Tag Archives: Long-term Planning

What Can You Do to Raise Money Today?

The pandemic’s effects do not seem to be easing. We are quarantine fatigued, still social distancing, and, even in states which are re-opening, we are confronting unemployment rates that have not been seen since the Great Depression. Nonprofits have been furloughing or laying off personnel, and, in some cases, eliminating staff positions, all in an effort to reduce expenses. There are justifiable concerns that donations will be down, membership dues will go unpaid, and pledges may go unfulfilled.

So, what can you do to raise money today?

  1. If you have not checked in with your donors, members, volunteers and other important supporters, do so ASAP. As with all stewardship, you don’t want every contact to be an ask so just call to check in.
  2. Consider donor pledges, grant applications and current grants that have yet to be paid. For each commitment due by June 30th, make a phone call. Some will tell you that everything is still on track, some will tell you they cannot honor the commitment, and some may be unreachable because your program officer or donor has been furloughed. If you cannot reach them by phone, then try an email. But remember, this is a time to make a personal connection, not just shoot off a quick note and hope they will give you the $50,000.
  3. Assess your top 50 donors. Are there any that have yet to give a gift this year? Maybe they gave last in December or, perhaps, they skipped a year? Do you know if they are still able to give a gift this year?
  4. If you are looking for immediate funds, you can consider asking this group if they could make their gift early this year to help you meet your current, extraordinary needs. The ask should still be based on the essential elements of an ask that you would use at any time of year in any financial climate. Include a story that will humanize your need and what their gift will provide. Specifically:
    1. Why should they give to you?
    1. Why should they give to you now?

General need, outside of organizations performing emergency relief, is not enough. They will want to know:

  1. What services are you currently providing?
  2. What are your service plans for the next six months – with or without opening your doors?
  3. What are your financial plans for the next six months – with or without opening your doors?
  4. Is their gift going to make an impact? That is, if you need $500,000 for the rest of the year, how do you plan on raising the remaining $490,000?

If someone can no longer give or has shifted priorities, do not take it personally or act disappointed. Today, people are split between those who can give and give more right now, and those who will give less or not at all. The only thing you can do is continue to keep a good attitude and keep stewarding, and then, asking your donors. The stronger the relationship, the more likely you will be to receive a donation.

If you have not been strong in stewardship in the past, now is the time to connect with people in addition to the donors you will ask for an early gift. Plant the seeds for long-term growth. If you only focus on the people you are asking for a gift now, you will have no one to ask down the line. In other words, consider how to “raise money today” in six months, a year or many years down the line.

6 Do’s and Don’t’ s for Disrupting Your Nonprofit

Yesterday, I was looking at the website for my husband’s marketing firm (theamplifiergroup.com in case you need marketing advice) and we got into a long discussion about the word “disruptor.” For those who have worked in nonprofits too long or have had their heads in the sand, disruptor is what every new business wants to be.  To quote a Forbes article:

Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.

Who are disruptors? Airbnb changed the way people visit the world. WeWork altered the way people work “from home.” And, Lyft and Uber turned a stable taxi industry into an obsolete system.

Now it’s time to consider how you can start disrupting your nonprofit in an industry that is afraid that making any substantial changes will decrease donations and therefore should not be made.


  1. Look across the country (and around the world) to see what others are doing. If you are a social service agency, see what they are doing at similar organizations in places that already value disruption (i.e. Silicon Valley) or other countries that have similar problems (youth in need of afterschool activities) and see if you can find ideas that will positively change the way you are doing things.
  2. Build “disrupting your nonprofit” into your strategic plan. For example, congregations, of almost all faiths, have been offering the same model to their communities for hundreds of years. At the same time, our world is changing faster than we can imagine.  Set aside time to think strategically about the wildest ways that you can serve your population – “be destructive and creative.” Whether or not you come up with one idea that seems possible, you will start a conversation that may just save your congregation or nonprofit down the line.
  3. Increase the number donors to your organization. Of course, you want more major donors so that you have more funding, but if you need another reason, the more major donors you have, the less the loss of one of these gems will impact on your bottom line. In other words, if asking major donors for advice is part of your fundraising strategy (and it should be) you will also have to deal with donors who voiced an opinion and are not getting what they want. You may be able to retain their support, but the fear of losing a donor should not impede progress.


