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GuideStar Blog

GuideStar Exchange June 25 Webinar Follow-up Questions

Below is a follow-up by Erinn Andrews, GuideStar's Senior Director of Nonprofit Strategy, to a handful of questions submitted by participants during our June 25th, 2014 GuideStar Exchange Demonstration Webinar. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the Webinar, please check here.

Thinking of a new CRM system? Keep these tips in mind!


4 Reasons To Involve Your Board In Choosing Donor Software

Most nonprofits rarely, if ever, utilize or even think about the role a portion or all of their board should have in selecting this key strategic tool for their organization. Such an important tool should never be an afterthought or merely a budget line item.

Is The Donor Pyramid Really Dead? An Open Letter to Claire Axelrad from Andrea Kihlstedt

Inspired by her recent posts on the death of the Donor Pyramid in Fundraising Success Magazine and Maximize Social Business Blog

4 Incentives To Offer International Volunteers

High staff turnover and poor performance have been continuous issues for both international and local organizations and the root of the problem is often in motivating staff and volunteers. Financial constraints and multicultural environments make this issue even more difficult to tackle. Luckily, it's not impossible; there are plenty of ways to show your appreciation and keep your people happy.

How to Partner with Programs to Raise More Revenue

Everyone wants to raise more money. One of the best sources to help you achieve that could be sitting in a cubicle across from you right now. Who, you ask? Did we hire someone new in development? The fact is they don’t work in development. They work in programs.

Turning to Strategy after the Audit: A Calendar of Activities

Andrew Schwalm

GuideStar’s 2020 Vision

...a nonprofit sector strong enough to tackle the great challenges of our time.

Fundraising Questions I'm Most Often Asked

When you've been in this field long enough, and maybe have a few books to your credit, you're often invited to speak at conferences. It's a great way to stay in touch with the many wonderful people in this profession. I get to reconnect with the wise elders and meet the passionate newcomers.

Invariably at the end of my presentations I'm asked a number of wide-ranging questions. Many are highly specific, but others pertain to most every organization. Here are some of the questions I'm most commonly asked.

What's one of the biggest obstacles preventing someone from giving?

As we all know, every survey that probes why people give and don't give indicates that the main reason for not giving is because they "weren't asked."

To some extent, this may be true. But the average person is asked to give almost on a daily basis. And individuals make a lot of decisions not to give.

So we need to consider other reasons. Maybe people weren't paying attention when they were asked. The timing was bad. It wasn't the right proposition. Money is tight right now. Maybe there wasn't an emotional connection. The list is long.

But there is one critical and overlooked reason, in my opinion. Organizations fail to make giving as easy as possible.

I'm sure everyone reading this has visited a website where they've tried to make a gift or buy a product. And it's frequently painful or overly complicated. It's not uncommon to be asked to provide information you don't want to offer. As a result, many decide to abandon the transaction.

We need to examine every channel we use and discover how to remove any barriers. When we focus on the donor experience, we make it easier for him or her to give—a simple landing page, taking credit card donations at an event, a toll-free number. It all adds up to make a significant difference.

In my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, one of the questions I discuss is this: "Is it easy?" As time goes by, I increasingly think this question is the second-most important of the 11 core questions.

What's the easiest way for donors to give?

That's simple. Monthly giving. When individuals become monthly donors, you don't have to continually solicit them. They'll give you 12 gifts a year—for many years—often for the rest of their lives. I've been on one monthly program for 35 years now. There's no chance I'll ever cancel it. And to date I've made 420 monthly gifts. I've also made many other single gift donations to this organization, as well.

Monthly donors contribute billions of dollars globally—in $10, $25, and $100 amounts each and every month. And because the gift comes in every 30 days, it adds up to be a fabulous amount of money.

Should organizations move all of their fundraising online?

We were conducting a fundraising audit recently and interviewed Claire, a $250,000 donor. She said her one complaint about the organization was that they moved their print newsletter to online.

She loved having the printed version around, so she could show it to people (wealthy friends!) and it reminded her of the cause. Is it worth reviving the print newsletter for just this one donor? I think the answer is yes. Are there more donors exactly like her? Absolutely.

Older donors may book cruises online or use Facebook to connect with their grandchildren, but they are still heavily print oriented. We abandon this medium at our peril.

