre programs, on the other hand, are always thinking about how to build and sustain a relationship. They invite patrons to join the newsletter list and subscribe as a season ticket holder. That connection may lead to additional and greater dollar purchases, involvement as a volunteer, or a gift at the end of the calendar year.

It’s the difference between a Broadway theater (a business) and the Seacoast Repertory Theatre (a wonderful, worthy cause).

#2. Donors Need to be Invited to Act

There is a widely held belief that above all, donors need to be educated — about the cause, the mission, and the history of the organization. This is not the case and it is the wrong goal.

Rather, donors must be asked to give in a way that is impactful in their own lives — to become a “heroic” donor whose gift makes a difference to the organization and the people whom it serves.

With a larger staff of people, an organization can share with each significant contributor a deeply personal story about the impact that donor’s gift will have. By meeting with donors individually, one can uncover what motivates them to support the organization and let them know that without their generosity, the work could not continue.

#3. Fundraising is a Two-Way Street

Done well, fundraising is a conversation, a give and take. Great fundraisers are not waiting for their turn to speak — they are actively listening, so they may respond to what the donor is saying in a considered and authentic way.

If we want major donors to give, we must give them something in return. Not tangible gifts (e.g., swag in the form of a coffee mug or paperweight), but instead, the knowledge that they are making a difference… changing the world… perhaps even saving a life.

In doing so we provide a psychic benefit and an enhancement of the donor’s sense of self-worth.

#4. Each Donor Requires a Customized Goal

By increasing the bandwidth of her staff, my friend is going to have additional eyes, ears, hands, and legs available to engage in “campaigns of one” with individual donors. That’s critical; successful major gift work is much more than simply asking, asking, asking. It requires:

  • Plan. A detailed, strategic plan for each donor that outlines the financial goal and tactics.
  • Engage. Fundraising is a contact sport; it necessitates getting out there.
  • Ask. Nothing happens if you don’t ask — this is the CTA—the call to action step.
  • Thank. Not once or twice — a minimum of seven touches during the year in which one demonstrates appreciation, acknowledgement, and recognition. Without those, you don’t have standing to come back again.
  • Report. Regularly, transparently, and authentically sharing the impact the donor’s gift has had and will have.
  • Repeat. Major gift giving is a cycle that repeats annually.

Change the Game

Donations and the amounts given don’t increase if you always do what you have always done. It necessitates a change in approach and tactics.

I am confident that when I call my friend next year to check in, she will be able to tell me how successful she has been. Not just by the dollars raised, but also by the actions taken, the relationships deepened, and the donors who now see themselves as true heroes to the organization they so eagerly support.

Let’s Reduce Fundraiser Turnover

By David A. Mersky

Let's reduce fundraiser turnover.

I spend a great deal of time thinking about and helping organizations increase their fundraising results. By achieving ever greater results and revenue, they can expand their mission and fulfill their vision. But, much has changed during my career, especially in the last several years.

When I began as a professional in nonprofit work, one could rely on donor retention year over year in the 75–80% range. Today, that number is dropping like a stone and is barely above 42%.

There are many reasons for this, but the one that causes me the greatest concern — and that is most within our control — is staff turnover within fundraising organizations. Here as well, times have changed.

When I began, fundraisers and staff members of organizations often stayed with a single enterprise for their entire careers. Today, as fundraising has become ever-increasingly professionalized, the average tenure of a frontline fundraiser is just 16 months.

In addition to representing the single greatest cost to an organization, high turnover has a tremendously negative impact on that organization’s ability to achieve its fundraising goals. Not only can it take several months to find a suitable replacement (during which time acknowledgements are not generated and asking does not occur), when a fundraiser leaves, a direct and familiar connection between organization and donor has been severed.

Fundraising is Relationship-Driven

Sadly, today’s nonprofit world has lost much of its appreciation for the vital link that fundraisers represent between donor and enterprise. It has reached the point where we almost behave — and are increasingly perceived — as if fundraising is somehow a deceptive practice: “I am here to trick you out of your money in order to advance our cause.”

In truth, it is anything but that.

