Crowdfunding Campaigns for Nonprofits: Giving Tuesday and Beyond

By Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

There’s nothing like a crowdfunding campaign to capture a moment, build your donor base, or raise money for a specific project. I’ve had the opportunity to lead over 30 crowdfunding projects ranging in goal from $1,000 to $50,000, as well as seven days of giving and Giving Tuesday campaigns. Each project had its unique set of challenges and opportunities that led to the insights I am pleased to share with you below. 

Crowdfunding allows you to galvanize your existing supporters and leverage your constituents and their social media networks to expand your reach faster than traditional annual giving methods like phonathons or direct mail campaigns. Plus, crowdfunding can be fun. When people see you and your followers having fun with a campaign, they are more likely to engage. 

Crowdfunding is most successful when executed over a designated time period or on a single “Day of Giving,” such as Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 29, 2022) and is recognized around the world as a day to make contributions to nonprofit organizations. On Giving Tuesday 2021, nearly $3 billion was raised in the United States alone. 

How to run a successful crowdfunding campaign

Set Campaign Messaging

Your goal can be a specific number of donors or a dollar amount, but it must be attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Create a unique, authentic tagline to communicate your goal and a dedicated landing page or fundraising platform that you can link to in all of your messages. Plan to share stories online along the way. 

  • Consultant Tip: Campaign video teasers sent via email and social media are effective ways to build anticipation before your campaign launch. Here is an example of a crowdfunding campaign teaser video from a university where I worked. When we encouraged reactions and responses to our posts, people were more likely to spread our message.

Build Your Team

Recruit a leader to manage the progress of internal staff members, volunteers, and “star” ambassadors. Who is best suited for planning and who for execution? Who is motivated and will stay engaged? What connections to social media “stars” do you have on your Board who would be willing to make a gift, post about their contribution on their social networks, and help increase organic engagement?

  • Consultant Tip: Track which of your ambassadors brought in the most new donors or overall dollars and create a leaderboard to generate healthy competition within your team to increase gifts.

Find the Right Partner

Crowdfunding can be part of your larger annual giving strategy. Partnering with an expert who understands the planning, marketing, fundraising, and strategic moves that crowdfunding requires will make your effort run smoothly and give you confidence. 

  • Consultant Tip: Set aside time to meet with an account manager for each of the platforms you use including your customer relationship management (CRM) and bulk email platform, direct mail vendor, texting application, and giving page. Make sure you understand what tools you have at your disposal and how to use them to make your campaign really shine.

Set a Timeline

Once you determine your crowdfunding approach, it is crucial to plan when, what, and where you will post your campaign goals and progress updates. Creating a timeline can help your team see the bigger picture, generate new ideas throughout the process, and stay on schedule with timely communications. 

Create Urgency

Crowdfunding is most effective when you have a compelling and urgent need to entice donors, many of whom may not yet be associated with your organization. One or more of your donors may be willing to encourage others to give to your crowdfunding effort by making a challenge gift and calling for matching gifts. 

  • Consultant Tip: In advance of launch day, meet with potential major donors to “seed” the campaign with early donations. This early support will encourage more people to get involved, especially when you have a challenge gift. During a designated day, time challenges can also be effective, such as a “Rush Hour Challenge” or “School’s Out Challenge” or a “Members Only Challenge.” 

Drive Momentum

Your crowdfunding campaign success will be defined by how constituents drive the momentum via social media. Harness your ambassadors and keep the online engagement moving with timely messages, videos, and updates along the way. Use a multi-channel communications strategy to reach people in more than one way.

  • Consultant Tip: Plan for the unexpected. Your campaign could go viral if a megastar or influencer gets on board. Be ready to react in real time and ride the wave to success.

Make It Easy

Donors want to click, give, share, and receive acknowledgement and campaign updates. Make the path to sharing your content simple and approachable both for your team and the public. 

Prioritize Stewardship

Plan stewardship well in advance of launch day so that you can thank donors along the way. Enlist ambassadors, staff, and volunteers to help with a letter writing campaign or thank-you video in addition to your regular tax receipt acknowledgement. 

  • Consultant Tip: Show the impact! Record a video capturing the excitement on a day of giving or the results of the gifts that have been made – check out this example of a personalized video I received when I made a contribution during a crowdfunding campaign.

Analyze

Debrief, learn, and adapt for future programs using quantitative and qualitative data. Create tracking mechanisms in advance of your campaign. Use solicitation codes and set up a campaign tracking sheet so you can understand which channels and outreach tactics were most successful. 

Crowdfunding takes effort, but can have an immediate impact on your organization and be incredibly satisfying when done correctly. Reach out today to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed in your crowdfunding and annual giving efforts.


Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multi-channel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold).

A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

How to Write a Fundraising Case Statement: 10 Steps

Your organization has an inspiring vision and is ready to raise big money to make it a reality, but you aren’t quite sure of the communications approach to donors. Would punchy, bold language add to your fundraising appeal or turn prospects away? Should you print hundreds of fancy brochures or create a campaign website? Do you need a theme separate from your annual fund or marketing slogan? This is where a fundraising case statement comes into play.

A case statement—also referred to as a case for support—is your best communication tool for a fundraising campaign. It indicates to prospective donors what you hope to accomplish with their philanthropic dollars in both a pragmatic and an emotional way. It also ensures that everyone on your campaign team—your executive director, board members, staff, and volunteers—is aligned with your messaging.

Tailor Your Messaging

Your case statement must be tailored to your brand, campaign, and, most importantly, your audience.

Consider the questions your audience will want to know:

  • What is your organization’s “big idea”?
  • Why does this idea matter, and who will it impact?
  • Why is your organization the right one to implement the big idea?
  • What will it take to reach success?
  • Why is now the right time?

10 Steps for Building Your Fundraising Case Statement for Support

Articulating your organization’s distinct values and vision is vital to raising money consistently and effectively. There are several steps that you can take regardless of the size of your organization or the scope of your campaign when building your case:

  1. Gather background. Reflect on your organization’s brand and strategic plan and how they integrate into your fundraising approach. If you have had a fundraising advisor conduct a campaign study, incorporate recommendations from the feasibility study report.
  2. Build a team. Host a kickoff meeting for a small team of internal and external stakeholders with whom you will collaborate as you develop content. Be proactive in asking for your team’s input and always be open to their feedback.
  3. State your timeline. Determine a timeline for content production. A case statement can take anywhere from two to six months to develop, design, and print.
  4. Determine structure. Decide what structure you think is best for your audience and whether to go digital first or have it professionally printed.
  5. Write an outline. I cannot overestimate how important an outline is to the case building process, especially for managing word count.
  6. Interview key figures. Campaign leadership, the people you serve, and notable community members will help you make your case.
  7. Create a memorable campaign theme. My most important piece of advice when developing a campaign theme is that it suggests to the donor how they can take the organization to the next level.
  8. Insist on an appealing design. Having a distinct look from everything else the organization is putting out will ensure the campaign is viewed as the special effort that it truly is.
  9. Use clear and compelling language. Communicate your organization’s primary campaign priorities and the impact that donated dollars will make.
  10. Make the ask. Bolster your conversations and grant proposals with philanthropic language throughout your case statement to reinforce the message that this effort is only possible through leading donations. Why not start with, “Join us”?

If you are interested to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed, please reach out.


Pressley Peters is an award-winning writer specializing in philanthropy and marketing. She has written for numerous CFA clients including the Entertainment Community Fund, Friends of St. Paul Public Library, Headlands Center for the Arts, Lundstrum Performing Arts, North Carolina Museum of Art, Project Angel Food, and United Theology Seminary. She is a graduate of Rhodes College and calls Dallas, Texas home. Pressley can be found at pressleypeters.com.

Donor Cultivation & Stewardship: Key Steps in the Donor Cycle

The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota is expanding its outdoor nature play adventure opportunities for children and families through philanthropy. The museum is a compelling example of how intentionally following the steps of a donor cycle – especially adding cultivation and stewardship strategies to your solicitation process – can reap larger gifts and repeat donors. 

Speaking of nature, you can think of a donor cycle as analogous to the water cycle of our planet, where rainwater feeds land, streams, and oceans, and the sun continues the process via evaporation. Just as the water cycle ensures the planet’s sustainability, following all the steps within the philanthropic gift cycle—donor identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, closure, and stewardship—can ensure the health of your nonprofit ecosystem. 

By following CFA’s Guide to the Major Gifts Cycle, nonprofits can shepherd donors through the stages of philanthropy to build sustainable, long-term relationships. While the major gifts cycle contains distinct steps, the stages of cultivation and stewardship encompass ongoing activities that are integral to retaining a donor network with recurring and increased gifts. Employing cultivation and stewardship strategies can allow your organization to execute a more predictable and sustainable fundraising plan.

Donor Cultivation Strategies

Cultivation is the process of relationship building with a donor or prospect leading up to an ask. Cultivation includes personal visits, calls, emails, and events to engage the prospect and help match their interests with the needs of your organization. In addition to the executive leadership and development staff, board members play a pivotal role in the cultivation process by helping to champion your mission. 

There are many ways to engage donor prospects through cultivation. A board member, executive director, or development officer can, for example, invite and accompany a prospect to an upcoming event and introduce them to the organization’s key constituents; organize a coffee or lunch with a prospect to share targeted updates on the organization’s programming and progress on strategic planning milestones; and/or send periodic formal communications, such as newsletters or annual reports, to prospects accompanied by a handwritten note for a personal touch. The cultivation stage can be lengthy and there is no need to rush it. There is a need, however, to track your moves. Consistently communicating the current status of each prospect as you progress through the gift cycle provides structure and consistency within your fundraising team.

Recommended Reading: How to Activate Your Strategic Plan for Fundraising Success

Stewardship Strategies

Stewardship refers to how an organization thanks donors and communicates how their generosity made an impact on the people and community an organization serves. While a prompt acknowledgment letter (mailed or electronic) is essential for tax reporting purposes, an organization can also engage with donors on a more personal level through handwritten notes, phone calls, donor appreciation events, and one-on-one meetings. Thoughtful gestures such as these are appreciated, especially with major gifts. 

Donors are attracted to visionary organizations and are personally rewarded when they can see the demonstrated impact of their contributions. Ask community members or other stakeholders who have been directly impacted by your organization to share their gratitude through a direct phone call or personal note to the donor. If your organization has completed a campaign to build or renovate facilities, invite donors to an insider tour. If you have created a donor wall or naming opportunity for their gift, invite donors to an unveiling. Personalized attention will show the measure of your gratitude, and staying in touch will keep a donor informed of their continued impact. Remember, your next gift is a well-stewarded one.

Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Case Study

The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (CMSM) is a one-of-a-kind museum, and its creative approach draws visitors from all over the Midwest. CMSM engaged CFA to conduct a Development Assessment as they sought a more sustainable platform for raising money. One of CFA’s recommendations was that board members become more invested in the relationship-building necessary to garner larger and repeat donations. Specifically, we suggested segmenting appeals into two seasons, adding a dynamic major gifts strategy, and hosting donor appreciation events. With CFA’s guidance, CMSM set forth a new leadership giving group, the Ignite Society, named after the driving force of CMSM’s mission “to ignite the curiosity of every child.”

CEO Lou Dickmeyer joined CMSM in 2019 and shepherded the organization through a pandemic closure and reopening. She said, “There’s so much support and passion for the Museum, it’s an easy ask, but we had not been sophisticated about telling our story. Our new Ignite Society has led us down a path where we more deeply engage our donors and increase conversation of what their dollars can do.”

As part of cultivation and stewardship efforts, CMSM offered a special donor event for Ignite Society members, a newsletter with behind-the-scenes details on exhibits and programs, and an in-person preview of the museum’s new exhibits. The Ignite Society grew to over 140 people within its first year.  

“Working with CFA has deepened my understanding of how important it is to cultivate relationships and keep donors informed of what we’re doing,” Dickmeyer added. “We now have a clear line of sight to what success can be and how to get there. They helped us ready ourselves for a bold and strategic move to the next level.”

It is exceedingly difficult to secure multiple gifts from the same person or organization without the personal touches involved in cultivation and stewardship. If you are eager to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed through cultivation and stewardship, please reach out.


Jake Muszynski, Principal

Since joining CFA in 2018, Muszynski has headed more than 20 projects throughout the country, including multi-year engagements with Dodge Nature Center, New Mexico School for the Arts, Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Grief Club of Minnesota, and School for Advanced Research. Muszynski also has led more than a dozen clients through CFA’s campaign feasibility study process, testing over $150 million in potential campaigns. 

Muszynski began his career in higher education, serving as a major gifts officer at the University of Northern Iowa. He moved to the University of Minnesota where he led fundraising efforts for the Arts Quarter of the College of Liberal Arts. A native of Perham, Minnesota, Muszynski holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Concordia College. He and his wife have two children and share a love of folk and jazz music.

Rob Ruchotzke Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Consultant

August 15, 2022

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce that Rob Ruchotzke has joined the firm as Consultant, where he will focus on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Ruchotzke comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions and brings a passion for building relationships to find solutions for CFA’s partners.

States CFA Principal Jake Muszynski, “Rob’s expertise is a tremendous asset to the company, and he brings new perspective that is key to CFA’s ability to provide fundraising strategy for all giving levels within an organization.”

Ruchotzke began his career at Ruffalo Noel Levitz as a project center manager for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) and then as an annual giving officer with the Missouri S&T Advancement team. Most recently, Ruchotzke served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multi-channel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold).

A native of Camanche, Iowa, Ruchotzke holds a BA in Public Relations from the University of Northern Iowa and currently resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa where he enjoys spending time outdoors.

States Ruchotzke, “I am excited to join the CFA team and their many partners. Philanthropy and annual giving are passions we all share, and I am eager to implement what I have learned to impact our partners, communities, and organizations at a fundamental level.”

Since CFA was founded in 2015, it has grown from sole practitioner practice to a full-service, nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm with clients in arts and culture, education, environment, and human services sectors. CFA’s client base includes The Entertainment Community Fund (New York), Philadelphia Contemporary (Philadelphia), Trinity Park Conservancy (Dallas), St. John’s College (Annapolis), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis), North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), Friends of the Mississippi River (Minneapolis), Mitchell Hamline School of Law (St. Paul), Sycamores (Los Angeles), Headlands Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Santa Fe Community Foundation (Santa Fe), Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences (Santa Fe), Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles), AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles (Los Angeles), Street Poets (Los Angeles), and numerous others.

How to Activate Your Strategic Plan for Fundraising Success

Reading your nonprofit strategic plan, I bet you will discover that philanthropy touches every section as it should. After all, a strategic plan identifies the impact an organization seeks to make along with the philanthropic resources required to achieve fundraising success. I would further wager that if you shared your plan with a major donor, it would inspire confidence in your organization and lead to deeper engagement and investment.

Benefits of Strategic Plans to Fundraising

Development professionals love strategic plans because they provide ready access to goal-oriented language for grant applications, solicitation letters, and prospect conversations. When I worked at The University of Chicago, my first initiative was our strategic plan which became our team’s field guide and provided metrics for which we could aim. Another benefit is volunteer engagement. When Board members or donors do not know how to engage in an organization, being a part of the strategic planning process allows them to learn more about the organization and align their passions and expertise with their needs.