As we know, older people control the vast amount of wealth in our society. Virtually all really large gifts come from people over 60 and frequently over 70. As a population, these donors are more loyal, more philanthropic, and approaching the age when they'll start leaving legacies. Organizations that focus on their preferences will raise the most money. And print still makes a lot more money than digital.

Last year, online fundraising grew by about 13 percent. This sounds great, but we have to put it into context—going from about 1.8 percent to 2 percent of giving is still pretty small. Moreover, many organizations spent a lot more money and time growing their digital programs.

I'm all in favor of investing in digital when it makes economic sense. But for many if not most organizations, a massive investment shift to this channel will cost them.

How can I stop my communications and marketing staff from messing up my fundraising?

At organizations that depend on gift income, I believe the communications and marketing staff should be at the service of the development department. Pretty much every senior fundraiser around the world will vouch for the fact that communication and marketing staff almost always reduce fundraising income.

This shouldn't be surprising since fundraisers and communication staff have different priorities and experience.

Here's one example. The communication and marketing staff at an organization I worked with hired a big commercial ad agency to conduct a branding and fundraising campaign. The organization paid the ad agency a whopping $1 million.

The campaign they developed was all about ego. It talked about how great the organization is—"cool" really. As for donors, it barely gave them a second thought. And the result? An appalling fundraising campaign that raised a total of $7,000!

In this case, the organization's leadership preferred a brand campaign that made them feel good about their organization. They could go to parties and collect compliments.

The harsh truth is I've seen too many organizations spend lots on branding or rebranding, and in every case either it didn't help or had a negative impact on fundraising.

I'm familiar with your book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks. Tell me, if you had to make it an even dozen, what is the 12th question you would add?

While researching the book, I spent a hefty number of hours narrowing down hundreds of questions. When I started, my objective wasn't to have 11. I would have been just as happy with 10 or even 12.

One question I considered was: Should I leave a legacy to this organization? But the reality is the majority of donors won't ever think about this. Keep in mind, however, that when you can answer the 11 questions I address, it does set the stage for a donor to seriously consider leaving a bequest.

Harvey McKinnon
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Harvey McKinnon is one of North America's leading fundraising experts and president of the Vancouver/Toronto-based fundraising consultancy Harvey McKinnon Associates. In addition to The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave (Emerson & Church), his works include Hidden Gold (Taylor); the audio CD How Today's Rich Give (Jossey-Bass); Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press); and (as co-author) the international bestseller The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin), which was selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005.

Three Steps to Move a First-Time Giver into a Major Donor

Reprinted from Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

Knowledge-Based Grantseeking: What Is It?

A decade ago, when someone referred to something as "knowledge based," they were talking about technology—basically how to store complex structured and unstructured information used by a computer.

Over the next several years, that term evolved to encompass the entire Internet.

But today, I'm using it as a way to distinguish between writing a grant proposal that is based on the topic or issue at hand and one based on knowing and understanding the leading-edge trends in the world of philanthropy.

Let me begin by saying that I'm fairly confident that by the year 2020 philanthropy, not only in the United States but throughout the world, will wear a new face. These changes will expand opportunities in the area of grantseeking for nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and regional governments.

A global sensibility combined with an array of innovative technologies and attitudinal changes on the part of philanthropists will birth a new way, and perhaps a new wave, of giving. We are witnessing the beginning of many of these changes today.

Whether you are a professional grantwriter or a novice just dipping your toes into the world of grantwriting, it is now important to stay abreast of trends that may be able to provide you with that special edge you need to secure grant awards.

Two of the most predominant changes are in the area of technology (no surprise there) and attitude on the part of grantmakers.

Technology: Opening Doors and Changing Processes

More and more grantmakers are engaging in social media, sharing information with grantseekers that has previously been only for the privileged few. This is a positive trend, demonstrating the grantmakers' inclination towards transparency, and giving those of us seeking funding more information.

This means you now have the opportunity to learn more about what the grantmakers are trying to achieve. These social media posts provide an inside look at what the grantmakers are thinking and what interests them. Reviewing the grantmakers' social media—be it Facebook, Twitter, or blogs—plays an important role in researching and analyzing grantmakers to see if they are, indeed, the right ones to approach.

A variety of technologies has also begun to crop up, everything from online eligibility quizzes to submitting letters of inquiry and full grant requests via the Internet. Online grantee reporting is almost commonplace, and communication with the grantmaker via e-mail has never been as easy, or as productive. Having a staff member or volunteer who can help you develop Web grant applications is going to become more and more important.

