Tag Archives: Marketing

The Tradeoff of Time vs Money in Fundraising – 7 Considerations

Tradeoff of Time vs. Money in Fundraising We all know the adage, time is money. Nonprofits often think volunteer time is better to spend than precious dollars. But is it really?

And in the time of the pandemic, is there more time or less?

The Tradeoff of Time vs Money in Fundraising

Let’s say that you don’t want to spend money on a fundraising consultant for a capital campaign.  You believe you can do it on your own – you have a dedicated group willing to put in the work.

Can you get the same fundraising results without investing the money in a nonprofit consultant like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates? No, time is, literally, money lost. Money lost by not knowing:

  1. How much to ask for. Most clients underestimate the ask amounts of all but the very highest and lowest donors.
  1. How to ask. We train solicitors to ask for seemingly outrageous donations, to overcome any objections to the campaign during a solicitation, and how to be persistent without being pushy during each step of the process. For instance, an untrained ear will hear “no,” and walk away. We teach solicitors to listen to hear if they are really saying “I need more information” or “not yet.”
  1. Marketing materials are a huge distraction. The weeks you spend holding off fundraising while crafting the perfect marketing materials will not improve your outcome. Marketing is within many capital campaign committee members’ comfort zones so it is not surprising that it is deemed essential before you can do anything else.  Truth: Many a failed campaign have had beautiful pieces. When we are called in to help with a stalled or unsuccessful campaign, we are almost always shown interesting, well produced marketing materials. Instead, we help you create a strong case for giving to your worthy organization – in a nice piece that an outside designer can work on while you are moving through your fundraising plan.
  1. How to create a fundraising plan with action items.  You need a campaign fundraising plan that leads you through your prospects in a methodical way. Who do you approach first? Who should be in your second, third or fourth round of solicitations? We help you avoid a scattered approach and focus on those who can make an impactful gift to the campaign.
  1. Who to ask.  Most clients have hidden gems in their donor database. Sometimes they will be low level, long-term donors with high capacity. Other times they will be people giving at a mid-level range that could easily be a major donor. We help you find the best prospects. And, help you determine when is the best time to ask them for a gift to your capital campaign.
  1. The potential for the overall goal.  What would you do if we could discover that you could raise $2,500,000 over your current goal? Our feasibility studies help predict accurate, achievable goals. Potentially, a goal you would not even consider without advice from someone like us.
  1. It just takes longer without counsel.  There is a lot to learn on the internet. In fact, MJA has 118 articles, before this one, that reference a capital campaign. It takes a lot of time to understand best practices, fundraising techniques and capital campaign strategies.  Time that could be spent raising money instead of watching construction costs rise.

If you still think the tradeoff of time vs money in fundraising without counsel is worth it, here is a link to the 118 other articles on capital campaigns. No judgements – this is why we write them.

If you would like to speak with us about your upcoming (or stalled) capital campaign, email me and we can start the process today.

