Keeping Pace With Trends in Philanthropy

Societal trends and global dynamics are accelerating in complexity across multiple fronts and changing human behaviors at a faster pace than ever before. As forces for change increase, proactive nonprofit leaders are pursuing strategies to keep their fundraising teams ahead of the curve. 

CFA Principal, Mid-Atlantic Johnny Burleson brings more than 20 years’ experience spanning arts and culture, education, and human services as he guides CFA clients to navigate shifting philanthropic trends. While understanding the importance of local and global dynamics, Johnny encourages organizations to prioritize meaningful donor relationships by infusing a culture of philanthropy throughout their organizational architecture. Ultimately, it will be these relationships that sustain organizations during the most tumultuous of times. 

  • Culture of Philanthropy: A set of organizational beliefs, practices, and priorities that consider fundraising and philanthropy a shared responsibility that must be fully integrated across programs, finance, and operations. Through a disciplined approach rooted in engaging and meaningful relationships with donors, a culture of philanthropy leads to increased investments that ultimately advance an organization’s mission and work. 

RECENT TRENDS IMPACTING PHILANTHROPY 

From rapid technological advancements and climate change, to heightened economic and political uncertainty, there is no shortage of developments on the forefront in the United States and around the world. Today’s donors and philanthropists are experiencing and responding to these societal shifts in different ways. 

According to the 2023 Giving USA report, donations from individual donors have fallen significantly over the past 40 years, now comprising only 64% of all philanthropic giving compared to 81% in 1982. For some donors, economic and geopolitical uncertainty is contributing to decreased giving. For others, the rise in virtual engagement and unending streams of nonprofit content are leaving them disconnected from causes they care about. For others still, the seemingly insurmountable nature of society’s challenges can create a sense of apathy.

Despite the plethora of challenges and resulting headwinds, there is a recognition that people and organizations need to come together to create solutions that are more expansive than any single entity can accomplish alone. According to Johnny, these rapid shifts are motivating some philanthropists to seek deeper levels of engagement in the causes they care about. “This depth and breadth of change has not been experienced by previous generations…and this moment represents great potential for the nonprofit sector.”

With information at their fingertips, Johnny notes, donors today have a deeper understanding of the issues at hand and a greater sense of an equitable future. “Now more than ever, active philanthropists are thinking about their giving from a business perspective, with themselves as shareholders in the societal return on investment.”

Donors also want to be more authentically engaged as part of the solution. “Younger generations of donors want to roll up their sleeves and truly get involved, to contribute both financially as well as intellectually to the problems at hand.” These generational and behavioral trends present an important opportunity for organizations seeking to sustain and increase giving amongst individual donors. 

SUSTAINING FUNDRAISING SUCCESS DURING TIMES OF CHANGE

Successful fundraising begins with a compelling vision that unites staff, volunteers, and donors around a shared goal. With a strong case for support, organizations with an agile infrastructure instilled with a culture of philanthropy will be poised to navigate significant periods of change while keeping donors closely engaged. 

Cohesive Organizational Architecture 

A true culture of philanthropy permeates not only the development team, but also marketing, operations, and programs. As Johnny shared in a recent webinar A Generation of Change hosted by APS Group and CFA, “Organizations must design their culture from the ground up around relationships and donor engagement.” 

By embedding a culture of philanthropy into every facet of an organization, the responsibility for relationship cultivation, strategic engagement, and stewardship becomes shared amongst staff and extends to the board and volunteers as well. This cultural paradigm enables deeper levels of donor stewardship, safeguarding relationships and serving as a protective factor against internal and external shifts. 

Deep Donor Engagement 

Despite external forces of change impacting the nonprofit sector, effective fundraising remains centered on relationship-building and authentic donor engagement. As CFA recently shared in an article exploring campaign committees, “While virtual communications and social content may reach a broader audience of potential supporters, these strategies are less likely to sustain and increase giving without developing personal donor connections.” In this era of digital engagement, trust can be built more quickly through consistent storytelling that creates an emotional connection to an organization’s work and impact, however top priority relationships will only go as deep as their personal connections to the humans making that impact possible.    

Key trends are emerging in response to declines in individual giving as organizations seek to build stronger pipelines of supporters. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, many organizations are prioritizing their existing supporters through personal stewardship – including phone calls, handwritten notes, and messages tailored to each donor – while also finding success leveraging the networks of current donors to attract new supporters. CFA also recommends creative stewardship techniques, such as private gatherings, customized impact reports, and exclusive experiences.

A key component of stewardship is what Johnny refers to as “radical storytelling.” Far from traditional, generic donor communications, radical storytelling is “being fully transparent with donors and emphasizing with clarity the inspirational impact an organization is achieving.” Radical storytelling requires bringing donors on the inside, authentically sharing both challenges and accomplishments, and contextualizing the organization’s work within broader regional or systemic challenges. It is this kind of frequent and in-depth storytelling that provides proof of impact, creating strong connections and increasing levels of engagement. 

CFA IS HERE TO HELP!

While so much in the nonprofit sector and the broader world around us is evolving, one constant remains: the importance of building relationships. 

Donor relationships are foundational to our work at CFA and remain ever critical to the fundraising success of our clients. Whether we are conducting a development assessment, strengthening an annual giving program, or launching a campaign, we support our clients to establish the groundwork for a strong culture of philanthropy at every level of their organization. 

With a shared organizational understanding of what is possible through philanthropy, and by intentionally building teams with the skill sets and capacities to meaningfully and consistently engage donors, organizations will be prepared to withstand future shifts while tapping into the transformational generosity that is driven by human connections and our shared desire for a better world. 

If you are interested in exploring how CFA can support your organization to navigate shifting philanthropic trends and deepen donor relationships, contact CFA today.


Johnny Burleson, Principal, Mid-Atlantic

Johnny comes to CFA with over 20 years of nonprofit advancement experience in the arts and cultural, educational, and human services sectors. His proven track record of high-trust, high-performance leadership spans multiple areas of expertise, including campaign planning, major gifts, corporate and foundation relations, and government relations.

As Principal, Mid-Atlantic, Johnny oversees projects spanning CFA’s suite of fundraising counsel services. Johnny believes in aligning donors’ passions with innovative ideas, emphasizing the importance of promoting philanthropy through coalition-building and partnerships to achieve the greatest impact.

Prior to joining CFA, Johnny served as Chief Advancement Officer for North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, where he successfully restructured development and membership operations and transitioned the organization from a transactional approach to an institution-wide culture of philanthropy. Johnny also oversaw the planning of the largest fundraising campaign in the museum’s history.

Prior to his role at NCMA, Johnny held the position of Director of Strategic Partnerships with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, playing a pivotal role in building and stewarding local, state, and national relationships to bring philanthropic and federal resources to North Carolina in support of stronger, healthier communities. Johnny’s extensive career also includes 17 years in higher education philanthropy and advancement. He began at his alma mater, North Carolina State University, where he received a BS in Textiles with a focus on the Italian textile industry. Additionally, he held leadership positions at Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill.

Johnny has volunteered as board member for several North Carolina nonprofits, including Preservation North Carolina, Triangle Land Conservancy, Lost Province Center for the Cultural Arts, Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, and Ashe County Arts Council. Outside of work, Johnny can be found on Old Orchard Creek, his blueberry farm located in Ashe County, NC. His farm is on the National Historic Register and is also protected by a conservation easement, reflecting his personal passion for the mountains, the arts, historic preservation, water, land, trails, local food, and sustainable agriculture.

Email Johnny


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning.

Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

Campaign Committees: Love Them or Leave Them?

Fundraising at its core is about human connections and personal relationships: two things that are paramount during campaign planning and campaign committee formation. 

As relationships with donors evolve in an increasingly virtual world, traditional approaches to campaign planning are becoming less broadly applicable. When it comes to campaign committees, or any other fundraising program or strategy, CFA does not shy away from questioning the status quo or finding new solutions that will yield results in today’s philanthropic environment. 

With more than a decade of experience in nonprofit development, CFA Senior Campaign Manager Anne Spears works alongside clients as a partner in their campaigns. “Campaign committees have been a mainstay in campaign execution, and the thought of navigating a campaign without one feels like uncharted territory,” shares Anne. “But they are not always essential – and occasionally detrimental – to the fundraising process.”

Whether your organization has a campaign on the horizon or is seeking to strengthen your major gifts program, consider how deeper relationships with key donors can advance your mission in the present while setting up your organization for future fundraising success. 

DONOR RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVOLVING

Some organizations are turning away from traditional, relationship-based fundraising methods in favor of mass communication and online engagement. While virtual communications and social content may reach a broader audience of potential supporters, these strategies are less likely to sustain and increase giving without developing personal donor connections. Real connections simply cannot happen without person-to-person interactions and conversations.

Anne shares, “Younger generations are pulled in even more directions than before, and people are choosing to spend their time differently. Authentic donor engagement and relationship-building is evolving and we need to give donors the opportunity to be known as people.” This confluence of trends, resulting in an increased breadth and decreased depth of donor relationships, poses a significant challenge for organizations preparing for a campaign. 

CAMPAIGN COMMITTEES MAY NEED TO EVOLVE, TOO

Successful campaigns remain largely unchanged in their reliance on a focused set of influential relationships. Traditionally, campaigns are led by one or more committees comprised of key organizational stakeholders and influential, high-capacity donors. Effective campaign committees bring an infusion of energy and passion for the campaign’s vision and leverage personal and professional connections to expand the campaign’s reach. 

Yet, traditional guidance for recruiting a campaign committee does not account for the nuanced and evolving relationships organizations may have with supporters. Anne has supported many CFA clients to successfully conduct campaigns and brings a unique perspective to the forces impacting campaign committee selection. “The assumption is that organizations are sustaining and intentionally deepening relationships with influential and high-capacity donors, and that is not always the case.” 

For organizations with a nontraditional set of key stakeholders, such as highly engaged volunteers with limited connections to high-capacity donors, Anne advises her clients to be realistic and work with the relationships and connections they have to achieve their goals. 

RETHINKING CAMPAIGN COMMITTEES

Campaign committees require strategic coordination from development staff, and a commitment to both the campaign AND the organization’s mission to be successful. As campaign committees shift in their purpose and strategy, Anne encourages her clients to evaluate their relationships with donors before engaging a campaign committee. “At the end of the day, you really need people to open doors, get meetings, and make connections.” Thinking expansively about the organization’s stakeholders, audiences, and beneficiaries – including both present and past generations – can reveal leaders and volunteers willing to rise to the occasion. 

A common misstep is recruiting individuals with a high capacity to give but without the passion or personal bandwidth to assume the additional responsibility. As Anne shares, “Ultimately, individuals want to add value beyond their checkbook, to be seen as authentic partners in the work.” If the relationship has not been cultivated over time, or if the connection to the organization’s mission and leadership is not strong, it will become evident when campaign activity gets underway.

As organizations identify prospective volunteers, CFA encourages authentic conversations to identify how each volunteer envisions supporting the campaign. Not every volunteer needs to assume the same traditional campaign activities (i.e. requesting meetings, soliciting donors), but by creating an intentional volunteer engagement plan for each committee member, organizations can maximize their skill sets, value add, and level of engagement in the campaign. 

For organizations considering campaign committee alternatives, one or more of the following options may produce a stronger return on investment: 

  • Establishing a committee in name only to provide a vote of confidence for the organization and campaign.
  • Partnering with select volunteers such as board members and loyal donors to make introductions, request meetings, and host cultivation events.
  • Relying on internal staff capacity to cultivate and solicit donors.

With or without a campaign committee, relationships are fundamental to fundraising success. As Anne attests, “Organizations need external partners that bring financial resources, volunteer capacity, influence and advice to guide the organization’s trajectory.” Ultimately, organizations that have invested early on in these relationships, by engaging their board members, donors, and key stakeholders, will find a much smoother path to reaching their campaign goal. 

CFA IS HERE TO HELP!

While so much in philanthropy is evolving, one constant remains: the importance of relationships, not only in campaigns, but across every facet of fundraising. Relationships still take time to develop, and there is no time like the present to deepen relationships with your organization’s most important supporters. 

At CFA, we believe there is “no one size fits all” when it comes to planning campaigns and selecting the committees that run them. That’s where our combination of art, science, and custom solutions comes in, because each organization we serve is as unique as the individuals that lead and support them. Our consultants offer coaching, strategic guidance, and custom tools for effectively deploying campaign committees (or finding more successful alternatives!) that will engage donors and inspire support.  

If you are interested in exploring how CFA can support your organization’s donor engagement strategy or next campaign, contact CFA today to see how we can help.


Anne Spears, Senior Manager of Campaigns

An experienced fundraiser with over a decade of experience in education, religious, and social service based nonprofit fundraising, Anne is passionate about the work being done by nonprofit organizations. She is energized and inspired by working side by side with our nonprofit partners as a project manager for fundraising campaigns.

Prior to joining CFA, Anne was the Director of Development at the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas where she oversaw a multitude of initiatives including capital campaigns for Diocesan camp facilities from the South Texas Coast to the Colorado Rockies, campaigns to assist asylum seekers traveling from Mexico to the U.S., and consulted with the 87 Diocesan churches regarding their fundraising needs. 

Previously, Anne was the Chief Development Officer for Ascension DePaul Services of San Antonio and the Development Coordinator at St. Thomas Early Learning Center in College Station, Texas. She also worked for the State of Montana as a social services specialist serving indigenous and rural populations.

Anne has a B.S. in Sociology, a M.S. in Family and Child Studies, along with a Master of Public Administration. She also is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).

Anne lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and three children.

Email Anne


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning.

Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

Is Data Integrity Impacting Your Fundraising Results?

If you have experienced frustration, disappointment, or confusion in managing donor data, welcome to the club! According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good report, 67% of nonprofit organizations rely on a donor database to track donations and manage donor communications; yet few fundraising professionals enter the field with experience in database management. 

As the nonprofit sector becomes more data-driven, organizations that are equipped to leverage their donor data have a significant advantage in an increasingly competitive fundraising environment. Whether your organization is seeking to boost your annual fund or preparing for a campaign, consider how a data strategy and data integrity can advance your fundraising efforts.  

CFA Definitions:

  • Data Strategy: An organization’s articulated objectives, established practices, standards, and protocols to consistently collect a defined set of data to power insightful reporting and inform decision making.
  • Data Integrity; Data Hygiene: The ongoing process of ensuring that data stored in a database is consistent, accurate, up-to-date, and error-free. 

DATA INTEGRITY’S IMPACT ON FUNDRAISING 

While data integrity may seem far removed from an organization’s fundraising results, having streamlined, centralized, and error-free donor data is directly correlated to dollars raised and offers a strong return on investment for organizations willing to roll up their sleeves. 

With more than 10 years’ experience in prospect management and data analytics, CFA Senior Manager of Prospect Management Stephanie Brouwer partners with nonprofit organizations to refine their data strategy and improve data hygiene. “While data cleanup may not be as glamorous as other fundraising strategies, accurate and consistent donor data enables fundraising teams to deploy resources effectively and increase their productivity,” notes Stephanie. 

According to Stephanie, valid data unlocks fundraisers’ ability to improve donor retention and build stronger relationships with donors at scale through segmentation and personalization; however, customized donor outreach is only as impactful as the data is accurate. Correctly listing donor names and addresses, eliminating duplicate entries, identifying donors who are part of the same household, and removing recently deceased donors from a mailing list, for example, are critical to maintaining close ties with top donors. 

Having reliable donor data also enables fundraising leaders to analyze trends to inform their future fundraising strategies while at the same time gaining a deeper understanding of their organization’s current and potential donors. CFA Senior Manager of Data Solutions Dan Alberti leads data analysis components of CFA projects and collaborates with Stephanie to assess specific data needs of CFA clients. As Dan shares, “Consistently maintained donor data enables organizations to prospect from within their database, identifying promising and sometimes surprising donors from their existing constituents.” 

Bottom line: Data integrity plays a pivotal role at every stage of the donor cycle, from identifying new prospects to cultivating and sustaining relationships with current donors.