What the Expert Says: Q&A with Kathy Graves

I talked with strategic planning expert and Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) Partner Kathy Graves of Parenteau Graves about how nonprofits can activate their strategic plans to help improve fundraising results. 

Liz Jellema: How do you recommend organizations measure development success within the strategic plan? 

Kathy Graves: First of all, development is only one facet of strategic planning. Secondly, while KPIs (key performance indicators) are important, numbers are not everything. The actual measurement of success is how many people maintain and deepen their engagement with and commitment to your organization as you live into your strategic plan. It helps to be more expansive in how you measure success. 

LJ: Should the strategic plan always push development to raise more dollars? 

KG: Most plans aim to raise more money, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to have an impact, to improve our world. It’s vital to name the result you seek before discussing how much to increase fundraising. Your strategy doesn’t have to be about raising more every year. It’s more important for philanthropic dollars to implement meaningful change. During the pandemic, some organizations saw new service areas grow exponentially and raised more dollars to deliver them. But many organizations are returning to or revisiting their original vision. For example, our human services clients find it important to stabilize lives by providing food and housing. Still, they are raising money to address systemic barriers that can lead to more significant permanent improvements for people. 

LJ: Many strategic plans are three or five years long. How do you recommend an organization’s Board and staff stay engaged and adjust for continuous improvement?

KG: Strategic planning is like personal training. You don’t stop exercising when you achieve your goal. Likewise, organizations cannot consider the strategic plan as a finished project and tie a bow on it. You must keep putting it at the center of your daily work. 

Ensure a few staff members are the key inside drivers—leaders who activate, monitor, and report progress. Everyone from entry staff to Board members owns the plan, but ultimately it needs key leadership to push it forward. 

The bottom line is that if you haven’t looked at the plan in three months, that’s a red flag. Set aside time monthly, quarterly, and annually for review. I also suggest that the plan be discussed at every Board meeting—share metrics and KPIs manageable for organizations to obtain and essential for organizational leaders to measure.

LJ: How can you use the plan to engage your major donors? 

KG: People want to give to success. One measurement of success is that you have a clear plan. Have confidence in your plan and show what you’ve accomplished.

A strategic plan is a terrific outreach tool. Utilize the plan as a runway for conversation. You might ask to sit down and share your progress with a prospect once you complete a one-year review. During the meeting, point to places where a prospect might provide dollars or expertise to help your organization reach its metrics and goals.

When you remain confident in your mission and plan, it will instill confidence in your donors that you can utilize their funds well. 

LJ: What formats have you seen work best for organizations to share their strategic plan? 

Do not send anyone a 28-page document! The operating plan can be long and detail-oriented, but that’s not what you’ll show most people. Brevity illustrates that you know what you’re doing and where your organization is going. Summarize your organization’s mission, vision, values, and goals on one page. I coach our clients to focus on three-to-five goals that are going to be the most critical drivers of success. 

Final Thoughts

Strategic plans are helpful when talking to prospects to illustrate that your organization has a plan and is acting on it. Are you prepared to share your plan with your Board and prospects? Reach out to CFA to learn more about our strategic planning services. We would enjoy helping your organization develop its next strategic plan. Contact us today!

Check out these sample nonprofit strategic plans:

The McNay | Cookie Cart | Hennepin Theatre Trust | Everybody Dance LA


Liz Jellema

Liz Jellema

Chief Operating Officer, CFA

Liz oversees CFA’s operations, culture, values, talent, marketing communications, and financial performance. Liz joined CFA from the University of Chicago where she served as Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives for the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the Booth School of Business. Liz enjoys translating strategy into growth for CFA’s portfolio of mission-driven clients.

Kathy Graves

Kathy Graves

Partner, Parenteau Graves

Kathy heads Parenteau Graves’s strategic planning. She is an award-winning writer, co-author, teacher, and recipient of the Changemaker Award from ARC Twin Cities. Prior to forming Parenteau Graves, Kathy served as marketing and public relations director for The Minnesota and Virginia Operas and on the staff of U.S. Senator Gary Hart. She also was the arts writer for the Southwest Journal for seven years and a Mondale Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Fundraising Strategies for Nonprofits During Times of Economic Uncertainty

Domestic and global market uncertainty makes fundraising strategies for nonprofits all the more important. The effects of a fluctuating economy can reverberate into the nonprofit sector if donors decide to delay making pledges, decline multi-year commitments, or postpone their pledge payments.

Philanthropy delays may be disappointing but should not necessarily cause alarm.  If your organization observes market-induced trepidation from donors during the solicitation process, be patient and stay the course.

While Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) cannot offer advice on investing, we can help raise money toward a mission and vision. We have emerged from the pandemic with an expanded toolbox of diverse and practiced resources to help nonprofits navigate new challenges and opportunities. Many of our clients are stronger post-pandemic in mission delivery and fundraising. As economic trends evolve, we are here to serve as your partner through uncertainty with time-tested fundraising strategies.

Nonprofit problems and solutions

So, what should you do if you are ready to activate your vision, but now is not the right time to make an ask? Here are four steps you can implement immediately for long-term fundraising success:

1. Be flexible

While your intended timeline for implementing growth measures (think personnel hires or public campaign launches) may become unpredictable, a delay in plans is not a cancellation. Create alternative timelines and contingency plans to implement as circumstances arise.

2. Plan by following the Major Gift Cycle

Preparing for a significant campaign doesn’t happen overnight. Prudent planning takes at least six months. Take time to identify and thoroughly qualify your prospects through donor data strategies. The planning stage is the ideal time to research those who have an affinity for your cause and plan to cultivate their interests.

3. Develop your Case for Support

Your organization’s mission and vision do not disappear with market uncertainty. Revisit and reinforce how you are communicating your “big idea” to ensure it remains relevant. Keep the delivery methods for your case for evergreen by creating flexible printed documents, presentation decks, and web presentations. 

4. Engage in Donor Stewardship

Organizations who bury their heads in the sand and go quiet in philanthropic communications will be disappointed when it is time to ask for support. Donors are your partners as well as your funders. Reach out to your key stakeholders to set up meetings that don’t involve an ask. Determine which services they are interested in learning more about and ask for feedback on your work. During times of uncertainty, connecting with others, especially those who share a passion for your mission, can be comforting. 

Your fundraising results will improve by taking active steps to keep your organization’s vision alive consistently and top of mind for donors, with fundraising strategies for nonprofits and when the time is right. Your supporters will be there for you.

Looking for guidance with your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy? Contact us today!

Joanne Curry Vice President CFA

Joanne Curry

Vice President of Client Services

At CFA, Joanne Curry provides counsel for campaign management, prospect development, and membership and annual giving programs. Joanne joined CFA with over ten years of non-profit experience in operations management, development, and accounting. Prior to joining CFA, Joanne served as Head of Revenue and Interim Head of Development at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. A native of Port Jefferson, NY, Joanne holds a BFA in Ballet Performance and Teaching from the University of Utah.

Jake Muszynski Promoted to Principal

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce the promotion of Jake Muszynski to Principal. He has served as Vice President with CFA for the past four years, providing strategic fundraising counsel to help nonprofit organizations achieve their vision.

“Jake is key to Creative Fundraising Advisors’ commitment to provide comprehensive solutions to arts, education, human service, and environmental nonprofit clients,” said Paul Johnson, President of CFA. “He lends considerable expertise to development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel.”

Since joining CFA in 2018, Muszynski has headed more than 20 projects throughout the country, including multi-year engagements with Dodge Nature Center, New Mexico School for the Arts, Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Grief Club of Minnesota, and School for Advanced Research, among others. In partnership with his clients, he has helped raise more than $50 million dollars in support.

In his time at CFA, Muszynski also has led more than a dozen clients through CFA’s campaign feasibility study process, testing over $150 million in potential campaigns. He is currently managing campaigns totaling $125 million.

“From board development to feasibility study to campaign kickoff and implementation, Jake has been a proven and resourceful development professional,” says Jason Sanders, executive director of Dodge Nature Center and Preschool. “He has developed and applied new techniques to tackle complex fundraising challenges during our campaign to position us for a strong finish. Jake is a true leader who you can trust with your most important information.”

Muszynski began his career in higher education, serving as a major gifts officer at the University of Northern Iowa. He moved to the University of Minnesota where he led fundraising efforts for the Arts Quarter of the College of Liberal Arts, representing the School of Music, Department of Art, and Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. During his tenure, the School of Music had two of its largest fundraising years on record. He also launched the first-ever comprehensive campaign for the University’s marching band, including a crowdfunding campaign following the band’s performance in the Super Bowl LII (2018) Halftime Show. 

“I deeply appreciate Jake’s creative approaches to our clients’ unique needs,” said Johnson. “He understands both the art and science of fundraising. He listens to what our clients want and need and adds data-driven decision-making to make wise choices.”

A native of Perham, Minnesota, Muszynski holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Concordia College. He and his wife have two children and share a love of folk and jazz music. He sings and plays bass.

“I am delighted to assume the role of Principal play a role in the future of Creative Fundraising Advisors and in our clients’ success,” Muszynski said. “I am passionate about helping organizations inspire giving and developing the systems and approaches to lead and sustain change.”

Planning for Success: Capital Campaign Budget

Are you concerned about the fundraising costs associated with launching a transformational capital or endowment campaign? While planning, executing, and sustaining an impactful campaign requires additional staff time and outside expertise, the costs associated with a major capital or endowment campaign are constructive because they help fund the vision that serves your organization’s mission. You will get a greater overall return on investment when you plan well and manage a capital campaign budget.

campaign budget planning creative fundraising advisors

Creating a capital campaign budget is an invaluable step in the early planning stages of a significant capital or endowment campaign. Many organizations miss this step and find themselves in the unenviable position of realizing midway during a campaign that they need more funds or must pull funds from operating dollars to cover internal expenses. Budgeting keeps internal expenses in check and helps avoid depleting the dollars needed to fund your vision. A capital campaign budget is also a useful tool for ensuring development staff and volunteers are aligned on campaign costs and are comfortable talking about them if a prospect inquires. 

CFA recommends building capital campaign expenses directly into your fundraising goal. For example, if your goal is to fundraise $1 million for a new building and you plan to collect pledge payments over a five-year period, then building in an additional 10 percent campaign expense budget makes your total fundraising goal $1.1 million. 

How much capital campaign operations cost

In development, we must keep our eyes on the fundraising goal and internal expenses to operate a practical and successful development operation. Careful budget planning is critical. If you project too much money toward expenses, you may raise concerns that not enough money is going towards the mission, but if you project too low, then you run the risk of under-resourcing the campaign and your staff. 

A good place to start is to assume that the internal expenses of running a capital campaign will cost your organization roughly 8 to 10 percent of the fundraising goal. Then, fine-tune from there. Budgeting less than 15 percent of the fundraising goal is considered acceptable; less than 10 percent is considered efficient.. If your organization is new, or your fundraising goal is less than $10 million, then internal expenses will require a larger slice of the pie.

Be prepared to tell prospects

Some prospects may wish to know what’s behind the sales pitch in the campaign. While more experienced donors, including most foundations, know that hiring consultants and strengthening your development staff during a campaign is prudent, many prospects will ask what portion of dollars raised will go directly toward supporting the mission. With a well-reasoned budget, your team will be prepared and can confidently share the percentage of the dollars raised that are directly supporting the project.

Some foundations will cover the expense of campaign feasibility studies and planning. Check out my colleague Jake’s article about feasibility studies to learn more.

What to include in a capital campaign budget

Expense budgeting involves making assumptions so build in contingency to account for variables. Consider your organization’s culture too: whether your organization is known for black-tie dinners or outdoor picnics makes a difference in how you will conduct a campaign and what the budget requirements are to do so. For budget planning purposes, consider the format and locations where you will host events and gatherings, travel to meet prospects, and launch the campaign publicly. 

There are several key line items most organizations will need to include in their campaign expense budget. Fundraising consulting firms charge fees for a development assessment, feasibility study, database analysis, and ongoing campaign consulting. Your campaign may also need additional writers, graphic designers, and printing and/or digital expertise for the case for support. Campaign videos are more common in today’s fundraising environment and they can be very effective, but also costly. Lastly, don’t forget to include donor recognition and stewardship. It’s never too early to think about what type of donor recognition will work best for your organization, and importantly, how you will keep in touch with your donors once the campaign concludes. After all, a well-stewarded gift is key to the next gift. 

To hire or not to hire more staff

During our feasibility study process, CFA analyzes department structure and capacity and, depending on the scenario, may recommend staffing additions or restructuring to successfully plan and launch a major campaign. Many organizations have an understaffed development team, and running a campaign on top of the annual fund and other projects can be daunting. Having another person on the development team is beneficial for managing your prospect pipeline and the solicitation process, keeping materials and communications up to date, ensuring solicitors have what they need to feel comfortable asking for support, and serving as a liaison with your fundraising consultant.

If the ideal candidate to manage the campaign is already on staff, consider hiring a new person or adding a major gifts officer to backfill and manage the annual fund. If your department is not adequately supported, you run the risk of burnout once the capital campaign is launched. When organizations can’t add a dedicated campaign staffer, campaign counsel can assist with managing the campaign. 

Capital Campaign budget practices to avoid

  1. DON’T put off the budget for later. Start drafting a budget as soon as your board is seriously discussing a campaign.
  1. DON’T wait to determine your donor recognition strategy. Recognizing donors shows them gratitude and also signals to your prospects the importance of philanthropy within your organization. Start strategizing how you will recognize donors during your campaign pre-planning phase. Discuss with your staff, development committee, architect, etc. whether you envision donor recognition as names on the website, in an annual report, on a plaque or permanent donor wall, and budget the required funds accordingly. 
  1. DON’T draft a budget and leave it untouched. It’s important to regularly update your campaign budget and continue to fine-tune your assumptions. Set up monthly or quarterly meetings to review the budget with your team. 

I hope these ideas have helped you with budgeting for your campaign and I wish you the best in bringing your vision to reality! 

If CFA can help you along the way, please reach out to us.

Author: Joanne Curry is Vice President of Client Services focusing on campaign management, prospect development, and membership and annual giving programs. Joanne came to CFA with over ten years of non-profit experience in operations management, development, and accounting. Before joining CFA, Joanne served as Head of Revenue and Interim Head of Development at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, TX, managed fundraising operations and communications with Missouri Contemporary Ballet and Owen/Cox Dance Group, and worked with nonprofits as a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor Accountant with Support Kansas City. A native of Port Jefferson, NY, Joanne holds a BFA in Ballet Performance and Teaching from the University of Utah. 

Creative Fundraising Advisors’ Capital Campaign Planning Guide

Many nonprofit organizations are conducting capital campaign planning or campaigns as they look beyond the global pandemic. Donors are ready to re-engage, show up at events, and share their resources with the non-profits they love and who are making a difference. Capital campaigns have the potential to infuse millions of dollars into helping people in the communities where the organization operates.

Are you a major gifts officer considering a large fundraising effort but you’re not sure how or when to start? Are you a board member and your favorite social cause doesn’t seem quite ready to launch a planned capital campaign? If you’re wondering how to set the organization up for philanthropic success, we’re here to help. 

