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From the President's Office, July 2008

Dear Friend:

Raising Planned Gifts by Mail

Excerpt from How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail

Despite the lack of confidence we sometimes feel about direct mail's efficacy, the fact remains—it works. Maybe one day this will change—perhaps the Internet will come into its own as a fundraising medium. But for now, raising planned gifts by mail is a solid and revenue-producing strategy.

However, unlike holiday greetings and change of address notifications, your planned giving mailings can't be showered on the general population. Direct marketers often cite the 60-30-10 formula for determining a mailing's success.

Sixty percent depends on the quality of the mail list; 30 percent is based on the content of the appeal; and 10 percent can be attributed to the design or format. Since marketing dollars are precious and your board's expectations for results are high, don't dilute your efforts by mailing to anyone other than your best prospects.

Let's make it simple. Start by limiting your list to people who have met one basic criterion: Anyone who has made at least two gifts of any size to your organization (more about this in a minute).

Note some of the folks who will not make the cut:

The State of Fundraising On-line: Results of a Giving USA Survey

As part of an effort to contribute more to the understanding of on-line giving, Giving USA included questions about Internet use for fundraising in a survey of the public-society benefit subsector that was distributed in spring 2008.

The public-society benefit subsector includes combined funds such as United Way, Jewish federations, and freestanding donor-advised funds. It also includes organizations formed for research in the sciences or social sciences, policy institutions, advocacy groups focused on civil rights and voter education, community and economic development organizations, and groups working to serve veterans and military families.

Researchers at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, on behalf of Giving USA, looked at three questions:

Five Questions Every Search Committee Should Ask- Of Itself

Adapted from smorgasBoard

Since the founding of BoardWalk Consulting almost six years ago, we have had the privilege of working with literally hundreds of search committee members as clients grapple with their organizations' issues of leadership succession. From this fascinating mix of missions, personalities, recruitment challenges, and interview styles, we've developed two sets of key questions common to successful searches:

No-Ask Fundraising: Six High-Impact Jobs for Board Members

How do we harness our board members' passion for the cause and channel it into productive fundraising activities?

Here are practical, easy ways your board members can open the door, connect their friends to your organization, expand your organization's social networks, and help you find new friends and donors—without having to solicit.

1. Make Friends for the Cause

We need to capitalize on our board members' personal social networks to further our organization's urgent work solving community problems. So the job is clear: we have to ask our board members to introduce our organization to everybody they know.

Your board members need to be roaring advocates for your organization; they need to talk about it wherever they go. They should be all over their friends, telling them why it matters and urging them to get involved.

Actually, you want your board members to start an epidemic—of ideas. Ideas are like viruses—they spread from person to person.

Your board members can launch an epidemic of good news about your cause that will spread through your community. I teach board members how to be sneezers—conveying excitement about our cause everywhere.

This is the essence of viral marketing. Word of mouth can do marvelous things for a nonprofit cause. It creates great community buzz.

When everybody in the community is talking about your project, fundraising then becomes a natural outgrowth of all the energy and enthusiasm generated for your cause. This kind of visibility and background PR is absolutely essential for good fundraising.

2. Identify Your Organization's VIP Friends

Who are the important people who could affect your organization's future? Who should be on your radar screen? I call them VIPs—for Very Important Prospects.

These individuals may be civic, political, philanthropic, religious, corporate, or social leaders in your community. They may also be among your current donors or on your prospect list.

They are important opinion leaders who can influence many other people. The VIPs may also be the "sneezers" in your community, easily spreading the news about your organization.

Compiling this list is a great job for board members. When trustees tackle this job, they naturally begin considering who knows these people and how to open the door to them. They start prioritizing the list and creating strategies to cultivate closer relationships.

This is getting board members involved at the very beginning—developing our organization's key prospect list and looking for ways to open the door.

3. Open the Door with Advice Visits

We all know that within our board members' social networks there is a gold mine of potential friends and donors. But how do we help them open the door to these contacts? What is a "nice" way to introduce their friends to their favorite cause? A soft-sell way that is "low pressure but high intention"?

A personal one-on-one meeting is a wonderful way to introduce a person to your organization or cause. It's an "Advice Visit," because that is truly what we are after—advice.

Advice Visits are based on the old fundraising adage "If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, then ask for money." They are treasure hunts, because when you get together personally with someone for an exploratory conversation, you are not certain what you will find. But you always end up making a friend for your cause.