COMMON DONOR DATA PITFALLS

Despite the proliferation and advanced capabilities of donor database applications and platforms, corresponding tools and reporting capabilities cannot make up for defective data or deficient data management. Challenges associated with donor data typically stem from: 

  1. Poor data integrity (i.e. unformatted addresses, improper capitalization of names, undocumented gift intent);
  2. Inconsistent data organization (i.e. data in multiple databases, inconsistent use of fields); or, 
  3. Both, which is usually associated with a deficient organizational data strategy.  

Organizations confronting challenges with reporting or data inaccuracies tend to assume there is a better donor database out there to meet their needs. While switching to a new database may seem like a quick fix, doing so without addressing underlying issues is akin to fixing a broken arm with a band-aide. As Stephanie shares, “Databases are ultimately a user-generated product. It comes down to consistent data practices and making the most of the system you have.” 

In working closely with a variety of nonprofits to identify the root cause of their data inconsistencies, Stephanie has helped each organization design customized, comprehensive data strategies with step-by-step recommendations for how to clean data and build processes to ensure the data remains clean going forward. For one client, this also involved cleaning the data in preparation for a database migration to a new system.

Before investing the time and energy in a database migration, which can compromise data integrity when data input fields are not aligned between disparate systems, organizations should first diagnose the problem they are seeking to solve and identify what they are hoping to accomplish with data. The answers to these questions become the foundation of an organization’s data strategy.

IMPROVING DONOR DATA STARTS WITH STRATEGY

The prospect of cleaning up donor data can feel overwhelming and ambiguous, especially for fundraising teams with limited capacity or expertise in database management. Taking a step back to assess your data integrity and outline your data strategy will pay dividends when it is time to clean up your data. 

According to Dan, an organization’s data strategy should be grounded in the data needs, responsibilities, and capabilities of all staff members. To ensure consistency and completeness of data collected, an organization’s data strategy should document: 

  • Purpose: Why data is collected.
  • Process: Who collects the data and where it is stored.
  • Protocols and Definitions: How data is recorded and formatted. 

While a documented data strategy is critical to sustainable data hygiene, donor data must be championed by leadership with buy-in from all team members. CFA typically conducts interviews and convenings for all data stakeholders to build understanding, bridge gaps, and create buy-in around solutions that span the needs of all data users. “Our goal is to ensure that the solutions we provide are universal and evergreen,” shares Stephanie.

By adopting a future-orientation to donor data (i.e. capturing and organizing data in a way that will be resonant to and pertinent for future staff), organizations will leverage the benefits of complete donor data in the present while laying the groundwork for future fundraising success. 

A PHASED APPROACH TO CLEANING DATA

Once your data strategy is defined, a donor data audit will illuminate specific gaps and opportunities for improvement based on current hygiene levels. CFA’s data audits usually include an analysis of demographic information, giving data, portfolio usage, and moves management processes accompanied by specific cleaning solutions based on the type of data and extent of cleanup required. 

When the time comes for data cleaning, CFA advises a tiered approach by categorizing data points according to level of priority and donor segment to break the process into manageable phases while ensuring the strongest return on investment throughout the cleanup process. 

While CFA provides customized recommendations to each client based on their unique goals, objectives, and significant data disparities, the following example illustrates a three-tiered approach based on the data’s degree of influence on fundraising: 

  • High priority fields often include deceased individuals, contact information, constituent codes, and giving details.
  • Medium priority fields can include portfolios, events, relationships, birthdate, marital status, and titles and prefixes.
  • Low priority fields may include opportunities, actions, notes, and other custom fields.

Pinpointing the specific types of data that may be hindering productivity or limiting a fundraising strategy can be helpful in prioritizing the data cleanup process as well. Ultimately, an organization’s data strategy and the fields prioritized for data cleanup must be maintainable in order to meaningfully advance fundraising results.


CONTACT US

Building your organization’s data strategy and improving donor integrity requires a long-term commitment at all levels. As Stephanie and Dan can attest, updating data fields may be time-intensive, but determining the strategy is often the hardest part. 

By taking an approach centered on the donor data that will inform and enhance fundraising, organizations will ensure their data cleaning efforts will result in a strong present-day return while setting up their organization for future fundraising success. 

If you are interested in exploring opportunities to improve your donor data strategy, contact CFA today to see how we can help.


Stephanie Brouwer

Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

Stephanie is passionate about helping nonprofits understand the “science” of fundraising, and how to effectively use data and research to enhance the “art” of fundraising. Stephanie has over ten years of experience in prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics at both higher education and nonprofit organizations.

Most recently, Stephanie was the Senior Manager of Research and Data at Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana. In this position, her primary responsibilities included serving as the database administrator and providing prospect research and management support for Marian University’s Forging Leaders Campaign. Prior to Marian University, Stephanie worked at the United Way of Central Indiana where she was tasked with creating a new prospect research unit within the fundraising department.

At CFA, Stephanie’s main responsibilities are establishing strategy, procedures and processes for the areas of prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics, while also providing operational support for client campaign initiatives.

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.

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Stephanie currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Email Stephanie


Dan Alberti, Senior Manager, Data Solutions

Dan comes to CFA with over 15 years of experience in nonprofit management, community engagement, and corporate social responsibility.

As Senior Manager of Data Solutions, Dan leads all data analysis components of CFA projects and collaborates with Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager of Prospect Development, on assessing the specific data needs of each CFA client. Dan enjoys taking the complicated and making it simple, and showing how anyone can use data in their work.

Most recently, Dan served as Director of Impact Analytics at City Year Chicago, where he developed data strategies, analyzed student performance data, and trained young adults in how to read and utilize data. 

Dan began his nonprofit career after serving in AmeriCorps*NCCC during Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. After moving to Chicago, he started working for Chicago Cares as Director of the Corporate Volunteer Program, where he consulted with corporate partners on community engagement and employee engagement programs while overseeing Serve-a-thon, Chicago’s largest day of service. Since then, Dan’s career has given him the ability to work in a wide variety of areas such as education, environment, food security, veteran services, economic development, arts, and community services.

Dan earned his MPA from University of Illinois at Chicago with a focus in public policy and data analysis. His graduate research included statistical methodology to analyze property assessment data and measuring effective urban policies. 

Dan pulls a diverse skill set and takes a multidisciplinary approach to any challenge. Dan has been an axe throwing coach, private investigator, high school counselor, karaoke DJ, plumbing apprentice, community affairs in professional baseball, and amateur woodworker. He lives in Chicago with his wife, son and dog, Bones.

Email Dan


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning.

Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

How Development Plans Can Generate Fundraising Results

Development plans are an essential tool for nonprofits seeking strategic, sustainable annual fundraising growth. According to a survey of 2,722 nonprofits conducted by CompassPoint, 93% of organizations considered to be “top performers” operated their fundraising program with a formal development plan. While development plans take many shapes and sizes on paper, the most effective plans are measured by the actions and an organizational culture of philanthropy they inspire off the page. 

At CFA, we regularly partner with nonprofits to conduct development assessments to elevate key fundraising programs, such as annual giving or major gifts, while simultaneously strengthening their operations in anticipation of future campaigns. Our comprehensive assessments, recommendations, and support are customized based on the unique needs and opportunities of each organization we serve. 

Whether your organization has an established approach for development planning or is starting from scratch, consider the following key principles for creating or refreshing, implementing, and sustaining an actionable development plan that will generate fundraising results. 

What is a Development Plan?
An organizational document summarizing quantitative and qualitative fundraising goals, strategies, activities, accountabilities, and resources for each fundraising program within an organization’s fundraising team.

What is a Development Planning Process?
A collaborative process in which every member of a fundraising team takes responsibility for the goals assigned to them and contributes to the overall effort of reaching those objectives.

Building Blocks of an Actionable Development Plan

Structure is paramount when it comes to creating a development plan that will drive action – both in terms of the planning framework itself as well as the process used to articulate the plans behind the fundraising strategy. 

CFA Senior Consultant Rob Ruchotzke brings more than a decade of annual giving experience and offers strategic guidance to organizations creating and implementing development plans. “While there is no ‘one-size- fits-all’ approach, development plans should always reflect an organization’s mission and goals, structure, and strategies,” shares Rob. Development plans require clear and attainable fundraising goals established in collaboration with organizational leadership and tied to specific programmatic needs and strategic priorities. Most importantly, development plans must be user-friendly and actionable with clear milestones and responsibilities. 

When creating a development plan that will work best for your team and organization at large, consider the level of detail necessary based on the experience of your staff, co-dependencies within the team or broader organization, and other internal stakeholders that will reference the plan. Rob encourages organizations to use bookmarks within longer planning documents to allow for easy navigation, in addition to integrating work management tools to track progress on a tactical level throughout the year. For organizations with an existing development plan, Rob suggests a close review to ensure the plan meets this criteria and is structured in an accessible format. 

Once a development plan framework has been finalized, determine the categories within each fundraising program as well as any important strategies to document. These categories, which may be organized by department, donor segment, strategy, or a combination (i.e. major gifts, annual giving, foundation giving, planned giving, memberships, events, etc.), will provide an overarching framework for the plan and identify staff responsible for completing or contributing to certain sections of the document.

Engaging Your Team in Development Planning

With defined fundraising goals, a structured development framework, and through an intentional planning process, your team will gain increased clarity and alignment as you work together to chart the course toward your organization’s fundraising goals.

The creation of a development plan should involve your full fundraising team and any other staff involved on a day-to-day basis. Start with a team meeting to introduce the purpose and objectives, review the plan framework, and discuss roles and next steps. Rob recommends facilitating the process of documenting fundraising programs and strategies by asking staff to draft the plan section(s) they are responsible for, either individually or in small groups, based on areas of accountability. Rob has also had success using surveys to centralize and streamline the collection of inputs from each team member contributing to the plan. 

However you go about collecting information, once complete, compile the details into one cohesive document. As the development plan is finalized, engage staff to make adjustments while identifying any important mechanisms or processes that require further documentation or clarification (i.e. stewardship, moves management, segmentation, partnerships, engagement, specific appeals, events, giving initiatives, etc.). 

Executing & Sustaining Your Development Plan

With a solid plan on paper, the real work of activating your fundraising programs and overseeing the plan’s implementation begins. “The last thing you want is a robust development plan that sits on a shelf for the rest of the year,” shares Rob. By establishing a detailed implementation plan with specific touchpoints and a regular cadence for review and updates, your development plan will remain a dynamic tool reflecting work underway, capturing learnings, and tracking progress toward targets and milestones. 

To maintain the plan’s relevance and reflect the evolving nature of fundraising efforts, Rob suggests reviewing the plan as a team quarterly, in addition to more frequent use within cross-functional teams and one-on-one meetings between staff and supervisors to capture updates, ensure continued alignment and accountability, and adjust the plan as needed throughout the year.

Benefits of Development Planning

The benefits of the development planning process, as well as the resulting document, extend beyond any fundraising team by advancing an overall organizational culture of philanthropy. Development planning lays the foundation for future organization growth by:

  • Clarifying goals by outlining key strategies, milestones, and progress measures. 
  • Encouraging confidence in the development team, demystifying the fundraising process and reinforcing the complexity and nuances of fundraising.
  • Promoting buy-in and increased accountability by illuminating key actions and support needed from key stakeholders to reach certain targets. 
  • Allowing executive and board leadership to monitor and measure progress toward the goals of the development office. 
  • Providing structure for the work of the board development committee and insight to the full scale of the development effort. 

Development planning is an important process to introduce and revisit on an annual basis to support your organization’s annual fund growth. Even for organizations with a consistent fundraising strategy year over year, development planning breaks down silos, eliciting creative approaches and increased connectivity between efforts to maximize fundraising results. Establishing a regular practice of annual planning also sets the foundation for developing longer-range fundraising plans to tackle larger endeavors. 

Whether your organization has an existing development plan or is creating one for the first time, refer to CFA’s Development Planning Guide to ensure that your planning framework and process result in an active and relevant tool that will guide your team toward fundraising success. 


CONTACT US

If you are interested in support to assess your development program and develop an actionable development plan, contact CFA today to explore how we can help.


Rob Ruchotzke Development Planning

Rob Ruchotzke, Senior Consultant

As a Senior Consultant with CFA, Rob focuses on providing annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies and campaign counsel. Rob uses his past annual giving experience and passion for building relationships to find the right solution for CFA’s partners. 

Since joining CFA in 2022, Rob has provided counsel to clients including the Community School of Naples, Goodwill-Easter Seals of Minnesota, the Jacques Pépin Foundation, Quarry Hill Nature Center, and the University of Northern Iowa Foundation. 

Rob brings more than nine years of annual giving experience in higher education and university organizations. His career began at Ruffalo Noel Levitz as a Project Center Manager (PCM) for Missouri S&T. In that role, Rob supervised student fundraisers and became a PCM trainer and mentor. Then, he joined the Missouri S&T Advancement team as an Annual Giving Officer, managing his own portfolio of donors and assisting with multi-channel mass donor outreach. 

Most recently, Rob served as the Director of Annual Giving at Wartburg College and then at his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). As Director of Annual Giving, Rob led multi-channel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, served as the primary contact for annual giving vendors, redesigned giving forms for ease of use, supported annual giving staff leading the student engagement center outreach and served as the lead for UNI’s Day of Giving strategy. 

A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from UNI. He currently resides in Cedar Falls, IA, enjoying virtual meeting appearances from his cat Loki and participating in any outdoor activity.

Email Rob


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning.

Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

Joanne Curry Promoted to Head of Client Success and Principal

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce the promotion of Joanne Curry to Head of Client Success and Principal. Since joining CFA in 2021, she has served as Vice President of Client Success by providing strategic fundraising counsel and building sustained relationships with CFA’s nonprofit client partners. 

“Joanne has helped shape our campaign consulting practice and build a team around delivering best-in-class strategy and solutions throughout the client journey,” states Founder and President Paul Johnson. “I am thrilled to recognize her for being a fearless leader and charting a path to help CFA realize this bold vision.” 

At CFA, Joanne has participated in more than 25 campaign counsel and fundraising consulting projects, including engagements with the Entertainment Community Fund, Friends of the Mississippi River, Headlands Center for the Arts, North Carolina Museum of Art, National Black Theatre, Triangle Land Conservancy, and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

Rev. Dr. Cindi Beth Johnson, Vice President for Advancement at United Theological Seminary, notes that, “Joanne’s work has been instrumental to the success of United Seminary’s Comprehensive Campaign. She has been a trusted advisor, careful listener, and a creative thinker. Her expertise, organization, and thoughtful approach to our comprehensive campaign has made our work successful and meaningful.”

In her new role, Joanne will lead CFA’s Client Success team, ensuring that all aspects of CFA’s client partnerships are grounded in the company’s core values of collaboration, transparency, integrity, creativity, and change. Joanne will continue to provide CFA’s clients with counsel on campaign planning and management, prospect development and strategy, and fundraising programs. She will serve as an accountability partner for clients, grounded in her expertise in mentoring development staff and team leadership coaching.

Joanne states, “I am thrilled to step into this new role at CFA. With our values at the forefront, I am excited to lead our Client Success team in delivering impactful strategies. Together, we will continue nurturing relationships and driving positive change through effective fundraising.” 

Joanne began her nonprofit career as Director of Operations and Rehearsal Assistant for two contemporary ballet companies in Missouri, Missouri Contemporary Ballet and Owen/Cox Dance Group, where she managed operations for fundraising and donor management, communications and marketing, and performance and educational outreach programs. She then went on to work as a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor Accountant with Support Kansas City, providing accounting services and training to nonprofits throughout Kansas City.

Before joining CFA, Joanne served as Head of Revenue and Interim Head of Development at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, where she oversaw strategy for earned revenue and development. At the McNay, Joanne was responsible for the database, membership, special events, visitor services, and museum store. Additionally, she launched a monthly membership program and developed and implemented a prospect management system.

A native of Port Jefferson, New York, Joanne holds a BFA in Ballet Performance and Teaching from the University of Utah. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and rescue dog.

How Metrics Can Help Fundraising Professionals Reach Their Goals

The start of a new year is an optimal time for fundraising professionals to evaluate progress and make adjustments to reach their goals in the coming year. If you are ready to refresh your fundraising strategy, fundraising metrics can play a transformative role in assessing progress toward individual, departmental, and organizational fundraising goals.