Still, the perception persists. People who were once highly valued and respected for their skill in identifying, developing, and nurturing donor relationships are increasingly challenged in a world that is lacking in trust and basic civility.

Of course, every organization has some degree of turnover and morale issues. However, by bringing a corporate mindset to philanthropy, we have become overly reliant on transactional metrics, causing many of our most dedicated and highest quality people to seek greener pastures.

Here are steps you can take to reverse this unfortunate trend within your organization:

#1. Appreciate.  

Fundraisers are the essential link between donors and the mission, vision, and values of your organization. They are the sine qua non, without which there would be nothing. There would be no revenue if somebody were not there to ask and to help donors actualize themselves through their philanthropy. Let the donors, the board, and the fundraisers themselves know that we cannot do this without them.

#2. Invest.

Demonstrate your belief in the value of frontline staff by providing personal and professional development, thereby enhancing their ability to succeed. Provide individual coaching, offer regular training, send them to professional conferences and events where they will meet others and learn how to thrive from the best.

#3. Recognize. 

Recognition is a public expression of an individual’s value. Employee of the month, fundraiser of the week, bonuses for achieving mutually agreed upon objectives – these and steps like them suffuse the organization and demonstrate a tangible commitment to fundraiser accomplishments.

#4. Understand.

Fundamentally, fundraising isn’t about raising money… that’s simply a byproduct of the job. Great fundraisers serve as an advocate for the donor or funder, helping them advance themselves by making philanthropic gifts that have an impact and change or save lives. When you empower a fundraiser to see themselves in that role and tell them, “I may write your check, but you work for the donor,” more money comes in and more donors remain as recurring, faithful, and enthusiastic advocates for your organization.

#5. Reorient.

Too often, nonprofit leadership insists that the organization and its achievements take primacy over everything else. “How else can we justify asking for money if they don’t understand what we do?” While there is a measure of truth to that, your staff person will find greater fulfilment and success when they see their role first and foremost as helping people plan their giving to achieve the impact they want to make on the world in which they live.

A New (Old) Perspective

Too much attention has been paid in recent years to the metrics above all else: cash brought in, gift renewals compared to last year, etc. While that is important, fundraisers’ effectiveness — and their willingness to stay with your organization — will only occur if they are no longer required to view donors as human ATM machines.

To retain your best fundraising staff, provide clear direction and measure what you value most (e.g., relationships, contacts, communications with donors). Then, recognize and reward those who begin each day with your organization’s long term, best interests in mind. Only then can you count on consistently meeting — and often exceeding — your ambitious fundraising goals.

5 Traits of Highly Effective Face-to-Face Fundraisers

By David A. Mersky

5 Traits of Highly Effective Face-to-Face Fundraisers

Face-to-face fundraising is in a class all its own. It is distinct from email, telemarketing, direct mail, and other high volume, “one to many” tactics in which nonprofits customarily engage.

Instead, the best of those who practice face-to-face fundraising focus on a portfolio of just 25-50 high net worth individuals, each of whom is a campaign unto him or herself.

Fundraisers of this type meet with donors and potential donors personally and repeatedly.

Accordingly, their ability to guide these people in making ever larger gifts in support of the work you do requires much more than the “standard” qualities one looks for when hiring — work ethic, intelligence, skills, technical expertise, etc.

Those things matter, of course. But when meeting with somebody face-to-face and asking them to make an audacious gift to your organization, it’s about much more than the basics. It requires an individual who can assume the role of counselor — listening, asking probing questions, and helping the donor share his or her aspirations and passions for your organization.

The stakes are high and these individuals can be challenging to find, identify, and retain. With that in mind, here are five traits to look for as you interview and endeavor to bring great face-to-face fundraisers into your organization…

#1. Emotional intelligence.

This person must be effective at perceiving and understanding other people — and they must have a good sense of themselves.

Can they detect the emotions of a donor when meeting? Can they sense any anxiety, compassion, or empathy that the prospect may be feeling? Can they mirror — even through their breathing — the person who sits across from them? Are they capable of listening carefully (using both eyes and ears) and carrying on a sincere, two-way conversation … or are they simply waiting for their turn to speak?