10 Pieces of Paper That Will Strengthen Your Nonprofit

  1. Documents to Strengthen Your NonprofitVolunteer packet – Volunteers can be incredibly useful when it comes to ways to strengthen your nonprofit and incredibly time consuming.  Automate some of the systems by creating a packet for volunteers.  You can learn about their interests, explain your priorities and areas of need, and establish a standardized set parameters for all involved. Specifics can be worked out once you understand where their enthusiasm lies but this will help you avoid the initial in-take from becoming a time-suck.
  2. Your calendar – plan out your day – Yes, this may be on your computer or phone, but consider – what are you going to accomplish today?  If you fall from one reactive exercise to another, you will never move forward enough to strenthen your nonprofit.  Schedule a time to answer emails, attend meetings and return calls.  But also schedule your focused work time.  And be somewhat firm about it.  You don’t want to anger your co-workers, but ultimately, you are responsible to do your work and you have to find the time to do it.
  3. Personalized office stationery – The costs are relatively low but the benefits can be extremely high. You can use it to write a personal note to one donor a day for the next month. Thank someone for the great conversation last week.  Add a personal note into an invite for an upcoming event.  You may not have the time to make 28 additional coffee meetings this month, but how can you resist a way to touch 28 people when it only takes 5 minutes per person?
  4. Board manual – If you don’t have one, you should.  This is the place were expectations from time commitments to fiduciary responsibilities are clearly stated.  A clear picture of the organization is offered.  And the formality reminds both parties of the nature of the relationship – a business partnership.
  5. Strategic plan – If you don’t know where you want to be in the next 2-5 years, how can you explain it to anyone?  A set document, even if it always remains a work-in-progress, will ensure everyone is focusing on the same goals and help strengthen your nonprofit.
  6. Board-approved job descriptions – Often, when a board complains that they love the ED but there are major items not getting done, it is simply a matter of conflicting priorities.  In many organizations, leadership is overworked so, for your sake and theirs, get on the same page. Whether you think major donor stewardship should be 20% or 70% of the time commitment – make sure you all agree.  Or be ready to be continually disappointed.
  7. Fundraising collateral materials – Too obvious?  Maybe, but having the right materials at hand can be helpful when introducing anyone – donors, new staff, volunteers, etc. – to the organization.
  8. Donor strategies – I was hesitant to put this on the list because it is usually a print out and not a set paper documents but it would seem to be missing the mark if it was not included.  Individualized donor strategies, including upcoming steps, should be reviewed and acted upon on a continual basis.  If this is not yet a part of your day/week/month, pull out your calendars mark it in red.  This is essential.
  9. Case statement – If you have a case for giving – use it.  Make the calls, get the appointments, and don’t miss a great tool to speak with your potential and current donors.  Get them on board with the organization’s focus, and money will always follow.
  10. Your to do list – Motivate yourself to do something new today.  Get one project started that has been on your list for more than a week (month or even year).  You will feel good when you cross it off, or when you determine the reason it was such a low priority is that it wasn’t worth much and should come off of your list anyway.

Want to see other lists that can help your nonprofit?

Attention Board Members: 2 of 3 W’s Is Not Enough

Knowing How to Listen Can Improve Fundraising

How do you improve your solicitation, acknowledgement, and stewardship systems?

Note: this post was originally published in 2010












Successful Capital Campaigns Help With Marketing And Communications

David A. Mersky imageA student at a small college whom we counsel, sat with me in the office of the director of institutional advancement. I asked him what his story was. I wanted to know what brought him to this college. What did he aspire to do with his education.

Jose was the first Hispanic student ever to enroll in American College of the Building Arts. He came with a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education and half a dozen years of working with young people caught up in the judicial system as well as veterans returned from overseas deployments and other marginalized members of society. He wanted to learn how to apply the artisanship of timber framing and carpentry to the discipline of experiential education so that the people whose lives he touched would develop an enhanced sense of self-worth and become contributing members of society.

I was inspired by his story and the next evening I told it to 200 supporters of the College who had gathered to celebrate the public announcement of its first-ever capital campaign designed to build the new campus. The group was inspired by Jose’s story and electrified by the fact that in less than six months and with only 23 gifts, we had raised $6.2 million—47% of the goal. That night we identified 27 new prospective donors and began a disciplined plan of follow up and engagement. This was according to our marketing plan.

As in the case of the College, all capital campaigns rely—if they are to be successful—upon a clear message, effectively delivered to the right person or segment of the community, and with a clear call to action. In some cases the message is written, in the form of letter, emails, brochures or even video’s or slide presentations. In other cases, the message is delivered verbally—either face-to-face to an individual or couple, or even to a group of prospects or donors.

Successful capital campaigns help with marketing and communications by ensuring there is a focused effort. And, the lessons learned during the campaign can be applied year-round to all of the operations of the organization. Among the key aspects of marketing, common to the capital campaign as well as the day-to-day operation of any organization, are:

  • Identifying the target audience—whether an audience of one or a thousand and one.
  • Gathering information about the audience so that you know them and their needs and aspirations which enables you to focus your message.
  • Interesting the prospect or donor based upon your understanding of their concerns in what you are trying to accomplish—your organization’s vision.
  • Involving each and every prospect or donor in ways which are meaningful to them and, secondarily, supportive of your organization.