We have assembled a short guide on capital campaigns to help you understand basic concepts and key steps toward implementation. We’ve even included a few best practices to help you envision what your organization may be able to accomplish. 

What is a Capital Campaign?

A capital campaign is an intensive, organized fundraising effort to secure philanthropic dollars for a specific purpose within a defined period. Capital campaigns are separate from annual operating appeals, major gift campaigns, and endowment or planned giving campaigns. 

A successful capital campaign can transform your organization and help you significantly impact the people and communities you serve. While capital campaigns are typically comprised of a mix of individual, foundation, and corporate donors, according to Giving USA, more than three-quarters of dollars donated in 2020 came from individuals and bequests.

Types and Benefits of Capital Campaigns

There are three main types of capital campaigns.

Capital – Capital campaigns are launched to fund an organization’s vision with new buildings and construction and may also include major facility renovation or expansion, technology upgrades, and other infrastructure improvements.

Capital and Endowment – Capital campaigns can include an endowment portion designed to help fund the operations of the new building or project. Endowment funding establishes or increases an organization’s endowment to create a regular annual disbursement for operating or a specific purpose.

Comprehensive – Along with Capital and Endowment components, a comprehensive campaign also grows the organization’s annual support and includes every dollar of contributed income raised over a period of time.

Capital Campaign Benefits

There are many benefits to capital campaigns.

Transformation. Allows the organization to improve or change in such a way that it delivers its mission more effectively and efficiently.

Dollars. Increases the number of investments that donors make and potentially expands the base of your donor community.

Engagement. Engages your Board and volunteers in a deeper way through a short-term but intensive effort.

Teamwork. Contributes to organizational unity when the development team is aligned on a singular effort.

Brevity. Advances long-term goals in a shorter period than without a coordinated campaign.

Knowledge. Provides financial development and management training for staff, leaders, and volunteers.

Awareness. Raises awareness of the organization within its community and allows donors to learn more about the organization.

Already know you are ready to tackle your own Capital Campaign? We’d love to connect. Contact us today.

Types of Nonprofits That Conduct Capital Campaigns

Any nonprofit can launch a capital campaign with the required staff and resources. 

According to Giving USA, nonprofits received a combined $471 billion in charitable dollars in 2020, with “religion” bringing in the highest share at 28 percent, followed by “human services” and “public-society benefit” with a combined 24 percent.

capital campaign planning 2020 contributions chart by recipient

Capital Campaign Phases

Many fundraisers might suggest that a capital campaign has two phases: quiet or flooring phase and a public or external phase. It’s important not to forget the pre-work and planning tasks that must go into setting your organization up for success.

Feasibility Study. This initial phase is when you determine if your fundraising goals are realistic and if the organization has the internal capacity to launch and manage a campaign. Feasibility Study Article.

Planning. This phase is where you determine an internal budget with fundraising costs, set your financial fundraising goals, develop your Case for Support and related materials, recruit enthusiastic leaders including a chair or co-chairs, and put a schedule in place for Board approval and a campaign launch.

The “Quiet” Phase. This is the early phase of active solicitations when leadership donors and the Board are solicited and you attempt to raise a percentage of the overall goal before promoting the effort to a wider audience. Typically, an organization will look to raise 75-90 percent of the goal during this early phase, but circumstances impact this decision, and opinions on this subject vary. Increasingly, organizations are skipping this traditional quiet phase and opting to be more transparent about how much they have raised in the early phase of the campaign. When you go public with your campaign has a lot to do with your organization’s fundraising history and your standing in the community.

The Public Phase. This final phase is when your organization is ready to share campaign news with the widest possible audience. This phase is designed to broaden the campaign’s donor base and often garners smaller contributions as well as public attention. Your organization may wish to create a public relations effort and an event to announce the campaign publicly.

Necessary Components of Launching a Capital Campaign

The Big Idea. The better you can express why and how the effort will impact your constituents in a compelling narrative or slide deck, the more successful your campaign will be.

Campaign Goal. Even if your organization’s goal is a “sky-high” wish list, it is imperative that you outline what you hope to raise and what components make up the goal.

Prospects. Successful campaigns often see between five to 10 percent of their donors pledge 90–95 percent of the campaign goal. Review your top 100 prospects early—and consider a donor capacity screening and analysis—to determine if you think this is a possibility for your organization. Donor Data Strategies Article.

Leadership. It’s vital that your organization has a strong development function in place, and important that you have confidence that volunteer leadership from your Board and/or development committee will step forward to give and help raise funds.

Timeline and Plan. Plan for four to six months for a consultant to conduct a feasibility and readiness study and an additional six months for the planning stage. The capital campaign solicitation phase can take three to five years.

Hiring a Fundraising Advisor for your Capital Campaign 

Consultants bring the added benefit of external perspective, previous experience, and new ideas. Finding the right fundraising advisor to walk with you through a campaign from the feasibility and planning stages to the public launch cannot be overstated. What should you look for when interviewing consulting firms?

Expertise. Experience is key, and so is a consulting partner who has their finger on the pulse of what is happening in philanthropy today.

Chemistry. Make sure you enjoy working with the consultant and their team. The right chemistry allows campaign leadership to build much-needed trust.

Social change. Ensure your consultant’s stance on social impact, including diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, matches up with your organization.

Expectations. Many factors can impact the timeline during a campaign, so it’s especially important to ensure everyone’s expectations concerning who is responsible for which tasks are clear.

Capital Campaign Checklist

Some of the highlights for planning and conducting your campaign are below.

  1. Development Assessment. This is an objective review of your internal development program whereby an impartial consultant assesses the readiness of staff to take your organization to the next level. 
  2. Donor capacity and affinity analysis. Part of determining the capacity of each prospect is through research and wealth screening. This typically involves contracting with an external company to compare your donor information with data found across charitable giving and wealth databases
  3. The Case for Support. The case for support is where your organization lays out the most compelling components of the campaign vision to appeal to the hearts and minds of your prospects. 
  4. Feasibility Study. A study is critical to flesh out the necessary components for a capital campaign and is the only way to truly determine when and if your nonprofit will be able to raise funds to support its “blue sky” wish list. Feasibility Study Article.
  5. Internal Capital Campaign Budget. Careful budget planning is critical for launching and operating a capital campaign. Internal capital campaign costs of less than 15 percent of the goal are considered acceptable to most donors; less than 10 percent is considered very efficient. Donor Data Strategies.
  6. Campaign Committee. Identify and recruit a capital campaign chair or co-chairs and ask them to help recruit and build out a group of enthusiastic people for the committee. 
  7. Campaign Strategy. Overall campaign strategy is comprised of a goal, plan, metrics, and timeline.
  8. Solicitation and Tracking. There are many software platforms and organizational methods to choose from when it comes to tracking the status of solicitations, stewardship, and fundraising cultivation of your donors, which is essential for long-term relationships with your supporters. 
  9. Acknowledgment. No donor can be thanked promptly or often enough, and every gift deserves proper acknowledgment within the campaign. 

Capital Campaign Best Practices

Below are a number of best practices for planning and launching a successful capital campaign. 

Strategic Plan. Your nonprofit must know its goals and objectives for the future. A Board-approved three-or-five-year strategic plan will give your organization a roadmap for how aggressive your fundraising targets need to be to meet your goals and objectives.

Brand identity. Creating a thoughtful, well-developed brand for the organization is a key step in getting campaign-ready. The campaign will have its own slogan and theme with images, typeface, and wording, so it’s important to have a solid brand identity to lean on and into.

Board support. There is a current trend where fewer campaigns are following the traditional practice whereby every Board member makes a lead financial contribution in appreciation for Board members who bring other resources and strengths to the table and may not have the capacity to give. Your organization must set the bar for how you expect the Board to participate from the start, but it goes without saying that 100% participation sends a strong message to other potential funders that the Board is seriously committed to the campaign.

Gratitude and Communications. Sharing campaign news with your donor base keeps donors excited and involved. A gift acknowledgment will be sent out for each donation, but you can add an extra touchpoint with your donors by crafting a regular campaign newsletter or sending coordinated email messages when your campaign achieves a major milestone.

Named Gifts. Giving donors the opportunity to have their name on a building, room, or donor wall allows them to feel valued and can also signal the importance of leading gifts to others.

Stewardship. A well-stewarded gift is your next gift. It’s important to have a thoughtful stewardship plan in place to ensure every donor knows the impact of their gift, which in turn sets you up for success when asking for the next gift.

Are you ready for your next Capital Campaign?

If your organization is ready to tackle the steps above in planning for a capital campaign, and you are interested in partnering with a campaign counselor who can provide tailored solutions that drive positive results, please contact Creative Fundraising Advisors. Our objective is to set your organization up to achieve capital campaign results. We would enjoy hearing from you.

Fundraising Opportunities: Using Donor Data Strategies to Acquire and Retain Benefactors

Have you burned out your top donors? Are you unsure which of the people in your fundraising database—people you know personally and others who are simply names on a page—you should cultivate next? Do you feel like other worthy organizations in your community are a step ahead of yours? Does data science overwhelm you?

You are not alone. In the competitive fundraising climate of today, nonprofits are struggling with how to connect new people to their cause and how to compel their tried-and-true donors to increase gift frequency and size. What the savviest organizations have realized is that data-driven strategies can provide the insights needed to elevate fundraising. 

Whether you’re trying to grow your annual fund, launch a new program, or build a new building, bridging your relationship skills, experience, and intuition – the art – with the factual donor data – the science – will generate the best fundraising results. Why? Because the proper use of data-driven strategies (the art and science combo) leads to new donor acquisition and existing donor retention. 

Where Do I Start with Donor Data Services? 

If the idea of a database clean-up makes you want to run and hide, you’re not alone. More than 85 percent of nonprofits identified their development staff as not being “completely knowledgeable” in data-driven decision-making in a 2022 report on philanthropy and fundraising practices. I urge you to stick around, however, because the quality of your data and how you use it directly correlates to your organization’s fundraising potential. 

The first step is determining what makes the most sense for your organization by talking to a data expert. Before you do, ask your development team two questions: “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” and “What are we hoping data will help us identify?” For example, if your team is challenged by soliciting the same prospects, then you may be looking to leverage data to unlock a fuller picture of your donor base and giving potential. One of Creative Fundraising Advisors’ data services, our yield analysis report, is designed to give you a comprehensive donor inclination analysis and the number of “cold,” “warm,” and “hot” prospects as well as a list of the top potential campaign prospects for you to prioritize.

donor data affinity analysis graphic

 

What is Data Hygiene? 

Data—the information you already have and new information you can capture—is an effective tool to develop internal systems and strategies that will help prioritize your time, inform your development operation, and yield better results. Donor data can help make you and your organization’s fundraising machine 

more effective: finding new donors, uncovering new intelligence about people you already know, ensuring you have the right staff to raise the most money, and informing when to take the next step with a prospect. 

However, the saying, “garbage in, garbage out” is true: if your database is unorganized or out of date, you’ll need to clean it up or risk alienating your donor community. Think about how you would feel if mail arrived at your home addressed to a deceased relative, or if you were a top prospect who received three of the same mailers with three variations of your name.

Data cleanup can be cumbersome, so we recommend checking the accuracy of your top donors first. Next, pull a mailing list and scan the sheet for errors and then correct them in the database using a protocol for inputs. Start by identifying the fields in your database requiring 100% accuracy such as the name, address, phone number, and email fields. Consider using an address finder solution that can automatically check for address updates; most databases offer address verification as a low-cost add-on service. 

Who Handles the Database?

Every nonprofit should have a person responsible for donor database management: a data “champion” who is familiar with the organization’s donor database and tracking inputs, updates, and corrections. And we strongly believe in cross-training so that everyone on the team is comfortable and familiar with the database and can learn data input protocols. 

If your data champion is not proficient at database training, and especially if your team will be using the database for different reasons, consider having an outside expert conduct a data workshop with everyone who will share the database. 

donor data quote quote graphic

How Can I Use Donor Data Strategies to Identify and Prioritize Donors?

It is imperative that every organization be aware of its top prospects, whether it’s 25, 50, or 100 people, and leverage donor data and relationship insights to prioritize them. While it may not be feasible to have every person or family assigned to a member of your team, development officers typically manage 50-200 prospects each. 

The primary purpose of assigning prospects to development officers is to ensure donors are properly engaged in a moves management lifecycle. “Moves management” is an organizational approach for tracking and engaging donors as they interact with your organization, where “moves” refer to the actions your organization takes to establish these relationships and “move” prospective donors closer to your cause and mission. Research suggests it takes between seven and 12 moves for a donor to decide whether to support a nonprofit or not. 

Data is paramount to how you segment people into priority groups within the moves management lifecycle. The more donor data you have, the more you know about your donors—interests, real estate holdings, political affiliations, board relationships, philanthropy, etc.—the more effectively you are able to prioritize them. The goal is to hit the sweet spot where higher wealth capacity meets higher inclination. If you find someone who has a low affinity to be charitable to your cause but high capacity, you will have to invest more time to cultivate that person before you ask or ask for more. 

Involve the development staff and volunteer committee to collect knowledge and enter it into your database regularly. Track actions, take notes, utilize the same input protocols, and update your database as you go.

Take One Step at a Time

Clients express to me that they feel overwhelmed by donor data. They need a partner to help with data cleanup, research, translation, and strategy who can highlight the next steps to take and how to best use the information for improved fundraising results. Keep it simple and take one step at a time. Remember, donor data analysis and donor prioritization are not entirely science. There’s an art, too. Fundraising is about relationships and your primary job is to help connect people to a cause they care about: hopefully yours. If you can avoid the overwhelm and stay enthusiastic about using data for fundraising, you will see results.

Please reach out if you’d like to know how Creative Fundraising Advisors might be of assistance in your fundraising data strategy.

Stephanie Brouwer, Data and Research Manager

Stephanie has over nine years of experience in prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics at both higher education and nonprofit organizations. At CFA, Stephanie’s responsibilities include establishing strategy, procedures, and processes for prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics. Stephanie is Blackbaud certified in Raiser’s Edge NXT and Raiser’s Edge, and has a master’s degree in library science. Additionally, Stephanie is a Gallup-certified Strengths coach and helps others understand, apply and integrate CliftonStrengths results into their lives and work.

Capital Campaign Feasibility Study: What to Expect

Are you or your Board considering a major fundraising effort and wondering if a capital campaign feasibility study will be a good first step? The feasibility study is essential to gaining the sort of rich input needed to launch a successful campaign. Studies also help determine if the timing is best for your organization and community, if the right staff is in place, whether leadership is ready, and how well your campaign vision resonates with your prospects. 

At Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), we include campaign readiness in our capital campaign feasibility studies to allow us to combine the art and science of fundraising. Campaign Readiness and Feasibility Studies are designed to remove assumptions – to move things from the “we think we know” column into the “we know” column. The only way we can comprehensively do this is by conducting an internal analysis of the organization while also testing assumptions externally.

Why is the readiness part essential? We believe it’s imperative for your leadership to have a full picture of the community’s perception and also whether the staff is ready to take on a campaign. After all, committing your people and organizational reputation to a dedicated, multi-year fundraising effort is a big deal and takes a lot of energy, know-how, and determination. 