This is “permission-based” fundraising. You are looking for someone who can help others feel comfortable, while they themselves are perceived as trustworthy and confident, all the while focusing on what’s important and relevant.

#2. A love of people.

The most effective face-to-face fundraisers exude likeability and are naturally interested in other people. This trait can’t be taught or easily faked. It is hard coded into their DNA and an authentic aspect of who they are.

They tend to be joiners in activities outside of work, so make sure to ask about how they spend their free time. Do they coach youth baseball? Do they sing in a choir? Do they volunteer at a local food bank?

The specific activity is not what matters. You are looking for those who simply can’t get enough of others and who demonstrate that by their behavior.

#3. Patience. 

Major, transformational gifts do not happen on the first, second, or even fifth visit. They take time and occur as a result of long and deep relationships; they are not transactional.

Your ideal face-to-face fundraiser is not a “closer” or salesperson. He or she is an individual who is willing to invest in these relationships over the long haul. They believe strongly in your organization and its cause and will commit the time necessary to helping others invest philanthropically.

#4. An exceptional memory.

Will this person remember the people they encounter, recalling the details of others’ lives and their wishes for your organization — weeks, months, and years after having met? And can they do all this at a moment’s notice, without having to check their notes or database?

Nothing strengthens a relationship more than the warm, honest recollection of a person with whom you have met. It demonstrates true caring for the other person and makes the fundraiser more like a friend and advisor than just the representative of a nonprofit organization.

You can get a good sense of a candidate’s memory by asking detailed questions about others in your own organization whom they may have already encountered.

#5. Impeccable integrity. 

People who possess this trait do not need to pretend to care about the donors with whom they work. For them, integrity informs everything they do; it comes naturally.

They are focused on the development of sincere, genuine relationships that support and reflect the interests of the donor. In fact, when we work with face-to-face fundraisers whom we have placed in client organizations, we say, “That organization is paying you, but you really work for the donor. If you represent the needs and priorities of the donor with integrity, both the organization that employs you and the donor will benefit.”

In sum, hiring well is never an easy task. It is doubly true when you are seeking to engage someone who will represent you among your most important past, present, and, hopefully, future benefactors.

When evaluating face-to-face fundraisers, look for these five key traits. They are even more important than the standard qualities and experiences you expect in all your other staff.

The Key to Every Hiring Decision… A Cultural Fit

By David A. Mersky

We live in a world where technical skills, industry knowledge, and relevant experience are no longer enough to define the perfect hire. These matter, of course. But they are not as important as how well a new employee fits within your organization’s culture and shares its core values.

Do candidates manifest the attitudes and behaviors that will enhance your ability to achieve your mission and vision? Particularly when seeking frontline fundraisers, do they have the interpersonal skills and love of people – board members, donors, prospective funders, etc. – to enable them to succeed?

Moreover, you want people who are open to new ideas. This is what your organization requires to compete for attention and funding in what has become an increasingly complex environment.

It may be that you will hire people who are very different from you – in background, temperament, abilities. But if they share your organization’s core values, they can become strong members of your team. 

A New Workplace Environment

Cultural fit has always mattered. But today’s post-pandemic world has upped the ante. Many people now refuse opportunities unless given a fully remote option; some are reluctant to take a chance on making a career move; others want to work less (or not at all). 

Taken together, this has made identifying, recruiting, engaging, and retaining quality people more difficult. In that context, if you make a mistake in hiring, it’s going to be more expensive and take more time to fix. That’s why it is essential at the outset to find prospective employees who will be a strong fit for your organization’s culture and values, and who possess the interpersonal skills necessary to succeed.

Find the Perfect Match

It used to be said that if you hired a brilliant person, that was all you needed to do because they would figure out the rest. But the genius who does not share your organization’s core values and have the interpersonal skills will never be a strong member of your team and will quickly become isolated and ineffective.

It really is about finding a values match. You need to find people who participate eagerly in formulating a vision, who thrive in a learning environment, and who create alignment with their colleagues and the ethos of your organization.

Great organizations treat these kinds of employees as the treasures they are because they understand their value, both internally to their colleagues as well as externally with all your stakeholders.

So, what can you do to identify and hire those who will integrate smoothly into your organization?