  1. Don’t use excuses to stay the same. If you are a large, well-funded nonprofit or a small under-funded agency, you will probably come up with excuses. Not enough staff, lack of major donor support and a board afraid of change may top your list, but that will not help you survive the changes that inevitably come. Government funding changes with administrations, corporate money changes with new leadership and major donors’ priorities shift over time. Nothing is going to stay the same around you, so don’t try to remain the same either. Start figuring out how disrupting your nonprofit can help you achieve your mission.
  2. Don’t make changes unless they increase efficiency and effectiveness. That means don’t make change for change’s sake. Instead, view change as a process to ensure the sustainability of the organization well into the future.
  • Blackberry and Nokia didn’t think Apple would ever replace them in most of their markets. They thought they were producing a product that people liked enough. The disruptor, the IPhone, was so much better they easily overtook the market.
  • A food bank may not be afraid of being replaced, but can think about whether there is a better way to collect, store, and distribute food. Could they use the same resources for better results by thinking so far outside the box they can’t even see the shape anymore? You don’t know until you consider your options.
  1. Don’t be afraid. Change is scary but it is inevitable.  If you shift your organization proactively, it can be a positive experience. If you are only reactive to shifts in the world around you, you can end up being forced to make decisions under pressure and with limited options.  And unless you are very lucky, decisions made in this way can leave you in a place that will anger or hurt your clientele/members, volunteers, donors and/or staff.

Are you ready to be a disruptor and start disrupting your nonprofit? Or maybe the question should be, are you are ready to be disrupted?  Either way, look towards the future.  And, let us know if Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help.

What Does The Demise of Ringling Bros. Have To Do With Your Nonprofit?

Is Your Nonprofit like Ringling Bros?What is the difference between Netflix and Blockbuster? Cirque de Soleil and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baiiley Circus?  Amazon and Barnes & Noble? In all three cases, they started out with a very similar product, or at least a similar product offering.  Now, one is thriving and one is well, not. In fact, Ringling Bros. will fold up its tent on May 21st.  Now the question is, what does the demise of Ringling Bros. have to do with your nonprofit?

Many nonprofits think that if they occasionally post to Facebook (then use the same image for Instagram) and have a mobile friendly site they are up to date.  But that is just not enough.  Barnes and Noble created a website to try to rival Amazon and I’m sure it helped retain some of their business.  But now, their stock is worth 1/5th its value at its peak in 2006. Are you okay with retaining 1/5th of your donors?

Nonprofits cannot rely on their history with a donor

We live in a society where people care about what you do for them today.  They are not looking to nonprofits for more t-shirts or mugs, but they do want to feel the love.  They want to know that your nonprofit is thinking about the future of the organization, its mission and, especially, the future of their relationship with the organization. They want to know that you are:

  • Considering alternate funding streams. I recently passed a school for the blind that opened a low vision store. To me, that is an interesting way to bring people onto the campus to see all the good work while creating a small revenue stream.
  • Investing in donors by having focused staff that are not constantly overworked and/or turning over. How do you know?  Do conversations with major donors often start with something like, “I’m sorry it’s been so long,” “I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to meet yet,” or “I know the event is in two weeks but I hope you can still come.”
  • Investigating what other similar nonprofits are doing across the country. You don’t have to be the innovator, you can collect ideas and still feel fresh. What are other family service agencies doing to replace government funding? What are other religious organizations doing to attract millennials/Generation Y? What does staffing infrastructure look like at the nonprofits that have the donors you covet?

Nonprofits who think they can stay the same may end up like Ringling Bros. –  thinking tradition will win out over change

But it only took one story to hit social media to cause the decline of an institution.  It’s not that people weren’t aware of the elephants on trains before then, but suddenly it was impossible to ignore.

