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Follow-Up from Vanessa Chase's August 21 Webinar with GuideStar, "Storytelling Basics for Nonprofits"

The preceding is a follow-up post where Vanessa Chase answers some popular questions from her August 21 Webinar, "Storytelling Basics for Nonprofits." To view the recorded webinar, click here. To access the slides from that presentation, click here. To download Vanessa Chase’s Story Collection Template, click here. For a comprehensive list of recorded GuideStar Webinars, click here to visit our Webinar Archives.

How to Work When No One is Watching

Recently, I moved from my office job in Washington, DC to working remotely in a small town in North Carolina. To say this was a huge change is an understatement. I left the bustling, fun offices of GuideStar, where most of us eat lunch together every day, and co-workers know more about my personal life than my mother, to working full-time out of my apartment in a strange, new city.

Measuring Fundraising Progress

(This is the last post in a series of five about building fundraising momentum in your organization. The first covered the discovery that major gifts fundraising principles can be applied at this organization. The second discussed the importance of building a team. The third was about the power of the first big gift. The fourth described the momentum of a vibrant campaign.)

How Major Charities Like the American Red Cross Are Energizing Supporters with WebThriftStore

Psst: How effective do you think the #ALSIceBucketChallenge has been? Take this super short GuideStar survey here: Thanks!

The New Donor Engagement Reality: A Shifting Definition in the Era of the Online Experience

"There is a struggle in how donors tell you they want to be engaged, but when approached in that way, they don't want it. For example, a new donor came in to set up a fund. He nodded and agreed with everything that was said about outreach and what is available to donors, but we expect he will just act on his own."

That's a real quote from a community foundation. And that's a sneak preview of one of the most powerful findings in the 2014 Donor Experience Study. This comment, of course, relates to the shifting definition of donor engagement that is present among community foundations in this new era of leveraging technology to build meaningful relationships.

This statistic from the 2014 Donor Experience Study might surprise you:

Nearly 95 percent of community foundations included in the research identifies donor engagement as a top priority, but only 27 percent of the strategic plans reviewed demonstrate that a foundation has adopted a well-defined metric to measure success.

Donor engagement is often a product of the community in which the foundation resides. A foundation can influence the outreach to its donors regardless of what phase of growth it may be in—operating with a large endowment, leveraging programs, or even just initially growing. But staff is often also responsible for recruiting new donors, maintaining donor relationships, handling administrative tasks for donors, and sometimes managing programs—which limits the quality time spent with donors. Defining donor engagement must be a key part of the strategic plan and a key conversation across the entire organization.

To understand and define donor engagement, a community foundation needs donor intelligence; that is, data and metrics about donor behavior to inform the most effective strategies and use of resources. Data and metrics, of course, are assets that technology can build for your organization, creating a true return on investment on a foundation's online donor engagement systems. But before a foundation's leadership team can determine the role of technology in donor engagement, it must define donor engagement in the first place—which is much more than just donors' activity online.

For example, a common definition of donor engagement is whether a donor is actively making contributions into existing donor-advised funds. And many foundations take a comprehensive approach by including donor activity when a donor "engages" with another fund. For example, what if a donor adds a significant contribution to a nonprofit endowment fund held at your foundation? Should this count? According to emerging best practices, yes. This activity is an example that would be included in a definition of donor engagement.

The next question is whether your system can actually track donor engagement efficiently. Before a foundation can answer that, the management team must address the synergy among donor engagement, technology, and measuring results at a systems-wide level.

Here are two questions for your team to consider and discuss to take your donor engagement game to the next level and to prepare you to create data and metrics through technology.

How Do You Define It?

To get started, check in on the basic question: What are the key elements that define "donor engagement" in your organization? And how have they changed as more and more donors rely on online tools, especially related to their philanthropic pursuits? How has it changed as the donor base gets younger and more mobile?

When it comes to technology, do you view donor engagement as more than just getting donors to go online? Are you considering the quality of the online experience that you are providing, versus merely the existence of one?

Donors want a clear, relevant, accessible, and interactive experience when it comes to online technology so that they can easily find information on their own. Does your foundation provide an online experience that is seamless for donors from the second they land on your website all the way to processing a grant in your online account management system, as demonstrated in the image below? Or does the experience fall short?

How Will You Measure It?