#1. Always be looking.

Not only when you have an opening. As you do your networking, meeting new people and strengthening existing relationships, be mindful of those who may be a good fit – whether or not they are looking for a new job or you have one to offer. This is “unconstrained recruiting;” the person you meet today may become your most valued employee six months or a year from now.

#2 Favor potential over experience.

Don’t be so risk-averse that you need to find someone who has done exactly what you think the job requires. After all, the job may very well change and what you thought was relevant experience may no longer be.Hire instead those with an insatiable curiosity and a demonstrated capacity to learn.

#3. Seek a specific kind of intelligence. 

Perfect SAT scores and a 4.0 GPA don’t necessarily add up to the kind of wisdom that will help them succeed in your organization. They must be pragmatically inclined, linguistically agile (both orally and in writing), and able to respond with great facility when challenged.

#4. Avoid the lone ranger. 

Collaboration is a necessity. You want people who will readily share information, solve problems cooperatively, and who are emotionally and socially committed to the success of the enterprise as a whole.

Cultural Fit Comes First

There are no guarantees when bringing a new person on board. But if you follow these four principles, you are more likely to ensure a strong and lasting match. 

And you, as the manager or leader, will build a team that will enable your organization to be nimble, facile, and above all, successful.

Job Interviews Done Well

By David A. Mersky

Every prospective hire for your organization, at every level, will be interviewed before an offer is extended. The number and type(s) of interviews will vary depending on the position in question, but however they occur, interviews are the essential step in the hiring process.

As the individual making the final decision — whether your role is Board chair, CEO, hiring officer, supervising manager, or something else — it is vital that you remain active in the process. You may not be involved in the initial, screening interviews (this is often done by Human Resources or an outside Executive Search Firm), but as the candidate field is narrowed to two or three possibilities, the final conversations require your careful attention and active participation.

This is critical. Dropping the ball at this late stage (i.e., hiring someone who can’t do the job for love or money) is a waste of time and resources.

Preparation is Key

One thing is certain: Any candidate who survives to the final round of interviews is going to be exquisitely well prepared. You must be too.

Almost without exception, these finalists know the standard questions to expect; they have been coached by career counselors to respond with quality, prepared answers. They will also come armed with questions of their own — about your organization, the position, the compensation, and more. 

But this is not a one-time performance in which you are gauging their ability to interview well. You want to know how they will perform on the job. What skills, experience, and knowledge will they bring to bear to meet your organization’s unique challenges and opportunities? How well will they represent your company externally, if that will be part of their role?

So, you need to get beyond the pat answers. This requires preparatory research that extends beyond the resume:

  • Google them. Have they written articles? Appeared on podcasts? Spoken at industry conferences? What is their social media presence, and does it feel like a fit for your organization?
  • Find them on LinkedIn. What do they post about and how often? What groups do they belong to? What organizations do they follow? Have they received testimonials from others and, if so, what is said about them?
  • Check their references. Of course, you won’t hear anything negative, but listen closely to what and how these people speak about the candidate. Are they reserved or enthusiastic? Do they seem surprised that this person is being considered for this kind of job? By speaking to references now, before you have even met the candidate, you will circumvent the tendency to use reference-checking to validate a positive impression you have already made.

Conducting the Interview

Most people who conduct interviews have little experience doing so, but you need to maintain control. To help stay on track, think of the interview as a play with three acts:

Act One: Set the Stage

You want to get an authentic sense of who they are as a person, not just as a job candidate — you are an advocate, not an adversary. The better and more quickly you can help them open up, the more you will learn.

So put them at ease by conveying that this is a conversation between equals. Greet them warmly and by name. Sit next to them in a comparable chair (not behind your imposing desk). Tell them, “I am so happy we are having this chance to meet. I have learned so much about you from those who have already spoken with you, and I look forward to getting to know you myself.”

Seek common ground. What interests have you discerned from their resume, your research, and what others have told you? For example, if you both enjoy cooking, find out what they like to cook and how they became interested. Connect on a human level.

Act Two: Search for the Fit

Be direct and forthright in describing the opportunity. People tend to hear only what they want to hear, so be careful not to gild the lily; offer a realistic view of the position. Then invite the candidate to make their pitch.

