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. 

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

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. 

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?

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.

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

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. 

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Check out these sample nonprofit strategic plans:

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

Liz Jellema

Liz Jellema

Chief Operating Officer, CFA

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

Kathy Graves

Kathy Graves

Partner, Parenteau Graves

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

Fundraising Strategies for Nonprofits During Times of Economic Uncertainty

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

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

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

Nonprofit problems and solutions

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

1. Be flexible

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

2. Plan by following the Major Gift Cycle

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

3. Develop your Case for Support

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

4. Engage in Donor Stewardship

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

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

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

Joanne Curry Vice President CFA

Joanne Curry

Vice President of Client Services

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

Jake Muszynski Promoted to Principal

Jake Muszynski Principal CFA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for Success: Capital Campaign Budget

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

campaign budget planning creative fundraising advisors

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

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

How much capital campaign operations cost

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

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

Be prepared to tell prospects

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

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

What to include in a capital campaign budget

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

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

To hire or not to hire more staff

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

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

Capital Campaign budget practices to avoid

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

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

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

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

Creative Fundraising Advisors’ Capital Campaign Planning Guide

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

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

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

What is a Capital Campaign?

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

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

Types and Benefits of Capital Campaigns

There are three main types of capital campaigns.

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

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

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

Capital Campaign Benefits

There are many benefits to capital campaigns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Nonprofits That Conduct Capital Campaigns

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

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

capital campaign planning 2020 contributions chart by recipient

Capital Campaign Phases

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

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

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

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

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

Necessary Components of Launching a Capital Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

Hiring a Fundraising Advisor for your Capital Campaign 

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

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

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

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

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

Capital Campaign Checklist

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

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

Capital Campaign Best Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for your next Capital Campaign?

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do I Start with Donor Data Services? 

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

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


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. 

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

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

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

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

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

Take One Step at a Time

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

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

Stephanie Brouwer, Data and Research Manager

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

Capital Campaign Feasibility Study: What to Expect

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

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

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

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

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

Readiness and Feasibility Go Hand in Hand

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

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

Our Capital Campaign Feasibility Study and Readiness Steps

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

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

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

Jake Muszynski, Vice President at Creative Fundraising Advisors

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

What Will We Carry Forward?

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

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

Digital Engagement and Presentation

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

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

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

National Discussions

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

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

Feasibility Studies

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

National Talent with a Click

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

Digital Memberships

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Paul Johnson  Creative Fundraising Advisors

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

Cultivating Major Gifts in Challenging Times

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

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

Should we ask for major gifts during a pandemic?

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

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

Client Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jake Muszynski Creative Fundraising Advisors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Commitment to Impacting Change

To our friends and colleagues, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Creative Fundraising Advisors Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Your Next Major Gift is a Well-Stewarded One

Never-Miss Fundraising Steps to Donor Fulfillment

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

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

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

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

Follow Your Heart but Use Your Head

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

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

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

The gift is the beginning. Not the end.

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

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

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