Next, start thinking a little bit more about measurement. What are your organization's goals for online donor engagement? Are there success metrics included with these goals, metrics that are both quantitative (analytics or numbers) and qualitative (donor or staff feedback)?

Consider these ideas to get you started:

  • Systems Integration: Is your online donor account management system fully integrated with your accounting system so that donors aren't calling with questions about their fund balances?
  • Content Synchronization: Do your online donor account management system and your website work together to synch content automatically, so that the information on your website can be viewed when donors log on, as demonstrated in the image below?
  • Web Traffic Tracking: Are you able to track, through web analytics, the activity on your website and online donor account management system? Are you benchmarking the activity on your site with other foundations of your size to see where you match up?
  • Objective Review: Do your digital assets accurately reflect your brand as an organization? If you were a first-time visitor to your website, would you feel that the content and usability of the site and donor account system were forward thinking and user friendly?

Donor engagement. How do you define it, and how will you measure it? Those are two questions you might ask to begin to re-energize your donor engagement strategy—starting with the definition and then setting goals. After you've laid the groundwork, you and your colleagues can get the right systems in place to truly engage donors, and tackle the shifting definition of donor engagement and what it means for your organization. In turn, with the systems up and running, you'll get a robust batch of data, or "donor intelligence," that in turn creates value for your organization and drives return on investment.

The new donor engagement reality. Are you ready?

Learn more about the new donor engagement reality or download the Donor Experience Study

© 2014, Crown Philanthropic Solutions

Crown Philanthropic Solutions creates a powerful donor engagement platform that empowers clients with the ability to create passionate donors by managing their donors' experiences.

Top Five Damned Fool Questions about Charity Golf

I get asked all kinds of questions about charity golf tournaments by people who have never done one. I've answered them all in my book, Going for the Green. But here are five that are continually teed up.

Our budget has been cut this year and we need money right away. What do you think about our hosting a nice charity golf tournament? I've heard these can make a lot of money.

You watched a lot of Disney flicks when you were growing up didn't you? Those of us in fundraising are always looking for the magic wand. Who can blame us? But believe me, charity golf isn't it. Sure, golf can make you a pile of money, but for that to happen you've got to be able to wait six months to a year to cash in, and, even more challenging if you're having a budget crisis, you'll have to ante up some of your own money for up-front expenses.

My first experience with charity golf will seem to contradict what I just said, but in reality it was the exception that proves the rule. In six weeks we put together a first tournament and cleared $19,000, which isn't bad for a debut effort. First tournaments usually net around $2,000, and many actually lose money. There were two reasons we came out ahead. First, we had a wealthy oilman as tournament chairman who fronted the money, could organize a golf tournament in his sleep, and whose wealthy buddies owed him for his own support for their charities.

Second, we had a development director who enjoyed asking for money as much as a crack addict enjoys cocaine. He was relentless. The oilman lined up players and pointed out potential sponsors who were friends and our DD went after them like a coon hound on a scent. The man was tireless. If you can find two people like that, your tournament will be a success, and you might pull it off fairly quickly. If not, forget the tournament and go ask people for money. It's not nearly as much fun, but it's more effective.

Can we get the golf course for free?

Short answer: NO. Slightly longer answer: Not bloody likely.

Charity tournaments are a golf course's bread and butter. Asking clubs to let you have the course for free is like asking a herd of starving wildebeests if it's okay to mow the grass. Occasionally, some private club might host a tournament gratis, but you can bet it'll be their idea and they'll choose the beneficiary.

Won't a golf tournament be good for PR and a nice boost to staff morale?

That depends. A successful tournament may be good for public relations and even kick up staff morale (once everyone recovers from their collective nervous breakdown). However, if you don't watch the booze and, say, your alcoholic mayor makes a spectacle of himself at the awards dinner, you may find yourself getting some very bad press. Also, a tournament that loses money gets you bad PR, which causes staff morale to sink.

When do we start planning for our golf tournament?

Now would be good.

I have a friend who runs two golf tournaments a year to support his private cancer foundation. He started next year's tournament planning a week before this year's tournament was held.

You have to start early because most of your serious funding will come from companies and individuals that put you in their advertising budget well in advance. Many companies date their fiscal years from the first of January. So budget decisions regarding advertising and charitable donations tend to be made during the last quarter of the year. You need to appear on their radar sometime in September to give them time to slot you into their budgets.

