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248 posts categorized "Fundraising"

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2015)

October 02, 2015

Although PhilanTopic was on vacation for a couple of weeks, our readers found lots to chew on, content-wise, in September, including new posts by Derrick Feldmann and Claire Axelrad, infographics from Bloomerang and the ALS Association, a timely post by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, and perennially popular posts by nonprofit executive director Susan Danish and fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. As for us? We'll always have Paris....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that warmed your baguette? Feel free to it share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Four Key Indicators of Nonprofit Success

September 25, 2015

Headshot_richard_brewsterPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in September 2014. Enjoy.

Have you ever "ghost dialed" someone? You know, when the phone in your purse or pocket accidentally dials a number? Well, that recently happened to me with a board member of a human services nonprofit. We were surprised to be talking to each other but continued. The organization was well known in its community and had been successful, but our conversation ended up being pretty depressing: the nonprofit was in the process of shutting down.

I did some research and discovered that the organization's budget grew from $5 million to $10 million in just five years. Then a crisis came, they lost a major source of revenue, and there followed a painful five-year decline.

Why did this happen? A little more research and some reflection on others' experience suggests that four key conditions need to be met in order to survive a crisis like the loss of a major funder:

1. Sustainability isn't just about dollars. A nonprofit's programs need to be relevant today, not for situations or problems that are five or ten years in the past. The human services group above offered only housing, even as other agencies in the area began to provide services such as day care to low-income people, enabling them to keep their jobs (and pay the rent).

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The Future of Fundraising Is Peer-to-Peer

September 24, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in January 2015. Enjoy.

When I was leading fundraising efforts at a national nonprofit, the focus of everything I did was the individual donor. From coming up with new ways to get donors to give to creating messaging that resonated with their interests, I spent pretty much every minute of every day thinking about how I could gain donors' trust and confidence and persuade them to support our organization.

After a while, I realized our donors had value beyond what they gave (in money or time), that in fact we could use them to introduce us to people who weren't supporting us – although I never would have asked a donor to physically make an ask on our behalf.

A few years have passed, and my thoughts on this score have changed. That has a lot to do with the emergence of social networking and peer-to-peer (P2P) models.

You can see this in our industry, which over the last three years has moved quickly to embrace peer-to-peer fundraising. I know: many nonprofit professionals argue that online giving is the hot thing in the fundraising space. It seems to me, however, that the rapid growth of online giving owes much to the emergence of peer-to-peer tools and platforms that make it easy to find and give to causes or individuals who may be many degrees of separation removed from us.

How has this changed the job of the professional fundraiser? In the past, fundraising was an activity based in part on the willingness of fundraisers to ask for support from friends, family, and deep-pocketed individuals with whom they had a personal connection. Today, in contrast, the professional fundraiser has at his or her disposal a range of options, from social media and dedicated websites to personalized giving pages and text messaging services, that enable him or her to reach many more people, in many more locations, than was possible before.

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7 Ways to Make Your Year-End Fundraising Really Count

September 14, 2015

Get_Ready_Year_EndIt's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's when a majority of people are inspired (or habituated) to think about giving. Not a time your nonprofit wants to miss out on.

If you want to leverage people's feelings of generosity during the holiday season, you need to start planning now. If you've already begun (yay!), you need to make sure you're not missing any tricks that could help you raise more money.

Your year-end appeal is a terrible thing to waste

Sadly, I see wasted efforts at every turn, efforts that simply do not compel a response — or certainly not a generous one. A few of the more common missteps include:

  • Letters in envelopes no one in their right mind would open.
  • Wonderful letters sent to the wrong mailing list.
  • Letters without a specific ask.
  • Letters with no call to action.
  • Letters with no personalization.
  • E-appeals that strain the eye.
  • Donation pages that would take a degree in physics to complete.
  • Donation pages that convey zero emotion.
  • One-shot efforts that make no effort to remind folks of their noble impulses.
  • Appeals that lack urgency.
  • Thank you's that lack graciousness, or even manners.