I am the perfect example of someone who grew up going to see the three-ring circus. But when I had children, I took them to the Big Apple Circus instead. Don’t give your donors the opportunity to move on before you consider your nonprofit’s path forward, plan to start evolving today.

If you are interested in speaking with us about a new strategic plan for your nonprofit, email me by clicking here

To learn more about our strategic planning services, click here.


Common Strategic Plan Implementation Mistakes

wellness checkupMy children do not go for a yearly doctor’s appointment. They, in fact go for annual wellness checkups. This idea that they are seeing a professional to ensure they are growing, developing and staying on a healthy path is a better message and a strong reminder of what is important.

Nonprofits, on the other hand, often go for years without internal reviews. The excuses – everything from “we are too small” to “we are too overworked” to “we have a retreat and review some aspect of our agency each year” are just that – excuses.

If you have taken the time to create a strategic plan and have not planned for implementation (your wellness checkup) you are, in all likelihood, wasting large parts of that valuable process.

Sure, you may have incorporated elements of the plan into your nonprofits day-to-day operations. But all too often, the pieces that seem too difficult, too time-consuming, or too off-strategy from what staff thinks should be the priority is left behind to gather dust. And the failure to implement the plan fully and regularly evaluate progress creates resentment among the leadership who spent their time and energy developing the plan in the first place.

What can you do to avoid these all too common strategic plan implementation mistakes?

  1. Incorporate a timed list of priorities at the end of the planning process so that everyone is aware of what may will get done in year one, what will get done in year two and three of a five-year plan.
  2. Ask the staff to evaluate the plan and consider what time frames they think would be appropriate for each element of the plan that requires changes.
  3. Establish a routine check up or check in at the time the plan is created. Determine who will do the evaluation, who will provide the information and where it falls on your calendar. This will ensure the participants will have the necessary time to prepare for the assessment.
  4. Consider your specific nonprofit and the players involved before establishing hard and fast rules. Determine what would ensure the plan will be followed, measured as well as achieve success for the organization.

We know that each organization is unique and while there are general rules to follow, always make sure that you are tweaking the specifics to help motivate participants and ensure success. If you feel that you are too close and could use a consultant to help evaluate your plan or how your plan will be used, please email Abigail Harmon today.

Is February Too Late To Start Year-End Fundraising?

During the last week in January, the Chronicle of Philanthropy posted an article about year-end fundraising. Article might be the wrong word, it was primarily a list of nonprofits that had successful year-end fundraising campaigns with an encouragement to consider planning yours now. These are, on the whole, dynamic marketing campaigns for their annual funds. And while they require creativity, what seemed to bring success was creating a single message that evoked emotion and pushed it through every available avenue on a consistent basis.

Now it is already February. Why don’t you consider your messaging for the rest of the year? What can you do to attract awareness, retain donors and present continuity for your community? You can use the list from The Chronicle to create a campaign of your own.

For instance, what if you were to change your messaging to consider the people affected by your work – even though they never utilize your nonprofit?

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s example, the Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles found success when they highlighted children affected by the disease. I could make a case that the same extension of benefits could be used for religious organizations trying to retain baby boomers.

Stay with me.

Imagine speaking to Baby Boomer’s children. Maybe it is formed into a piece that you send to the baby boomers asking them to pass it along to their loved ones or inserted into a newsletter with a dotted line asking people to cut it out and mail it to their children. Then, design a campaign that explains how a synagogue’s offerings of classes and activities for members who are between the ages of 50 and 68 are actually designed to benefit their children and family members. When taken on a regular basis, these classes become ideal distractions that prevent parents from overly focusing and intruding on the children’s lives. Silly? Maybe, but it also gets across the message that there is a lot going on for a generation of people who think a religious organization may have nothing to offer but worship services. Which encourages involvement, translating into higher membership and donor retention.