This is a perfect opportunity for a board member to promote your cause in a direct, personal way. Our only goal for visiting this person is to ask them what they think of our project and ask for some serious guidance. This visit is emphatically not about money.

People are usually flattered when someone approaches them just to ask for advice. You would be surprised at the number of doors that will open if you just ask for advice. People want to help nonprofit causes, because they care about their communities, their country, and their world.

Board members love Advice Visits because the other person does the talking. They are relieved that they don't need a detailed presentation. The important points are to share their personal passion and excitement for the cause and why they are personally involved. Here are questions to ask:

  • What do you think about the project?
  • What about the need in the community?
  • What interests you personally about the problem we are addressing?
  • Who else would be interested in hearing about this?

4. Gather Friends with Small Socials

You can expand your community relationships and make friends fast through "Small Socials." This job is perfect for social board members who have many friends and like to host gatherings.

A Small Social can take several formats. It can be a coffee, a tea, dinner, or cocktails. It can be breakfast meetings or luncheons. It can include 3 people or 100.

A Small Social must follow these rules:

  1. A board member or volunteer invites people to it and hosts it.
  2. There is no charge.
  3. It is a cultivation event designed to fire up people about your cause.
  4. A plan is in place for following up after the event.
If you don't have a follow-up plan, don't do the event at all. (See "Following Up on the Small Social or Tour" at the end of this article for more information.)

Small Socials always have a short presentation in the midst of the socializing. The board volunteer host should welcome everyone with a few words from his or her heart sharing why he or she cares about your organization. This welcome is very powerful because it is the host's personal story, which often has more impact than a formal presentation.

Then the CEO steps forward with a high-impact message about your organization. This is the CEO's—well, actually, your organization's—chance to shine. Think passion and urgency. Think Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech—full of vision and inspiration, with a clear call to action at the end.

5. Become a Tour Guide—And Show How We Change the World

Board members can host tours to bring prospective friends closer to your organization. A carefully scripted tour can be a powerful way to demonstrate your organization's good work and to illustrate unmet needs in the community.

The tour lets your work speak for itself. Your guests will hear staff members or even clients/students/stakeholders express in their own words their personal firsthand experiences with your organization's mission—and the good it does—in the community.

A well-planned tour has many of the same components as the Small Social. It has the board volunteer host's welcome, the CEO's visionary message, and the same follow-up card and phone call.

6. Acknowledge Donors' Generosity

One of the most powerful actions a board member can take is to phone to thank a donor soon after his or her gift is received.

When board members call to thank donors, the donors receive a very powerful message. They think: "This organization appreciates me," "I am a real person to this organization, not just a checkbook," "This organization is well run."

Donors who receive phone calls from board members invariably tend to give larger gifts the next time and tend to stay on board as donors longer.

Some studies have shown that donors who were called by board members within 24 hours of making a gift later made gifts that were 37 percent higher than those from donors who did not receive a call. This means that board members can directly improve your organization's bottom line without having to solicit!


Every board member can support your organization's fundraising—without ever asking for one red cent. There is a fundraising role for each person on your board. In my board retreats we often end by asking each board member to sign up personally for one or two of these jobs, and they are happy to do so.

Following Up on the Small Social or Tour

"What Were Your Impressions?"

After board members host a Small Social or tour of your organization, they should call guests to ask, "What were your impressions of our gathering?"

This magic question is the golden key to finding out what is going on inside your prospective donors' hearts and minds. It invites them to consider the message they heard at your event and process their personal thoughts about it. It gets them involved in your cause. It gives you the information you need for a next step to bring the person even closer to your organization.

The Follow-Up Card

Also ask guests to sign a follow-up card that captures their contact information and lets them check off possible interests. The follow-up card lets people "self-select" to get further involved. Be sure to include these questions on your follow-up card:

What most interests you about our organization and our mission?

Would you like to:

  • Join our mailing list?
  • Host a small social or tour?
  • Make a contribution for $_________?
  • Volunteer?
  • Other ________?

Read the other articles in this series:

Gail Perry, July 2008
© 2008, Gail Perry. Based on Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action; printed with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This article is the fifth in a series on helping board members embrace fundraising. Gail Perry is the author of Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action and founder of Gail Perry Associates, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based consulting and training firm. During the past 22 years, she has helped organizations raise more than $200 million—and counting.