Update your year-end fundraising to make it really count

Here are seven questions you may want to consider:

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 12-13, 2015)

September 13, 2015

Back-to-schoolOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Former Seattle mayor Michael McGinn and the environmental group 350 Seattle has launched a campaign to get the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charitable and funder of medical research, to completely divest itself of its investments in fossil fuels. The Guardian reports.

Over the last twenty-five years, the world has lost forested areas equal to South Africa. The good news, writes Chris Mooney in the Washington Post, is that the rate of deforestation appears to be slowing.


Still trying to figure out this nonprofit marketing thing? On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington explains the basics.

Guest blogging on Kivil Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Laurel Dykema of Mission India shares five "don'ts" for nonprofit writers.


Is entrepreneurship in America becoming the province of the wealthy? Gillian B. White, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, reports.


Markets for Good has a nice crowdfunding-focused Q&A with Alison Carlman, senior manager of marketing and communications at GlobalGiving.

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[Infographic] Major Gift Fundraising - By the Numbers

September 12, 2015

With a hat tip to Tony Martignetti, this week's infographic from Bloomerang, the donor management software vendor, is full of interesting stats and advice re that elusive but much-sought-after fundraising prize: the major gift. Based on data from a Bloomerang survey of more than seven hundred nonprofits and conversations with major gift fundraisers, it should be of special interest to mid-size organizations that have never actively solicited a major gift but are ready to add the category to their development portfolio.

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[Infographic] Your 'Ice Bucket' Dollars at Work

September 05, 2015

Although it couldn't have predicted it, the ALS Association struck gold when it introduced the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last summer. And, as we reported a week or so ago, scientists are crediting the funds raised through the campaign — more than $115 million in the U.S. and an estimated $220 million globally — with supporting a major breakthrough in the search for a treatment for the always-fatal disease. The infographic below breaks down how the dollars raised through last year's the challenge have been used.

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3 Things to Know About Donor Behavior

September 02, 2015

Donor_brainWhen I first got into fundraising, I executed campaigns without worrying too much about donors or spending a lot of time thinking about why or how they responded to particular strategies or appeals.

Eventually, I realized that if development professionals really want to make a difference in their organization's ability to raise money, they not only need to think about their donors, they need to understand how the donor brain works. Let's face it: the brain is an economic weighing machine that makes hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunity-cost calculations a day. Rather than choosing the most difficult thing, it tends to nudge us down the path of least resistance.

What does that mean for the fundraising professional? It's simple. Donors are drawn to actions that, psychologically speaking, are low cost but yield a satisfying result. We need to build that recognition into our appeals and the way we communicate about our organizations.

The 'Me-Too' Effect

Imagine walking into a museum and at the entrance coming across three buckets. Bucket #1 has a sign asking you to donate the change in your pocket. You notice the bucket is almost full of coins. Bucket #2 has a sign asking you to donate $5 and is maybe half full of one- and five-dollar bills. The last bucket, bucket #3, has a sign asking you to donate $50 and has a few bills crumpled at the bottom.

Which approach is likely to raise the most money?

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2015)

August 01, 2015

It was a typically hot and muggy July in most places, but here at PhilanTopic it was an especially cool month, with new posts from Sarah Gunther and Diana Samarasan related to the release of an updated Foundation Center report on funding for global human rights, three posts full of great fundraising and governance advice for nonprofit leaders, a new Q&A with Jean Case, and the latest installment in Matt Schwartz' Cause-Driven Design series topping the list of the most popular posts on the blog. What, you were on vacation? Don't sweat it. Here's your chance to catch up....

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Tell People What You Believe In

July 24, 2015

Share_your_passionHow often does this happen?

You're at a gathering and someone asks you what you do. As soon as you say you work for a nonprofit, the next question is, "What does your nonprofit do?"