Listen carefully. Do they appear to really understand the role? Are they genuinely enthusiastic or simply following a script? Do they seem open to learning? Overall, you want to look for future leaders who are striving to succeed and grow, not those who see the next position as a final stop.

See if you can flip them off their script. Pose scenarios that force them to respond in ways they may have never considered. Engage them in topics that are particular to your organization, since whatever coaching they receive tends to be more general in nature:

“You will have less autonomy in this job than you’ve had before. How do you feel about that?”

“You will be reporting to someone who holds the same position you have had at a different organization. How will you manage that?”

“You have many of the skills we are looking for but in a different field. How will you get up to speed?”

Further, take advantage of the research you have done by asking very specific questions about their past experience: “I see that you were responsible for Teen Programming at the Boys and Girls Club. Did you encounter bullying among the kids? The staff? How did you manage those situations?”

Above all, ask questions that are designed to help you understand how they will perform in this position.

Act Three: Get to Closure

The candidate will be prepared with questions for you; make sure to provide an opportunity to ask them. This is also the time to let the candidate know your timeline for concluding the process and extending an offer, as well as any other pertinent logistics.

Finally, pay attention to how aware the candidate is of the time that has been allotted for the interview and how capable they are of ending the meeting appreciatively and graciously. This speaks to the chemistry they will bring to both the workplace and when interacting with your external stakeholders.

Step Back and Think

With the interview process completed, wait a day or two. Take a breath and view your conversations through the lens of a little time. This will help you avoid the halo effect that accompanies a bubbly personality, engaging sense of humor, and overall likeability. 

Talk to others who have met the candidates, review your notes, and resist simply reaching for the shiniest object. 

Lastly, don’t be afraid to trust your gut. If you have prepared well and conducted a thoughtful, structured conversation about who they are, your gut can be quite perceptive.

Reignite Your Lapsed Supporters

By David A. Mersky

You just finished your year-end rush and have begun planning for 2023. But before you turn the calendar page to February, one important question remains: Who were the people, no matter how many times you asked, who gave in 2021 but did not give again in 2022?

These people — your lapsed supporters — represent an enormous fundraising opportunity for your nonprofit … provided you can understand what happened and reawaken their support for your organization.

Some suggestions…

#1. Know who your lapsed donors are.

Identify them by the date and amount of their most recent gift and by the date and amount of their largest gift to your organization. Then do your research to understand their philanthropic capacity. 

Electronic vetting of both donors and prospects will provide a deep understanding of where these individuals sit in terms of their publicly acknowledged gifts, political participation, compensation, board memberships, place(s) of residence, and overall wealth. You may not be able to speak with all lapsed donors; this type of analysis allows you to focus on those who represent the greatest potential.

Further, if you received a five-hundred-dollar donation in the past but see that this same individual gifted five thousand to another nonprofit, you know that there is an opportunity to win some of that love for your organization.

#2. Be ready with an apology.

As you begin the process of reconnecting, be prepared to apologize, especially if you discover that the reason this person did not renew their support was because they were upset about something you did or did not do (such as failing to thank them properly).

“I’m so sorry we did not connect last year. I would really like to understand why such a faithful supporter of our organization as you, who gave $X for Y years, did not do so last year. I want to make sure it was nothing we did so we can be certain it does not happen again.”

#3. Bring them up to date. 

Remind them that at one point they were among your valued supporters, whether through their time, talent, or treasure.

Then share how their contribution in the past has enabled you to … serve 500 kids in your mental health clinic; help 250 people find new jobs or get trained on new skills; enable 600 inner-city kids to go to summer camp.

In other words, reconnect them to the “Why” behind their past giving.Help them rediscover the affinity they felt for your organization. You might ask a series of open-ended questions:

“What do you remember about your time with us?”

“What past achievement of our organization are you most proud of?”

“What did you find most inspiring?”

These questions are intended to help restart a two-way conversation.

#4. Regain their trust. 

This first reconnection is not the time to ask for money. Instead, engage them with future-oriented questions: 

“What do you think about the fact that we sent so many kids to summer camp?”