Importance of Fundraising Metrics 

While fundraising may be an art, it is improved by the science of data. By using data to define success, fundraisers can create accountability-driven plans that lead to increased philanthropy.

CFA Principal-West Coast Kristin Love has more than 20 years of experience of applying fundraising metrics in higher education, program development, and nonprofit advancement. According to Kristin, “The right combination of quantitative and qualitative data brings focus, promotes accountability, and ultimately helps drive a culture of philanthropy.” 

Data can encourage productivity for a fundraising team. “What gets measured, gets done,” says Kristin, adding, “Regular analysis of key metrics can impart value and enable progress toward an organization’s top priorities.” 

Identifying Effective Fundraising Metrics

Traditionally, organizations have relied on lagging indicators, such as dollars raised, to evaluate the performance of fundraising staff. These indicators are reflective of past—not current—activities, which means they are not the most accurate points to assess current fundraising behaviors.

For a more accurate depiction of current fundraising progress, Kristin recommends instead relying on activity- and outcome-based leading indicators that measure moves management in real time, such as:

  • Modes and rates of donor engagement
  • New donor qualifications
  • Solicitations at appropriate giving levels
  • Percentage of overall portfolio giving

These leading metrics can inform time management, improve accountability, and increase giving and donor retention. By coupling quantitative indicators with qualitative measures of organizational values and team culture, an organization can build comprehensive and predictive measurement systems to drive future fundraising success.

Fundraising Metrics Dashboard
Fundraising Metrics Key

Implementing a Fundraising Measurement Plan 

If you are ready to implement metrics into your fundraising plan, Kristin recommends identifying a clear starting point for introducing them into a team’s workflow, emphasizing that, “It is incumbent upon leaders to establish a new beginning for integrating fundraising metrics as part of a broadscale reset.” 

A testing period can validate data with input from team members while also establishing new cultural norms and baselines for new metrics. Kristin suggests starting with data that is readily available and consistently tracked. A full integration of fundraising metrics requires buy-in at all organizational levels, clear and consistent methods for reviewing and applying data insights, and a commitment to continuous improvement and accountability. 

Consistent use of key fundraising metrics has distinct benefits at all levels of an organization:

  1. For frontline fundraisers, a data-driven approach enables purposeful, strategic check-ins with managers and endorses productive fundraising behaviors. The consistent use of leading indicators also contributes to more consistent moves management and donor engagement across an organization. 
  2. For fundraising leaders, the combination of leading indicators supplemented by qualitative, organizational metrics provides a strong foundation for hiring, decision-making, training, and portfolio optimization. For example, analyzing fundraising data between team members enables leaders to pinpoint activities that lead to success. Leveraging these insights enables leaders to intentionally celebrate and encourage effective fundraising behaviors while identifying training opportunities and scaling effective strategies through cross-collaboration.

Integrating key fundraising metrics into regular practice requires a commitment to continuous improvement and tracking of the metrics themselves, as well as data-informed fundraising strategies. As fundraising momentum builds, Kristin encourages fundraising leaders to continue refining and evolving their data to ensure ongoing relevance, provide sustained accountability, and identify new insights that will continue to drive fundraising results.


CONTACT US

CFA offers a customized, capacity-building approach to help organizations elevate their fundraising strategy through increased data integrity, sustainable reporting systems, and data insights. If your organization is interested in integrating fundraising metrics to drive philanthropic results, contact CFA today to explore how we can help.


Kristin Love, Principal, West Coast

Kristin Love comes to CFA as a proven capacity-builder, collaborator, and change-maker in the philanthropic space, with over 20 years of experience in higher education, program development, and nonprofit advancement. Prior to joining CFA, Kristin served as Vice President for Development at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. At LMU, she oversaw efforts to evolve development structures and processes to motivate an accountability-driven environment, partnering with academic and administrative leadership to align goals and priorities in pursuit of increased philanthropy.  

Before LMU, Kristin held leadership roles in the advancement offices at Colorado College and University of Denver, championing creation of new initiatives at both institutions that integrated engagement and philanthropy. Her career experience includes development roles at large national and small local nonprofits, as well as global organizations such as JDRF International. Her passion for mission-centric fundraising work and the positive impact it can have on institutions and organizations began as a work-study student in the grants office at her alma mater, Baylor University, where she earned a BBA in public administration and Spanish.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Kristin spent over two decades in Colorado before relocating with her family to the Los Angeles area in 2020. The mother of 15-year-old twins, Kristin enjoys watching her daughter’s athletic pursuits, and son’s music and acting endeavors. In her free time, she can be found traveling or at a potter’s wheel.

Email Kristin


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning.

Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

A Closer Look at the Campaign Quiet Phase

At CFA, we believe successful campaigns are driven by big ideas. At their core, campaigns are encapsulated in relationships and numbers, artfully woven together, and informed by data and intuition.

While each phase of a campaign serves an important purpose – laying the groundwork, gathering critical information, and engaging donors – the campaign quiet phase is a distinct inflection point in a campaign during which the art and science behind transformational campaigns comes fully into view.

THE IMPORTANCE OF QUIET PHASES

Also known as the “silent phase” of a campaign, quiet phases are often when the most significant work takes place. Quiet phases are uniquely important for several reasons:

  1. Momentum – Quiet phases are a focused yet flexible point in a campaign centered on building buy-in and securing early commitments from lead donors to set the tone for the campaigns’ success by inspiring gifts at similar levels and encouraging other donors to follow suit.
  2. Refinement – Quiet phases allow organizations to fine-tune their strategies, goals, and case for support based on insights gathered from major donors and stakeholders, enhancing the effectiveness of the public campaign.
  3. Financial Foundation – Quiet phases ensure a solid financial base by securing a substantial portion of the fundraising goal before launching publicly, increasing confidence and credibility, and motivating additional participation. 

Quiet phases are not exclusive to capital campaigns, and serve a critical purpose during endowment and comprehensive campaigns as well. The quiet phase sets the stage for a successful campaign by securing a number of lead gifts from a small set of close and active donors. These gifts comprise the top of a campaign’s giving pyramid and chart the course toward the most important number associated with any campaign: the fundraising goal.  

Campaign Quiet Phase Gifts Table

CFA Campaign Manager Anne Spears brings over a decade of fundraising experience, offering strategic guidance to organizations throughout each stage of their campaigns and supporting progress toward their campaign goals. According to Anne, “The quiet phase serves as a litmus test for a campaign’s vision and case for support. It provides sure footing for a fundraising team and the campaign while building buy-in and deeply engaging donors closest to the organization.”

Identifying donors to include in the quiet phase relies on fundraising intuition validated by prospect research and the campaign’s feasibility study. Anne recommends starting with the first donors that come to mind before even looking at a donor list. Donors at the top of a campaign pyramid will require in-depth prospect research to inform the appropriate ask amount, which is not often realistic for the majority of a campaign’s prospects.

Cultivating transformational gifts from lead donors requires significant time. The quiet phase allows fundraisers to focus on these close and critical donors while offering a period of flexibility in the campaign’s early development. The nature and tone of conversations with donors during this stage are inherently different, allowing more time and space to test ideas and ask for advice before goals, vision, and timeline are fully established and publicly announced. “Without a quiet phase dedicated to individually engaging these major donors early on, they are much less inclined to give at their full capacity,” shares Anne. 

“Giving Inspires Giving”

The quiet phase also enables fundraisers to gain experience in the art of asking for large investments. “These will be your friendliest donors with the strongest affinity for your organization,” Anne states. Cultivation conversations with these close donors becomes an exercise in articulating the campaign’s vision and goals while asking insightful questions. Soliciting transformational gifts also comes down to knowing when the time is right to make “the ask.” 

Significant contributions secured in the quiet phase can have a multiplying effect as a campaign gets underway. “Giving inspires giving,” comments Anne. “Donors are more likely to give meaningful gifts when others are giving at similar levels, and early gifts help to set the bar for future gifts.”

Hybrid Quiet Phases

The form and function of the campaign quiet phase is inherently exclusive because it focuses on a small set of high-capacity donors; a factor that is often necessitated by the limitations of a fundraising team’s capacity to equally and deeply engage donors at all giving levels. As a result, organizations seeking to align their campaigns with organizational values of equity and inclusivity can find the quiet phase to be problematic.

While some organizations may consider skipping the quiet phase in favor of a fully public campaign, CFA often advises organizations to take a hybrid approach by conducting a more inclusive feasibility process and identifying a few lead gifts following the feasibility study that can build confidence and catalyze additional giving as the public phase gets underway. 

Regardless of the phase in which these early conversations and campaign commitments take place, they become an important source of validation by increasing donor confidence, motivating additional support, and building a solid foundation for a successful campaign.


CONTACT US

Campaigns are an extensive undertaking that require a balance of organizational strategy, experience, and stamina. At CFA, we have partnered with more than 50 organizations throughout the planning, execution, and sustaining of transformative campaigns. If your organization is interested in support to launch a successful campaign, contact CFA today to explore how we can help.


Anne Spears, Campaign Manager

An experienced fundraiser with over a decade of experience in education, religious, and social service based nonprofit fundraising, Anne is passionate about the work being done by nonprofit organizations. She is energized and inspired by working side by side with our nonprofit partners as a project manager for fundraising campaigns.

Most recently Anne was the Director of Development at the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas where she oversaw a multitude of initiatives including capital campaigns for Diocesan camp facilities from the South Texas Coast to the Colorado Rockies, campaigns to assist asylum seekers traveling from Mexico to the U.S., and consulted with the 87 Diocesan churches regarding their fundraising needs. 

Previously Anne was the Chief Development Officer for Ascension DePaul Services of San Antonio and the Development Coordinator at St. Thomas Early Learning Center in College Station, Texas. She also worked for the State of Montana as a social services specialist serving indigenous and rural populations.

Anne has a  B.S. in Sociology, a M.S. in Family and Child Studies, along with a Master of Public Administration. She also is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). Anne lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and three children.

Email Anne


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning. Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

Johnny Burleson Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Principal, Mid-Atlantic Region

November 20, 2023

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce that Johnny Burleson will join the firm as Principal, Mid-Atlantic, where he will oversee projects spanning CFA’s suite of fundraising counsel services. Based in North Carolina, Johnny comes to CFA with over 20 years of nonprofit advancement experience in the arts and cultural, educational, and human services sectors. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Johnny to the CFA consulting team,” said CFA Founder and President Paul Johnson. “He brings extensive experience that has prepared him to serve our nonprofit client partners, with particular expertise in campaign planning, major gifts, corporate and foundation relations, and government relations. Like CFA, he believes in aligning donors’ passions with innovative ideas to inspire philanthropy to achieve the greatest impact. We are very excited about the role Johnny will play in building CFA’s presence on the East Coast and amplifying the missions of our nonprofit client partners.”

“I am excited to join the CFA team for several compelling reasons,” said Johnny. “First and foremost, I am inspired by the opportunity to further CFA’s mission of client-centric impact and its efforts to foster creativity and innovation in the world of fundraising. I believe philanthropy’s fundamental purpose is to enhance people’s lives, making our communities stronger, healthier, and more creative.”

Johnny comes to CFA from North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh, where he served as Chief Advancement Officer. Johnny successfully restructured development and membership operations and transitioned the organization from a transactional approach to an institution-wide culture of philanthropy. Johnny also oversaw the planning of the largest fundraising campaign in the museum’s history.

Prior to his role at NCMA, Johnny held the position of Director of Strategic Partnerships with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, playing a pivotal role in building and stewarding local, state, and national relationships to bring philanthropic and federal resources to North Carolina in support of stronger, healthier communities. Johnny’s extensive career also includes 17 years in higher education philanthropy and advancement. He began at his alma mater, North Carolina State University, where he received a B.S. in Textiles with a focus on the Italian textile industry. Additionally, he held leadership positions at Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill.

Johnny has volunteered as board member for several North Carolina nonprofits, including Preservation North Carolina, Triangle Land Conservancy, Lost Province Center for the Cultural Arts, Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, and Ashe County Arts Council. Outside of work, Johnny can be found on Old Orchard Creek, his blueberry farm located in Ashe County, NC. His farm is on the National Historic Register and is also protected by a conservation easement, reflecting his personal passion for the mountains, the arts, historic preservation, water, land, trails, local food, and sustainable agriculture.

About Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA)
CFA is a full-service fundraising consulting firm with more than 200 years of collective experience in philanthropy. As professional fundraisers and consultants, the CFA consulting team has raised or partnered on more than $3 billion in philanthropic investments. Since CFA was founded in 2014, it has grown from a sole practitioner practice to a nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm. While CFA supports a diversity of nonprofit clients, it maintains a focus on work in arts and culture, education, environment, and human services sectors. Highlights of CFA’s client portfolio include: Entertainment Community Fund, Fabric Workshop & Museum, The Garden Conservancy, Lincoln Center Theater, Minneapolis College of Art & Design, McNay Art Museum, Munson, Community School of Naples, Nashville Public Radio, National Black Theatre, North Carolina Museum of Art, Plains Art Museum, Portland Museum of Art, Triangle Land Conservancy, The Music Center of Los Angeles County, University of Northern Iowa Foundation, Wichita Art Museum, and numerous others. For a full list of clients, and to learn more, visit creativefundraisingadvisors.com

Annual Giving: A Fresh Perspective on Year-End Appeals

The arrival of fall, the anticipation of the holiday season, and the imminent approach of the calendar year-end means one thing for nonprofit fundraising professionals: end-of-year appeals. 

Whether your organization is already in the thick of appeal planning or just getting started, and regardless of your organization’s level of experience with year-end appeals, CFA Consultant Rob Ruchotzke offers encouragement and insight to enhance your annual giving strategy.

Reframe Urgency as Opportunity

Year-end appeals are often accompanied by a sense of urgency as fundraising professionals are driven by the pressure to reach certain fundraising targets, to create something new and compelling, and to deliver a personalized appeal to donors before the end of the year. 

With nearly a decade of experience leading annual giving campaigns, Rob serves as one of CFA’s in-house annual giving experts and is familiar with the challenges that accompany year-end appeals. He often supports his clients to leverage urgency without letting it dominate the appeal planning process. 

“The purpose of an appeal is to engage with your audience,” says Rob. “It’s an opportunity to share why your organization matters and how your work is meaningful.”

Rob advises nonprofits to step back and focus on the main objective. “There are a thousand ways to write an appeal, but the most important thing is telling a story that resonates,” says Rob. Staying grounded in the purpose of an appeal allows fundraising teams to shift their focus from urgency to opportunity. 

For nonprofits writing appeals, the answers to these questions can help identify compelling content and tangible examples to complete your case for support:

1. What is our organization’s purpose?
2. Why does our work matter?
3. Who are the people our work impacts?
4. What are the positive outcomes of our work?

  • Consultant Tip: For more guidance in creating a strong case for support, consider these 10 steps outlined in CFA’s recent article, “How to Write a Fundraising Case Statement,” to help you define your organization’s distinct value proposition. 

Focus on Factors that Drive Increased Annual Giving

In addition to making a compelling case for support, Rob highly encourages nonprofits to focus on personalization. While nonprofits can personalize appeals in a variety of ways, ask amounts are one of the most critical details to customize in an appeal letter. If your organization has access to data on your donors’ giving history, Rob recommends including specific ask amounts aligned with recent gifts and patterns of giving to encourage increased support. Fundraising priorities, such as increasing the number of recurring donors or moving donors toward certain giving levels or societies, can help inform specific ask amounts as well. 

Nonprofits can also personalize appeals by acknowledging the donor’s relationship to their organization and including distinguishing details – such as number of years of support, volunteer service, or last gift amount. Simple touches like hand-addressed envelopes, hand-written signatures, and personal notes not only strengthen relationships with your donors, but also help your appeal stand out from other generic requests. 

While personalization lends itself more readily to mailed appeal letters, emails with tailored subject lines and similar distinguishing donor details are equally as important. Customizing any donor communication requires additional staff capacity, so Rob recommends strategies to personalize at scale – such as mail merge – that will enable your team to focus on your organization’s top donors.