Depending on what we find during the capital campaign feasibility study process, it’s possible we could recommend your organization pause before launching a campaign because part of your campaign vision needs reworking or we’ve identified a gap in key staffing. On the other hand, the study could help us discover strengths or a great idea that gives your organization a runway to move forward with a higher goal than planned.  

Whether it’s feasible to reach your proposed goal or not, the best outcome will be to set your nonprofit up for success. You do this when you connect donor passions with your mission and goals, ultimately creating a positive impact in the communities you serve. 

Readiness and Feasibility Go Hand in Hand

Let me explain a bit more about why the readiness and feasibility combination is important. At CFA, we embrace data as an internal tool upon which to build strategies to cultivate and solicit prospective donors. Data gives us capacity information and philanthropic histories about your prospects. We can make more complete recommendations by utilizing data. But data also has limitations, which is why conversations with your constituents—the external inputs—are key. Face-to-face conversations can help us determine insights and nuances that data could never uncover.

Speaking of conversations, we take our comprehensive assessments to the next level externally by conducting community listening sessions and focus groups. By doing more than a limited set of interviews with your top donors, we conduct a more equitable, community-centric view where large financial supporters aren’t the only voices included in the decision-making process.

Our Capital Campaign Feasibility Study and Readiness Steps

  1. Study Oversight Committee – before we kick off the project, we will ask you to form a group to oversee our work throughout the process and take the first look at our recommendations before we present them to your Board.
  2. Internal Readiness Assessment – to measure if your development function is prepared for the effort you wish to undertake, we audit your development systems, interview staff and board members, determine if the ideal skill sets are in place for a campaign, and review your development committee’s ability to meaningfully assist with fundraising.  
  3. Wealth and Philanthropic Data Screening – we combine your donor data with additional proprietary data to create a potential campaign yield analysis, a recommendation on staffing, and the sizes of gifts needed to achieve that yield. The new data is, of course, for your organization to keep.
  4. Community Listening Sessions – In some cases, before interviews and focus groups begin, it’s a good idea for us to gather a varied group of supporters and community partners in informal, virtual groups to learn what people think about your nonprofit’s impact and get the widest possible view of perceptions from a diverse cohort of community members. 
  5. The Case for Support – We believe that donors don’t give to what you do, they give to why you do it. In advance of interviews and focus groups, we help you develop a summary of the Case for Support. This draft document expresses the campaign’s “big idea” and priorities and suggests a campaign goal. It is designed to stimulate discussion with your prospects about the organization’s plans for the proposed campaign. 
  6. Conversations with prospects – This is the traditional step that most people think of when they think of a capital campaign feasibility study. During this phase, we engage dozens of your prospects in meaningful, one-on-one conversations around topics most likely to have the greatest bearing on your future success. We set out to gauge prospect enthusiasm, factors that will influence gift timing and size, interest in naming opportunities, and suggestions for campaign leadership. Consider these conversations as a part of your donor cultivation process; sharing the magnitude of the campaign goal and testing their gift potential helps prepare people to be solicited. 
  7. Focus Groups – We believe campaigns should be viewed through the lens of various stakeholders: those who can provide transformational gifts, as well as supporters who may have less capacity or a different, but equally as important, viewpoint. Focus groups are a powerful way to determine the motivations of a broader set of people. Each focus group discusses what they value about the organization and what they think about the proposed campaign. These meetings signal to participants that the institution is interested in their opinion and serious about fundraising. 
  8. Final Report – Our Campaign Readiness and Feasibility Study Reports cover a range of insights, including topline impressions of your organization and the proposed campaign, discussion of the most likely and most significant financial gifts uncovered along with a working campaign goal, recommendations for how to position the Case for Support and organize your leadership, and a suggested timeline, budget, and next steps for internal campaign planning.

One example of an organization transformed by a Campaign Readiness and Feasibility Study is our client Dodge Nature Center. When we began our work with them, they hoped to raise $15 million to double their endowment. The study set the stage for a $40 million comprehensive campaign. How and why? After listening to Dodge Nature Center’s most committed donors, Board members, and staff, together we realized they could and should expand their vision and goal. Read more on our website about the Dodge Nature Center campaign success story

We hope our rigorous Campaign Readiness and Feasibility Study process will help you find the right path to secure your organization’s future and have a deeper impact. If you’re interested in learning more about us or our services, Creative Fundraising Advisors would enjoy hearing from you.

Jake Muszynski, Vice President at Creative Fundraising Advisors

Jake is focused on major gifts strategy, planned giving, and capacity building for nonprofits. He joined the firm in 2018. His clients include Dodge Nature Center, New Mexico School for the Arts, Northside Achievement Zone, and the School for Advanced Research, among others.

We are Hiring! Apply to Join CFA’s Team

Job Postings (click to navigate):

TITLE

Administrative Associate

POSITION TYPE

Full-time, FLSA exempt

SALARY

$50,000 with growth potential based on experience and qualifications

LOCATION

Remote with 5-10% travel for client and team meetings
Strong preference for candidates based in the Twin Cities

PURPOSE

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is taking steps to build capacity as we strive to bring the best and brightest people and ideas to work with our mission-driven, non-profit clients. We have a shared vision for our biggest year of impact yet. We are looking for a dynamic, race equity-oriented professional with experience managing multiple projects simultaneously. Interested applicants should be motivated by the opportunity to contribute to a fast-paced, high growth, entrepreneurial environment.

Reporting directly to CFA’s President, the Administrative Associate will provide seamless administration and project engagement support to the office of the President. The Administrative Associate brings a client-focused mindset to everything they do, enabling the President’s fulfillment of short and long term organizational goals. The role engages with both internal team and external stakeholders to support the President’s business development, project execution, and strategic growth activities. The Administrative Associate anticipates opportunities and issues proactively and is highly adept at managing calendars, timelines, and deliverables.

Responsibilities

  • Manage President’s calendar, scheduling requests, and meeting logistics.
  • Manage other administrative tasks, including collecting and routing company mail and depositing business checks.
  • Work closely with the President to schedule, prepare and send invitations, and manage logistics for internal project orientation stand-ups, project kickoff meetings, weekly client meetings, stakeholder interviews, community listening sessions and focus groups.
  • Participate in weekly status and planning meetings, and capture notes and action items.
  • Help prepare project milestone summaries and status updates.
  • Assist with project proposals, responses to RFPs, and client agreements.
  • Provide outstanding customer service. Be responsive and timely in responding to client and manager questions, concerns, and requests.

Requirements

  • Demonstrated ability to manage multiple, conflicting priorities, and collaborate with a team in a fast-paced, remote-first environment.
  • Comfortable sending and answering emails with a high level of urgency and attention to detail.
  • Detail-oriented writer; effective verbal and written communication skills including strong listening, negotiation, and facilitation skills.
  • Skilled user of Zoom, Microsoft Office, and Google Suite applications.
  • Skilled user of Asana or other project management system.
  • Ability to learn and adapt to various technology applications.
  • Ability to work remotely.
  • Bachelor’s Degree preferred.

TO APPLY

Email your resume and a cover letter describing how you will uniquely add executive and administrative impact with “Administrative Associate” in the subject line to: [email protected]


TITLE

Operations and Business Manager

POSITION TYPE

Full-time, FLSA exempt

SALARY

$60,000 with growth potential based on experience and qualifications

LOCATION

Remote with up to 5% travel for team meetings
Strong preference for candidates based in Chicago, Illinois

ABOUT THE ROLE

Creative Fundraising Advisors is taking steps to build capacity as we strive to bring the best and brightest people and ideas to work with our mission-driven, non-profit clients. We have a shared vision for our biggest year of impact yet. The Operations & Business Manager will report to the Chief Operating Officer (COO). This role relies on using critical thinking to keep the organization running smoothly, delivering operational excellence to the team, being an operational point of contact for our clients and vendors, and working closely with the COO to support finance, HR, IT, and legal functions. The Operations & Business Manager operates with self-direction and initiative in creating, executing, and updating organizational processes and core administrative functions.

ABOUT YOU

You are a dynamic, race equity-oriented professional with a background in finance, accounting, operations, change management, or organizational administration. You are extremely well-organized and deeply satisfied by high quality customer service within and outside the organization. You’re passionate about social impact and supporting a team striving to maximize the missions of arts and cultural, education, social services, and environmental non-profits. You’re a clear and effective communicator both verbally and in writing to technical and non-technical audiences. You’re flexible, love variety, and are happy operating at any level. You thrive on being the “go to” person for inquiries about how to get things done. You’re adept at creating structure where needed, and you take the initiative to design and sustain organizational processes. You appreciate the big picture of our mission and balance and see operational excellence as an avenue to achieving CFA’s goals and impact. You are motivated by the opportunity to contribute to a responsive, high growth, entrepreneurial environment and to continually innovate on operations to meet a growing organization’s needs.

Responsibilities

Operations Management:

  • Together with the COO, establish annual goals framework, tracking and evaluation.
  • Lead contract management and compliance.
  • Design and lead strategic initiatives within the organization to support growth goals.
  • Plan and execute team meetings, retreats, and other teambuilding activities.
  • Assist with HR and benefits platform management and new hire onboarding.
  • Manage inbound inquiries across communication platforms including web, mail, and email.
  • Ensure that information is up to date, organized, and accessible to the team.
  • Be an expert in our finance and workflow applications including Quickbooks, Google Suite, MS Office, and Zoom.
  • Prepare standard proposal templates, agreements, and other legal documents for review.
  • Proactively identify opportunities and make a business case for operational improvements within the organization. 
  • Develop, document, and execute organizational processes.

Financial Administration:

  • Manage all accounts receivable according to billing schedule.
  • Process expense reimbursements in a timely and accurate manner. 
  • Ensure payroll is submitted timely and accurately. 
  • Collaborate with COO and finance and accounting partners to keep information up-to-date.
  • Assist COO in preparation of annual budget and monthly financial reports and forecasts.
  • Be the primary contact for invoicing and assist clients and team with use of accounting systems.
  • Develop tools and templates in Quickbooks to optimize processes and reporting.

TO APPLY

Email your resume and a cover letter describing how you will uniquely add operational impact with “Operations & Business Manager” in the subject line to: [email protected]

Liz Jellema Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Chief Operating Officer

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) announced today that Liz Jellema will join the firm as its new Chief Operating Officer, effective January 5, 2022.

In her role, Jellema will provide oversight of the operations, culture, values, talent, marketing and communications, and financial performance of the full-service, fundraising consulting firm.

Jellema joins CFA from the University of Chicago where she served as Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives for the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the Booth School of Business.

“Liz is an action-oriented leader with a growth mindset,” says Paul Johnson, President of CFA. “She is highly strategic, collaborative, and detail oriented, which will serve our firm and our clients well. Liz has the skills to effectively co-lead our firm through a period of rapid growth and development.”

Since CFA was founded in 2014, it has grown from sole practitioner practice to a full-service, nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm with consultants based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. CFA principally supports clients in the arts, education, environmental, and human services sectors.

CFA’s client base has grown to include The Actors Fund (NYC), Gotham Film & Media Institute (NYC), Philadelphia Contemporary (Philadelphia), St. John’s College (Annapolis), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis), North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), Friends of the Mississippi River (Minneapolis), Headlands Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Santa Fe Community Foundation, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles), Street Poets (Los Angeles), Orange County Museum of Art (Costa Mesa), and numerous others.

Johnson notes that Jellema’s rich work experience positions her well for the COO role. “Liz has held leadership positions at a start-up, a government-related economic development agency, and at one of the world’s top business schools. Her background is ideal for CFA as we continue to build a robust portfolio of clients from numerous sectors and locations across the U.S.”

Prior to joining the Booth School, Jellema served as vice president of engagement for CityBase in Chicago, director of research at World Business Chicago, and as an analyst at AECOM Economics. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration, real estate and urban land economics at the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Michigan, and a certificate of civic leadership at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Jellema was drawn to the COO position because of CFA’s reputation in the nonprofit arena and its significant growth potential. “I am energized by opportunities where I can make a difference by translating strategy to operations and where the culture is client-centered,” she says. “CFA is in the right place at the right time to continue along its trajectory from start up to a powerhouse. I look forward to working with this team to support the mission-driven clients we serve.”

Listening and Creativity Are Key To Successful Corporate Collaborations 

Bouncing back from the economic and societal upheaval of the past two years is going to take a lot of listening and creativity for not-for-profit organizations. This is particularly true for those wanting to partner with corporations on complex – and theoretically more lucrative – partnerships. This work, as opposed to corporate foundation support from a grant request, centers on mutually-beneficial marketing and brand partnerships that can provide corporate support for an organization’s mission. The ability to effectively solicit and steward these corporate relationships often requires dedicated staff and should not be entered into without thinking through internal resources and external perceptions. Measuring success in these partnerships requires thinking through your goals for funding and brand awareness.

We spoke with Fredrick Wodin, Director of Corporate Relations at New York City Ballet, to understand how nonprofit organizations can develop effective relationships with the corporate sector.

CFA: First things first, what are corporate partnerships?

Fredrick Wodin: The corporate relations function in a nonprofit works to develop relationships with corporations that ultimately lead to financial or other support. In a large organization like ours, we have a dedicated team (of two) to support this work. Smaller organizations may include this work in other departments within the development function.

These nonprofit fundraising professionals may work with foundation, community relations, special events or marketing teams to identify and build mutually-beneficial relationships. On both sides of the equation, these roles involve helping each other find our way through the unfamiliar complexities of the other side. The value to corporations can include building a stronger brand, strengthening business relationships, improving employee engagement, enabling or supporting a product launch, or building other external goodwill.

Of course, the goal is to create a perfect fit – and that isn’t just about what we want from the relationship. It’s about what the partner wants. (We always want financial support!) What the corporation wants and needs matters more. That means listening with curiosity and patience, understanding what you’re hearing from the other side, and doing some creative thinking to craft a proposal that advances the corporation’s strategy, but is true to your organization.

What are some examples of corporate partnerships that serve both organizations’ strategic interests?

I’ve approached big companies in the same industries, and the conversation is never the same nor is the partnership ever structured the same. That’s because our conversations always start with what their business needs. Then we look at what we have to offer.

For instance, over the years several jewelry companies have partnered with us. One wanted us to perform at the opening of a new flagship location. Another wanted to borrow the special nature of our creative process to reflect on its products in a certain way. And others wanted to host a private event in the theater for their best clients, to experience “our world” and meet the dancers.

Here’s another example: We previously worked with an activewear company that is very focused on the beauty of movement. Their team believes that our artists represented this beauty and could help support their commercial interests. As part of our partnership, some of the dancers appeared in marketing campaigns, we co-hosted events at the theater for social media, press and retail partners, and we created a workout together.

Where should organizations start with this effort?

Start internally. That means, look at your mission, programs, assets – including your board, your space, your collection, your people, and your brand – and consider how they might appeal to corporate funders. Your board is a valuable place to start, because these are people who believe in your mission and who believe that being connected to your organization accrues some value to their own personal brand.

First ask them why they’ve chosen to work with you, and then understand their background and network. Can they introduce you to like-minded companies where you could help advance their strategies?

In our case, the dancers are our most significant and differentiating asset. I can bring in our marketing colleagues to speak about beautiful possibilities. A hunger relief organization might use testimonials and data around the number of meals delivered to attract funders.