Donor stewardship is as much a component of marketing as the management and enhancement of the relationship. If we do this not only with our capital campaign or endowment fund donors, but also our annual fund supporters, then our results—increased donations and retention of donors from one year to the next—will be assured.

That is a guarantee upon which you can count when you apply the principles of sound marketing to the work of your organization.

NEXT MONTH: Annual Fund

LAST MONTH: Financial Management

Marketing Your Nonprofit with Cute Babies?

Cute Football BabyIt’s been a little over a week since the Super Bowl and it seems that the only lasting memories (outside of Baltimore) are the ads that continue to run on television and online.  As always, talking babies, silly animals and beautiful, scantily-clad women were featured in the large majority of favorites.  But, people were also talking about these ads before the Super Bowl.  They were posted on YouTube and promoted in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and blogs.  In other words, traditional marketing – even for traditional companies has expanded.  And your nonprofit – no matter the size — can also capitalize on a combination of strong imagery and less traditional (as well as less expensive) marketing.

These adorable images may work for Pepsi and Kia, but should you be marketing your nonprofit with cute babies? The advertising industry understands that getting someone’s attention is essential to selling your message.  Nonprofits should be doing the same.

No one is going to give you a six-figure donation because you feature a cute doggie bringing a smile to hospital patient.  But using the image to encourage someone to pick up your brochure, click on your Facebook ad or generally learn more about your organization is a wise move.  Assuming that there is a true connection to the organization.

Want to step up your game even more?  Did you know you can use Twitter to share images and excite prospects?  Have you ever asked donors, volunteers and prospects to give you their best images of the organization?  Maybe you will get people shots, but maybe you will get that amazing image that truly represents your nonprofit.  Facebook, Pinterest and other social media are perfect places to ask for these pictures, and to receive them.

Be creative.  And attract prospects and donors – one cute baby at a time.

MJA Challenge: Judging Your Nonprofit

Last week I posted 3 articles (see the links below) that questioned whether your nonprofit was being perceived in a planned way, or evolved in a haphazard and counterproductive fashion.  The articles, focused on judging your nonprofit, were brief in both their problems and solutions (trying to keep blog posts short, I have been told, is essential to ensure higher readership) but the strong interest in the articles implies that many of you are concerned about how your nonprofit is being judged.

Your challenge this week is to choose one the three areas discussed last week (by your board, your messaging or your gala) or another way in which you realize your organization’s image is not what you want it to be.  List at least 3 ways in which you can improve the situation.  If you share your suggested plan of action with us, we will post those that have the most universal application.

And, let us know if we can help you find your solution by emailing Abigail Harmon.

Judging a Nonprofit by its Board

This is Part 3 in a mini-series that asks – how do people determine which organizations deserve their donations? While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or as a sign in my local library reminded me – you shouldn’t judge a book by its movie), should you judge a nonprofit by its direct mail?  Staff?  Physical Location?  Articles in the newspaper?  Facebook page?  Gala? Should you be judging a nonprofit by its board?

Problem: Staff and boards sometimes have a love/hate relationship.  This co-dependent, symbiotic situation often leaves questions as to how people speak for and about the organization.  This can lead to large gaps between what is said and the realities of the organization as well as how the nonprofit would like to present itself.

Solution: Who holds the ultimate responsibility has to be determined clearly and definitively. However, ensuring they work together cohesively is the staff’s responsibility.  In addition to the solutions mentioned in Judging a Nonprofit by its Messaging and Judging a Nonprofit by its Gala consider having a marketing plan that includes mission-driven highlights that can be shared in board and committee meetings and letting everyone (who will listen) know how the organization would like to be perceived.

Because the board possesses intimate knowledge of the nonprofit, these highlights can include financial, development-related, or any committee related story that stresses the core focus of the agency as well as how it helps further the mission. But, be clear what can be shared with the general public and what can be shared to encourage stronger relationships with volunteers, donors and prospects.