Selling sponsorships is the most important thing you'll do in preparing to host a tournament. If you don't have your tournament entirely paid for a month or two before tee-off, it's probably best to cancel it. A tournament that loses money is worse than a tournament that's cancelled.

What kind of tournament should we do?

The kind that makes money.

The most popular format is the scramble. The structure is much looser. Good players can help the team, but even a poor player who gets lucky can make a contribution. But, really, all kinds of formats work. Just don't be boring.

* * * * *

People make hundreds of thousands of dollars with charity golf tournaments. And don't worry if you don't know anything about golf. A charity golf tournament is first and foremost about making money. If you focus on that, the rest is easy. The club pro will walk you through the tournament details.

I've laid out all the steps for you, in sequential order, in Going for the Green. You have no excuse to fail. Go forth and raise funds whacking little white balls into little round holes. It'll probably be one of the most fun ways you've ever raised money.

Tom King
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Tom King is author of Going for the Green.

Whoosh, Doldrums, Whoosh: The power of an ambitious goal

(This post is the fourth in a series of five about building fundraising momentum in your organization. The first covered the discovery that major gifts fundraising principles can be applied at this organization. The second discussed the importance of building a team. The third was about the power of the first big gift.)

Low Donor Retention Takes More Than A Board Meeting To Solve

How involved is your board in the fight against low donor retention?

Business owners, executives and other for-profit professionals are used to customer renewal rates of 90% or more. That's why most board members are shocked when they learn that the charity they serve has a low donor retention rate.

In my last blog post, I told the story of how this shock spurred a strategic discussion that ordinarily would not have occurred had our nonprofit's dismal donor retention rate not been brought to light. While there are many benefits to such discussions, they alone are not enough to fix the retention problem. Action was needed.

Obtaining the second gift is the key to donor retention

Nearly every board member fully understood the vast difference in average first-year retention rates (22.9%) and repeat retention rates (60.8%). Our discussion focused squarely on what could be done to bridge the immense gap between first and the second gift among our donors.

Numerous theories and strategies were explored from top to bottom. The board concluded that it might be best to move many of our resources and activities from donor acquisition activities to donor stewardship and relationship-building activities! This was a eureka moment; one that seldom happens in any board meeting. Most of the board volunteered to help.

What can your board members do?

Board members can make a difference!

They can make thank you phone calls, write handwritten thank you notes, and get involved in face-to-face follow-up meetings for first-time donors who make above-average gifts.

Perhaps the most important part of this type of board involvement is the example it sets for the staff at the nonprofit. Improved donor relationship-building must become a mindset that permeates far beyond just the fundraising team.

It should be firmly entrenched in the mind of every single member of the team!

Strategic discussions lead to strategic actions

It's amazing what can happen when the true power of a board awakens. There are very few strategic items more vital to achieving mission success than improving donor retention.

Hopefully, the discussion outlined above can prompt a similar discussion at one of your future board meetings. If it does, please let us know the result!

Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang

The preceding is a guest post by Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang, which helps nonprofit organizations to reach, engage, and retain the advocates they depend on to achieve their vision for a better world. A veteran of the nonprofit technology sector, Jay is a founding member of the AFP Business Member Council and chair of the AFP Ethics Committee.

New Startup Creates Virtual Online Fundraisers

When it comes to marketing and fundraising, nonprofits have hit a wall. It is harder than ever for organizations to raise both awareness and funds in a cost-effective manner. Traditional news blasts are outdated, in-person events are overpriced, and donations to the nonprofit sector are stagnant. With no other alternatives, nonprofits are left with two unappealing options:

5 Steps For Identifying a Trustworthy Tech Vendor

Just because vendors say they're trustworthy, it doesn't mean that they are. When making technology decisions for your nonprofit, it is important that you take the time to evaluate your options and select a vendor who can earn your trust.

In this article, we'll offer five steps for identifying and selecting a trustworthy technology vendor.

Step 1: Determine a Functionality Match

Does the product actually do what the vendor says it does? Most vendors these days offer the ability to try their platforms risk-free. Take advantage of the free trial period to see if the tool could possibly meet your organization’s needs. You should also make sure it really works the way it is advertised. If the software application doesn’t live up to its billing, you may consider seeking other vendors.

Step 2: Investigate the Vendor’s Reputation

Along with evaluating the software’s functionality, make sure to do your homework on the parent company. You’ll want to look for a company that is firmly established and financially stable. The company should be happy to give you the contact information of a few satisfied customers. It’s always a good idea to talk with an organization that already has the product in use. Don’t just assume that everyone loves the tool. Collect some evidence and make that determination for yourself.