  • Consultant Tip: Personalization is a key fundraising strategy that nonprofits can integrate year-round to strengthen donor engagement and retention. With individual giving declining by 6.4% in 2022, according to Giving USA, personalized communications that address donors by name and reference their past involvement with your nonprofit will strengthen their connection to your organization and increase the likelihood of continued support. 

Keep It Simple

Rob underscores the importance of keeping year-end appeal processes simple and timelines achievable. In addition to staying focused on the appeal’s main objective and prioritizing factors that will increase giving, Rob encourages nonprofits to strive for a balance between consistency and creativity. 

“It’s common for organizations to get in a rut around what to feature in their appeals,” shares Rob. Rather than starting from scratch or attempting to recreate the wheel every year, nonprofits can save time and money by adhering to a consistent appeal structure while introducing nuanced stories into their appeals. “Nonprofits shouldn’t shy away from featuring success stories or updates from their leader year-after-year,” advises Rob. Rather, these components can provide consistent structure to the appeal while introducing new stories and examples of your organization’s work and impact. 

As nonprofits develop their year-end project plans and timelines, CFA recommends leveraging a multichannel strategy for any year-end appeal. In a recent CFA article, “Optimizing Multichannel Fundraising,” Rob states that “multichannel appeals allow you to reach donors through a variety of channels and donors are more likely to respond via the channel of their preference.” As a result, multichannel campaigns are a cost-effective way to reach a donor where they are most likely to see your message and engage with your organization.

Consultant Tip: Check out CFA’s Guide to theAnnual Giving Cultivation Cycle.

Even with advanced planning and significant experience, executing year-end appeals can be stressful for fundraising professionals. By establishing realistic timelines, personalized messaging, and reframing urgency into the opportunity to tell your story, nonprofit fundraising teams can keep their most important audience – the donor – at the center of the appeal process from start to finish.


CONTACT US

Donor appeals are a critical component of a strong annual giving program. If your organization is interested in enhancing your annual giving strategy, contact CFA to explore how we can help.


Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Senior 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 multichannel 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.

Email Rob


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning. Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

Donor Cultivation Cycles: Major Gifts and Annual Giving

Every nonprofit organization seeks to build relationships with people who share their vision and want to help carry out their work. By the same token, nonprofit development officers and volunteer fundraisers are keen to understand how to drive increased donor engagement to catalyze their organization’s mission. A solid method for a successful outcome is to follow a Donor Cultivation Cycle. 

In this article, we focus on two important types of Donor Cultivation Cycles: Major Gifts and Annual Giving. These cycles are often used simultaneously, but with varying prospect segments. Using these cycles will help organizations sustain and increase philanthropic support and cultivate repeat donors to become major funders over time.

What is a Donor Cultivation Cycle?

A Donor Cultivation Cycle gives structure to nurturing relationships between an organization and potential donors and helps systemize the solicitation of an individual or group of donors for philanthropic support. 

What are the Benefits of a Donor Cultivation Cycle?

Stability and Consistency. The time you dedicate to following a Donor Cultivation Cycle will help sustain the connections between your organization and your donors. Each time a donor “moves” through the cycle, you enhance their alignment with your organization’s mission and deepen their commitment to your impact. Over time, the goal is for donors to become consistent and visionary partners.

Timing. Understanding when and how to solicit gifts (and knowing how much to ask for) is the primary benefit of investing time into each step in the Donor Cultivation Cycle. Laying out a plan for each prospective donor will help you identify and leverage the most effective timing and ask amount for solicitation. 

Staff and Board Engagement. Aligning your board members, staff, and volunteers around your Donor Cultivation Cycle will arm everyone who helps fundraise with consistent messaging, goals, and milestones to guide relationship-building with donors and prospects.

Donor Engagement. Nurturing individual donors and showing your organization’s appreciation through communications, recognition, events, and one-on-one meetings leads to growth in their personal involvement and the likelihood of repeat giving.  

Donor Retention. Finding new donors is a necessary part of development work as donors lapse and new people wish to support your work, but it can take two to three times the amount of time and effort to secure new donors as compared to retaining donors. Calculate your donor retention rate by dividing the number of repeat donors this year by the total number of donors from the previous year. A drop in donor retention rate year over year can impact overall funds raised. 

Comparing Donor Cultivation Cycles

While there are similarities in the steps to raising dollars for major gifts and annual giving, the type of gift, giving cycle stages, and timelines are slightly different. Major gifts have a longer time horizon, whereas annual gift appeals must be concise to ensure the prospect connects and wants to give back during a specific timeframe. 

Download the Major Gifts Vs Annual Giving Donor Cultivation Comparison Chart

Major Gifts – Major gifts are philanthropic contributions that match the passion of a donor to a strategic initiative that is designed to move an organization toward its vision. Examples of major gifts include funding for construction, program expansion, or special equipment. A major gifts program builds connections with people who have the desire and ability to give at higher levels. 

Every organization sets different thresholds for the definition of what qualifies as a “major gift” based on the size and budget of their organization. A major gift could be $1,000 and above for one organization, and $50,000 or above paid out over three to five years for another. The throughline is that a major gift reflects meaningful philanthropy derived from thoughtfully cultivated relationships. 

A word of caution: When your attention is pulled to major gifts and other special campaigns, don’t forget your annual needs and your smaller donors. The annual operating campaign is the lifeblood of your nonprofit.

Annual Giving – Annual gifts are one-time contributions that fund operations, typically in the form of an annual fund. Annual giving is often the entry point to a donor’s philanthropic engagement with your organization. Annual donors are often an organization’s most committed supporters and can be the basis for future major gifts when cultivated and stewarded properly. Annual giving strategies are typically multi-channel (email, social media, direct mail, phone calls, etc.) and focus on reacquiring past donors and acquiring new donors to build a consistent and strong base of funding support. 

Where Outside Expertise Can Help

The CFA team helps clients work through the full spectrum of the Major Gifts Cultivation Cycle and the Annual Giving Cultivation Cycle, including segmenting and qualifying your donor pool to ensure you know which prospect falls into which category. 

When to Implement a Donor Cultivation Cycle

It’s never too early or too late to implement both cultivation cycles into your nonprofit development function. We hope the ideas above have helped you understand the process. 

Please contact us at Creative Fundraising Advisors if we can help you get started today.

Activating Your Planned Giving Program: How to Engage Younger Generations of Donors

Planned giving programs and charitable instruments have been around for roughly 100 years. Yet, few nonprofits have well-established planned giving programs. If there is one thing that successful nonprofit organizations and planned giving programs have in common, it is a strong vision for the future. 

For nonprofits seeking to cement their future sustainability, engaging younger generations of donors has never been more important. With philanthropy at a crossroads as Millennials succeed former generations in levels of giving and engagement, savvy nonprofits will prioritize engaging this generation of donors in both present and future planned giving opportunities. 

At CFA, we regularly partner with organizations who are looking to start a planned giving program or ramp up an existing one as part of their overall fundraising strategy. For nonprofits seeking to activate and sustain a strong planned giving program, a consistent focus on their organization’s vision and, importantly, the younger generations of donors that will help make that vision a reality, is key. 

Millennials’ Increasing Philanthropic Presence and Potential

While many planned giving programs have dedicated comparatively little attention to younger generations, Millennials are emerging as a prominent force in philanthropy. According to the Giving by Generations report recently published by Giving USA, Millennials surpassed Gen Xers in average household giving in 2022, donating an average of $103 more than any other generation on an annual basis.

Younger generations are also actively planning for their financial future. A study completed by Trust & Will found that 75% of Millennial respondents completed a will-based estate plan that was motivated by having a child, losing a loved one, or buying a home. These are ideal opportunities for donors to be considering their legacy and future social impact through planned giving. 

And while 71% of these Millennials had a net worth of $500K or less, nonprofits would be wise to begin cultivating relationships with these donors now based on their future giving potential. In addition to the wealth that this generation will build on their own in the decades to come, it is anticipated that nearly $84 trillion will be passed down to younger generations over the next 25 years, which would be the largest wealth transfer in history. While Millennials have a formidable presence in philanthropy now, their influence and giving potential will increase exponentially in the decades to come.

Engaging Younger Donors in Planned Giving

As philanthropy experiences a shift in donor representation by generation, proactive nonprofits and successful fundraising programs will follow suit in expanding their donor engagement strategies beyond Baby Boomers to include Gen Xers and Millennials. 

Balancing multiple generations of donors requires an intentional approach, according to Jake Muszynski, CFA Head of Consulting and Principal – Midwest, who notes, “There is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to planned giving. Fundraising strategies need to be tailored to the ways each generation prefers to give to and engage with the organizations they support.” Jake recommends that organizations provide regular opportunities for planned giving for donors to learn and connect with a like-minded community of supporters. 

Successful planned giving programs are centered around the future donors that will someday make their vision a reality. Engaging younger generations requires nonprofits to extend their gaze even further, constructing compelling visions well into the future. Jake recommends that “nonprofits think about their legacy and the impact they will achieve over the next 50 years or more, given that the planned gifts of younger donors may not be realized for decades to come.” 

In addition to leading the way in giving, Millennials are more likely to take a hands-on approach, dedicating time as a volunteer and desiring a seat at the table by seeking roles as board and committee members. These committed volunteers are often the ideal prospect for planned gifts as an organization’s closest supporters. 

According to Giving USA, Millennials want to hear regularly from the charities they support and are the most receptive of any generation to receiving monthly multi-channel communications via direct mail, email, and/or text. By providing regular communications and special events that provide planned giving donors with inside access to your organization’s strategic plan, emerging trends, and new innovative programs, nonprofits can keep this critical group of donors engaged around their shared legacy and collective future impact. Jake agrees that “although planned giving donors won’t bear witness to the impact of their generosity, nonprofits can keep these donors connected – both to the organization and to one another – through effective communications and community.”

The Best Time to Start a Planned Giving Program Is the Present 

Many nonprofits often wonder when and how to launch a planned giving program, especially when current organizational resources and capacity are limited. Jake recommends incorporating planned giving into any comprehensive campaign at a minimum, which is typically centered around creating strong donor communities and collective impact. While campaigns provide an optimal launchpad for a planned giving program, organizations do not need to wait for a campaign to begin promoting planned giving. “These efforts can be woven into ongoing communications and cultivation efforts,” says Jake, “by casting a long-term vision and offering donors compelling opportunities to invest in both present-day innovation and future impact.”

And although many planned giving programs are tied to an endowment, the lack of one should not hinder a nonprofit from promoting and actively seeking planned giving commitments. It is these early planned giving commitments that become the bedrock of a future endowment. CFA recently offered a series of guiding questions for nonprofits looking to build a compelling case for their endowment, which should provide your most steadfast donors a clear and compelling opportunity to invest in a future where your organization is doing your best work.

Regardless of your nonprofit’s fundraising capacity, engaging your donors around a tangible and transformational vision will lead to increased support in the present and the future from donors spanning all generations. Nonprofits that begin cultivating authentic planned giving communities with younger generations of donors today will create a shared legacy amongst the future donors that may someday bring that legacy to life.


CONTACT US

Build a stronger foundation for your nonprofit tomorrow by activating your planned giving program today. If your organization is interested in launching or strengthening your planned giving program, contact CFA to explore how we can help.


Kendall Carlson, Content Writer

A frequent contributor to CFA’s digital content, Kendall Carlson has spent her career advancing nonprofit organizations across the Twin Cities. With 16 years of experience, Kendall brings a balance of strategic and operational leadership spanning fundraising, program development, evaluation, and strategic planning. Most recently, Kendall served as Development and Communications Director at Hired, where she diversified revenue for the organization’s $11M budget and increased individual giving by 60%, led a rebrand, and launched an organization-wide data for impact initiative. Prior to Hired, Kendall served at Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she led an advancement strategy team to increase investment and engagement from the organization’s top corporate and major donors.  Kendall is known as a strategic, solution-oriented leader with a high capacity for detail and commitment to quality. She launched her consulting practice, Luminate Consulting, in 2022 to bring her skills in fundraising and program strategy to nonprofits seeking sustainable growth.

Kristin T. Love Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Principal, West Coast

September 12, 2023

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce that Kristin T. Love has joined the firm as Principal, West Coast, where she will oversee projects spanning CFA’s suite of services, including development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, campaign counsel, and strategic planning. Based in Los Angeles, California, Kristin comes to CFA with over 20 years of experience in higher education, program development, and nonprofit advancement.

“We are thrilled to welcome Kristin to the CFA consulting team,” said CFA Founder and President Paul Johnson. “Her substantial experience as a capacity builder, collaborator, and changemaker in the philanthropic sector have prepared her to lead our clients to fundraising success. We are very excited about the role Kristin will play in building CFA’s presence on the West Coast and serving our client organizations with vision and integrity.” 

“I am delighted to be joining the talented team at CFA,” said Kristin. “The values of the firm perfectly align with those I hold most closely, and the deep commitment and service to clients and their needs is a differentiator in this space. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with organizations in fueling transformative change.”

Kristin most recently served as Vice President for Development at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles, California. At LMU, she oversaw efforts to evolve development structures and processes to motivate an accountability-driven environment, partnering with academic and administrative leadership to align goals and priorities in pursuit of increased philanthropy.  

Before LMU, Kristin held leadership roles in the advancement offices at Colorado College and University of Denver, championing new initiatives at both institutions to integrate engagement and philanthropy. Her career experience includes development roles at large national and small local nonprofits, as well as global organizations such as JDRF International. Her passion for mission-centric fundraising work and the positive impact it can have on institutions and organizations began as a work-study student in the grants office at her alma mater, Baylor University, where she earned a BBA in public administration and Spanish.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Kristin spent over two decades in Colorado before relocating with her family to the Los Angeles area in 2020. The mother of 15-year-old twins, Kristin enjoys watching her daughter’s athletic pursuits, and her son’s music and acting endeavors. In her free time, she can be found traveling or at a potter’s wheel. 

About Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA)

CFA is a full-service fundraising consulting firm with more than 100 years of collective experience in philanthropy. In partnership with nonprofit clients throughout the country, CFA has raised more than $1 billion in the past five years alone. Since CFA was founded in 2015, it has grown from a sole practitioner practice to a nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm. While CFA supports a diversity of nonprofit clients, it maintains a focus on work in arts and culture, education, environment, and human services sectors. Highlights of CFA’s client portfolio include: Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, Armory Center for the Arts, Awakening Recovery, California Film Institute, Entertainment Community Fund, Headlands Center for the Arts, The Music Center of Los Angeles County, Project Angel Food, Street Poets, Sycamores, and numerous others. For a full list of clients and to learn more, visit: https://creativefundraisingadvisors.com/ 

Nathan Urbach to Join Creative Fundraising Advisors as Managing Director

September 7, 2023

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce that Nathan Urbach will join the firm as Managing Director. Nathan comes to CFA with 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, primarily within the arts and culture sector.

Passionate about community engagement and transformational change, Nathan states, “With vast inequalities existing in our society, mission-based organizations can create and make significant positive changes. To further generate transformative impact across nonprofit sectors and to make a difference, I am thrilled to bring my experience to Creative Fundraising Advisors and partner with a new team to find solutions for clients by upholding the firm’s core principles.”

Nathan’s most recent role was Vice President of Principal and Campaign Giving for the New York Philharmonic, where he previously served as Vice President of Inaugural Activities and Director of Development. During his tenure, Nathan led the planning efforts for the activities surrounding the grand opening of the new David Geffen Hall and successfully secured over $17 million in funding for two inaugural galas.

In addition to his contributions to the New York Philharmonic, Nathan served as the Interim Chief Advancement Officer at the New York Botanical Garden. Previously, he served as an Executive Director at CCS Fundraising, where he collaborated with noteworthy organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Westport Library, Film at Lincoln Center, multiple Manhattan-based independent schools, and the Akilah Institute, a nonprofit college for women in Kigali, Rwanda. In his capacity at CCS, Nathan worked closely with organizational leadership and board members to manage fundraising campaigns ranging from $15 million to over $100 million, and he also strategically built and strengthened several principal giving programs. 