In addition, do little things that ensure board members are aware of what the public sees (taking them out of the bubble of the inner workings).  They should be receiving all emails, calendars and event listings.  Place hard copies of brochures and marketing materials on a side table in the board room before a meeting so that people can browse the pieces while others are arriving or before they leave.  Circulate important changes in policies that are distributed to clients or members.  Make it clear that you are not asking for markups or changes, but simply ensuring they are aware of the way the organization presents itself.  The bonus here is that someone may let you know if the organization is sending too many communications or getting off track.  And it shows off the staff’s hard work.

For more ideas on how your organization is perceived, consider reading:  Judging a Nonprofit by its Messaging and Judging a Nonprofit by its Gala.



Judging a Nonprofit by its Messaging

This is Part 1 in a mini-series that asks – how do people determine which organizations deserve their donations? While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or as a sign in my local library reminded me – you shouldn’t judge a book by its movie), should you judge a nonprofit by its direct mail?  Board?  Staff?  Physical Location?  Articles in the newspaper?  Facebook page?  Gala?  What about judging a nonprofit by its messaging?

Problem: There are so many ways in which a nonprofit can create awareness. It takes a lot of work to control the communication sent through the variety of channels available today. Creating consistent messaging is essential. Look at any strong organization – one that presents itself as a national brand with branches (e.g. YMCA or the United Way) – and you can uncover some important lessons.

The look, feel and essence of messaging should be the same from the CEO to the mailroom staff (or volunteer sorter).  It is not enough to show them the mission statement and assume everyone buys into the ideas and knows how to rephrase it in their own words.   One rogue committee member can upset a donor as easily as anyone else.

Solution: Practice talking about the mission, vision and goals of the nonprofit with the board, staff and volunteers.  This can be a great exercise at a retreat or group training session.  It is non-controversial and sends the message that you are thinking about each participant as an advocate of the organization who should be aware that what they say and how they say it is critical to success.

For more ideas on how your organization is perceived, consider reading:  Judging a Nonprofit by its Gala and Judging a Nonprofit by its Board.



What Do People Think About Your Nonprofit?

Nonprofit ratingNonprofits are often asked to provide proof that they are using resources to fund the wants and needs of the community.  Justifying new expenditures, even in organizations that run an annual surplus, can be hard.  What should organizations do when the board decides that the leadership’s belief in a new program or building addition is not enough?  Let the community decide.


The easiest way to find out what the community thinks is a survey.  In fact, with the easy survey systems available online, most of us are inundated by these requests.  How do you really find out the answer to the question,
What do people think about your nonprofit?”

I admit that over the years I have written my fair share of surveys (both off and online).  Maybe that is why I have noticed certain trends as of late.  Some trends are good, some are bad.

Some Good:
The In-Depth Interview: This form includes multiple questions that address the same topic from different angles.  This is advanced survey writing, but if you really want to know the answer to a question, you have to ask it within different contexts to eliminate some of the emotional or flippant responses.  This does mean a longer survey, but it also means a more accurate one.

The Brief:  While it is the polar opposite of The In-Depth, you can sometimes achieve a higher response rate with a choice handful of questions.  If you carefully design the questions and responses, you can still find out if people agree with your ideas, and not ask them to give up too much of their valuable time.

Some Bad:
Trying to Trick the Respondent:  Please, please, please don’t think you can creatively ask questions that will encourage people to give your ideal response without them noticing.  Maybe I see this so transparently because I have written surveys, but I can’t imagine anyone could not see these obvious ploys to get the results the nonprofit desires. And it happens all the time.  (I do wonder if this sometimes happens because these simple survey systems exist – writing a fair and balanced survey is not as easy as people assume it will be). But, if it is created with intent to slant the results, consider this – if you don’t ask the members, donors and prospects for their true feelings, are you really representing their thinking or justifying the leadership’s wants and needs?