It sounds like a lot of relationship building, as with major gifts donors. How do corporate partnerships differ from major gifts?

With major gifts, you’re most often looking for an emotional connection to the mission. This is rare in the corporate sector, especially as executives have less personal discretion about directing corporate giving dollars. This is more likely a business decision, and when a corporation doesn’t partner with us I try to evaluate that unemotionally. Was it about our pricing, the timing, the competition? Learning something, even in a bad outcome, is always worth the time and effort, even asking the prospect for insights.

What should you know about a corporation before you approach it? What’s the best way to prepare for a meeting?

I go into the first meeting prepared to ask some good questions and to listen carefully. You should definitely do your background research to start thinking about possibilities, but you can’t know everything, and you definitely can’t walk into an early meeting with a proposal. You don’t know –  and aren’t expected to know – what’s most important to the organization right now. Listen and learn and then propose.

They will feel more excited and engaged if they come away from that first meeting feeling that you heard them  – their interests, financial limitations, past experience, etc. Use that first meeting to learn about major initiatives, budget, timing, objectives, and more. Take that insight back to your team to sketch out the best possibilities. Bring the best ideas and proposals to the next meeting.

How should a nonprofit think about goals and targets for a corporate relations program? What are some helpful short- and long-term KPIs?

Obviously revenue is the most important measure. But these are not quick-turn “deals,” and if you’re just getting started, you’re going to have to measure activity and progress instead of actual dollars in the door.

Here are some activities you can keep track of:

  • Discovery phase: Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your organization’s mission, vision and values, and the assets you have to offer through partnerships; You’ll continue to refine this as you talk to more people, but start with a strong base.
  • Conversations: Start talking with board members and major donors to see what matters to them;
  • Introductions: Ask your biggest supporters to introduce you to their contacts at companies to which they are connected;
  • Learning: What insights can you get about your organization from people not connected to you? This can help you talk about your value in a language outsiders will understand and might suggest new people to approach.”

Don’t make “emails sent to companies’’ a metric. That might drive you to take a mass marketing approach, which really won’t work here. There’s no value in sending out a cold proposal with the same message to a hundred companies. It has to feel like a genuine connection.

Is it important to match the caliber of brand between the sponsor and organization?

While you certainly want to avoid a mismatch of values or hurting your community with an inappropriate alignment between brands, don’t be a snob. Prestige brands are great in certain instances. There are also times when more accessible brands might be a better fit. If you want to increase access to transportation for lower income communities, an economy car brand is likely a more logical partner than a luxury brand.

If someone wants to offer significant support, and you like what the brand stands for, do all you can to make it happen.

What if a corporation says no?

Usually, it is “no’” unfortunately, but it’s not “no forever” – it’s “not right now.” There are some discussions that, no matter how much people want to make something happen, just don’t work out. What they want might be something we can’t give them. Take that information in and keep the conversation going. Apply the learning to the next, similar discussion. It’s an iterative process in what you hope is a long-term relationship.

We thank Fredrick Wodin for sharing his exceptional and generous insight. 

Thinking Beyond The Gift Pyramid: A case study for a campaign’s public phase

When the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) began planning for the public phase of an $85 million comprehensive campaign, Rehana Abbas, chief philanthropy officer, knew it was not going to be a traditional launch. Most museums are closing in on their goals by the time a campaign goes public. Abbas knew that would not be true for her organization.

“Unlike many museums, our board is not only about fundraising,” Abbas said. “Our trustees are generous, but giving capacity is not the top consideration for joining the board. We knew we had to have a much more robust public phase and that we had to do things differently to engage our diverse community.”

OMCA opened its doors in 1969, bringing together art, history, and natural sciences, in order to  explore California’s unique character, landscape, waves of migration, and culture of innovation. The museum, Abbas suggested, was at the forefront of the national movement to make museums more equitable gathering spaces where all people feel like they belong. As part of the Museum’s campaign, OMCA is renovating its seven-acre campus to create a Museum, Garden, and Gathering Place for all community members to feel welcome.

“All In! The Campaign for OMCA” sought to raise $85 million over five years: $30 million cumulative for annual operating support which has grown year over year during the five-year campaign, $40 million to build long-term funds for financial sustainability and $15 million to transform the campus.

Building the base authentically

Knowing that the board would provide 25% of the funding, Abbas and her colleagues focused on engaging supporters at all levels, and built the membership base from 7,000 to 12,000 (pre-COVID). Significant gains in membership were made through such dynamic exhibitions as No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man and All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50. “It’s in our DNA to engage people in respectful dialogue around important issues,” Abbas explained. “We offer lots of interactive opportunities to make that happen.”

Recognizing planned gifts in real-time

Abbas said OMCA also decided that they would recognize estate intentions at face value if people let the museum know it was in their estate plans. “This motivated donors to disclose their estate plans, and allowed us to show our appreciation long before we received their planned gift,” she said.

Aligning philanthropy with values of the museum

OMCA leaders also worked hard to align philanthropy with the values of the museum. “Our development language was too transactional and inaccessible,” Abbas said. “We wanted the donor and member experience to match the museum experience.” To that end, they made shifts to communications to focus more on philanthropy, the act of giving at any level, and less on transactional benefits and exclusivity. Donor events became platforms for supporters to connect with community partners who were engaged in exhibition development. “We try to center the voices of our community partners and artists in donor engagement.”

OMCA also wanted the donor experience to be accessible, so she and her team changed up the online giving platform. “Accessibility is at the center of what we do, so if our donation mechanisms and language aren’t accessible, that’s just not going to reflect who we are and want to be.”

Raising money outside the box

OMCA is fortunate to have the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, a separate 501(c)3 that donates exclusively to the museum. Annually, the group of dedicated volunteers holds a “White Elephant Sale” in a 96,000 square foot warehouse that is owned by the Women’s Board. After a preview weekend in January, the sale then opens to a wider public for a month. “It is wild,” said Abbas. “They have everything from bric-a-brac and buttons, to furs and wedding dresses, to Frank Gehry designed furniture.” The Women’s Board raises over $2 million annually in their sale, and have contributed $8 million to OMCA’s “All In!” Campaign. (In Spring 2021, the sale will be held online due to COVID). 

Lessons learned

Most giving to the campaign has been unrestricted, which is a testament to the trust the community has in the museum and its leadership, especially Executive Director Lori Fogarty, Abbas said. “We’re telling a fuller story about what the museum is to the community and how it can foster social cohesion. People really responded to that message.”

With just a few months left in the campaign, which is slated to end June 30, 2021, Abbas said they are very much on track. OMCA saw an outpouring of generosity from loyal supporters when COVID forced the museum to close (closed since March 2020, it has not yet reopened). “We have less than $1 million to go and through customized outreach and direct mail, I am  confident that we’re going to make it.”

To learn more, visit https://50.museumca.org/

Read more about CFA’s approach to Strategic Planning or contact us to discuss your initiative.

Rehana Abbas Oakland Museum of California

Rehana is the chief philanthropy officer for the Oakland Museum of California

Webinar Insights from Sharing Power: The Challenge of Board Diversity

The issue of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEA&I) is making headlines in America right now, as it  ought to be. So agreed the panelists of nonprofit and corporate leaders who discussed diversity and  Board representation at the “Sharing Power: The Challenge of Board Diversity” webinar. The online event was co-hosted by Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) and CultureBrokers, both national organizations based in Minneapolis.

CFA President and fundraising consultant Paul Johnson kicked off the discussion noting how the U.S. has made zero progress in Board diversity. Johnson cited a recent BoardSource study which found 84% of Boards were Caucasian as of 2017, up from 80% in 1994. This illustrates how BIPOC individuals and groups have little institutional influence on the nonprofits impacting their communities.

The event — attended live by over 90 people from L.A. to Brooklyn to Dallas — focused on what nonprofit leadership can do to move the needle toward more diversity on Boards. You can watch the hour-long webinar on YouTube. Moderated by Johnson, along with DEA&I strategist Lisa Tabor of CultureBrokers, the panel included:

  • William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston;
  • Samuel Hoi, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA);
  • Kim Nelson, retired senior vice president of External Relations for General Mills; and
  • Drew Wilson, COO/CFO of SoundCloud.

Board Diversity Q&A

Staff and Board members are aware of the need to grow the power of BIPOC populations on Boards to enhance values, programs, governance, and efficacy, but they often lack the knowledge, skills, and commitment to move from  awareness into action. Johnson and Tabor led the group through a frank conversation on the subject as well as questions from participants.

Tabor: What are philosophies that need to change if an organization wants to diversify?

Hoi: “The barrier to Board diversity is intrinsically linked to structures in society and dominant culture. We must mindfully and actively dismantle these obstacles in our minds and in our Board policies and practices. People define power with what they have. If they have money, we can codify that money is important, but it is not the only form of currency. Money should not equal a Board seat. We must also recognize that knowledge, advocacy, community credibility, and honest feedback are as critical as money.”

“Most boards and members genuinely want to do good. However, well-intentioned people don’t always ensure good outcomes. Inherent bias limits the impact organizations intend to have on society. When Boards recruit from within their circles, they inadvertently nurture a cult culture instead of reflecting the people they serve.”

Tabor: How do the Board Chair and Executive Director work together to make the Board effective?

Harris – “This work is never done. The CEO and Chair must be committed to an inclusive board. They must be willing to listen to disparate voices. We have a proclivity as human beings to be with others like us. To confront that homogeneity, we have to be clear that we have a set of values around how we conduct ourselves. I am an advocate of a Code of Ethics complimentary to your Conflict-of-Interest declaration. It’s one way to address conscious bias.”

“Be clear about what you’re trying to advance culturally from entry-level employees to the Board. You have to walk the talk in your organization and expect the same from the Board. You have to have the candor to say, ‘we are not as representative as we need to be.’”

Tabor: What are you seeing in the corporate world in terms of Board recruitment where nonprofit boards could benefit?

Nelson: “They can benefit from each other.”

First, on recruitment, it’s about setting intentionality around what skills the organization needs for the future. There’s a lot of rigor in the corporate world for certain skills areas — ESG or cybersecurity or digitization. Focusing on skills has helped the for-profit world think about Board members.  Using a skills matrix can help focus on what you need.”

“A second option is requiring a diverse slate. If you have a skills matrix, you can get beyond why we want diversity. You simply need expertise. A best practice that works well with this is inclusion. You get there through Board onboarding. I’ve seen one-on-one onboarding with each board member and every key leadership team member. On another board, the Chair checks in once, twice or quarterly and ask questions like, ‘Are you getting your voice heard?’”

“Third, it’s important to have a robust feedback mechanism that’s quantitative, a survey with questions about equity on the Board. You must ask, ‘Do you have the opportunity to contribute?’ and ‘Is the board environment inclusive?’”

Tabor: What can leaders do to sustain a sense of urgency around diversity?

Wilson: “Since the pandemic and recent social justice movement, a lot of companies and organizations don’t want to be on the wrong side of it. Regulators, funders and customers require diversity.”

“NGO Boards have a false sense of comfort because they’re doing good. There’s a moment that’s happening now where I suspect you will see the ebb and flow of diversity turn favorably. The real benefit comes to the Board when you can add diverse members and their experiences and perspectives help the underlying performance of the organization.“

Johnson: There is a lot of data – it is fact — that a more inclusive and diverse organization is more productive and profitable. The Mansfield rule requires that 30 percent of the prospect pool be from a diverse population of women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities, and that an organization be intentional about recruiting through advertising and asking volunteers and community leaders far beyond regular networks. How do you prevent these changes from being performative?

Hoi: “Be committed to putting people of color in leadership positions. This cannot be rushed, but the Board membership has to embrace this as a mandate.”

Harris: “When you start having new members on the Board, make it participatory. Have a board retreat. Make it half play and half work. Be intentional around them getting to know each other. They’ll realize they have more commonalities than differences.”

Johnson: How do we break the pattern of complicity?

Nelson: “In the business world, which could happen in NGOs, two steamrollers are coming at companies: legislation requiring diversity and the investor community. A third is reporting requirements on diversity. The funding community can make a huge difference here in ensuring these moves aren’t performative.”

Johnson: Many organizations that serve majority BIPOC communities are white. How is that reconciled?

Wilson – “Self-awareness is not common in the Board room as it relates to homogeneity. Fear is what’s driving them to change now, but we have to hope that the value of diversity improves the Board’s effectiveness and becomes the number one motivator to expanding diversity at the Board level.”

Tabor: “One strategy is to add seats – don’t wait for a vacancy to come up. And, create a welcoming environment for people of color so they don’t feel tokenized.”

Hoi – “An all-white board serving a primarily non-white population or community is failing its fiduciary duty in some ways. The Board is about positioning its purpose and future and attracting maximum resources. In today’s contemporary society, an all-white Board won’t be attractive to future staff. Secondly, giving communities will not be interested in investing in non-diverse organizations. Last, diversity is a necessary lens for the Board but should never signify the value of the person once they’re at the table. That’s what it means to share power.”

Would you like to have more discussion and advice about how to make real change toward DEA&I? Read about CFA’s Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar.

What Will We Carry Forward?

With more than 3 million people in the U.S. getting vaccines daily, we’re beginning to see the light at the end of this long Covid-19 tunnel. But as we look forward to in-person meetings — dare we say no masks some day? — we at Creative Fundraising Advisors are also thinking about what we learned this past year and about what positive ideas, learning and adaptations we might carry forward with us.

Here are a few areas where we have seen significant and positive innovation:

Digital Engagement and Presentation

Prior to the pandemic, the case for support for most capital and comprehensive campaigns was told in print. And even though it was often repurposed for websites, it still began in print. But over the past year, we have begun with the digital platform, and lo and behold, it has provided flexibility, freedom and impact far beyond our expectations.

Here’s an example: The Actors Fund, a national human services organization that serves the entertainment community nationwide, engaged us to help raise funds for the Hollywood Arts Collective, an arts center with 151 units of affordable housing for artists, an 86-seat theater, art galleries, rehearsal studios and office space in Los Angeles. We worked with a designer who knew how to take PowerPoint to a whole new level. We embedded video from Annette Bening, a board member, at the beginning of the presentation to frame and make our case.

We were able to use this presentation in dozens of meetings, quickly sharing our purpose and vision with a visually engaging, information-rich tool. And when we had an opportunity to make a pitch for a seven-figure gift from a family foundation, we “convened” representatives of the foundation, The Actors Fund and our firm on Zoom and shared the presentation together while sitting in multiple different cities. Nobody had to get on an airplane, and we were able to have a conversation with more people in the “room” at the same time. It proved to be a highly effective and rewarding experience that resulted in a $1 million pledge.

National Discussions

This past year, as our country faced a collective reckoning on issues of historic and ongoing racism, we at Creative Fundraising Advisors were able to leverage technology to host national discussions on difficult topics such as why people of color are under-represented on development staffs and why our boards are whiter today than they were two decades ago.

Prior to the pandemic, frankly we had no idea how to host a national webinar. Look how far we have come! We were able to connect with experts around the country, bring them easily into conversation, engage hundreds of people in truly purposeful and meaningful conversation — all in the course of a couple hours on Zoom. We all may have been forced to learn how to utilize this technology, but our industry and nonprofits have benefited. Important professional development has never been easier to access.