If you want an example of where this trend is going, check out the application for the New Music USA awards. Instead of filling out a grant application, they ask you to create a simple project page on their site with all of your artistic work samples and project information. These pages remain invisible to the public through the course of the review and decision processes. Nonetheless, you are building a Web page as your grant application!

I have also noticed that the IT person is getting a seat at the table when it comes to reviewing grant requests, simply because there are so many requests with technology components. Reviewers feel they need advice from someone who can analyze these pieces of the proposal.

This means you need to develop the IT part of any grant request carefully, as a knowledgeable person will be analyzing it on the other end! Budget detail and budget justification are very important in this section of a grant request.

While the increased use of social media and a variety of technologies is the most noticeable change, there are also numerous attitudinal changes happening within the field of philanthropy.

Changes in Attitude

More and more grantmakers want to see that the outcomes of your program or project strengthen your community. This idea of positioning the outcomes of your grant request as community assets isn't necessarily a new trend, especially for those of us working in the area of community and economic development, but it has taken on more importance and is now being applied throughout the grantmaking world.

If you want to understand this trend better, you can download a workbook called Shifting Focus: Alternative Pathways for Communities and Economies. The workbook helps you think through this idea that people, not industries or government or social service agencies, not buildings or even natural beauty, are the assets of a region. It is the people, their energy and skills, that make a community grow. The workbook gives practical, hands-on examples of how people can come together and learn to see themselves as the main resource of a community. It was published in 2001, but much of what it offers is helpful today. And it's free.

But there are also other changes in grantmaker attitudes. Many leading grantmakers are aware that high-performing nonprofits are data driven, and effective nonprofits use data for improvement.

The good news is there are a number of new websites that provide the ability to add your own data (about your organization or about your community or neighborhood), which is then linked to other data, allowing you to compare your statistics with others. This kind of self-fed, accessible information is the new starting line for developing a robust need statement and helping to paint a clear picture of your organization's particular situation.

These are just a few trends that you need to be aware of as you develop grant requests. There are many others that I cover in my webinar Knowledge-Based Grantmaking: Tips, Trends, and Tools, which we offer through GrantStation every few months!

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Our Site Is Changing

You may have noticed some changes on We're updating our site to make it easier to use. We've spent almost half a year learning how you and your fellow visitors use GuideStar and finding out what you need us to do better. We've tested new copy and designs, then refined and tested them again. This week, we unrolled our first new pages.

Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part Two: Build a Team

The first post in this five part series, "Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part One: The Big Idea at the Beginning of Serious Fundraising," talked about the impact of one person with a big idea at the non profit. That person who has a sense of adventure starts asking questions (Isn’t there a more stable route to funding than foundation grants? Why aren’t our board members introducing us to their networks? Is there a more efficient way to raise money than putting on a gala every year?). Suddenly, new possibilities become possible.

Do You Have a Culture of Philanthropy?

We’re all in development. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO, major gift officer, program director, communications VP, CFO or Board chair, we are all in fundraising. We may not all be soliciting gifts but we are all in development.

Trying to Make Sense Out of Fundraising Data

As part of the redesign of the Form 990 for fiscal years beginning in 2008, the IRS created Schedule G, "Supplemental Information Regarding Fundraising or Gaming Activities". Part of the information requested is a list of paid fundraisers compensated at least $5,000, the gross receipts generated by the engagement, the amount paid to the fundraiser, and the amount received by the organization. I have been puzzling over how to use this and other Form 990 data to reach some understanding about how organizations go about fundraising. What I have gotten, as much as anything, is a reminder of how easy it is to lie with statistics, and how hard it is to work with problematic data.

Error Discovered in 2013 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report

The following is a message from GuideStar's Vice President of Research, Chuck McLean.

GuideStar DonorEdge Learning Conference: Reflections from the Innovation Lab

Beth Kanter

Aunt Frances’ Recipe for 5-Star Fundraising

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Great Aunt Frances, who passed away last year at the age of 107. Until that day, she was as warm, loving and sharp as ever. She unknowingly taught me so much, including this recipe for fundraising success that I want to share with you today.

4 Business Skills That Can Help Your Nonprofit Succeed

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations across America all competing for the nation's charitable contributions. The average person is only willing to give so much to charity organizations each year, so it's a battle to compel those individuals to contribute. To succeed, it's vital that your charity has an edge. These business skills will help it gain the advantage it needs to thrive.