Positive Responses =Positive Feelings: I have been given a number of surveys this year by one organization that only ask questions that will offer positive responses.   It seems as if question after question want me to respond in a way that leaves a good impression about the amazing new programs they are running this year.  Instead, it leaves me feeling like they are trying to push me into appreciating them more than asking for my advice.  Cynical?  Maybe, but I doubt I am the only one who is ending up with a negative impression.

While I could easily list more positive and negative trends – I think you get the idea.  If you follow a few simple rules – understand what it takes to write a survey before you begin, consider that you are asking for an opinion, not trying to find validation for your ideas, and design the survey with the user in mind – you will engage your constituents.  And more importantly, you will truly learn about your organization.

Stewardship Through Facebook

Facebook IconIn the fifth installment of 100 Donors in 90 Days, John Haydon discusses how social media can help you find new donors. Social media may be complicated for those just considering whether to initiate a program. For those of us who have been working in this realm for a while, it is an ever-changing tactic that we are all trying to employ. Why should we keep at it? Because if there is a chance we can bring in new donors through social media – we are virtually obligated to give it our best effort. And people like John have proven it’s possible. But, employing social media has to be evaluated within the context of our overall development strategy, particularly when we are asking anyone in our organizations to focus their limited time and resources on a new area of responsibility.

Then, what should be a part of the agency’s marketing effort and what should be considered fundraising?

According to John, Facebook is a great place to meet potential donors. He makes some helpful suggestions to increase your presence if you are just starting out. But, let’s focus on some of the ways to use Facebook that will help you find new donors.

Facebook is a hard place to ask for money. Sure, there can be a “donate now” link – people even expect that. But, you have no way to control whether the message goes to people who showed up today for the first time or have “liked” you for the past year. MJA readers know that cultivation takes time and asking too soon can leave a bad taste with a potential donor. Instead, think about what path you would like them to follow once they are on your Facebook page that would enable them to become bigger fans of your organization. If you are not sure that your strategy will work – ask them. Facebook is interactive in a way that few traditional media have been in the past.

In other words, use Facebook as an element of the cultivation and stewardship process. Consider ways to engage people to come back often. Encourage visitors to give you their email address in exchange for some perk. They know you will email them a solicitation at some point, but then you can control at what point in the relationship they receive your messages.

And, gently guide them to your website. The statistics about giving on Facebook vs. giving on a website are drastically different. John refers to a Blackbaud report that demonstrates the value of moving prospects towards your site.

I think he put it well when he said, “the best use of Facebook is going to be about nurturing relationships. If you ask too much you’re going to probably offend a lot of people that are on the periphery. They are just getting to know your organization. If they just happen to come onboard in the middle of your fundraising campaign. You don’t want to turn them off by pounding them over the head.”

Facebook has one other strength that is worth noting. It is a great place to highlight outcomes, offer appreciation to donors and show what you were able to do with the money raised.

With a bit of set up, showing off your best side will become easier and easier.

Social Media Quality vs Quantity

Every day when I open my email there is a Linked-In digest for the Non-Profit Marketing Group Members group.  For four months the top link has been to the comment, “Have a Facebook Page? Share it Here for Mutual ‘Likes’” There have been 400+ comments, most of them listing their nonprofit, commending the idea and agreeing to “like” the other organizations in a reciprocal exchange.

Most seem to be small organizations and from what I can tell, have completely missed the idea of “likes” on Facebook.  We all want additional people to “like” our organizations or follow us on twitter (@merskyjaffe) but the only way our organization will be successful is if our subscribers are appropriate for us.  People that support our ideals – emotionally, personally and financially.

Social media encourages us to look for quantity but in our heart of hearts, we all know that quality is what matters.

And if you need one more reason to consider quality lists, consider your statistics.  It is much harder to get higher click-through and response rates when a quarter of your list is irrelevant to your cause.

Encourage quality connections through your member lists, emails, brochures, signage, and other places people already look for you.  Mention your social media connections in meetings and events.  Work hard to evolve your lists but work smart.  It will mean more in the long run to have a large quantity of quality connections.