Nathan’s career began with a role in the artistic department at the New York City Opera; since then, he has partnered with five of the 11 constituent organizations on the campus of Lincoln Center. Prior to transitioning into the fundraising field, he managed the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, where he collaborated with musical luminaries such as James Levine, Renata Scotto, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and Sir Thomas Allen.

Nathan has been a guest speaker at Opera America, the League of American Orchestras, NYU’s School of Professional Studies, and Columbia University. He serves on the Board of Old Westbury Gardens and is recognized as a distinguished alum of the Crane School of Music. 

Nathan lives in New York City, where he is a collector of decorative arts and was featured on an episode of Homeworthy, a program dedicated to sharing stories of individuals and their homes. Outside of working with nonprofits, he is an avid traveler and enjoys reading and running.

About Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA)
CFA is a full-service, fundraising consulting firm with more than 100 years of collective experience in philanthropy. In partnership with nonprofit clients throughout the country, CFA has raised more than $1 billion in the past five years alone. Since CFA was founded in 2015, it has grown from a sole practitioner practice to a nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm. While CFA supports a diversity of nonprofit clients, it maintains a focus on work in arts and culture, education, environment, and human services sectors. Highlights of CFA’s client portfolio include: Entertainment Community Fund, Symphony Space, The Garden Conservancy, Fabric Workshop & Museum, The Music Center of Los Angeles County, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Armory Center for the Arts, California Film Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, and numerous others. For a full list of clients and to learn more, visit: https://creativefundraisingadvisors.com/

Why Investing in Fundraising Staff Pays Off

By Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting and PrincipalMidwest

When a nonprofit organization hires and retains fundraising professionals, it can yield a substantial return on investment. Nonprofit development professionals dedicate their time to nurturing the multifaceted relationships between supporters and an organization’s mission; by investing in fundraising staff, an organization can deepen donor engagement and stewardship, ensure higher donor retention rates, and build relationships with new donors.

The Case for Fundraising Professionals

In a study that took place over nine years, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education found that increased investment in advancement functions reaps higher rewards. The 2023 Philanthropy Pulse affirmed this finding, reporting that the organizations that focused on hiring fundraising staff or increasing salary and benefits for existing staff experienced greater organizational growth than those who did not.

While there are clear benefits to investing in fundraising staff, it can take months or years before your organization realizes the full impact as it takes time to build relationships with donors before they are typically ready to make major gifts. Due to this delayed result, some nonprofits hesitate to hire additional development staff or invest in retention strategies for their existing staff; however, dedicating resources to your development team can be one of the most important steps your organization can take to ensure the long-term growth and sustainability of your mission and impact. 

In the following Q&A, CFA Principal Jake Muszynski shares several ideas about why hiring and retaining fundraisers pays off.

Q&A with Jake Muszynski

What staffing trends do you see within the development assessments and campaign readiness assessments that CFA conducts for nonprofit organizations?

Jake: In so many cases, we find a team that is operating beyond maximum capacity and struggling to meet their full potential. It’s really common within the development assessments and campaign readiness and feasibility studies that we conduct that we ultimately recommend investing in our client’s fundraising team. Many organizations don’t have enough bandwidth on their team to do what they are truly capable of, or they lack the resources to carry out their vision. And, because they don’t have enough people, everyone feels strained. Limited time exists for coaching, mentorship, and professional development for the team, much less for the focused, long-term cultivation of donors.

How can a CFA development assessment help a development office prepare for departmental growth and fundraising?

Jake: One really important way is that we take the assumptions out of the picture. Staff tend to know they are overburdened and understaffed, but because of the increased pressure to meet goals, they often can’t advocate enough on their own for change. During a development assessment, we offer solutions that are grounded in data, reviewing fundraising systems, donor data, and fundraising programs to clearly articulate the growth potential that already awaits a well-staffed team. We also take the internal pulse of the organization through a thoughtful interview process that includes staff, board, and donors to understand perceptions and pressures as well as future aspirations and goals. At the end of our process, organizations we work with are not only provided a set of actionable recommendations, but they’re also empowered to succeed with the defined path we pave for their success.  

My colleagues, including CFA Consultant Rob Ruchotzke, recently worked with a client where we uncovered that a primary obstacle to their fundraising growth was recent staff cuts. In an effort to reduce expenses, this organization had inadvertently limited their ability to grow relationships with their donor base. This lack of capacity also prevented the fundraising staff from being able to fully execute plans aimed at donor retention and increasing gift sizes. As part of our assessment, we put together a five-year plan to double the size of their development department. Within this proposed model, we were able to demonstrate that the cost to raise a dollar of contributed revenue decreases substantially after the initial investment in staff capacity, while the potential major gifts revenue increases significantly as those donor relationships come to fruition.  

What recruiting and retention advice do you give your nonprofit clients when they are hiring development staff?

Jake: Development staff are the front line to an organization’s ability to cultivate and sustain its donor network. Make the effort to invest in the people who manage the relationships with your organization’s most valuable asset: your donors.

When I became a fundraiser straight out of college, formal degrees and training programs to help me become a nonprofit fundraising expert didn’t yet exist. Luckily, as the fundraising field has expanded, the amount of professional development and training opportunities has grown substantially. I suggest nonprofits encourage their staff to pursue continual learning such as courses offered through the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). I serve on the board of the AFP Minnesota Chapter, where we have made both membership and education sessions more accessible by eliminating fees and offering a pay-what-you-can model.

Fundraisers should also seek mentorship from outside your organization. Development staff need to commiserate with others who understand the roller coaster of the profession. Also, don’t overlook opportunities for personal/professional development that come with taking on new projects and responsibilities. Research has proven that on-the-job training has a higher rate of uptake and long term impact on skills development than external training programs. 

How does an organization know when it is ready for a development assessment?

Jake: Organizations often call CFA in moments of transformation or moments of crisis. My biggest piece of advice would be to not wait for a crisis to evaluate your development strategy. There are several ideal times to conduct a development assessment: immediately following the launch of a new strategic plan, 12-18 months prior to a major capital campaign, or when you have had a significant leadership change. In other words, it’s always a great time to make sure your organization is fulfilling its potential and that those tasked with ensuring your mission’s sustainability are supported and well-equipped to do their best work.

Part of the reason I love doing development assessments, “The CFA Way” as we call it, is that I get to become part of the team for a time, where I can fully engage in the organization’s mission, understand the issues and opportunities that exist, and partner alongside the staff and board to unlock the door to a better and more impactful future. 

Contact Us

If your organization is ready for a development assessment or tailored campaign consulting, contact CFA today.


Jake Muszynski

Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting and PrincipalMidwest

Jake is a highly experienced fundraising and consulting professional with over 15 years of combined experience in the industry. He began his successful career in major gifts at higher education institutions and has since provided counsel to over 30 clients at CFA, where he currently serves as Principal.

In this role, Jake leads major projects across the United States, including campaign readiness and feasibility studies, campaign planning and counsel, and development assessments. He takes a holistic approach to fundraising, considering organizational health from all perspectives and applying a mix of soft skills and data-driven decision-making to each unique situation.

A native of Perham, Minnesota, Jake 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.

Email Jake

In Conversation with CFA: Exploring Nonprofit Endowments

CFA Head of Client Success & Principal Joanne Curry and Operations & Business Manager Kayla Boye hosted a LinkedIn Live discussion about how nonprofit endowments can be leveraged to ensure long-term organizational sustainability. They explored common endowment misconceptions and related their personal experiences working with clients and establishing and managing endowments. As a follow up to that discussion, CFA has compiled six key takeaways and a Guide to Endowments:

Exploring Nonprofit Endowments:
Key Takeaways

  1. Involve board and legal expertise. While endowment terms may be written and approved by your board, an attorney should review policies before they are finalized. Once an endowment is established, it is important that your board creates an investment committee to actively track portfolio performance and make decisions about brokerage options.
  2. It takes time and resources to maintain an endowment. If a donor has made a major gift to establish a named endowed fund, your organization must regularly report progress to that donor to ensure continued stewardship. A bank, community foundation, or other partner can also help with endowment management and reporting, typically for a small fee.
  3. Legacy giving is a powerful motivator. Supporting an endowment is one of the most impactful acts of philanthropy; by naming an endowed fund, a donor can ensure their legacy while supporting the organization in perpetuity. 
  4. Bundle your endowment effort with another campaign. You can enhance the appeal of an endowment by including it as a component in a capacity building campaign or adding it to a capital campaign to support ongoing maintenance and operations costs of a new building. 
  5. There is no time like the present to establish your organization’s endowment. The sooner an endowment is established, the sooner investments can grow. 
  6. Endowments can help your organization pursue a transformational vision. An endowment can provide additional annual income that can help free up your organization’s frontline fundraising staff to focus on developing new donor relationships, deepening existing ones, and preparing asks for transformational gifts.

Learn More

If you missed CFA’s webinar on “Exploring Endowments,” click to view a recording:

View recording

Considering starting an endowment? Contact CFA today to help envision and implement your endowment fundraising strategy.  For more articles related to philanthropy and fundraising, check out CFA’s Insights page

Nonprofit Networking: How to Leverage Your Board for Fundraising Success

By Katrina Woodcox, Senior Consultant

Convincing your board to fundraise year after year, especially if it has not been a part of your organization’s culture, can be daunting. Yet, playing a role in fundraising is a necessary function of a board to ensure the long-term sustainability and future growth of an organization. While not every board member may be comfortable making a direct ask, board members can support your fundraising efforts by leveraging their personal and professional networks. Engaged board members can be one of your organization’s greatest fundraising resources–especially when they are well-prepared and equipped with the right tools.

When serving as the Executive Director of Butte Humane Society in Chico, California, we launched a capital campaign to build a new animal shelter and veterinary hospital. One month after embarking on the quiet phase of our campaign, the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California’s history ravaged our neighboring community of Paradise, California. Within a few hours, the Camp Fire leveled 13,000 homes and decimated the community. Faced with rebuilding an entire town, the idea of fundraising for dogs and cats seemed like a lesser priority; yet, demand for our services surged as our community also grappled with the thousands of animals that were now homeless and in need of services, care, and shelter. Once our community recovered enough to inch forward, we pivoted and relaunched our campaign. 

Our board campaign committee was now even more crucial to driving campaign momentum. As we sought to reinvigorate our fundraising efforts, I met with each committee member individually to discuss the campaign’s goals and solicit their involvement. These meetings were helpful in both generating enthusiasm and evaluating each board member’s unique fundraising comfort zone: Were they extroverted and comfortable making a direct ask, or did they prefer to assist by facilitating a prospect introduction? 

Board members were assigned a portfolio of donor prospects from their respective networks to either ask for a gift or to make an introduction. We prepared board members to become advocates for the campaign by conducting board trainings and rehearsing solicitation scenarios in both 1:1 and in group settings where I encouraged our board members to reframe their thinking about fundraising. Instead of directly asking friends and colleagues for a donation right out of the gate, I suggested that board members add meaning to their conversations by focusing on the personal impact that the organization had on their lives and how the new facility was going to save more animals and reduce overpopulation – tangible outcomes that resonate with donors and supporters. Passion and results are powerful tools for inspiring action.

  • Consultant Tip: Use donor data strategies to keep a record of how board members and prospects are connected to each other.

In my experience working with board members on solicitation strategies, they often feel that asking for money is invasive, uncomfortable, and may even put a strain on a friendship. However, it is important to remind them that fundraising is not about “begging” or “arm twisting,” and often begins with “friendraising.” Having that mindset can help to alleviate some of the concern board members may have when talking to friends and colleagues about potential gifts. Board members’ motivations are born out of a passion they have for the organization, and if they can bring an authentic and transparent attitude to the conversation, it can help to inspire others to give out of that genuine connection and belief in the mission. 

The Camp Fire, while devastating, brought our board campaign committee together and provided an opportunity for honest conversations and realignment. It also ignited an urgency to think creatively, to step out of comfort zones, and to engage with our broader community on an immediate level. Our board-led solicitations and introductions ultimately resulted in many of our campaign’s largest commitments. By leveraging the networks of our board members, opening doors, and introducing people to a cause we were all so passionate about, we were able to raise the funds to build a new facility when our community needed it the most.

Whether you are actively conducting a capital campaign or planning a strategy for an annual giving appeal (or everything in between!), continuous board networking is necessary to strengthen your organization’s relationship with your community and to cultivate future sources of support. Engaging your board will pay off in the long-term, even if natural disasters and other obstacles alter your carefully laid fundraising plans. 

To learn more about leveraging your board for fundraising success, contact CFA today.


Katrina Woodcox, Senior Consultant

Katrina Woodcox comes to CFA with over 20 years of experience in nonprofit management, development, and community engagement. Before joining CFA, Katrina served as the Executive Director for Butte Humane Society (BHS), where she focused on creating annual campaigns, major gifts and planned giving programs, as well as fostering donor-centered, stewardship-rich development programs to help grow and sustain donor giving. Prior to BHS, Katrina was the Executive Director for the Downtown Chico Business Association. Katrina has also served as an independent consultant, working with a variety of nonprofit agencies throughout northern California to identify and achieve development and marketing goals. 

As a Senior Consultant with CFA, Katrina focuses on providing Development Assessments, Campaign Feasibility Studies, Campaign Counsel and Strategic Planning. Katrina uses her past non-profit management experience, capital campaign knowledge, development acumen and her passion for storytelling to help find the right solutions for CFA’s partners.

Katrina currently resides in Chico, California, and holds a BA in Journalism/Public Relations from the California State University, Chico

Fundamental Questions to Build a Compelling Case for Your Endowment Campaign

Endowments offer distinct appeal and benefit for nonprofit organizations of all sizes. Yet, only one in nine (11.2%) nonprofits managed endowment funds as of 20171

As a viable fundraising strategy for nonprofits with established annual giving programs, endowments can provide a sustainable source of funding in a new era of constant change and elevated uncertainty. At Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), we frequently partner with organizations who are looking to take their individual fundraising strategy to the next level with an endowment.

For nonprofits in the early stages of exploring or building an endowment, the answers to these fundamental questions can inform your strategy and build the foundation for a compelling case for support:

  1. What is our objective for starting an endowment? 

    The perpetual annual income provided by an endowment can be used to offset operating expenses, protect and sustain core programs, and provide overall financial stability to hedge against uncertainty and better counter longer-term forces of change. 

    Consider your nonprofit’s mission-critical services and core operational costs. Identify which of those priorities are consistently insufficiently funded as well as those with the lowest levels of funding diversification and greatest exposure to potential shifts in funding. These priority areas will serve as key inputs driving the overall purpose and objectives for your endowment.  

    Your case for support should be clearly linked to your future vision and the distinct purpose your endowment will serve. Whether your organization is seeking to sustain and expand programs, respond to emerging needs, or simply ensure long-term organizational stability, building a compelling case for support clearly tied to the purpose and impact of your endowment will increase donor confidence and inspire larger gifts. 
  1. What is an appropriate financial goal for our endowment? 

    When it comes to endowments, there is no “one size fits all” approach. With an average annual payout of 5%, the impact of an endowment truly depends on the size of your nonprofit and your objectives for the fund. 

    For smaller nonprofits, an additional source of revenue to cover core administrative functions or support a mission-critical program is valuable at any level. For larger organizations, generating a significant percentage of the annual operating budget or sustaining entire programs or positions to allow for programmatic continuity will inform the ideal target for your endowment. 

    Regardless of the size, endowments are a powerful emblem of stability and permanence that can inspire visionary mindsets in organizations and donors alike. 
  1. Do we have a strong base of donors to fund an endowment? 

    Endowments have the potential to inspire giving at transformational levels from current donors. The ideal endowment campaign prospects will have a demonstrated commitment to your nonprofit, usually over several years and often through engagement beyond financial support, as well as the financial capacity to give. Completing a donor wealth screening process, often completed as part of a feasibility study, will identify the strongest endowment campaign prospects based on these factors and help to establish an achievable short-term goal for your endowment fund. 

    As CFA shared in our recent Exploring Endowments discussion, endowment gifts can come in the form of outright investments or as deferred planned giving vehicles. An outright endowment gift gives donors the opportunity to fund their annual gifts in perpetuity while planned gifts may come as the donor’s last and largest gift. 