“What do you think we could have done differently (if there were problems)?”

“How might we improve program X or deliver it more effectively?”

Are they optimistic about the future? Do they share fond memories about the past? Are they energized about your recent achievements and generally satisfied with the direction of your organization?

Ask for their opinion (which they are generally happy to share) and listen, listen, listen.

#5. Determine the next step. 

If you feel that the embers have been reignited, it may be time to engage them in a straightforward way: Come to an event. Join us in volunteering at our foodbank. Consider mentoring one of our young people.

When you reengage them in activity, their money will follow.

That said, if none of the steps you have taken have been successful, at some point you have to bless and release them. As a former client of mine, a Jesuit priest, used to say to me: “After I have done everything I possibly can to engage with a donor, I wish them well. I tell them our work will continue and we hope they will resume their support. Above all, I wish them all the best in whatever they do.”

You want to leave them not with a sense that you feel resentment, but that you recognize them as valued members of the community who are choosing to do other things with their resources. All of this serves to give you positive buzz in the community.

Start 2023 Strong

After current donors, your most ideal prospects are your lapsed supporters. They are familiar with your organization and have already demonstrated a willingness to support your goals and purpose. Often, all it takes to bring them back is your sincere outreach and attention.

The beginning of your 2023 plan should be to focus on as many of these promising individuals as possible.  

What to Do As the Year Winds Down

By David A. Mersky

The year is nearly over. At this point, you have done absolutely everything you can for your direct response and mid-range donors. 

So, what do most organizations do? They send everybody home between Christmas and New Year’s.

Yes, you may still be calling some of your most important supporters. But everything else that will enable you to finish 2022 successfully is fully baked. 

Or is it? Remember that 50% (not a typo) of all online giving happens in the last week of the year; 21% occurs on the very last day.

Now is the time to be especially vigilant — making sure that online forms are functioning, checks are deposited, records are updated, and acknowledgments are sent with a personal note that tells the donor how valued they are. 

The mail and email may be scheduled (at least three emails should be sent on the last two days of the year), but this is the time to be sure the mail is opened, online gifts are processed, deposits are made, the CRM is updated, and acknowledgements are processed for those who make their gifts as the final page of the calendar turns.

A Time for Planning

The close of the year is also the time to start planning for the next. What will you track?:

  • Who gave in 2022 who had not given in 2021? Did an action you took trigger the gifts (e.g., a match, an impact report)?  
  • How can we increase the number of people who have supported us in the past, skipped a year, and then came back?
  • Who increased their gift in 2022 from what they had given previously? How can we get them to do it again and encourage more to join them?
  • Who did not give in 2022 but had given in 2021? How do we revive their affection and dedication to the work that we do?
  • Who gave for the very first time in 2022? How do we ensure that we retain their support and get them to give again?

Segmentation

In fundraising, as in marketing, the ultimate objective is to create segments of more and more homogeneous groups. Doing so allows you to develop what will feel like deeply customized approaches that connect with your donors and that encourage them to invest in your community generously and continually.

Resume your analysis with a review of the tactics used this year and the results realized:

  • Who responded to your snail mail solicitations?
  • Who was invited to join your sustainers society and became a monthly donor?
  • Who was asked to consider a legacy and informed you that they had made provisions for your organization in their estate plan?
  • Who came to a special event — a small wine and cheese in a home, a major gala in a hotel ballroom, etc. — and how did they behave philanthropically differently than they had previously?

These are just a few examples of questions that you should prepare to ask after all the results for the year are received. Overall, your objective is to understand which tactics had the highest return on investment with which segments, in order to do more of what worked in 2023.

As you sit in your office these next two weeks considering all that you and your hardworking staff have accomplished in 2022, keep in mind that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over and next year is just around the corner.

Follow-Up: Fundraising’s Essential Action

By David A. Mersky

Recently, a colleague of mine was working with a nonprofit group to convene a gateway event. Gateways are used to introduce prospective, new major donors to the organization. The chosen venue was wonderful and RSVPs in the affirmative exceeded expectations.

Attendance was another matter— there was a 50% drop off from those who said they would attend to those who actually did. Further, there was no plan in place for reaching out to invitees in the days following.

