Donor Cultivation & Stewardship: Key Steps in the Donor Cycle

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

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

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

Donor Cultivation Strategies

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

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

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

Stewardship Strategies

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

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

Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Case Study

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

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

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

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

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

Jake Muszynski, Principal

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

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

Rob Ruchotzke Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Consultant

August 15, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Activate Your Strategic Plan for Fundraising Success

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

Benefits of Strategic Plans to Fundraising

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

What the Expert Says: Q&A with Kathy Graves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Check out these sample nonprofit strategic plans:

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

Liz Jellema

Liz Jellema

Chief Operating Officer, CFA

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

Kathy Graves

Kathy Graves

Partner, Parenteau Graves

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

Fundraising Strategies for Nonprofits During Times of Economic Uncertainty

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

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

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

Nonprofit problems and solutions

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

1. Be flexible

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

2. Plan by following the Major Gift Cycle

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

3. Develop your Case for Support

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

4. Engage in Donor Stewardship

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

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

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

Joanne Curry Vice President CFA

Joanne Curry

Vice President of Client Services

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

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. 

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

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

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

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

Where Do I Start with Donor Data Services? 

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

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

donor data affinity analysis graphic


What is Data Hygiene? 

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

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

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

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

Who Handles the Database?

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

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

donor data quote quote graphic

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

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

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

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

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

Take One Step at a Time

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

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

Stephanie Brouwer, Data and Research Manager

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

Capital Campaign Feasibility Study: What to Expect

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

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

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

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

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

Readiness and Feasibility Go Hand in Hand

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

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

Our Capital Campaign Feasibility Study and Readiness Steps

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

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

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

Jake Muszynski, Vice President at Creative Fundraising Advisors

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

We are Hiring! Apply to Join CFA’s Team

Job Postings (click to navigate):


Administrative Associate


Full-time, FLSA exempt


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


Operations and Business Manager


Full-time, FLSA exempt


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


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


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


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


Operations Management:

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

Financial Administration:

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


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

Liz Jellema Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Chief Operating Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening and Creativity Are Key To Successful Corporate Collaborations 

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

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

CFA: First things first, what are corporate partnerships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where should organizations start with this effort?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some activities you can keep track of:

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

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

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

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

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

What if a corporation says no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the base authentically

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

Recognizing planned gifts in real-time

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

Aligning philanthropy with values of the museum

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

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

Raising money outside the box

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

Lessons learned

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

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

To learn more, visit

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

Rehana Abbas Oakland Museum of California

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

Webinar Insights from Sharing Power: The Challenge of Board Diversity

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

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

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

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

Board Diversity Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson: “They can benefit from each other.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson: How do we break the pattern of complicity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Will We Carry Forward?

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

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

Digital Engagement and Presentation

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

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

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

National Discussions

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

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

Feasibility Studies

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

National Talent with a Click

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

Digital Memberships

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Paul Johnson  Creative Fundraising Advisors

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

Highlights from our Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar

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

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

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


Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for Building Diverse Fundraising Teams

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

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

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

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

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


Supporting Professionals of Color in Philanthropy

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

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

Being Willing to Stay in the Game

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

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

Planned giving in a pandemic

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Paul Johnson
Creative Fundraising Advisors

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

Theresa Gienapp
Macalester College

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

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]

Wise Strategic Planning Drives Impact and Resilience

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

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

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

The Strategic Planning Process Is Vital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Plans and Fundraising

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

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

Future Proofing The Strategic Plan: Scenario Planning

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

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

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

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

Kathy Graves Parenteau Graves

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

Paul Johnson Creative Fundraising Advisors

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