Feasibility Studies

Our work across the country grew significantly over the past year because we were able to quickly adapt our feasibility study work. We found that it was quicker, more efficient, and easier to convene focus groups, small group interviews, and individual conversations via digital platforms. We didn’t have to travel, and people didn’t have to make their way through traffic and weather to provide their opinions. Participation in our feasibility studies soared, and our clients benefited tremendously from this increased engagement with their donors.

National Talent with a Click

CFA began working in 2020 with Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), an amazing organization working to end generational poverty in North Minneapolis. NAZ wanted to host a donor cultivation event with a national speaker. It may not have been possible — travel or expense-wise—prior to the pandemic. But we were able to bring in journalist Thomas Friedman to a virtual event that drew hundreds of people. It was a big win for NAZ, and an important opportunity for CFA to think about how organizations of all sizes in all places could do something similar. We like to think of it as donor engagement beyond the virtual gala!

Digital Memberships

One of our clients, the School for Advanced Research (SAR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has tripled attendance at events by offering them on a digital platform. Prior to Covid, people would have to travel to Santa Fe — a lovely place, but not easy to get to. CFA helped SAR develop a digital membership program. As an organization that traditionally drew on in-person experiences for their membership, SAR saw a dip in members over the last year. However, they made a distinct decision to expand their programming online, and offered their constituents a new way to interact with the organization. As part of this online expansion, they recently launched a Virtual Membership for new SAR members.

Since launching on February 1st, they have had 120 people sign up for virtual membership (with 55% of them outside New Mexico). Because of this new member growth, they’ve also all but closed the gap from last year’s pre-pandemic membership numbers. An additional and unforeseen benefit of the free online programming is they have added over 2,500 new records to their database from all 50 states and 19 countries. And because this platform has no fixed number of people who can participate, SAR is finding new audiences world-wide.

Looking Forward

As we look back at our work with clients through the pandemic, one overarching theme evolves: organizations that stayed true to their mission and did not let the pandemic limit the scope of their vision to deliver on that mission, have emerged stronger with new tools and competencies for the future.

Suffice it to say none of us at CFA could have imagined the changes we had to make — and how our clients would need us to help them make those changes. But we did it together, and while we can’t wait for the world to get back to normal, we plan to bring a few things from this most challenging year forward for the good of our clients and our field.

Paul Johnson  Creative Fundraising Advisors

Paul is the founder and president of Creative Fundraising Advisors based in the Twin Cities.
[email protected]creativefundraisingadvisors.com

Highlights from our Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar

When a client strongly recommended to Paul Johnson, president of Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), that he add a consultant of color to the CFA project team, Johnson readily agreed. To find that person, he turned to the channels he had long used: his LinkedIn contacts, traditional professional fundraising entities, and colleagues.

“I thought it would be relatively easy to find somebody to join our team,” says Johnson. “But over and over, people told me they were struggling to build staffs that were culturally and racially diverse, that there was shortage of diverse talent. And I realized that the fact I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find consultants of color showed my implicit bias. That bias got me started on the wrong foot.”

Johnson sought assistance from Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, a trusted diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. “I told her I’m obviously doing something wrong here.” That admission launched a whole new journey for CFA. “CultureBrokers helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider changes to our hiring process, like posting on the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) site. As a result, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color, AJ Casey and Utica.”

 

Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Field

The experience of building diversity in his own company led Johnson to partner with Tabor to develop a “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent,” a panel discussion with national fundraising experts, which was hosted by CFA on February 25 and attended by nearly 150 people.

Tabor moderated the panel, which included William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of AAD; Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation; and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

The panel started by answering the question why it matters to have people of color represented in fundraising. Their responses: Fundraising is where the narrative of an organization is shaped, so it matters whose voice is included. Fundraising manages external relationships, so it matters whose face is seen in community conversations. And importantly, donors of color are increasing, so diversity in staff is vital.

One panelist shared that, despite the importance of diversity, it has been estimated, by the Lilly Foundation, that of the approximately 37,000 development professionals in the U.S, only 12% of. are people of color. Often, Ghosh said, she is the only person of color at fundraising conferences.

Why is this? AJ Casey said one reason is that, until recently, it has not been a priority for nonprofit organizations to make sure their fundraising staff was diverse. And Birgit Smith Burton said organizations don’t commit resources to the search. “You can’t post and pray. You have to do things differently. You have to look for connections. With filling positions, you can’t just turn on the spigot; you need to always be out there.

The demand for professionals of color in fundraising is there, Burton said. “I’ve got 20 requests in my inbox of organizations looking for people of color.”

Recommendations for Building Diverse Fundraising Teams

One of the most helpful things that can be done to attract more staff of color is to develop an action plan, said Harris. “If you don’t operationalize it, you won’t have change. And attracting talent is fine but what about retention? It’s not only about putting policies in place but about culture.”

Panelists agreed that the focus of finding diverse talent cannot be about numbers. “It’s not about putting bodies in seats,” said Casey. “It’s about a complete social paradigm shift in how we do business, how we interact with each other, about our hair, our clothes, and how we interact with donors who come from different backgrounds.”

A common myth, Burton pointed out, is that you have to lower the bar to attract people of color. At the same time, the panelists all said that employers often have higher expectations for people of color, and that there was an expectation that they couldn’t make mistakes.

Ghosh said that having people of color in many positions throughout an organization is critically important for attracting diverse talent.

The panelists also addressed the issue of white leaders needing to create more space for people of color. “Sometimes it’s about white professionals stepping aside, making room at the table or giving up their seat,” Tabor said. As for dealing with leaders who don’t understand the value of diversity in a staff, Harris recommends you look to that person’s peers to help build awareness of how that lack of diversity is holding an organization back. Tabor agreed: “Peer pressure works.”

 

Supporting Professionals of Color in Philanthropy

For young professionals of color starting out in the philanthropic world, Casey recommended cross-cultural mentoring, and Burton suggests considering the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. “Mentors provide guidance. A sponsor uses influence to connect a person to opportunities, and sometimes we just need connection, not more guidance.”

 Harris said to make sure to ask potential employers about their commitment to diversity, equity, access and inclusion and about what kind of advancement opportunities they offer. “Be proactive in expressing your career aspirations,” he said, “and choose your boss carefully.” 

Being Willing to Stay in the Game

Casey noted how hard the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be. “We all want it to just be simple and easy, where we’re not always feeling like we have to learn something new. It’s always going to be awkward until it gets easy. So we have to socially normalize the awkwardness that we’re going to feel until we all learn to understand where each other is coming from and to respect each other.” 

Casey shared a helpful metaphor about diversity and inclusion: “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Diversity is inviting different people to the dance; inclusion is playing the music that makes them want to dance.’ Don’t look at it like some people are just going to have to leave the party because if you don’t want to listen to the music I want to listen to, then you have to leave. If we all stay in the party, we will learn to like things about each other’s music…It’s going to be hard until it’s easy, and it’s never going to get easy if we all just walk away from the difficulty.”

Planned giving in a pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven a significant rise in end-of-life planning, with many sources showing a 30-45% increase in the creation of wills, trusts, and estate plans. As a consequence, nonprofits are reporting a significant increase in planned gifts.

Creative Fundraising Advisors President Paul Johnson sat down with Theresa Gienapp, Director of Planned Giving at Macalester College, to analyze  this important issue, and to determine what an organization can do to make sure it is prepared for  these vital, sensitive  conversations. 

“In the past, planned gifts were usually triggered by a major life event — a marriage, divorce, change in job, the death of a family member,” says Johnson. “But this once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic is stimulating a whole new level of interest in planning for end-of-life and for helping beloved organizations that are suddenly under stress.”

Gienapp agrees. “I have definitely seen, in the face of hundreds of thousands of deaths in this country, that people are interested in tidying up their financial affairs. An alum called it ‘Marie Kondo-ing your estate,’ which certainly makes sense.”

In this rapidly changing environment, how can fundraising professionals be a respectful and helpful part of planned giving? The answer lies in deep and authentic relationships, says Johnson.

AN OVERVIEW OF PLANNED GIVING

“The traditional definition of planned giving is naming the people and organizations you want to receive your assets—money, property, a portion of your estate—upon your death,” says Johnson. “But I think of planned giving more as the result of an organization building an authentic, long-term relationship with a donor. It’s about planning your gift to the organizations during your lifetime and after you die.”

Johnson notes that planned gifts come in many forms. Some are bequests from a donor designating a charitable organization in a will. Others are annuities or trusts that provide income while a person is living, with the remainder going to a charitable organization upon the person’s death.

“The profile of a planned giving donor can be quite different than a major gifts donor,” explains  Johnson. “Your really great planned giving prospect might be the retired schoolteacher who doesn’t have cash but does have a retirement account and home, assets that can be transferred to you upon a person’s death.”

Planned giving also allows someone to participate in a campaign in a much more significant way than a cash gift might allow. For example, CFA recently consulted on the Dodge Nature Center campaign and the largest gift was a planned gift, which allowed the organization and the donor to think big, says Johnson. “That planned gift had a powerful effect on Dodge’s ability to plan for generations to come.”

Gienapp suggests that  Macalester College has found  that 50th reunions are a time of reflection and opportunity to talk about planned giving. “Our class of 1970, for example, felt strongly that they still had things they wanted to do, that they wanted to make a difference. It was a good time for a planned giving conversation.”

GETTING STARTED

Johnson emphasizes that, first and foremost, planned  giving must be an extension of a major gifts program. “While some nonprofits are not large enough to have  a planned giving director, every major gift officer needs to be well-versed in planned giving mechanisms to be of service to donors.”

Second, Johnson suggests   that if an organization has not yet started a program, it is never too late. Having a very simple, basic planned giving circle or society is a good place to begin. That forces an organization to set up its internal systems to accept planned gifts and it creates a public-facing recognition of donors. If your organization lacks expertise or mechanisms to accept planned gifts, Johnson recommends partnering with a local bank or community foundation that can provide the service with integrity.

Third, a development officer must assess when the time is appropriate to have a planned giving conversation. “The most likely candidates are people who have a long-term interest in the mission and well-being of the organization,” says Johnson. He also notes that it is just fine if people are reluctant to provide an exact dollar amount of a planned gift or simply not know what the value will be. “You really just want the donor to let you know that your organization is included in his or her or their estate plan.” Gienapp says that research shows once a donor has documented a planned gift, the person’s annual giving often increases significantly.

Gienapp acknowledges that planned giving conversations can be anxiety-producing. “It’s about money, and then you layer in death. That can be awkward. You have to listen to cues to understand where people are, and you have to keep your eye on helping them think about what they would love to see grow and flourish at your organization.”

CHARACTERISTICS OF A STRONG PLANNED GIVING PROGRAM

Organizations that have successful planned giving programs are those who have set up the internal systems and processes to identify and steward long-term relationships. The emphasis is on long-term, says Johnson. “I once worked at an organization that was the recipient of a $500 million gift. This donor was stewarded as a major gift donor for 27 years.”

Gienapp emphasizes the need to stay focused on impact. “You’re helping them plan for a gift after they are gone, but you’re consistently stewarding them to show the impact of donors.”

Establishing clear gift acceptance policies — what you will and will not accept — is vital, Gienapp says. “Will you take assets related to tobacco or fossil fuels, for example? These are complicated decisions an organization must address up front. A donor’s values and an organization’s values must align.”

A strong planned giving program is not possible without excellent documentation and recordkeeping. “You have to have contact reports and a CRM system that allows you to track well,” says Gienapp.

Johnson has seen  that an organization’s  board/trustees also play a crucial role. “You want your current board members to include you in their estate and for them to be tuned into planned giving as a long-term strategy for the organization.”

THE BENEFITS OF PLANNED GIVING – FOR THE DONOR

Planned giving is often positioned as a benefit for the organization, which it is. But Johnson says the most important point of planned giving is that the donor can have a say in the organization’s future. “It is vital that we think about the legacy a person wants to leave. A planned gift says, ‘I care about this institution and I want it to thrive well into the future.’”

Paul Johnson
Creative Fundraising Advisors

Paul is the founder of Creative Fundraising Advisors based in Saint Paul, MN.
[email protected]

Theresa Gienapp
Macalester College

Theresa is the director of planned giving at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN.

CultureBrokers and CFA are co-hosting a webinar to discuss diversity and the fundraising talent pipeline

For too long, some fundraising and nonprofit leaders have struggled to build teams that are culturally and racially diverse. When questioned, they often explained that the difficulty was that there is a real shortage of diverse talent to be found.

Those were our assumptions, as well, so, during a recent search to hire additional, experienced consultants, we talked to the experts at CultureBrokers. They helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider our hiring process a bit differently. Based on their advice, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color.

This process taught us there is a lot we could do to appeal to a more diverse pool of well-qualified candidates while making a commitment to attract new talent to the fundraising field. Join us for a webinar Thursday, February 25 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CST to hear from a panel of deeply experienced fundraising leaders. They will talk about what the real 
problems are when it comes to lack of diversity in the fundraising pipeline, how to adjust your recruiting and hiring practices to appeal to talent of color, and why all of this matters.

Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, will moderate the panel, which includes William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of the African American Development Officers Network (AADO); Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation, and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

AJ Casey and Utica Gray Join Creative Fundraising Advisors Team

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) welcomed two experienced fundraising consultants to its team in January 2021: AJ Casey, a nonprofit leader, trainer, and consultant for more than 25 years who will serve as Of Counsel for work with The Actors Fund, and Dr. Utica J. Gray, an experienced leader with expertise in human services, education, and health care who will serve as Of Counsel for work with Walker|West Music Academy.

“AJ and Utica bring unique perspectives and experiences to our growing team,” said CFA President Paul Johnson. “We are so pleased to have people of their caliber on board to serve The Actors Fund and Walker West right now and new clients on the horizon.”

About AJ Casey 

AJ specializes in capital campaigns, fundraising assessments and strategies, board training and advancement, as well as executive coaching and professional development. She also has deep experience with start-up organizations and organizations focusing on people of color. She has led complex fundraising projects of local, regional, and national scope and has worked with a full array of nonprofit organizations and foundations.

Before launching her own practice in 2006, AJ served for eight years as a senior consultant and vice president in a national philanthropic consulting firm, as chief development officer and executive director within several nonprofit organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Seattle, and as a special advisor to the Stonewall LBGTQ center in Columbus, Ohio. She recently served as the board chair for Mental Health America of Franklin County. She is a former vice president of National Speakers Association, Ohio chapter, and a former executive board member for the Columbus Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“I’m eager to bring my passions and skills to Creative Fundraising Advisors’ work with The Actors Fund,” AJ said. “My family placed high value on the arts, and I was a member of the inaugural class of Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts. My brother is an award-winning lighting designer, so I have a deep history and interest in the arts.”

AJ grew up in Cincinnati and Youngstown, Ohio, where her father helped found the area’s first Black-owned law firm. She attended Georgetown University, studying foreign languages and international economics. She also earned certifications as a Certified Fund Raising Executive and a Certified LifeSuccess Coach. AJ has two sons, Aaron and Royce, and is based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

About Utica Gray, PhD

In addition to her consulting work, Utica serves as national director for Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide no-cost reconstructive surgeries to disadvantaged children who have deformities as a result of birth defects, accidents, injuries, abuse, or disease. She has 20 years of nonprofit development experience and 15 years of consulting experience in the areas of developmental disabilities, adoption, homelessness, education, senior services, and healthcare. She is well versed in nonprofit mergers, leadership, and management.