This is the point where most nonprofit professionals recite their organization's mission statement. Tailored to the person you're talking to, your response probably sounds something like:

"We educate and empower people who lack resources and opportunities…."


"We provide basic services to those in need…."

While that kind of generic description might be totally appropriate when you're making small talk, it probably doesn't convey the passion you actually feel for your organization and cause. And it should never find its way into your solicitations.

I know, it's only July. But the end-of-year fundraising season is just around the corner, and I'm already looking forward to the many direct mail pieces I expect to receive listing the reasons why I should give to this cause or that. But while almost all those letters will tell me what the organization does, only a handful will tell me what the organization stands for.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 18-July 19, 2015)

July 19, 2015

Old-slip-watermarkedOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


On the Bloomberg Business site, Alex Nussbaum reports that a new study released by the Analysis Group, a Boston-based consulting company, found that a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide generated $1.3 billion in benefits for nine U.S. states, created more than 14,000 new jobs in the Northeast, and saved consumers $460 million on their electric bills over the past three years.


No Child Left Behind, the education policy overhaul introduced by George W. Bush in 2000, has more critics than supporters. But no one in Congress knows how to fix it. Mother Jones' Allie Gross reports.


The economy is recovering (slowly), but your fundraising results remain stuck in second gear. Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks shares some thoughts on what organizations do — and don't do — to create their own fundraising recessions.

Higher Education

Should public university-affiliated private foundations be subject to state public-records laws? Of course they should, write Jonathan Peters and Jackie Spinner in the Columbia Journalism Review.In fact, courts "should cut through any artifice and conclude that a university-affiliated foundation that exists for the purpose of serving the university and performing public functions is an arm of the state and accountable to its citizens....[And] foundations should view those laws as a floor rather than a ceiling, making it a policy to release more than simply the minimum required by law.... "

International Development

The United Nations will commit to new Sustainable Development Goals in September. In advance of the launch of the SDGs, the folks at the Global Partnership for Education have put together a nice post explaining how education is essential to the success of every one of the seventeen goals.


What do Bill and Melinda Gates talk about in the privacy of their home? New York Times columnist Nick Kristof asked them. And on LinkedIn, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan explains what Bill and Melinda — and other modern philanthropists — do better than their distinguished predecessors in the field.

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How to Solve the Puzzle of Millennial Engagement

July 13, 2015

RubikCube02bFor most people, myself included, trying to solve a Rubik's Cube is laughably impossible. Sure, I can get a few of the colors to line up here or there, but that's about as far as I get.

But here's the thing: Rubik's Cubes are most definitely not impossible to solve. In fact, some people are freakishly good at them. So why can’t I solve them?

Simple: I don't know the tricks. I keep trying to solve them the same way I solve more traditional puzzles instead of recognizing that they're a different beast altogether.

The same holds true for solving the puzzle of millennial engagement. Organizations continue to try to engage millennials by sticking to the same old strategies they've used for fifty years — and then putting it on a Facebook page. But here's the thing: millennial engagement is a different beast altogether — and it's not limited to how technologically savvy you or your organization are or are willing to be.

Whether solving a Rubik's Cube or developing a millennial engagement strategy, each requires the recognition that you're dealing with a new kind of puzzle with its own quirks and tricks. So, what are the tricks for how to solve the millennial engagement puzzle?

At Third Plateau, we spend a lot of our time uncovering these tricks. I'll share three of the most important, which can apply to millennial employees, volunteers, and donors.

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Seven Charitable Foundation Rules: Myth and Reality

July 10, 2015

Myth-vs-FactFederal statutes and regulations that apply to charitable foundations are complex and frequently misunderstood. To add to the confusion, they often are counterintuitive. Here are just a few examples of rules governing foundation grantmaking that I, on numerous occasions, have found to be misconstrued or misunderstood:

Myth No. 1: Foundations are only permitted to support 501(c)(3) organizations.

