A Closer Look at the Campaign Quiet Phase

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

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


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

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

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

Campaign Quiet Phase Gifts Table

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

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

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

“Giving Inspires Giving”

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

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

Hybrid Quiet Phases

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

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

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


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

Anne Spears, Campaign Manager

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

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

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

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

Email Anne

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

November 20, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annual Giving: A Fresh Perspective on Year-End Appeals

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

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

Reframe Urgency as Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Factors that Drive Increased Annual Giving

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

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

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

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

Keep It Simple

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

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

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

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


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

Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multichannel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold). A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Email Rob

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

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

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

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

Millennials’ Increasing Philanthropic Presence and Potential

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

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

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

Engaging Younger Donors in Planned Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

September 12, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA)

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

Nathan Urbach to Join Creative Fundraising Advisors as Managing Director

September 7, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Investing in Fundraising Staff Pays Off

By Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting and PrincipalMidwest

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

The Case for Fundraising Professionals

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

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

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

Q&A with Jake Muszynski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Us

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

Jake Muszynski

Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting and PrincipalMidwest

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

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

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

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In Conversation with CFA: Exploring Nonprofit Endowments

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

Exploring Nonprofit Endowments:
Key Takeaways

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

Learn More

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

View recording

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

Nonprofit Networking: How to Leverage Your Board for Fundraising Success

By Katrina Woodcox, Senior Consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katrina Woodcox, Senior Consultant

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

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

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

Fundamental Questions to Build a Compelling Case for Your Endowment Campaign

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

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

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

  1. What is our objective for starting an endowment? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improve Donor Retention with Data

By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager of Prospect Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Brouwer

Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager of Prospect Development

Stephanie Brouwer has over 10 years of experience in prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics at both higher education and nonprofit organizations. At CFA, Stephanie’s responsibilities include establishing strategy, procedures, and processes for prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics. Stephanie is Blackbaud-certified in Raiser’s Edge NXT and Raiser’s Edge and has a master’s degree in library science. Additionally, Stephanie is a Gallup-certified Strengths coach and has a passion for helping others understand, apply, and integrate CliftonStrengths results into their lives and work.

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In Conversation with CFA: Inside Today’s Donor Mindset

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

Takeaways to Address Today’s Fundraising Trends

  1. Mind the Millennials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn More

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

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

Developing Leadership Annual Giving to Drive Fundraising Success

By Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

What is Leadership Annual Giving?

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

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

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

Leadership Annual Giving Tactics to Raise More Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multichannel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold). A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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

By Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Success

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

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

Seven tips to set your volunteer fundraising committee up for success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Success

Joanne Curry is CFA’s Vice President of Client Success focusing on campaign management, prospect development, and membership and annual giving programs. Joanne came to CFA with over 10 years of nonprofit experience in operations management, development, and accounting. Before joining CFA, Joanne served as Head of Revenue and Interim Head of Development at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, managed fundraising operations and communications with Missouri Contemporary Ballet and Owen/Cox Dance Group and worked with nonprofits as a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor Accountant with Support Kansas City. A native of Port Jefferson, New York, Joanne holds a BFA in Ballet Performance and Teaching from the University of Utah. 

CFA’s Guide to an Effective Nonprofit Campaign Committee

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

What is a Nonprofit Campaign Committee? 

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

Differences between a Campaign Committee vs. Development Committee

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

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

Purpose of the Campaign Committee

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

Campaign Committee Structure and Membership

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

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

Nonprofit Campaign Committee Member Responsibilities

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

Campaign Committee Engagement

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

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

Campaign Committee Best Practices

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

When Outside Expertise Can Help

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

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

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

Nonprofit Board Training for Fundraising

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

Empowering your nonprofit board to fundraise

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

Fundraising training to facilitate board engagement

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

The most effective board training content for fundraising

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

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

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

Training for the ask

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

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

When the time is right for board training

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

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

Using Donor Analytics to Develop Your Donor Engagement Strategy

By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

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

Where to start with donor analytics

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

CFA donor analytics can help answer:

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

Analyzing data to determine a donor’s inclination to give

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good tracking is key

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

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

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

When donor analytics is right for you

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

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

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

Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

Stephanie has over 10 years of experience in prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics at both higher education and nonprofit organizations. At CFA, Stephanie’s responsibilities include establishing strategy, procedures, and processes for prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics. Stephanie is Blackbaud-certified in Raiser’s Edge NXT and Raiser’s Edge and has a master’s degree in library science. Additionally, Stephanie is a Gallup-certified Strengths coach and has a passion for helping others understand, apply, and integrate CliftonStrengths results into their lives and work.

Email Stephanie

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, Jake 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. Jake also has led more than a dozen clients through CFA’s campaign feasibility study process, testing over $150 million in potential campaigns. 

Jake 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, he holds a BA 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

By Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Succcess

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 CFA today.

Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Success

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

Email Joanne

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

By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

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

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

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

Where Do I Start with Donor Data Services? 

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

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

donor data affinity analysis graphic


What is Data Hygiene? 

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

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

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

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

Who Handles the Database?

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

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

donor data quote quote graphic

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

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

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

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

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

Take One Step at a Time

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

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

Stephanie Brouwer
Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development

Stephanie has over 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.

Campaign Feasibility Study: What to Expect

By Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting & Principal, Midwest

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

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

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

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

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

Readiness and Feasibility Go Hand in Hand

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

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

Our Campaign Readiness and Feasibility Study Process

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

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

Contact Us

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

Jake Muszynski

Jake Muszynski, Head of Consulting & Principal, Midwest

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

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

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

Email Jake

Liz Jellema Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Chief Operating Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening and Creativity Are Key To Successful Corporate Collaborations 

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

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

CFA: First things first, what are corporate partnerships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where should organizations start with this effort?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some activities you can keep track of:

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

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

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

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

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

What if a corporation says no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the base authentically

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

Recognizing planned gifts in real-time

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

Aligning philanthropy with values of the museum

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

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

Raising money outside the box

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

Lessons learned

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

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

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

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

Rehana Abbas Oakland Museum of California

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

Webinar Insights from Sharing Power: The Challenge of Board Diversity

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

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

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

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

Board Diversity Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson: “They can benefit from each other.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson: How do we break the pattern of complicity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons From the Pandemic: 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.

Discussing Diverse Talent: Highlights for CFA’s 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.

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]