    While larger organizations may be more likely to secure larger outright endowment gifts, nonprofits of all sizes can leverage planned giving opportunities to inspire significant investments for the future. Whether gifts are made in the present or future, endowment funds are powerful in their permanence, serving as an ongoing tribute that will sustain the donor’s values and organization’s impact into posterity. 

Regardless of the size of your organization, endowment building is a strategic decision that requires significant commitment, in-depth analysis, and significant understanding on the part of leaders and board. Endowment campaigns require a strong vision for the future of your nonprofit as well as strong personal relationships with a critical base of top donors. With a clear case for support, an endowment will provide your most steadfast donors a clear and compelling opportunity to invest in a future where your organization is doing your best work.

At CFA, we often recommend including an endowment campaign as a component of a capacity-building campaign, which can generate giving momentum and interest in the long-term vision for your organization. An endowment can also pair well with a capital campaign to sustain the operations of a new building, or to support a strategic initiative after a campaign has concluded. 

If your organization is considering an endowment campaign, contact CFA today to explore how we can help.


  1. MIT Sloan Study Shows Larger Nonprofit Endowment Funds Generate Higher Returns. May 2020.

Improve Donor Retention with Data

By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager of Prospect Development

Donor retention is a constant challenge for nonprofits. In 2022, the average nonprofit retained less than half of its donors from the previous year, and the total number of donors was down 7.1% year over year, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. With fewer individuals giving and less than half coming back each year, your development team’s donor retention efforts are more important than ever. Fewer returning donors also impacts the productivity of your development team; experts estimate that it can take anywhere from 2-10 times more resources to secure a new donor than keep an existing one.  

Analyzing your organization’s donor data can yield powerful insights about how people interact with your organization, which types of fundraising appeals garner their attention, and what strategies you can use to repeat and increase their contributions. This knowledge will help you retain donors and increase the number of gifts people give. Prepare your team with the data and resources they need to reach all of your donors, including LYBUNTs (“last year but unfortunately not this” year).

Here are my top 10 tips on using data to improve donor retention:

1. Implement effective data management strategies to organize your donor pipeline including consistent tracking of fundraising volunteer activity.

2. Leverage donor analytics to segment and personalize appeals based on data about giving history, giving capacity, age cohort, how people have given in the past, and what the fundraising project is.

3. Utilize a moves management data tracking system by segmenting donors with your data and strategically elevating personal engagement.

4. Use data to identify your mid-level annual donors and inform a leadership giving strategy to identify who could increase their giving amount or frequency. 

5. Track your organization’s multi-channel approach to ensure each of your donor segments is solicited more than once per year and understand which approach is most effective for each segment.

6. Use data to identify at risk donors and re-engage them with cultivation tools such as surveys and targeted communications. Examine your giving records and start with the most recently engaged donors and those most connected to your organization – a retired board member who has lapsed, a donor from last year, etc. 

7. Understand how to navigate your database and use wealth screening for additional donor insights and improved donor segmentation.

8. Regularly clean and maintain your donor data records to ensure the accurate delivery of personalized donor communications

9. Monitor your donor retention rate through regular data reporting to identify patterns and adjust your donor engagement practices accordingly.

10. Update your fundraising team regularly with data-informed progress reports to highlight how often people give, and to which appeals. Using data in this way will help your organization prioritize prospects and encourage recurring and increased gifts.

Contact Creative Fundraising Advisors today to see how we can help you harness data analytics in your fundraising strategy.


Stephanie Brouwer

Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager of Prospect Development

Stephanie Brouwer has over 10 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 has a passion for helping others understand, apply, and integrate CliftonStrengths results into their lives and work.

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In Conversation with CFA: Inside Today’s Donor Mindset

CFA Chief Operating Officer Liz Jellema led a conversation with guests Rachel Hutchisson, Chair of the Communications Task Force at The Generosity Commission, and Rick Dunham, Founder of Dunham+Company and member of The Giving Institute. The philanthropy experts discussed recent fundraising trends, and what the findings mean for nonprofit organizations trying to raise more money and positively impact their communities.

Takeaways to Address Today’s Fundraising Trends

  1. Mind the Millennials.

    Giving by the Millennial age cohort (individuals who are between 27 and 42 years old in 2023) is on the rise, and their attitude about nonprofit organizations is positive. This finding comes from the most recent annual Giving by Generation study, conducted by Dunham+Company and published by Giving USA in 2023. The survey found that Millennial households gave 40% more, on average, to nonprofits in 2022 than they did in 2016. Another encouraging fundraising trend was the increase in the share of donors who believe that nonprofits are “doing a good job,” seen especially in the Millennial cohort who reported an 8% increase in confidence in nonprofits.

    At the same time, findings from a 2023 study of donors contributing at least $20 in online giving per year revealed that 62% of surveyed donors plan to reduce their 2023 giving from the previous year, citing economic uncertainty and the toll of inflation on their personal finances. When asked how to marry these two findings, Dunham stated, “It portends probably a slower growth rate of Millennial giving, but I’m still encouraged to see how Millennials have really jumped in more significantly as donors.” 

    The key takeaway about the Millennial mindset is that they are proving to be tomorrow’s dedicated donors. Understand how and how much Millennials are giving at your organization so that you can set a long range strategy for this group and tailor communications and appeals for best results.
  2. Monitor fundraising trends but focus on your own donor data management.

    A recent podcast by The Economist, “Give fast, spry young: the new philanthropists,” and a related article, “How a tide of tech money is transforming charity,” explored the idea that every generation has remade philanthropy, and how an up-and-coming cohort of young, wealthy tech entrepreneurs want to “move fast and fix things” by donating to moonshot ideas with expediency and without condition. 

    The webinar panelists agreed that while tech entrepreneurs represent an interesting segment of donors, they represent a relatively small percentage of the national donor pool. It is important to understand the interests of your current donors and use data insights to discover opportunities to connect prospective donors to your mission.

    Data helps reveal patterns that are happening over time so we can better understand donor behavior, including what motivates donors, and what methods of giving they prefer (such as being able to donate easily on a mobile device). This information helps you determine where to focus your fundraising resources. Nonprofits of all sizes must activate data management to understand what is happening with their own donors and take actions such as upgrading technology so that people can give via digital channels.

    Hutchisson explained that these studies help us “look at what’s happening overall, but just because it’s happening overall doesn’t mean it’s happening right in your microcosm. You also have to look at your own data. Look at who’s giving, how they’re giving, the different characteristics, and that just helps you understand the behaviors of your best donors, and behaviors of people who aren’t giving, and sets a little bit of direction for where to look and maybe how to invest.”
  3. Tell donors how their giving directly impacts your mission through storytelling.

    Donors want to see results, and they also want to help other people. In a 2020 Hidden Brain podcast called Happiness 2.0: Surprising Sources of Joy, Dr. Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia shared her finding that people feel a greater joy of giving when they know more about how their dollars are used. Jellema noted, “It seems fairly straightforward and intuitive, but people want to know that they’re making a positive impact and altering the course of life…If you can really hone in on your specific mission and what are you uniquely resourced to address, that will set you apart.”

    Hutchisson agreed and said, “We might care about data and plans and vision, but we also want to feel and see that we’re making a difference. We want to belong.” Instead of focusing on the transactional relationship of philanthropy or becoming too internally focused about what the organization is doing, appeal to your donors’ emotional connection with your mission through impact stories. Fundraisers will get better results when they use storytelling to reach various donor mindsets and illustrate outcomes related to giving. 
  4. Meet donors where they are with multichannel fundraising and communications. 

    Donors who engage in multiple channels—from direct mail to social media—give more often and are likely to give again. While organizations must embrace different communications channels, the core message needs to remain consistent, compelling, and – Dunham used the term “symbiotic” – or mutually reinforcing, across all channels. Blackbaud’s 2021 study about online fundraising trends found that donors become confused and frustrated when they receive a communication through one channel (such as direct mail) and then find a different message on the website. Leverage technology to determine which donors are responding to which appeals, and employ straightforward communication to donors via direct mail, text-to-give, and more. Nonprofits must invest in the infrastructure, staff, and training to effectively use these tools and make it easy for people to give.

Learn More

If you missed CFA’s webinar “Inside Today’s Donor Mindset,” click to view a recording:


For more, in-depth articles related to these topics, check out CFA’s Insights page. CFA can help your organization design and implement fundraising campaigns to engage a wider, deeper donor audience, communicate your “big idea,” evaluate your data, and ready your organization for transformational gifts. Contact CFA today for strategic fundraising counsel.

Developing Leadership Annual Giving to Drive Fundraising Success

By Rob Ruchotzke, Senior Consultant

What is Leadership Annual Giving?

Leadership annual giving is a fundraising term used to describe a nonprofit’s largest repeating philanthropic gifts. Leadership annual gifts, also referred to as mid-level gifts, represent a higher dollar segment than that of baseline annual donors. Depending on the size of your organization, leadership annual gifts typically fall in the $500-$10,000 range. 

When conducting annual giving campaigns, nonprofit development professionals often focus on securing first-time gifts from the base of the donor pyramid or renewing major gifts from the top of the donor pyramid; however, gifts at the the middle of the donor pyramid are just as important. By strategically cultivating and stewarding mid-level donors for leadership annual gifts, you can increase their engagement and position your organization to ask for larger major gifts.  

  • Of note: According to the December 2022 AFP Fundraising Effectiveness quarterly report, annual gifts between $500-$5,000 are generated from 14% of donors and make up over 16% of total dollars raised, while gifts of $5,000+ are generated from a much smaller pool of 2.6% of donors but make up 74% of total dollars raised. 

Leadership Annual Giving Tactics to Raise More Money

The following are my go-to recommendations for clients looking to increase their leadership annual giving:

1. Strategize and cultivate leadership annual giving donors through regular follow-ups utilizing a donor cultivation cycle to manage the donor journey. Assign staff members who have relationship-building skills to your top donors and prospects to personally engage with them and cultivate future gifts. 

2. Monitor leadership annual giving by consistently collecting and analyzing donor data. Tracking giving patterns can help determine the appropriate time to solicit for larger major gifts within your donor moves management system.

3. Launch a giving society for your organization with named giving tiers, such as: Sustainer ($500-$999 per year), Influencer ($1,000-$2,499 per year), Investor ($2,500-$4,999 per year), Founder ($5,000+ per year). Providing meaningful benefits and recognition opportunities can motivate your donors to keep giving and to move up to the next level.

  • Consultant Tip: Host invitation-only events for the giving society to acknowledge leadership annual donors as well as public events where they can invite friends who have the potential to be future donors.

4. Conduct a comprehensive development assessment to analyze your current fundraising efficiencies, and/or a campaign feasibility study if your organization is considering a capital, endowment, or capacity building campaign. Both of these processes can reveal insights about the overall health of your organization’s fundraising practices and opportunities for improvements.

5. Align your frontline fundraising team by setting internal goals and reporting fundraising progress. Set a reasonable number of prospects for each of your gift officers’ portfolios, depending on the scope of the gift officer’s role, the size of your organization, and the goal of your campaign. Set a dollar goal for each gift officer to reach and celebrate wins along the way. 

6. Make donating to your organization as easy and seamless as possible by leveraging a variety of fundraising channels, including mobile giving, mailed forms, and online giving pages connected to your donor database. Keep messaging specific and consistent across various fundraising platforms to clearly convey the ask. 

7. Communicate with your donors to convey the impact of their gifts: once a donor contributes a leadership annual gift, they must be promptly thanked and informed of what has been made possible through their contribution. Connect via phone or video calls, thank-you letters, social media, and in-person meetings. Once a donor has made a leadership annual gift, consistent and regular donor communication is one of the best ways your organization can retain donors and increase future gifts.

Leveraging leadership annual giving is crucial for cultivating a robust pipeline of stable and increasing philanthropic support. Contact Creative Fundraising Advisors today to discuss how we can partner with you to achieve your goals.


Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Senior 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 multichannel 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.

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Fundraising Volunteer Engagement: Setting Up Your Capital Campaign Committee for Success

By Joanne Curry, Principal & Head of Client Success

Capital and endowment campaigns are special, multi-year fundraising efforts tied to a visionary goal which present a special opportunity to engage your organization’s fundraising volunteers. By serving on your campaign committee, fundraising volunteers can share their affinity to your mission by influencing new contributions and garnering increased gifts. Campaigns and endowment campaigns can be a win-win for organizations and volunteers when participants are equipped to collaborate in the launch, progression, and completion of the campaign goal. 

At the same time, development officers and philanthropists may struggle with sustaining motivation and enthusiasm in fundraising volunteers over the course of multi-year campaigns. Here are some suggestions to help your fundraising volunteers enjoy the campaign experience while helping reach the campaign goal:

Seven tips to set your volunteer fundraising committee up for success

1. Recruit with intention. The people on your campaign committee must work well together, be able to influence the campaign outcome, and represent diversity in as many forms as possible. Start by recruiting the campaign chair(s) and focus on your most invested and well-connected donors to join your campaign committee. Take time to meet with each person individually to share the campaign goals and a description of their roles and responsibilities

2. Provide clarity. Even the most experienced fundraising volunteers want to work toward a shared vision and align on a plan of how to achieve it. When people volunteer, they need specific tasks and clear expectations. Review your campaign plan at the first committee meeting. If you are conducting a multi-year campaign, ensure that the plan and timeline is discussed on an annual basis with all of your volunteer committee members. 

Volunteers also need to understand the “why” behind the tasks you assign. For example, if you ask a volunteer to call on a colleague for a large gift, explain how the gift will help reach the campaign vision, how you came up with the solicitation amount, and why you think they are the best volunteer to help make the ask. If donor cultivation is the aim, ask one of your volunteers to set up a meeting with the prospect and explain how that will help to move the relationship forward.

  • Consultant Tip: It is important to actively manage and update your donor data. Use the data you collect to keep your campaign volunteers focused on viable prospects. 

3. Practice and prepare for fundraising. Volunteers may not be comfortable asking for money or cultivating donors. Demystify this task by providing fundraising training for your committee members early in the campaign. Equip your volunteers with the tools to succeed by sharing your case for support and a link to your campaign video (if applicable) and walking through these resources together in advance. To prepare a volunteer for conducting an ask meeting without a development staff partner, I recommend providing them with a personalized cover letter that details the amount of the financial request. However, in most cases, I counsel clients to have a staff member present to ensure all relevant details are conveyed.

  • Consultant Tip: At campaign committee meetings, add a storytelling exercise to the agenda. I always enjoy hearing the personal stories of committee members about how they became involved in the organization or why the organization’s mission is meaningful to them. Discuss how sharing these personal experiences with campaign prospects could be fruitful.

4. Keep it simple. If you have a committee of 20 volunteers, avoid giving each member 20 tasks. Don’t expect volunteers to cull through long lists of prospects who may or may not be aligned with your mission and vision. Instead, aim for quality prospects over quantity of asks. I have found that assigning each volunteer one or two prospects at a time is ideal. Keeping people focused on a small number of set targets can help make fundraising volunteers feel accomplished.

  • Consultant Tip: The best tactic for assigning roles is to identify a task that you can’t accomplish without volunteer help, or a task that is better accomplished by a volunteer. For example, if a volunteer knows the prospect because they serve on a board together, the meeting request is more likely to get a response when the volunteer, as opposed to the CEO or someone else on the staff, asks.

5. Track and meet in person. The purpose of committee meetings is to convene and share progress so that volunteers can hear from–and brainstorm with–each other. The peer accountability that occurs during in-person meetings can motivate and inspire action from your volunteers, while also allowing you to record what each committee member promises to do for the campaign. At CFA, we recommend using moves management to record interactions and plan next steps with campaign prospects. 

  • Consultant Tip: Cultivating major gifts is a long-term effort. Convene your campaign committee every other month to give volunteers ample time to demonstrate progress. 

6. Hold volunteers accountable. Knowing when a volunteer expects to accomplish a task is essential to reaching campaign goals on schedule. This can be the toughest part of volunteer engagement! Establish a timeline as part of your campaign plan. Staff members and/or campaign chairs can follow up with volunteers individually between meetings. If it is obvious that a campaign volunteer is not likely to complete their tasks, work with campaign leadership to rethink the strategy for that volunteer’s assignments. 