Reality: As long as foundations comply with certain legal requirements, they are permitted to make grants for charitable purposes to a range of organizations and entities. For example, if the foundation undertakes a preliminary inquiry, both the grantor and the grantee commit in writing to comply with reporting requirements, and the prospective grant recipient commits in writing that the funds will be expended for charitable purposes, the foundation can legally make grants for charitable purposes to government agencies and even for-profit corporations.

Myth No. 2: Foundations are not permitted to support the development, publication, or distribution of materials that comment on positions taken by candidates in election campaigns or on positive or negative features of pending legislation.

Reality: Foundations are permitted to provide financial support to organizations for the preparation of voter information guides and educational materials about proposed legislation and other issues of public interest. Voter information guides must refer to each candidate's views on a cross-section of issues and include a fair and unbiased analysis of other positions. Educational materials supported by foundation dollars must present all sides of the issue in question and be sufficiently balanced to enable readers or listeners to form their own opinions. Foundations are not permitted to reveal their own positions or preferences with respect to an issue in such materials.

Myth No. 3: Foundations are required to receive and retain a grantee organization's written acknowledgement for any gift in excess of $250.

Reality: The $250 written acknowledgment rule applies to payers of income tax such as individuals and for-profit corporations, but not to foundations — which are exempt from income taxes. So long as a foundation retains proof of the support it has given to a grantee organization (such as a canceled check), it need not seek or retain that grantee organization's written acknowledgment of a gift.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 4-5, 2015)

July 05, 2015

Grateful-dead-50th-anniversary-logo-stickerOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Engagement

"Indicators of America’s flagging democratic engagement abound," writes Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, in an op-ed on the Fox News site. And a key reason, says Merisotis, is that America is "losing its edge when it comes to talent – the knowledge, skills and values that lead to success in our lives and careers." What's more, the decline in talent not only serves as a drag on the economy, it affects the quality of our democracy. "Without opportunities to cultivate their talent," writes Merisotis, "Americans are left with few prospects to move up the economic ladder. That creates a sense of hopelessness and apathy, which in turn has a dampening effect on Americans’ willingness to vote and engage. And without such involvement, democracy’s power wanes."


"[T]apping into your network and empowering your people is how the [fundraising] magic happens (especially with big fundraising events like #GivingTuesday)," writes Caryn Stein, vice president for communications and content at Network for Good. And this year, she adds, there are "two things you absolutely must do for a truly successful #GivingTuesday campaign: 1) identify your team and 2) activate your community.  While you're at it, be sure to check out our Q&A with 92nd Street Y executive director Henry Timms, the "father of #GivingTuesday." 

Joanne Fitz is hosting the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival on her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog and is looking for posts on a topic of great interest to all nonprofit leaders: year-end fundraising. To be included in the final roundup, you have to have first published a post or article on your own blog. Then submit it by Saturday, July 25, to Joanne at Joanne will review all submissions and pick the best to feature in a round-up post on July 28. Good luck!

International Affairs/Development

Writing in the Huffington Post, Suzanne Skees looks at efforts by the Grameen Foundation to design disruptive mobile solutions "to the kind of poverty that's most challenging to reach, in remote rural areas, and to the poorest of the poor."


On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some behavioral ways by which to assess whether or not a quality partnership exists between the board and CEO.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2015)

July 01, 2015

Book reviews from two of our favorite contributors, a timely look at the future of community foundations from Silicon Valley Community Foundation president Emmett Carson, a thought-provoking post on the relationship between philanthropy and inequality by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, a cool infographic from CECP and the Conference Board, and great advice for nonprofits from Claire Axelrad and Bethany Lampland — all that and more helped make June the second-busiest month ever at PhilanTopic. Best of all, you've got a long holiday weekend to catch up on the good stuff you may have missed. Have a happy and safe Fourth!

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at


Quote of the Week

  • "If you're asking me my opinion, [Edward Snowden's] going to die in Moscow. He's not coming home...."

    — Former NSA head Michael Hayden

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