“I have a passion for nonprofits that have a rich and long history in their community, like Walker|West,” Utica says. “There is community trust that speaks to the integrity of the organization. I’m also impressed with Creative Fundraising Advisors’ commitment to building the capacity to best serve its clients and with the leadership’s desire to model equity.”

Utica is a graduate of Northwestern University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, a Master of Science in Human Services Administration from Spertus College, and a PhD in Business Administration with a Public Administration concentration from Northcentral University. She lives with her husband, 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, where she is a Girl Scout Troop leader focusing her group on projects ranging from cyber bullying to the dangers of sex trafficking. She is also an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc., the same sorority to which Vice President Kamala Harris belongs.

“Utica’s formal educational background in business, research, public administration, and human services is of tremendous value to our work,” says Johnson. “She also understands the tremendous importance of relationships in fundraising and nonprofit management. We’re so happy to have her on board.”

About Creative Fundraising Advisors

Creative Fundraising Advisors is a full-service consulting firm dedicated to transformational fundraising counsel and implementation. The firm prides itself on developing and applying new techniques to tackle complex fundraising challenges. CFA’s services include campaign counsel, development assessment, strategic planning, annual giving, creative services and data analytics.

CFA’s clients include The Actors Fund (New York), Friends of the Mississippi River (St. Paul, MN), The Gabriella Foundation (Los Angeles), Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, WI), Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), Portland Museum of Art (Portland, ME), St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD/Santa Fe, NM), The School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM), North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh, NC), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis MN), and Walker West (St. Paul, MN), among many others.

More information at creativefundraisingadvisors.com.

Cultivating Major Gifts in Challenging Times

The highest priority for any development officer, of course, is nurturing relationships with an organization’s most significant donors and prospects. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to create economic and social challenges, gift officers are taking a fresh look at these relationships. They want to be sure they are connecting in a meaningful way while also being sensitive to donors’ changing circumstances. CFA’s Jake Muszynski and Tony Grundhauser are working with leading nonprofits to help them offset the impact of the pandemic by staying active  in the major gifts cycle, with a sustained focus on impact. 

These days, more than ever, that impact can be financial, but it can also be in the form of feedback, insight, and wisdom. “So much of this work is about mindset,” Muszynski explains.  “As you connect donors with the mission and vision of the organization, there should always be an ask – but rarely is that for financial commitment. Ask for feedback and guidance, to better understand  their interests and passions, or for another meeting – that’s how you build relationships.”

Should we ask for major gifts during a pandemic?

There’s no question that the pandemic has disrupted plans, changed pipelines, and created massive retrenching for most organizations – nonprofit or not. The level of disruption varies by community and organization; in fact, for some, the challenging year has brought donors closer. “Our clients are now seeing leadership donors giving more, rather than less,” Muszynski says. “That’s partially  because they are less affected by the downturn, but it is also because they know how impacted the organizations are.”

“We’re definitely seeing organizations turn to their major donors during this time,” says Grundhauser. “As they should. The stock market continues to do well, and people want to help. We all see the arts and cultural institutions closing to the public, and higher education students struggling to pay tuition or stay on campus. All of that has an impact on an organization’s ability to realize  its mission. We need to create urgency but not desperation. This is such a fitting time to line up passion with opportunity.” 

Client Spotlight

Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) is committed to permanently closing the achievement gap and end generational poverty in North Minneapolis.

After the murder of George Floyd, a New York Times oped article highlighted NAZ’s work. As a result of that attention, the organization began receiving new first-time gifts from donors across the country. NAZ called on CFA to help them create a system to build meaningful relationships with these new donors and to show the impact of these and future gifts.

The new system includes setting a threshold for a “major gift,” choosing tools to identify and qualify prospects, while building ways to show the impact of contributions and connect with donors. This led to such initiatives as invitation-only virtual events with leaders in the antiracism movement as well as a structure of benefits for recognizing, stewarding and engaging individuals once their gifts have been made.

How do we approach the major gifts cycle in a pandemic?

After they have  addressed the question of whether to ask for gifts and cultivate major donors, many gift officers are finding new ways to connect with donors and supporters. We’ve provided a full guide to the major gifts cycle here. It contains foundational information that can help you optimize your major gifts program no matter the social or economic environment.

When old tactics and methods for cultivating major gifts are no longer available, fundraisers continue to adjust their programs and their approach. Here are some effective ways to identify and engage your biggest supporters:

  • Identification and Qualification: These stages are research based, and the pandemic has had little effect on their implementation. The most important thing to remember is to keep working these stages, even as other activities may have slowed down. The pandemic will likely affect the middle tier of donors most; major donors seem to be maintaining, and smaller-dollar donors are keeping their giving steady. The ones that were stretching to give $500 to $5,000 and were on your way to being the next major donors may be rebalancing their financial priorities and have to  pull back if the economic downturn is hitting them.
  • Cultivation: Always the lengthiest and most important stage, this is when you help the donor see how they can have the greatest impact and help them feel connected to your organization. It  has traditionally been a face-to-face effort, with many lunches and events. Organizations are continuing to cultivate relationships during the pandemic, despite the logistical challenges.One client creates video updates to let donors and prospective donors know how its new campaign is going. It is an easy, yet human way to keep people excited and motivate them to participate. The team plans to host virtual programs for campaign prospects over the winter and hosted trail walks in the spring to help people connect in person while maintaining  physical distance. Another client has developed a series of invitation-only virtual events with civic leaders, authors, and activists discussing critical issues in the community. These sessions are a way for staff and volunteer fundraisers to connect campaign prospects with the organization on issues they care deeply about, keeping them engaged in the campaign.
  • Solicitation:  “Major gifts officers know that if they’ve performed the initial work correctly, the monetary ask basically makes itself when the time is right,” Muszynski explains. That organic progression might be harder to judge when you’re not with people in person, and it may feel uncomfortable at first to make a formal request for funds from a distance. However, as the pandemic has progressed, people have become much more accustomed to doing business remotely. As Grundhauser says, “We are working with clients to solicit  six- and seven-figure gifts not face-to-face, but remotely through Zoom or similar platforms.
  • Closing: Be sure to follow up in a timely manner after the solicitation conversation. The donor may need clarity about recognition or the structure of a matching program. If the donor is still considering the amount, it may be helpful for them to speak with your executive director, campaign chair, or board chair. Timely follow-up is critical and your goal is to secure a signed pledge form. “You’ve just asked someone for a significant show of support for your organization,” Grundhauser says. “If a week goes by before they hear from you, that’s a problem.”
  • Stewardship: According to Grundhauser, “Our firm’s president, Paul Johnson, likes to say that your best stewarded gift is your next major gift. If someone makes a major gift to your organization, it’s probably not their last. So as you think of ways to thank and recognize them, make sure you are also planning to continue the conversation well after the gift is made.” 

Looking ahead

Building a major gifts program is not  a short-term goal. So while the best time to start a program may have been two years ago, the next-best time is now. If your organization is planning for a new campaign, think about how you are connecting with your donors now and see what you can do to start the major gifts cycle.

“This is a great time for assessment,” Grundhauser points out. “Step back and look at the resources you’re putting into your program and how you’re aligned behind major gifts, if you are aligned behind major gifts, at all. Make sure you can articulate your strategy and vision, and make sure you are talking often with your closest friends.”

“Relationships are important,” Muszynski says. “The very specific strategy of building relationships and engagement between your organization and its donors is more important than asking now for a gift. Get clear on your strategy and vision, and start talking to people. Distance and safety measures do not  have to slow you down.”

Read more about CFA’s services or contact us to discuss your initiative.

Stop doing routine events.
If you could create more meaningful relationships and ultimately drive more revenue putting your events dollars and energies toward cultivating major gifts;

Stop forcing your donors into your needs/buckets:
They want to know their gift will make an impact, so be flexible and creative about their opportunities to give.
Start asking donors for advice.
This is a great time to connect and see how different businesses are responding to the pandemic and other challenges;

Start learning more about your donors’ passions:
This enables you to work with donors to decide how they want to spend their money.
Continue to ask:
for help
for feedback
for advice;

Ask supporters to engage with events, programs and content, and eventually continue to ask them for gifts.

Jake Muszynski Creative Fundraising Advisors

Jake is a Principal at Creative Fundraising Advisors based in the Twin Cities.
[email protected]creativefundraisingadvisors.com

Wise Strategic Planning Drives Impact and Resilience

A well-run nonprofit organization delivers on its mission through a visionary strategic plan. That plan aligns board, staff and resources around goals that are ambitious but achievable.

In today’s world, nonprofit organizations face a vast number of considerable challenges, making solid strategic planning more urgent than ever. Arts and cultural institutions do not know when they can welcome patrons back in large numbers. Hunger relief organizations are unsure when volunteers can safely return to pack and distribute food. Needs fluctuate with stay-at-home orders and civil unrest.

Paul Johnson, CFA’s founder and president, working in collaboration with our strategic partner Kathy Graves of the strategic planning and communications firm Parenteau Graves, has good news: facing all of these challenges does not mean you have to change your vision. And, if you incorporate solid scenario planning into your process, your plan should be flexible enough to help you adjust to whatever the future presents.

The Strategic Planning Process Is Vital

“Strategic planning must first articulate an organization’s mission, vision, and values,” Paul says. “Your strategic plan then becomes the lens through which the organization does its work. Your plan isn’t the work that you do at the end of the day when your ‘other’ work is done or in advance of a quarterly check-in with your Strategic Planning Committee. Rather, it is at the center of your daily actions.” 

CFA’s strategic planning process begins by helping clients agree on what good they are doing, and for whom. Then we ask, “What’s your north star?” Organizations need to agree where they are headed and what’s guiding them. Only then can you set your priorities.

Paul and Kathy agree that it can be challenging to keep the focus on vision. “People tend to get really tactical because many of us are concrete operational thinkers,” Kathy says. In their strategic planning sessions, they use exercises that probe vision, distinction, community need and impact before an organization establishes its near-term goals and the roadmap to help staff and board put a plan into action.

In their work with organizations of all sizes across the country, Paul and Kathy often find nonprofits have become a collection of programs instead of a vision. “Nonprofits tend to add and never delete,” says Kathy. “Strategic planning, when done well, helps organizations shed old ways of thinking and generate new possibilities for impact.”

Reflecting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) and Access in Strategic Plans

The topics of justice and equity are rightfully permeating conversations, especially in light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Nonprofits are asking pointed questions about the diversity of their boards and staff, about structures and systems that privilege white people, and about how they can be places of inclusion and access. “Nonprofits must show how they are relevant,” Kathy says. “Making an action-oriented commitment to justice and equity is central to relevance and impact. This is not about shifting quotas on a board or simply adding a siloed diversity, equity and inclusion goal to a plan; it’s about much deeper work organization-wide. It must be a lens through which strategic planning is done.”

Paul notes that the conversations around access and equity are opening organizations up to new ideas about how they serve their communities and how they define their space. “One nature center we work with is looking at sending buses out into the community to bring the outdoors to them rather than limiting access to kids at schools that can afford buses,” he says. “An arts organization has used this moment to assess its DEI policies and create a more intentional roadmap to broaden its offerings and make them more accessible. That might mean putting its collection online for the first time.” 

Strategic Plans and Fundraising

Why would a strategic plan matter to donors? Paul has discovered that a good plan helps fundraisers in two ways. “Strategic plans often lead people to develop interesting programs or capital projects, and those exciting and ambitious ideas can generate campaign or fundraising programs,” he explains. “Importantly, a smart plan helps a fundraiser articulate a case for support that is aligned with an organization’s mission, vision and values, one that is focused on maximizing impact.” 

Kathy agrees. “People give to need, but they really give to impact,” she says.

Future Proofing The Strategic Plan: Scenario Planning

Early in the pandemic, Kathy, Paul, and CFA colleagues spoke with many organizations that required help adjusting their plans and operations. “People needed to figure out how to pivot to shorter-term plans,” Kathy says. “We helped them adjust and stabilize. Then they were able to look up and see that their north star was still there — they were still headed in the right direction. We always build in flexibility so that an organization can be resilient in turbulent and smooth waters.”

To create that flexibility, Kathy and Paul employ scenario planning, which allows boards and staff to envision various paths. As Paul points out, “Scenario planning helps organizations ponder, ‘What if we don’t raise as much as we thought we would? What if we raise more? What if we’re not able to open our doors or welcome volunteers for three months? What if it’s nine months? What would happen if we sold our building or renovated it?’ Taking time to map possibilities in the planning process is a tremendous help for organizations.” 

Ultimately, strategic planning can be the best tool to build organizational resilience. “The last seven words of a dying organization are ‘Because we’ve always done it that way,’” says Paul. “Strategic planning allows a board and leadership team to step back, to take stock, and to use their creative and analytical powers to plan a wise path.”

Read more about CFA’s approach to Strategic Planning or contact us to discuss your initiative.

Kathy Graves Parenteau Graves

Kathy is a strategic planning consultant based in Minneapolis, MN.
[email protected]

Paul Johnson Creative Fundraising Advisors

Paul is the founder of Creative Fundraising Advisors based in Saint Paul, MN.
[email protected]

Dodge Nature Center’s Transformative Campaign Thrives Amid Pandemic

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Creative Fundraising Advisors Welcomes Tony Grundhauser and Sara Johnson

(Saint Paul, MINN) — Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), a national strategic fundraising firm based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is expanding its staff to include Principal Tony Grundhauser, who brings more than 25 years of fundraising experience to CFA’s practice, and Creative Services Director Sara Johnson, who most recently served as Vice President Creative Director at KNOCK.

“We are so pleased to have Tony and Sara as members of our growing team,” said CFA President Paul Johnson. “They, like the rest of our group, believe in the power of nonprofit organizations to transform the world. People of the caliber of Tony and Sara, who are at the peak of their careers, add considerable strength to CFA’s bench and will be a major asset for our clients. Their addition helps us truly be a full-service consulting firm.”

About Tony Grundhauser

Most recently, Grundhauser was the executive director for the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. There, he led the foundation to its best fundraising year in history, doubling results from prior years. Under his leadership, the Zoo improved its annual fundraising performance, raised its largest gift in history, and launched the ambitious “Step Into Nature” capital campaign. Tony is passionate about the outdoors and started his career as the first campaign director for the Minnesota Environmental Fund where he increased the number of workplaces conducting campaigns on behalf of environmental organizations. From there, he moved to The Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota Chapter where he built a 30-member Corporate Council and helped shape its $15 million Campaign for Conservation. He rose rapidly through the ranks at TNC and ultimately was promoted to director and senior manager to lead the Conservancy’s work in Canada. From 2003 to 2006, he co-led an international campaign that raised $60 million to secure the permanent protection of more than 5 million acres in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

After several years of intense travel, Grundhauser settled back in the Twin Cities to work in higher education, first as director of individual gifts at Macalester College and then for eight years as vice president for institutional advancement at Hamline University. Tony was recognized for his leadership at Hamline when he was nominated and accepted to the prestigious Harvard University Institute for Educational Management.