This may or may not be the ideal example for you, but I hope it helps make a point that now is the time to plan out your annual campaign and its messaging for the year. Then, you can utilize it in a variety of ways in the months between now and December – and watch your annual fund improve along the way.

Nonprofit Development Assessment and Feasibility Study

Examining Your Nonprofit with a Magnifying GlassHave you considered conducting a nonprofit development assessment or a feasibility study?  These essential in-depth examinations can be incredibly valuable to a nonprofit.  Why would you consider conducting a wellness snapshot of this magnitude?

You might consider one of these efforts if you are interested in:

  • Improving overall efficacy;
  • Increasing income;
  • Understanding your current resources;
  • Knowing how to access those resources;
  • Initiating a capital campaign;
  • Ensuring sufficient staff; and/or
  • Strengthening the impression you give to prospective and current donors.

And as a bonus, the appraisals, and the results, are an ideal way to show the world that you are a strong organization worth funding as well as volunteering time and talent.  An agency that knows where they are, where they want to head, and what they need to do to accomplish their goals is more than half way home.

Full disclosure: both nonprofit development assessments and feasibility studies benefit from the use of a consultant.  This is because it is hard to see yourself and your colleagues in an objective manor.  It can be too rosy a view or too harsh a perspective, but either way that bias will be reflected in the results. Then, how can you be sure that you are heading down the best path for the organization to follow and not down the road that one individual unconsciously thinks the organization should head?

Nonprofit Development Assessment vs. Feasibility Study

Which one do you need?  In many ways, these two overlap in their focus.

A development audit is primarily conducted among the nonprofit’s current staff, board and donors and funders.  As it says, it focuses on the development function –staff, systems, volunteers, methodology, fundraising efforts, diversification of funding sources and an overall picture of where you are as well as where you could/should be.  An audit should be conducted every few years, at regular intervals, when there is a major staff transition, or any other occasion that indicates the assessment is not only worth the time and energy required, but also the opportunity to interpret and appreciate the results.

A Feasibility Study consists of an agreed upon number of interviews (and, possibly, focus groups) conducted among those inside and outside the organization.  Current givers, prospective major donors, people who love you and people who no longer care to do business with you are all engaged in enough conversation to get data along with anecdotal thoughts that help express the general feeling surrounding the agency.    Generally, a feasibility study is conducted when a nonprofit is considering a capital or endowment campaign—a fundraising endeavor outside the scope of a regular annual fund effort for unrestricted operating revenue.  Is the money in the community available to this nonprofit? Will the donors be excited about a new building/endowment/additional programs?  Taking the guesswork out of campaign of this nature gives confidence that a plan can and should move forward.

If you are questioning whether you should be conducting a feasibility study or development audit consider emailing me today at Abigail@merskyjaffe.com.

Preventing Future Nonprofit Problems

Nonprofits tend to get complacent. Maybe we all do. But when we accept our situation as “the way it is,” we are doing more than missing opportunities, we may be causing future problems.

What kind of future problems?


You are making enough to cover your budget, so why worry? Decreased funding can occur in the blink of an eye – ask anyone involved with Bernard Madoff. Corporate funding can disappear with a merger agreement. Now is the time to diversify annual funding sources or establish a planned giving program for long-term stability. Not once you have the budgetary gap.

Board Development:

What would you do if 3 people stepped off your Board of Directors this fall? If you assume your ad hoc nominating committee can suddenly fill the gaps, you may be in for quite the surprise. If they are not planning on a year-round basis and growing a large number of potential candidates, you may be unexpectedly reducing the size of your board by ten or twenty percent.


If you are not planning for change – whether growth of new programs or reduction in services you are waiting for change to happen to you. And then, your response can be too late. Will you have the additional funding to make that new hire or the foresight to shift locations for some programs to make room for others?

Need more ideas? Consider the specific areas of your organization that have not been examined in more than a year. Are there areas that have potential hazards? Address them now. Before it is too late.

Institutional Knowledge

An executive that has a deep understanding of an organization and its donors can be good for an organization.  Unless, too much of the institutional knowledge resides only in his or her head – then it is scary.