Three Questions to Ask before You Finalize That Fiscal Year Budget

Reprinted from the Big Duck Blog

Flowers are blooming, grass is growing, and ... boards are approving budgets for organizations whose fiscal year begins July 1! Before this magical moment slips away into the haze of summer, consider these three questions:

Have we budgeted for smaller projects that will help us move toward bigger projects?

A big project often begins by conducting research, an audit, or a feasibility study. If you anticipate launching a major capital campaign, rebranding, overhauling your website, or tackling other really big projects downstream, consider budgeting a smaller amount for Phase One this year to get the ball rolling and to offset the overall cost of your projects over time. If you've already begun the first part of the project, you might also find it's easier to get approval for its second phase next fiscal year.

Have we budgeted adequately for website updates?

Best practices and technology can change fast in the online world. If it's been a while since you've done so, you might want to budget for website testing, to explore how donors, clients, or other important audiences are engaging with your site. If possible, give yourself a budget to fix any problems or fill any gaps this testing uncovers.

We generally encourage nonprofits to budget for some online work every year. In years when bigger changes are needed, the dollar amount is greater. But even in years when no big changes are made, it's useful to have a discretionary budget you can spend on testing, editing, creating campaign-specific pages or microsites, or any other "rainy day" projects.

Have we budgeted for help where we need it most?

Dan Pallotta's 2013 TEDtalk "The way we think about charity is dead wrong" got people talking about how a Puritan cultural hangover has resulted in nonprofits underpaying or neglecting things generally associated with a professional working environment. So what's getting in the way of you doing your best work? Is it an out-of-date content management system (CMS), your database, or a piece of software? Perhaps you need to learn about a new trend in the sector or develop your skills by attending more conferences? Maybe you could use help from a freelance writer or graphic designer to professionalize your materials? This might be the moment to budget for projects that will help you get to the next level.

There are, of course, an overwhelming number of projects worth pursuing and never enough time or money to tackle them all. But if you can focus on a few discrete projects that move things forward, you might find the long-term implications are stronger than you think.

Sarah Durham, Big Duck
© 2014, Big Duck. Reprinted from the Big Duck Blog; reprinted with permission.

Sarah Durham is principal and founder of Big Duck, which works exclusively with nonprofits to help raise money and increase visibility.


Offers Wanted (in Donor Newsletters)

Excerpted from Making Money with Donor Newsletters

Sprinkle offers across your newsletter. Offers give your donors new things to do.

Like discover: "What's it really like to be desperately poor? Sign up for our Poverty Simulation. See for yourself why it's so hard to break the cycle." (Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte, N.C., makes this offer.)

Like grow: "You can be the mentor that changes a child's life."

Like contribute in a new way: "Join us in this special campaign to. ..."

An Introduction To Promoting Yourself On LinkedIn

With over 187,000,000 members from 200 territories, LinkedIn is a truly vast professional networking platform. With an average of 2 members signing up every second, LinkedIn provides an opportunity for professionals to ingratiate themselves with others working within their field of industry. If you can effectively promote yourself on LinkedIn, it can offer you a wealth of career opportunities, as you are interacting with potential clients and business partners. Subsequently, listed below are a few simple yet highly effective methods through which you can promote yourself competently upon LinkedIn.

Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part One: The Big Idea at the Beginning of Serious Fundraising

“A nonprofit can’t generate major gifts in this economy unless it’s already supported by the wealthiest one percent of the population.” A consultant shared this opinion with me a few months ago. Fortunately, it’s not true. I have witnessed many organizations leap from dependence on galas and grants to a full-fledged engagement with affluent and generous individuals. This series will describe the sequence of that metamorphosis. The first step is the spark of an idea: there are people in our circle who could write big checks.

Conducting a User Feedback Session

Just as businesses have customers; nonprofits have constituents. While customers are typically paying customers, constituents are just as vital to the nonprofit. In both scenarios, user feedback is vital for an organization’s success, as feedback sessions allow nonprofits to understand how well they are providing your services, what needs their constituents have, and how they can reevaluate their needs for the future.

Free nonprofit information available

In March I posted about the new way you could search comprehensive charity information and even integrate a due diligence tool into your website or product, thanks to our new suite of APIs.