7. Keep volunteers motivated. Thank volunteers as often as you can and keep them informed of campaign progress. Celebrate wins along the way and recognize how a volunteer’s action translated into a contribution or a positive move for a future gift. 

Capital and endowment campaigns can be a transformative time in the life of your organization when they are executed well and when your volunteer fundraisers feel ownership and success in reaching goals alongside development professionals and other staff leaders. Contact CFA today to find out how we can set you and your fundraising volunteers up for campaign success. 


Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Success

Joanne Curry is CFA’s Vice President of Client Success focusing on campaign management, prospect development, and membership and annual giving programs. Joanne came to CFA with over 10 years of nonprofit 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, Texas, 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, New York, Joanne holds a BFA in Ballet Performance and Teaching from the University of Utah. 

CFA’s Guide to an Effective Nonprofit Campaign Committee

If your organization is considering a capital, endowment, or capacity building campaign and you are not sure if you can inspire and manage the volunteer manpower necessary to carry out the campaign vision, CFA has assembled the following guide on the purpose and fundamentals of effective nonprofit campaign committee management. Read on for best practices to help harness the power of your team to accomplish your philanthropic goals. 

What is a Nonprofit Campaign Committee? 

A nonprofit campaign committee, also known as a campaign steering committee, is a group of volunteers tasked with fundraising and relationship building for a significant campaign outside of annual fundraising. 

Differences between a Campaign Committee vs. Development Committee

A capital campaign is a fundraising effort for a specific project with a defined timeline, and a campaign committee is the volunteer leadership group tasked with the campaign’s launch, progression, and completion. The campaign committee is often formed from members of a campaign feasibility study committee. Members of a campaign committee are not required to be members of the organization’s board of directors. 

Development is an ongoing fundraising activity conducted by staff and development committee volunteers that includes annual giving and major gifts. A development committee is a function of the board of directors of the organization. 

Purpose of the Campaign Committee

Campaign volunteers bring an external energy and impact perspective to the campaign. Volunteers view the campaign from the community’s lens and are genuinely invested in the campaign’s broader success. By leveraging their personal and business connections, campaign volunteers can open the door to new donors outside of the organization’s core networks and expand the overall reach of the campaign.

Campaign Committee Structure and Membership

Campaign committee members are well-connected donors who are passionate about your organization’s mission and are committed to helping raise dollars for a special effort. Most will have been involved with the organization and have existing relationships with staff and other volunteers. It is important that committee members have experience giving before they ask others for financial support, so they are often some of the most invested donors and volunteers in your organization. A campaign committee also includes staff liaisons, such as the executive director and development director. The number of people on the committee depends on the size and scope of your organization and campaign, but is typically between 10-20 members.

The volunteers who lead the campaign and committee are referred to as the Campaign Chair or Campaign Co-Chairs, and they make key decisions about the campaign and recruit other committee members. Many campaigns also have an Honorary Campaign Chair.

Nonprofit Campaign Committee Member Responsibilities

  • Serve on the committee throughout the campaign (3+ years). 
  • Make a significant gift to the campaign, based on individual capacity.
  • Leverage personal and business connections to recruit campaign support.
  • Engage new and prospective donors by sharing campaign information, hosting small gatherings of friends and business associates or on tours of the nonprofit’s facilities, and introducing prospects to other supporters of the organization.
  • Follow up with donors and prospects to close the gift.
  • Thank donors with phone calls and written correspondence as part of ongoing donor stewardship.

Campaign Committee Engagement

Conducting a campaign provides an opportunity for your organization to engage volunteers in different, deeper facets of the organization. Campaign committee participants have an opportunity to actively mold plans and goals for the organization. There are a number of ways to encourage and inspire your committee members through your campaign:

  • Hold regular full committee meetings (bi-monthly or quarterly) and conduct at least one “one-on-one” meeting between the campaign chair(s), staff, and each committee member.
  • Provide job descriptions for every committee member as well as the campaign chair(s) and honorary chair(s).
  • Plan, manage, and track the work of the committee using a moves management system.
  • Inspire committee members by sharing success stories of who your organization has impacted, how different solicitations unfolded, and examples of staff and volunteer achievements.
  • Share campaign progress updates at committee meetings, over email, and on internal dashboards to keep volunteers engaged and enthusiastic about the goals and progress.

Campaign Committee Best Practices

  • Pause to consider each prospect and where they are in the donor cultivation cycle; don’t rush to make an ask with every prospect simply because you are in campaign mode.
  • Ask each committee member to make a personal “stretch” financial gift to the campaign before they ask others to give. Gifts will vary in size based on each individual’s capacity, but the most important metric is that every committee member makes a gift. When 100% of the committee participates in giving to the effort, it sends a strong message to other potential funders that they are seriously committed to the campaign.

When Outside Expertise Can Help

A campaign consultant is a partner to your staff and committee volunteers who helps set the campaign strategy and provides nonprofit fundraising training on how to cultivate, solicit, and close leadership gifts in a campaign. 

Experienced fundraising consultants can bring fresh perspectives to share with the nonprofit campaign committee as they have seen what works in other campaign fundraising engagements. Consultants can also provide the systems needed to track progress and ensure every campaign committee member is confident in asking others to support the campaign.

If your organization is considering a campaign, contact Creative Fundraising Advisors today to set your team up for success.

Fundraising Moves Management: Inspiring Philanthropy One Donor at a Time

By Anne Spears, Campaign Manager

Development professionals must build personal relationships with people who give to their nonprofit so the donor feels connected to both the mission and the people who carry it out.  Donors rarely give to organizations unless they align with its philanthropic vision or have relationships with board members, staff, or other supporters. Whether they realize it or not, donors move organically through a series of stages as they become more deeply involved with an organization. Development staffers can shepherd and track this progression through a process called “moves management.” 

As fundraisers, we must be comfortable cultivating donors and asking for money regularly if we are going to conduct successful campaigns. Moves management is a tracking tool that allows us to inspire donors to give in a way that is most meaningful to them. 

Why use donor moves management?

Moves management is a system of operations that development staff and nonprofit leaders use to strategically elevate personal engagement with donors. Moves management can be used in annual funds, major gifts, and capital and endowment campaigns. 

When I worked at a small private school in College Station, Texas, I learned why donor engagement has to be personal. It was 2012, and we didn’t have a nonprofit donor database or system for tracking donors, so we set out to create one from scratch. The head of the school and I referenced attendance rosters dating back to 1962 and began reaching out to alumni. During the process, we transferred donor information and touchpoints from a spreadsheet to an electronic database and created a centralized, streamlined system by which we could track engagement of prospective donors. We scheduled meetings and hosted tours of the school. The head of the school did a beautiful job of reengaging former families by getting to know them and learning why they loved the school. Alums were overjoyed to be back on campus and felt reconnected to their school. This fresh engagement, which began with the head of the school’s personal invitations, ultimately deepened alum involvement and the completion of a successful capital campaign.

How to implement a donor moves management system

Effective moves management involves examining donor data, tracking donor engagement, and working with staff and volunteers to plan and implement campaign activities ranging from hosting events to asking for campaign gifts.

When CFA is working with a client in campaign mode, we meet to review every lead donor’s giving history, event attendance, volunteer participation, capacity to give, and more. From there, we can gauge the donor’s engagement with the organization, determine where they fall within moves management, and look for opportunities to bring them closer to contributing. We strategize on every activity, assign tasks to staff and volunteers, and set deadlines. For example, the first step with a prospective campaign donor may be for the executive director to ask them to meet. With each successive “move,” we work side by side with our clients to determine the best next step. Many of our clients report that we keep them accountable because they know we will follow up with them on their progress. 

How to track moves

Tracking moves management can be accomplished with a donor database software or a basic spreadsheet. At CFA, we offer a proprietary campaign moves management dashboard customized for each client based on the organization’s goals. Many organizations are not fully utilizing their database software for moves management, so we also provide donor data strategies and training solutions to maximize clients’ existing tools and resources and help them implement a sustainable moves management system for the long run.

Sample plan

Regardless of your system, it’s important to determine and track several key items: Who is the donor prospect manager? Who is the assigned solicitor who holds the relationship with the prospective donor? How much have they given? Do they volunteer or attend events? How much are the ask amounts? What is the next step? Managing relationships, timing engagements, and tracking deadlines is vital to keeping solicitors on task and donors engaged.

  • Consultant Tip: How you collect, maintain, and track donor engagement informs how you determine where a donor or prospect falls along the moves management path. Tracking engagement is also a way to uncover trends that inform the next best steps to reach your goals. Learn more about tracking donor engagement using data analytics.

Key steps in donor moves management

As a campaign manager, I see my role as the conductor who keeps the train moving forward on the tracks. Moves management is how I know which train is going where and when. Here are the five basic steps I follow:

1. Determine the “why.” Why are you acquiring more donors or seeking to increase the number or dollar amount of gifts? Your answer could be that you are growing the annual fund or raising capital for a new building.

2. Learn more about donors and prospects. Examine your data to determine each prospective donor’s motivation and capacity. If you are planning a campaign, consider conducting a wealth screening of your database.

3. Segment and strategize. Utilize the knowledge from examining your data, combined with the “why” of your campaign, to segment your prospective donors into groups and set goals for each group and each donor or prospect. Goals might be to encourage a segment to become recurring donors, to increase their annual donation, or to consider making a planned gift.  

4. Engage donors and prospects. This is where the assigned solicitor personally engages prospective donors by following their inclinations and the campaign strategy. Our job at CFA is to guide our clients and help them set a strategy to cultivate and solicit personal relationships with leading prospects and donors. If you’ve done your job with cultivation, you’ll know the right time to make the ask and the right people to have in the room. 

5. Track progress and next steps. It is crucial to input gifts in your donor database for historical record keeping and tax purposes, but it is equally important to track moves management and identify which strategies worked for which donor. There is always a next step. Check out CFA’s donor cultivation cycle to learn more.  

Final thoughts

The goal in philanthropy is to help people engage meaningfully with organizations that address the issues they care most about. Every campaign is unique, and every donor has individual interests and levels of dedication to the mission. We can each inspire philanthropy when we give special attention to these nuances and build personal relationships with our donors.  

Contact CFA to see how moves management and donor engagement can improve your fundraising efforts


Anne Spears

Anne Spears, Campaign Manager

An experienced fundraiser with over a decade of experience in education, religious, and social service nonprofit fundraising, Anne is energized and inspired by working side by side with our nonprofit partners as a project manager for fundraising campaigns.

Most recently Anne was the Director of Development at the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas where she oversaw a multitude of fundraising initiatives including capital campaigns for Diocesan camp facilities and 87 Diocesan churches. Previously Anne was the Chief Development Officer for Ascension DePaul Services of San Antonio and the Development Coordinator at St. Thomas Early Learning Center in College Station, Texas. She also worked for the State of Montana as a social services specialist serving indigenous and rural populations.

Anne has a B.S. in Sociology, a M.S. in Family and Child Studies, and a Master of Public Administration. She also is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). Anne lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and three children.

Email Anne

CFA’s Guide to Donor Communications and Outreach

CFA has assembled a guide on donor communications to help you achieve better engagement with one of your organization’s most important audiences: your donors. Below you will find basic concepts and key steps toward implementing donor communications along with best practices to help your organization elevate its fundraising. 

What are Donor Communications?

Donor communications refer to content designed to activate and cultivate connections between your organization’s mission and the people who have the inclination to support it. Donor communications include direct mail appeals, philanthropic news, and social media campaigns and are a consistent component of the fundraising and development function of any nonprofit organization.

Donors deserve gratitude for their contributions to your organization and regular updates to keep them apprised of progress toward mission delivery and the organization’s vision for the future. Prospective donors identified as having an inclination to give require ongoing engagement to increase the likelihood of a donation.

Distinction between Donor and Nonprofit Communications 

Donor communications are an integral part of your overall nonprofit communications strategy. Nonprofit communications and donor communications strategies reinforce each other but are distinct. Nonprofit communications, or nonprofit public relations, are designed to reach and respond to everyone, while donor communications focus on engaging supporters and prospective donors. 

When and Why to Use Donor Communications

Long-lasting donor relationships are the foundation for a nonprofit’s growth, which is why donor communications must focus on engaging donors and reaching prospects. Donor communications are a year-round initiative that is equally critical during times of success, crisis, and business as usual. CFA has found that organizations need to engage with their prospects anywhere from 10-24 times before it is time to ask for a financial commitment. These numbers are a general rule and illustrate the necessity of a comprehensive donor communications strategy. Forbes Nonprofit Council recommends engaging seven times with a donor before making the ask.

Components of a Donor Communications Strategy

The expected outcomes of donor communications include acquisition of new donors, funding for annual and special campaigns, and donor retention. A donor communications strategy is built upon an organization’s fiscal development goals and annual fundraising timeline, and key components of the strategy include data analytics, staffing and expertise, and correlation with the overall brand of the nonprofit. 

Donor Data and Segmentation

To increase donor engagement and retention, nonprofits must understand and appreciate their target audience and personalize their communications approach using donor data strategies. Your organization’s development team can leverage data by segmenting donors into two or more distinct groups based on giving history and donor inclination scores. Segmentation allows for the creation of more tailored communications.

Customer relationship management (CRM), also known as donor management software, is an invaluable tool for managing donor and prospect relationships. A CRM application, or donor management software, can help your development team keep track of where donors and prospects fall within your Donor Cultivation Cycle to determine what type of communication is best to approach them and at what time. 

Staff and Resources

Creating compelling appeals, managing a schedule of donor communications delivery, and designing digital and printed content requires time and expertise. It is important for an organization to plan annual and capital campaign budgets that leverage writers with storytelling expertise, visionary designers, direct mail and digital platforms, and fundraising advisors. 

Coordination with Brand Identity

Brand recognition is important for several reasons, and chief among them is fundraising. When an appeal arrives at a potential donor’s doorstep or email inbox, they will be more likely to read it and contribute if the brand is known to them. Using similar content and graphics across all channels will reinforce the organization’s message and brand identity, which will increase the likelihood of a donor’s commitment.

Four Types of Donor Communications

There are four types of communication that can make up your donor communications strategy to increase donor engagement: 

  1. Acknowledgment – Acknowledgment messages are not only important for providing donors with the appropriate tax information, but also in expressing gratitude. Read more about donor acknowledgment as part of ongoing stewardship here.
  2. Informational – Regular updates are imperative to donor engagement and retention. Examples of informational donor communications include annual reports, newsletters, videos, and emails that highlight donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries and illustrate how philanthropic gifts drive social impact. 
  3. Persuasive/The Appeal – Strong fundraising appeals have a clear ask for support with a specific dollar amount or percentage increase request. Examples include sharing a campaign case for support with prospects in face-to-face meetings, direct mail solicitations with enclosed pledge forms, email messages with links to online donation forms, and social media posts with quick and easy ways to give. Follow-up messages reminding people to give are also an appropriate part of persuasive donor communications.
  4. Feedback – Communications is a two-way street. Organizations must be open to receiving as well as distributing information. Examples include surveys (electronic or hard copy forms), stakeholder interviews (such as those used for strategic planning and feasibility studies), social media engagement, and face-to-face conversations.

Donor Communications Methods

  • Direct Outreach – Face-to-face meetings and video calls are the most effective way to communicate with top donors and prospects, and direct phone calls are a great alternative.
  • Print – Printed materials are impactful and direct mail remains an effective way to raise dollars. Many people enjoy a brochure to hold in their hands and read, especially creatively designed materials that dovetail with digital efforts.
  • Digital – Nonprofits must have a strong website with compelling messaging and a clear call to action to make a donation and all digital communications should lead back to this giving page. Email, digital presentations (such as PowerPoints), social media (such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), and digital tools (text-to-give) are examples of digital channels.
  • Multichannel – Using a multichannel approach that employs more than one donor communications method is proven to have a higher success rate than using a single channel. According to Nonprofits Source, marketing campaigns that used direct mail along with one or more digital media tools experienced a 118% increase in response rate compared to those that only used direct mail. 