How do you know if your nonprofit falls into this category?  If the executive director or development professional can not delegate and says things like, “I have to be involved in deciding who to honor this year,” “I know which major donors have already said no,” “only I understand how to segment the donors…” or “I keep meaning to write that down so I can pass it along to a volunteer.”

This is not to say that organizational experience is not valuable – no one really wants to go through the old invites to see who has been honored in what capacity for the past 15 years.  A quick conversation with someone who has been around is much easier, but the point is that someone could look it up—if he or she were so inclined—and, if it were retrievable.

Life happens and so do unexpected departures.  Ensure the longevity and sustainability of the organization by having a clear system of recording data so that the institutional knowledge is discoverable.  That will make delegation that much easier.

What Does An Annual Fund Do – Besides Raise Money?

Tip of the iceberg imageLots. Annual Funds have many purposes besides raising money. It is often easy to get caught up in meeting your target numbers, but if you look beyond the dollar sign, you can often increase your bottom line. Contradictory? Not at all. It is the difference between development and fundraising.

Having a well-built list of donors can be very advantageous. Want to have an event? Here is a list of people interested in your mission. Looking to expand your board? You already have a list to search through for candidates who fit your criteria and who already support your mission. Considering a capital campaign? Current supporters usually give the majority of the total funds raised.

Increased participation often causes improved connections with the organization. To give – even at a small level is to know that you are helping the organization fulfill its mission. We all know that $50 will not help increase a beloved employee’s salary – but if another 5% of your population gave $50, what could you accomplish?

Annual funds also serve as a good litmus test as to how the community thinks the organization is doing. The stronger the organization, the more people who agree with the mission/vision and the more aligned new programs are with the focus of the nonprofit – the more likely they will be financially supported by the public. Of course, the opposite is not always true – your lack of support may be as simple as how, when or in what context you ask.

New donors are incredibly exciting. They chose your association to give money to this year. When you stop to think about how many opportunities to give to organizations there are in a year and the small percentage that each individual chooses to give to, you know that a gift is a substantial vote of confidence. Learn as much as you can as each new donor enters your system. It is much easier and less time consuming than waiting for a large number to accrue.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. But perhaps it will help you reconsider your efforts for the coming year.

Get Your Direct Mail Appeal Read

Nonprofit recycling binAh, December.  If a donor has been considering giving to an organization, the tax benefits are often enough of a reason to give in December.  But, the donor may have been asked – in person and via mail – by many organizations.  The real question is, will you be front of mind when that impulse to give occurs.

Or, put another way, how do you make sure your letter doesn’t make it into the recycling bin within minutes?  Consider the other reasons that donors give.

Your Mission: Do you appeal to the donor because of your mission?  Have you clearly expressed what your mission is and what you do to achieve your goals?  Does each potential donor know who benefits from your work and can you prove that you have had success on both a small and large scale?

Trust: Have you spent the previous year instilling confidence in your organization?  Is there faith in the staff, the board, the volunteers?  Do donors understand that their money will be invested with care and control?  Is there an understanding that the future of the organization is secure and that their money is well spent?

The Ask: Is your letter well crafted?  Is there an easy response mechanism? Does the ask continue the momentum of clearly expressing your mission and instilling trust?

The Law of Averages: According to the Direct Marking Association, the average response rate for letter-sized envelopes is around 3.42 percent.  Email fundraising response rates were, unsurprisingly lower at .13%, but that does not include the number of people that use the email as a reminder to put their check in the mail.   How many do you need to send out to get your critical mass?  How can you organically increase your list?  Buying a list for this purpose will not, in all likelihood, get you future major donors and all too often a $10 donor can cost you more than that in future years.

The truth is, a 3.42% return is not likely to change your bottom line but those are an ideal pool of names for you to analyze and determine whether you should get to know those donors a lot better.  Turning 100% of 3.42% into major donors can alter your financial picture.  Maybe even by next December.