In his new position with CFA, Grundhauser has immediately applied his considerable experience working with environmental nonprofits to help launch Dodge Nature Center’s $40 million “Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature” campaign and leading CFA’s work with the Friends of the Mississippi River. He is also a part of the leadership team working with The Actors Fund in New York and Los Angeles on a proposed national campaign.

About Sara Johnson

Johnson has brought purpose, intention, and truth to visual storytelling and brand communications for clients around the world. Her core disciplines include design and creative direction for print, video, websites, and social content creation. She has more than 20 years of experience in the creative space, having worked as a graphic designer for Target Corp and then as the vice president creative director at KNOCK, one of the top branding and design agencies in the region.

At Creative Fundraising Advisors, Sara provides branding consultation, designs visual assets, and counsels clients on the creative direction of their campaigns.

“Having a Creative Services Director is unusual for a fundraising firm, but storytelling and design play an integral and vital part in the success of fundraising,” said Johnson. “Sara brings a level of excellence to our firm that will help our clients share their mission and vision with excitement, impact and effectiveness.”

About Creative Fundraising Advisors

Creative Fundraising Advisors is a full-service consulting firm dedicated to transformational fundraising counsel and implementation. The firm prides itself on developing and applying new techniques to tackle complex fundraising challenges. CFA’s services include campaign counsel, development assessment, strategic planning, annual giving, creative services and data analytics.

CFA’s clients include Dodge Nature Center (Saint Paul, MN), Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles, CA), The Gabriella Foundation (Los Angeles), Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, WI), Portland Museum of Art (Portland, ME), The McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, TX), St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD/Santa Fe, NM), The School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM), The New Mexico School for the Arts (Santa Fe, NM), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis MN), The Actors Fund (New York), Philadelphia Contemporary Art (Philadelphia, PA), Liberty Community Church (Minneapolis) among many others.

Creative Fundraising Advisors was founded in 2015 and has grown rapidly; in partnership with its nonprofit clients, CFA has raised more than $1 billion in the past five years. 

Non-profit Fundraising and Strategic Planning in the 2020 Landscape

 

 

Our nation is navigating dual pandemics: COVID-19 and the tragic, daily reminders of ongoing inequality. In this new environment, non-profits are navigating completely uncharted waters — having to rethink traditional approaches to strategy, fundraising, and planning.  

In this webinar, “Non-profit Fundraising and Strategic Planning in the 2020 Landscape”, panelists discuss surviving and thriving in the midst of the challenges posed by disease and discrimination.

Paul Johnson and Tony Grundhauser of Creative Fundraising Advisors give the initial presentation about the state of philanthropy in 2020, including lessons learned from past recessions and insights into constructive actions to take during tumultuous times.

Joining them are St. Olaf alumni from a variety of fundraising backgrounds.

Panelists present their insights from the field, discuss with each other, and answer questions. Questions include:

“Are emergency fund campaigns valid?”

“Should nonprofits accept gifts from donors with conflicting values?”

“What ideas would not have been possible before this pandemic — new ideas to be invested in and allowed to flourish?”

Watch the webinar recording from St. Olaf here.

Promoting effective thought leadership for the non-profit sector through challenging times

When the Covid-19 pandemic took our country by storm in spring 2020, most of our clients were thrown into a world of the unknown. How do we continue to raise money in a pandemic? What do we say to donors? Do we cancel events? What can we do online?

Those were just a few of the questions that Creative Fundraising Advisors began to tackle. Our firm does its best to stay on top of trends and issues and to share our knowledge freely with our clients. We spent hours listening, discussing, reading and watching to better understand the situation at hand and ahead.

We met quickly with current and pro bono clients to help individuals and organizations make plans and to adhere to long-held and emerging best practices.

A few weeks into our country’s quarantine due to Covid-19, we partnered with two other fundraising consultants to create a helpful webinar and platform for discussion. Five client partners presented their plans and took questions in a webinar that has now been viewed by thousands. Our goal was to help provide direction to manage through the next few months. Watch the webinar here.

We also partnered with the strategic planning and communications firm of Parenteau Graves to conduct a webinar training and discussion for Artspace’s Immersion Cohort. Again, the goal was to help individuals and small arts organizations develop best practices for donor relations in the time of a pandemic.

As our clients emerge from quarantine and begin to make plans to re-open — with uncertainty still a guarantee — and as our country grapples with oppressive, system racism, we are committed to working in partnership, to sharing what we know and to listening to one another.

Our Commitment to Impacting Change

To our friends and colleagues, 

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in broad daylight on Memorial Day and the remarkable response to this event in the past two weeks has made painfully visible a longstanding dynamic in American history: the depraved indifference to black lives and the widespread invalidation of the struggles and lived experiences of Black Americans. 

As mass unrest sweeps the country, we are hearing voices—long unheard—crying out for a platform. We mourn the pain and destruction our communities of color are experiencing especially.

Beyond the tumult of the past two weeks, we do not want to lose sight of the primary issue at hand: the gaping inequality in the legal, economic, medical, educational, and social treatment afforded white people versus people of color. 

George Floyd’s death was tragic, but not random — it provoked unrest sufficient to open a nationwide conversation about continued racial disparity. 

We believe the best way we can honor the memory of George Floyd is to listen intently to our community and work to help create positive, enduring change. Ultimately, whether his senseless death was meaningless will depend on the individual choices of each person — did we let it pass or work to make a lasting change? 

His legacy, in many ways, is yet to be decided. The ultimate difference that the death of George Floyd makes in American history will be decided by our collective action now. 

Above all the dissenting voices we hear most clearly an ultimatum. To do nothing is to side with the dominant momentum, to keep the status quo alive. To not speak out at all is to take a side that is complicit in continued mistreatment. In order to be against racism, we must proactively strive for equality. 

Words are not enough. Challenging systemic racism is a task that requires more than outspoken verbal solidarity from allies. Making change in our society involves the expenditure of both labor and resources, and we at Creative Fundraising Advisors are committed to a holistic program of action. 

In the past few days, we’ve begun a dialogue with colleagues and fellow nonprofit professionals to offer our services in a pro bono capacity to local organizations whose missions foster equity and equal opportunities, and who are prominent voices for people of color within our community.

We are also financially supporting local organizations that are a vital resource for underserved communities and that represent healing and progress: Hiawatha Academies, We Love St. Paul, African Economic Development Solutions MN, The Link, and the Minnesota Healing Justice Network

Finally, while we hope our donations will provide some temporary relief, our sights are set on creating a lasting and sustainable change. We realize the work we’re doing can’t be an ephemeral, token, one-time offering in response to an issue that has spanned generations. Our efforts in the coming months will be one small part of the very beginning of change—the adoption of a new model of representation. 

Sincerely, 

The Creative Fundraising Advisors Team

A Case for the Arts: Articulating the Power of Creativity in Your Nonprofit

The disorienting effect of Covid-19 has illuminated the healing role the arts play in our mental and emotional lives and inspired a new awareness amongst major donors.

In a post-coronavirus milieu, arts nonprofits have an opportunity to reassert their relevance to our individual resiliency and societal cohesion.

How have you seen the healing effect of art, in your own life or in your organization? Can you articulate those feelings into a clear statement?

These questions are more important now than ever.  In this compelling article from Inside Philanthropy, Mike Scutari illustrates how arts and arts education nonprofits are increasingly able to make the case for their status as a societal necessity, and not a luxury.

In the wake of Covid-19 a number of major gift donors have dedicated themselves to bolstering the arts and cultural institutions . In New York, a range of funders including Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation pledged to contribute to the $75 million NYC Covid-19 Response and Impact Fund  intended for cultural and social services.

As recently as March 20th, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund joined the group as well. Tisch, a former co-chair of the Whitney Museum’s board of trustees — among other prestigious positions — has been a major donor in arts and arts education for over a decade.

Her recent move to contribute to a struggling arts sector during the international pandemic is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon — major donors are seeing the healing and stimulating value of arts and cultural institutions during times of crisis.

It’s important for art, art education, and cultural nonprofits to reflect on the ways their value is, in fact, tangible — and be able to express that in clear language to the public, the donor base, and future potential benefactors.

Why Your Next Major Gift is a Well-Stewarded One

Never-Miss Fundraising Steps to Donor Fulfillment

Have you ever had the sinking feeling that you could have done more to thank a donor and share with them the impact of their gift? Do you ever get to your internal deadline—the end of year or the public phase of a major campaign—and wonder why you haven’t heard from a tried-and-true donor?

If a donor disappeared, maybe it’s because you haven’t made stewardship a priority in your weekly tasks. It’s understandable. Your development shop is busy and there’s always that goal to reach. Plus, it’s not like donors go away mad. They simply go away.

Today’s donors are more savvy philanthropists and they want to make a difference. So, when you begin to “expect” regular gifts without investing in the relationship, some of your donors may move you down their charitable giving priority list.

Being lackadaisical about what a donor thinks, wants and needs can especially backfire if your organization has a crisis — your mission is called under question or your Board Chair makes a public misstep. And let’s face it, it smarts when you see a donor stretch to make a sizeable gift to another local organization. It could have been your organization getting that big gift instead!

Follow Your Heart but Use Your Head

You’re probably not in this business because the job selling real estate wasn’t available. Development and Advancement professionals are salespeople: we “sell” mission and passion for changing the world for good.

Here are a few never-miss steps to jumpstart your stewardship efforts:

  1. Set time aside in your week for stewardship tasks. Make stewardship as active a part of your workweek as donor research and annual fund mailings.
  2. Host a thank you event, and resist the pull to ask for more support.
  3. Lift donors up as examples. Profile giving in your newsletters and annual reports.
  4. Thank your donors via social media. Add a space on your donor forms to collect social media handles for platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.
  5. Pen a personal thank you note.
  6. Use the phone and visit! Make time for human interaction. What’s their life perspective, how’s their family, what are their hopes and dreams as a benefactor? Don’t miss a career change or big event in someone’s life because you are overly-focused on meeting your deadline.
  7. Use your calendar and other tools to monitor interactions and remind you when it’s time for you, your director or a Board member to reach out.
  8. Recognize generosity through print, online, signage and at events. Get creative. Perhaps you can monitor how many years they have been giving and remind them how thankful you are for their impact over time.
  9. Say thanks again. Let them know their philanthropy makes a difference in the world. And, if you missed the first opportunity to say it, know it’s never too late to say “thank you.”

The gift is the beginning. Not the end.

Your job is donor fulfillment. After all, you connect donors with their dreams.

Donors invest where they see impact. You can leave a bad taste in the mouth, or even money on the table, when you don’t invest time back in your donors.

So, what’s the wait? Get started today. You’ll be glad you invested in stewardship this time next year.

Highlights from our Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar

 When a client strongly recommended to Paul Johnson, president of Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), that he add a consultant of color to the CFA project team, Johnson readily agreed. To find that person, he turned to the channels he had long used: his LinkedIn contacts, traditional professional fundraising entities, and colleagues.

 

“I thought it would be relatively easy to find somebody to join our team,” says Johnson. “But over and over, people told me they were struggling to build staffs that were culturally and racially diverse, that there was shortage of diverse talent. And I realized that the fact I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find consultants of color showed my implicit bias. That bias got me started on the wrong foot.”

 

Johnson sought assistance from Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, a trusted diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. “I told her I’m obviously doing something wrong here.” That admission launched a whole new journey for CFA. “CultureBrokers helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider changes to our hiring process, like posting on the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) site. As a result, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color, AJ Casey and Utica.”

 

Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Field

The experience of building diversity in his own company led Johnson to partner with Tabor to develop a “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent,” a panel discussion with national fundraising experts, which was hosted by CFA on February 25 and attended by nearly 150 people.

 

Tabor moderated the panel, which included William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of AAD; Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation; and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

 

The panel started by answering the question why it matters to have people of color represented in fundraising. Their responses: Fundraising is where the narrative of an organization is shaped, so it matters whose voice is included. Fundraising manages external relationships, so it matters whose face is seen in community conversations. And importantly, donors of color are increasing, so diversity in staff is vital.

   

One panelist shared that, despite the importance of diversity, it has been estimated, by the Lilly Foundation, that of the approximately 37,000 development professionals in the U.S, only 12% of. are people of color. Often, Ghosh said, she is the only person of color at fundraising conferences.

 

Why is this? AJ Casey said one reason is that, until recently, it has not been a priority for nonprofit organizations to make sure their fundraising staff was diverse. And Birgit Smith Burton said organizations don’t commit resources to the search. “You can’t post and pray. You have to do things differently. You have to look for connections. With filling positions, you can’t just turn on the spigot; you need to always be out there.

 

The demand for professionals of color in fundraising is there, Burton said. “I’ve got 20 requests in my inbox of organizations looking for people of color.”

 

Recommendations for Building Diverse Fundraising Teams

One of the most helpful things that can be done to attract more staff of color is to develop an action plan, said Harris. “If you don’t operationalize it, you won’t have change. And attracting talent is fine but what about retention? It’s not only about putting policies in place but about culture.”

 

Panelists agreed that the focus of finding diverse talent cannot be about numbers. “It’s not about putting bodies in seats,” said Casey. “It’s about a complete social paradigm shift in how we do business, how we interact with each other, about our hair, our clothes, and how we interact with donors who come from different backgrounds.”

 

A common myth, Burton pointed out, is that you have to lower the bar to attract people of color. At the same time, the panelists all said that employers often have higher expectations for people of color, and that there was an expectation that they couldn’t make mistakes.

 

Ghosh said that having people of color in many positions throughout an organization is critically important for attracting diverse talent.

 

The panelists also addressed the issue of white leaders needing to create more space for people of color. “Sometimes it’s about white professionals stepping aside, making room at the table or giving up their seat,” Tabor said. As for dealing with leaders who don’t understand the value of diversity in a staff, Harris recommends you look to that person’s peers to help build awareness of how that lack of diversity is holding an organization back. Tabor agreed: “Peer pressure works.”

 

Supporting Professionals of Color in Philanthropy

For young professionals of color starting out in the philanthropic world, Casey recommended cross-cultural mentoring, and Burton suggests considering the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. “Mentors provide guidance. A sponsor uses influence to connect a person to opportunities, and sometimes we just need connection, not more guidance.”

 

Harris said to make sure to ask potential employers about their commitment to diversity, equity, access and inclusion and about what kind of advancement opportunities they offer. “Be proactive in expressing your career aspirations,” he said, “and choose your boss carefully.”

 

Being Willing to Stay in the Game

Casey noted how hard the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be. “We all want it to just be simple and easy, where we’re not always feeling like we have to learn something new. It’s always going to be awkward until it gets easy. So we have to socially normalize the awkwardness that we’re going to feel until we all learn to understand where each other is coming from and to respect each other.”

 

Casey shared a helpful metaphor about diversity and inclusion: “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Diversity is inviting different people to the dance; inclusion is playing the music that makes them want to dance.’ Don’t look at it like some people are just going to have to leave the party because if you don’t want to listen to the music I want to listen to, then you have to leave. If we all stay in the party, we will learn to like things about each other’s music…It’s going to be hard until it’s easy, and it’s never going to get easy if we all just walk away from the difficulty.”

The full “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent” webinar is available here: https://youtu.be/ay8D-pTooLE

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”