Donor Communications Plan and Timeline

Four to six months ahead of a new fiscal year, set out a plan for donor communications that clearly states the timeline, budget, tasks, and staff member responsibilities. Plan steps for each donor segment including a calendar for which segments to approach with which communication method. Your organization’s development and public relations must collaborate to maximize brand identity and audience engagement.

Measuring Donor Communications

Tracking donor engagement will allow you to measure the return on investment of donor communications. Recording gift amounts, event attendance, and volunteer participation, along with measuring open rates, click-through rates, or conversions to gifts, informs how to segment your donor and prospect data and provides insights for the development team to assign “inclination scores” to each donor. Tracking and inclination scores are very useful for determining which types of communication resonate with each donor or prospect and what strategies to implement in future appeals to increase return on investment. 

Donor Communications Best Practices

  • Personalization – Marketers have found that adding personalized elements to communications resonate with donors and result in deeper engagement and higher return on investment. People are more likely to answer a call, letter, or digital communication when it arrives with their name on it and references how their contribution can or has helped your organization deliver on its mission and fundraising goals. In fact, one study found that 92% of marketers also believe that their prospects and customers expect a personalized experience. 
  • Storytelling – People are more likely to read and respond to content that focuses on a single individual who can benefit from their generosity. Deborah Small, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that people are more likely to give to help one individual rather than an overall cause or statistic.
  • Testimonials – Leverage powerful supporters and experts to encourage donors and prospects to follow their lead in supporting the cause. Testimonials from major donors, influencers, politicians, and community leaders are an extra stamp of approval. 

How Outside Expertise Can Help

At CFA, we partner with you and your organization to maximize data and communications strategies and uncover the insights that elevate fundraising. We help create messaging that resonates and reflects the vision for annual, major gifts, and capital campaigns and can walk you through the best ways to pitch your prospects. We also develop case for support materials, website language, digital presentations, and more as part of our clients’ donor communications strategy. 

Contact us today to get started.

Nonprofit Board Training for Fundraising

Serving on a nonprofit board is an honor and can be a rewarding way for people to give back to their communities. Board members have a shared responsibility to ensure the organization is financially stable and maximizes impact. By the same token, nonprofit leaders who provide ongoing board training can equip members with the knowledge and confidence to govern more effectively, participate in fundraising and donor stewardship, and guide the organization to advance its mission. 

Empowering your nonprofit board to fundraise

What kind of skills could you help board members develop to benefit your nonprofit? Increased willingness to ask friends and associates for financial support? More relationship building with prospective and existing donors? Additional fund raising know-how? Strengthening your board and development committee is about empowering them to help your organization be successful, which includes asking fellow community members to support your organization’s mission financially. 

Fundraising training to facilitate board engagement

Even the most seasoned board development committee volunteers can benefit from a refresher in the art of asking for money and  inspiration from your organization’s leadership. Fundraising training on the shared campaign vision, goals, and fundraising tactics ensures everyone is aligned and confident about where the organization is going. Training can also bring together members with varying solicitation experience to discuss best practices. 

The most effective board training content for fundraising

Preparation for a tailored board training is a crucial step. Your facilitator must understand the specific challenges your board perceives about fundraising in advance, what additional support the staff hopes to get from the board, and if your board is aligned on the vision and goals of the campaign you are pursuing.

According to the Ebbinghaus “forgetting curve,” people forget half of what they learn within an hour and 70% of what they learn within a day. An effective board training includes instruction, practice, debriefing, team building, and following up with board members after the training to ask what they learned. The extra step of following up helps board members recall information and also shows them that you are invested in their continued involvement.

Fundraising training is most impactful for board members if they learn fundraising principles and skills, engage in practicing as a group, and debrief in open conversation with one another, your staff, and the facilitator.  Whether you choose to bring in a professional for two hours or two days, it’s important that the training is custom to your organization and your people.

Training for the ask

Many board members are accustomed to selling tickets to events and soliciting small donations, but may be intimidated by capital or endowment campaign scenarios when the ask is for a significant pledge or estate planning gift. Asking for money is not easy for everyone. Remind your board that it is a positive sign if they feel nervous; it shows they care enough about the mission and their community to make the ask. 

Good fundraising facilitators engage a board with conversation on everything from the rationale for conducting a silent phase during a capital campaign to understanding a donor cultivation cycle. Practicing asking for money can help board members overcome emotional reservations and learn how to have difficult conversations. Team building can be especially effective when you have had staff turnover or are preparing for a new significant campaign. Lastly, including specific content in the training presentation such as the campaign’s fundraising case statement allows the overall experience to be more realistic.

When the time is right for board training

When board members or campaign leaders ask for money without proper training, the organization risks doing both the board member and the prospective donor a disservice by potentially hindering the relationship with the prospect. Board training for fundraising can give your board volunteers the confidence and know-how to maximize fundraising and donor stewardship for your organization. 

Reach out to CFA today to help your organization facilitate a board fundraising training.

Using Donor Analytics to Develop Your Donor Engagement Strategy

By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

Gone are the days when nonprofit professionals and board volunteers convened around a table to hypothesize about a prospect’s inclination to give and ranked prospects based on recent giving history. While relationship insights and staff intuition remain important, there is both an art and a science to fundraising. Intuition (the art) combined with donor analytics (the science) will generate the best fundraising results. 

Where to start with donor analytics

If you are like many nonprofit professionals, you know your organization needs help with your donor database, but you may not be quite sure where to start. When I begin working with a new client, I help them define the problem they are trying to solve. Once we understand your challenges, then we can help optimize your data analytics and strategy to increase your return on investment. We often utilize data to prioritize which existing donors to ask for which appeal because it is more cost effective to cultivate people who are already giving to your organization versus acquiring new donors. 

CFA donor analytics can help answer:

  • How can my organization maximize philanthropic investments?
  • How can we optimize our organization’s database infrastructure to support our fundraising goals?
  • Is anyone on my team consistently tracking and recording donor engagement data such as event attendance and volunteer participation? 
  • How inclined are prospects to support our organization, and how does their inclination align with their wealth capacity?
  • Are there untapped pockets of opportunity in our database?
  • Is our organization staffed to properly manage the scale of giving opportunities?

Analyzing data to determine a donor’s inclination to give

Inclination analysis is a way to predict which prospects have the potential to move from having capacity to give to being likely to give with the right outreach, cultivation, and engagement. We use donor inclination scores to illustrate how willing and interested the people in your database are to give to your organization based on their past behavior. We develop the scores based on a customized, data-driven points model and project the potential size of gifts by combining this information with a wealth screening of your database. 

Here are examples of prospect prioritization used to prepare for a sample capital campaign.

The shaded boxes represent 176 prospects from a sample core prospect list with the greatest campaign potential. The blue section represents prospects for six-figure gifts. In this example, the “cold” and “very cold” prospects will need additional cultivation to determine if they are viable prospects for a major campaign, while the “warm” to “very hot” are more likely to be ready to make a commitment soon.

The range for these projections comes from the low and high range of the wealth capacity score, using a 5-year pledge commitment.

Most organizations discover through an inclination analysis that, on average, 75% to 90% of their donor database falls in the “cold” category. These may be lapsed or infrequent donors, but they are in your database for a reason. Many nonprofits solicit the same people again and again or buy data in pursuit of new donors instead of cultivating the “cold” prospects. Greater opportunity to move prospects from “cold” to “warm” exists when you increase engagement through strategic cultivation and donor communications. 

Check out our Donor Communications Guide to learn how changing or increasing your donor communications tactics can increase your return on investment.

Most development professionals rely on a “moves management” system to track cultivation of prospects along a continuum of giving. One person might be a past donor at risk of disengagement while another has steadily increased their giving over time. At CFA, we call this system the Donor Cultivation Cycle, and data analytics plays a key role in determining where your prospects lie within the cycle. Today’s technology tools bring increased accuracy to data analytics and can help you track when you have engaged with a prospect. 

  • Consultant Tip: Have one person on staff assigned as data manager or prospect manager. This role is especially crucial during any campaign outside of your regular annual giving effort. Ensure that this person is trained in the concept of moves management and how to maximize database tools.

Good tracking is key

How you collect, maintain, and track donor engagement informs how you determine and refine a donor’s inclination score. Tracking donor engagement is also a way to uncover trends that inform the next best steps to reach your goals. Tracking does not have to be cumbersome, and it must be done year-round. 

Many software applications will allow you to tag database records to enable you to match individuals with gifts and appeals. This is a great way to build new insights about your donors. For example, if you know that Donor A gave $100 through a text-to-give initiative but has never responded to direct mail solicitations, or that Donor B pledged $1,000 to a major gifts campaign at an event, and Donor C made a $25 contribution online from a postcard mailer QR code, then you can use this information to customize your outreach strategy and increase response rates.

  • Consultant Tip: If you are not sure which message will best resonate with a segment of your donors or prospects, start with an “A/B test”: send out two versions of a message — one that is heartwarming and one that is transactional — and track which gets a better response from which people. This can help you tailor future messaging.

When donor analytics is right for you

Taking a deeper dive into data analytics and donor inclination can be done anytime your organization is raising annual dollars and cultivating donors for special projects and future campaigns. For a capital campaign, I recommend analyzing your database and prioritizing prospects at least three to six months before you expect to launch a campaign.

CFA donor analytics helps shape fundraising strategy by harnessing the nuances of donor inclination, database training, and wealth screening, which can optimize moves management, cultivation steps, and best practices to increase donor engagement. 

Reach out today to see how CFA can help you harness data analytics in your fundraising strategy.


Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

Stephanie has over 10 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 has a passion for helping others understand, apply, and integrate CliftonStrengths results into their lives and work.

Email Stephanie

Optimizing Multichannel Fundraising

By Rob Ruchotzke, Senior Consultant

Years ago, I sent an email solicitation to thousands of college alums as part of a multichannel fundraising campaign in which every person’s salutation read “Dear [first name].” That email merge mistake was embarrassing, and it was a direct result of me trying to single handedly manage all donor communication. Since then, I have been a proponent of bringing a team approach to multichannel fundraising, and believe that leaning on fundraising, communication, database, and digital experts, as well as your colleagues, provides an extra measure of success.

Multichannel campaigns use more than one communications tool for donor outreach and fundraising. Direct mail, email, social media (such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), and digital tools (such as text-to-give) are all channels used in donor communications. 

Coordinating fundraising and other donor communications across multiple channels is proven to have a higher success rate than using a single channel. According to Nonprofits Source, marketing campaigns that used direct mail along with one or more digital media tools experienced a 118% increase in response rate compared to those that only used direct mail. 

A 2020 study found that multichannel donors give as much as three times more than single channel donors, and are more likely to keep giving year after year.

Whether you are new to multichannel fundraising or expanding from three channels to five, there are a few key ideas to keep in mind. 

How to begin multichannel fundraising

Tailor your message

Your case for support must be tailored to your brand, campaign, and, most importantly, your audience. Using similar content and graphics across all your channels will reinforce your message and brand identity. Start by creating a long form message for your printed solicitation letter, then pare it down for an email version, pull out human impact stories to highlight in a video script, and emphasize one or two sound bytes with relevant hashtags for social media. Anchor each communication within your multichannel appeal to your giving page. Don’t let the donor get distracted by linking to social media pages; instead, make it easy for people to land in one consistent place with a prominent “give” button.

  • Consultant Tip: A key tactic to help drive donor engagement is to personalize correspondence to show your constituents you know them. You’ll also want to tailor several versions of your solicitation note to distinct types of supporters: leading donors should receive a different message than someone who has never donated before.

Choose channels wisely 

It is crucial for nonprofits to adapt and learn how and when to best communicate with dedicated supporters; it would not be advisable, for example, to invest time and resources into Facebook if it is not where your stakeholders read about you. Determine what options are available to your organization and are realistic for you to implement. While text messaging services or digital ads might seem intimidating, their implementation is straightforward, they are relatively cost effective, and they have proven success especially with younger audiences. 

  • Consultant Tip: Educate your donors on the channels you offer so they are comfortable with the different approaches to giving. For example, try emailing and snail-mailing an instructional segment about a text-to-give option or include it as a story-telling video on YouTube. Whichever channels you choose to communicate, be ready to respond to comments and questions, such as those that come via social media, in a timely way.

Here are samples from a personalized multichannel fundraising campaign for the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota. The museum combined a direct mailing with social media and email to amplify their messaging.

Test first and analyze along the way

How you test to ensure you are ready to launch a multichannel fundraising campaign depends on the capabilities of your data and communications platforms. Send out test emails, texts, and other communications through each channel so you can be confident in your approach. Testing adds an extra day or two to get a representative sample and receive feedback or edit, but it is well worth it (and you won’t send out a letter with incorrect merge fields in the salutation like I did!) 

Evaluation during and after a multichannel fundraising campaign is equally important. Schedule dedicated time with your team to review and analyze your multichannel results and adjust your course as you discover new data. It is imperative to determine which channels are the most effective and how you can improve communications and outreach in the next campaign. 

  • Consultant Tip: Evaluation of donor data for each multichannel effort is important to determine what channels are most successful, if there are new donor segments emerging, and who needs additional personalized attention, such as a phone call or meeting.

Increase engagement with multichannel fundraising

Your donors are passionate about what you do, and you want them to continue to feel connected to your mission through donor stewardship. When you provide a seamless journey for them to connect with you in various ways and more often, you are increasing engagement. Engaged donors are more likely to volunteer, attend events, and tell friends about your work. 

  • Consultant Tip: The practice of employing multiple platforms is not only for your primary annual campaign. Take advantage of multichannel donor communications across all the phases of the donor cultivation cycle.

Multichannel Fundraising with CFA

At CFA, we can help you reach your audience strategically and transform your fundraising results. A development assessment is a great resource to help identify your unique donor communications opportunities, and partners like CFA can help you with a strategy for using multichannel fundraising as part of campaign counsel.

Contact us today to learn how we can partner with you.


Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Senior 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 multichannel 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.

Email Rob

Crowdfunding Campaigns for Nonprofits: Giving Tuesday and Beyond

By Rob Ruchotzke, Senior 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, Senior 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.

Email Rob

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, Head of Consulting & Principal, Midwest

Jake is a highly experienced fundraising and consulting professional with over 15 years of combined experience in the industry. He began his successful career in major gifts at higher education institutions and has since provided counsel to over 30 clients at CFA, where he currently serves as Principal.

In this role, Jake leads major projects across the United States, including campaign readiness and feasibility studies, campaign planning and counsel, and development assessments. He takes a holistic approach to fundraising, considering organizational health from all perspectives and applying a mix of soft skills and data-driven decision-making to each unique situation.

A native of Perham, Minnesota, Jake 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.

Email Jake

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

By Joanne Curry, Head of Client Succcess and Principal

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.


CONTACT CFA

Looking for guidance with your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy? Contact CFA today.


Joanne Curry, Head of Client Success and Principal

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.


Email Joanne

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

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 databasesUsing Donor Analytics.
  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. Capital Campaign Budget.
  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

By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

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.

Reach out today to learn how Creative Fundraising Advisors can assist with your fundraising data strategy.


Stephanie Brouwer
Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

Stephanie has over 10 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.

Campaign Feasibility Study: What to Expect

By Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting & Principal, Midwest

Is your organization considering a major fundraising effort and wondering if a campaign feasibility study will be a good first step? A 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 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 Campaign Readiness and Feasibility Study Process

  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. 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 about the Dodge Nature Center campaign success story


Contact Us

CFA’s rigorous campaign readiness and feasibility study process can help you find the right path to secure your organization’s future and have a deeper impact. If you are interested in learning more about our services, contact CFA today.


Jake Muszynski

Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting & Principal, Midwest

Jake is a highly experienced fundraising and consulting professional with over 15 years of combined experience in the industry. He began his successful career in major gifts at higher education institutions and has since provided counsel to over 30 clients at CFA, where he currently serves as Principal.

In this role, Jake leads major projects across the United States, including campaign readiness and feasibility studies, campaign planning and counsel, and development assessments. He takes a holistic approach to fundraising, considering organizational health from all perspectives and applying a mix of soft skills and data-driven decision-making to each unique situation.

A native of Perham, Minnesota, Jake 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.

Email Jake

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.”