Establishing a clear plan for follow-up* — to leverage the experience of those who attended and to continue engaging the group in the organization’s mission and goals — is vital for success.

The “Big Event” is Just the Beginning

When organizing a gala or gateway event, it’s understandable that the early focus is on the event itself. But from a long term, fundraising perspective, the occasion is just step one. It is the opening gambit in a process of engagement, relationship-building, and stewardship, all of which will ultimately yield the greatest philanthropic investment.

Consistent and effective follow-up is what makes all of this happen. That’s because when you make the effort to reach out to another person, you are saying, “You are important to me and our relationship matters.”

With that in mind, I offer three suggestions…

#1. Move Quickly

A follow-up call to attendees and non-attendees should occur within 48 hours. You want to make contact while the event is still fresh in their minds and before they have moved on to other things on their plate.

And yes, I am unapologetically old school in my belief that a phone call — not an email and certainly not a text — is the best medium for this task. The objective is an open-ended conversation in which you can hear the tone and emotion in the voice of the other person.

#2. Think Strategically

Who within your organization is best equipped to manage the relationship going forward? This is the person who should make the call. This may be a peer, board member, committee member, or member of the senior staff (hint: it’s not a summer intern!).

Remember that your list of invitees consists of key accounts — people who you hope will provide a meaningful gift at some point. It may or may not happen right away, so think strategically about who can best shepherd that personal connection over time.

#3. Act Deliberately

Every person on your invitee list was put there for a reason; each represents a future opportunity. So follow up with everyone, regardless of whether or not they attended. 

For those who did not attend, let them know that you were sorry to have missed them and that you hope they can join you at another event in the future.

For everyone else, ask:

What was your experience? 

Did you learn anything that was worthwhile? Was there anything that felt off target? What could we do to improve your experience in the future? Again, the key is to initiate a meaningful conversation.

Is there any way that you could see yourself becoming more involved with us?

You are looking to see if they have the time and if you have stimulated them to volunteer.

A common response to this question is for the other person to ask, “What would becoming more involved look like?” So make sure you have two or three specific things in mind that might advance the objectives of your organization. Would you be willing to host an event in your home or at your office? Would you be willing to serve on one of our committees? Would you come and speak to a group of our students (if the organization were a school)?

We know that those who become more involved end up making a greater financial contribution. This can be the point at which that involvement begins.

Can you recommend anyone else that we should invite to future events like this?

We must always be working to expand the size of our respective lists. People tend to know and socialize with others like themselves, so by making this inquiry, you are likely to be referred to other promising individuals.

Make Follow-Up an Organizational Imperative

When you follow up with a potential donor, you are validating the other person while improving the long-term giving potential for your organization. 

Done well, it is a win-win for everyone involved and an important habit to develop for yourself and your colleagues.


*You may be wondering why “follow-up” sometimes takes a hyphen and sometimes not. Well, as my children and grandchildren will tell you, I am a stickler for proper grammar in writing and speech. “Follow-up” is an unusual phrase in that it should be hyphenated when used as a noun or adjective, but not when used as a verb.

Before You Approach a Major Donor

By David A. Mersky

Before You Approach a Major Donor

I had coffee yesterday with a long-time client. His nonprofit organization is beginning to plan for the construction of a substantial new facility, and they have begun engaging with architects, contractors, and such.

Naturally, thoughts of fundraising for this endeavor are already on the table. With that in mind, he shared with me his plans to fly to Los Angeles next week and talk to a major donor about providing a very substantial naming gift for the project.

I implored him not to take this step. After asking several questions, it was clear to me that this action at this time would be premature.

Why? Several reasons, which I explain in more depth below. But in short, effective fundraising is about much more than just “ask and they will give.”

Well Begun is Half Done

Nonprofit fundraisers are often in a rush to gain commitments for anticipated projects. That’s understandable. After all, without those funds, the projects will not get underway.

However, to achieve maximum effectiveness, a great deal of preparation is required. Critical questions must be answered prior to arriving at the door of a major donor. Some of these include…

What will be the outcome to the organization if a major gift is secured?

Sophisticated, thoughtful donors want to know what the vision is for the project at hand. What will the organization be able to do that it cannot do without their philanthropic support?

Are you trying to reinvigorate a youth development center replacing an old building in disrepair with a modern facility, providing children who deserve more with a safe, comfortable, and welcoming structure?

Are you planning to build an inner-city charter schoolto address the dearth of quality educational facilities in communities that don’t have the wherewithal to invest on their own?

Whatever the specifics, you need to help the prospective donor envision how the world will be a better place once you have completed the project for which this gift is the foundation.

How much money do you need?

In the eyes of many donors, this is an investment. It’s a business deal, not a blank check. Regardless of the degree to which they are in support of your organization, or the size of their bank account, they want to know that you have got your ducks in a row.

This means that you need to be much further down the planning road than just, “We want to build X.” How much will the project cost? How much money can you raise in the aggregate? What portion of the overall cost are you asking them to contribute?

You wouldn’t approach a bank for a loan without knowing how much you need and how the funds will be used. The same preparation is required when approaching a donor.

How will you leverage this gift to raise more money?

With rare exception, no single donor wants to fund a multimillion-dollar project on their own. Typically, they are attracted to the idea of collaborating with others of similar philanthropic interests and financial capacity. They want partnership and alliance.

Often, donors want to offer their money as a challenge: “I will contribute X if you can secure an equal amount from others.” They want you to succeed and this can help you to leverage their offer as a way to bring others on board.

Keep in mind as well that it can be risky to be overly dependent on one donor for a given project, should the donor have a change of heart or circumstance. That’s why we recommend a “pyramid approach,” with a few major donors atop a foundation of many other contributors at varying levels beneath.

Relationship First, Money Second

Above all, always remember that fundraising is about people.

Our first responsibility is to serve the donor well – to make sure the request is within the realm of possibility given their wealth, that it reflects their personal vision and the impact they wish to have in the world, and that it strengthens the bond between organization and individual.

Only through preparation and due diligence will you be equipped to take that cross-country flight, knock on that door, and come away with a commitment that improves the lives of all involved.

How Do You Raise Money If You Are Not Providing COVID 19-Related Services?

Raise Money If You Are Not Providing COVID 19-Related Services

Are you asking yourself how you can raise funds at a time of pandemic, economic dislocation, and social unrest when your organization’s mission is not related to any of those issues?

Many of our clients have been raising this concern with us in the past few months. Recently, Michael Jaffe facilitated a program for the staff of a national communal organization that recently utilized our executive search services. 

The goal was to get everyone in the room to answer the question:

“How do nonprofits raise money if you are not providing COVID 19-related services?” 

A question so many organizations face. And Mersky, Jaffe & Associates wants to help you answer. (Click here if you would like to talk to one of us about how we can provide a one-hour brainstorming session for your organization.)

What did this nonprofit learn about raising money if you are not providing COVID 19-related services?

  • Whether or not to relate your organization to current issues depends on the donor. 
  • Fundraisers must be sensitive to their donors as well as transparent, passionate, and sincere when making the case and asking for a commitment. 
  • It is critical, now more than ever, to stay in touch with donors by all and any means of communication that the donor employs. Another national organization, has made 30,000 phone calls to its donors since late March. Organizations should reach out to every donor in their data base in a prioritized, systematic way to create a caring community. The purpose of the call can be to check in, say thank you, and ask questions to engage donors.
  • Stewardship is essential. Everyone, including staff, is dealing with the effects of COVID 19 and the social unrest, but it is critical that staff relate to donors.
  • Virtual solicitations work. Utilize Zoom to engage donors. It is the best option now. Giving is as emotional as it is financial. People are giving, so do not be reluctant to solicit donors now.
  • Many people are looking at their estate plans. Now is a good time to focus on planned giving efforts.
  • Look at donors who give through Donor Advised Funds. They still have money to give away since it has already been set aside for this exact purpose.

Your organization has an important message.  Now is not the time to pull back on fundraising.  If you want to hold a motivating, inspiring program for your staff and/or volunteer leadership, email me or click here to set an appointment to talk about what Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can do for you and your mission.