Step 3: Inquire About Customer Support

Even if you take great care to select the best software available, sometimes the best technology will still experience the occasional glitch. An important hallmark of a trustworthy tech vendor is the ability to give support to its clients. Of course an active knowledge base is helpful, but don’t stop there. You’ll also want the ability to submit support tickets, and, optimally, the company should give an emergency tech support telephone number as well.

Step 4: Review Security Precautions

Everything is moving to the cloud these days, so you may naturally be concerned about your data. A top-notch vendor will alleviate those worries. Your data should be protected by a powerful firewall with servers under constant monitoring. Additionally, the information should be mirrored to a reliable back-up system.

Step 5: Evaluate Integration Opportunities

There’s an old adage that says, “No man is an island.” The software you choose shouldn’t be an entity unto itself either. Vendors should be looking at the larger picture to make sure the products they are developing integrate with other software you already use (or may plan on taking advantage of in the near future).

For example, VolunteerHub recently announced its partnership with Blackbaud, the premiere name in constituent management and fundraising. VolunteerHub works seamlessly with Blackbaud’s fundraising systems (The Raiser’s Edge, Blackbaud CRM, and eTapestry) by automatically converting volunteer records from VolunteerHub into constituents in Blackbaud’s products.

Trust is Earned

You don’t have to feel like you’re in a maze when searching for new technology. Use this article as checklist. Strong technology vendors should score highly in these areas and provide you with the peace of mind you deserve. Just remember to look beyond the software to the provider and its reputation in the industry.

The following is a guest post by Shawn Kendrick, a researcher and blogger for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management software application that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more. This is part of our ongoing VolunteerCorner series – focusing on what you need to know about volunteering for nonprofits.

Transparency, Inclusion and Collaboration: Three Ways Philanthropy Can Take Its Own Medicine

The following is a cross-post from Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog March 20th, 2014 article. To read the original post, click here.

Is Your Content Missing this Vital Ingredient?

Nancy Schwartz

Call for Applications to the LeaderSpring Fellowship Program for Nonprofit Executive Directors

Are you an executive director of a nonprofit based in the East Bay who wants to improve your leadership and management skills? Enhance the capacity of your organization? Build collaborative relationships with other nonprofit leaders? If yes, LeaderSpring invites you to apply to a two-year, on-the-job Fellowship program. Applications are due Friday, August 29th, 2014. Click here for more information, visit or contact LeaderSpring at (510) 286-8949 or

Top 10 Major Donor Fundraising Trends for 2014-2015

Reprinted from the Fired-Up Fundraising Blog

Making a Case: The Magic of the Word

Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love

Join Social Media for Nonprofits in Austin, Texas August 13

Does your Austin-based nonprofit need to explore social media strategy, how to use visuals and memes to increase engagement, how to raise more funds, and how to measure and benchmark your social media efforts, among other topics? If so, don't miss the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, August 13th!

Five Great Ways to Get Your New Board Members on Board

The following is a cross-post from Board Assist's February 17th blog post. Click here to read the original article.

Dialogue about the Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative

The following is a (slightly edited) response from GuideStar president and CEO Jacob Harold to the blog post by GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky. In his blog post, Karnofsky reflects on the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative (NMI) – specifically Karnofsky experience with it, his opinion of its strengths & weaknesses, and his take on its conclusion.

Measuring Nonprofit Effectiveness: Interview with Lindsay Nichols

(Editor's note: This interview originally appeared on the blog on July 17th, 2014)

Peace of Mind – It’s as Easy as Pushing a Button

For over ten years, Versaic has been helping corporations and foundations manage their giving programs. Like many of our clients, we started small, with programs focused on community events and donations. Today, Versaic is the engine behind programs for more than 100 clients across a spectrum of industries, representing tens of thousands of transactions, and supporting thousands of non-profits and community groups. We’re pioneering software solutions for some of the most pressing challenges faced by corporate and private foundations, including reporting on impact, engaging effectively with stakeholders and ensuring transparency and consistency.

How One Question Changed This Nonprofit Board Meeting

After attending various board meetings from numerous types of nonprofits over the last 20 years, one particular gathering of the board for a local charity stands out as my favorite. Surprisingly, it wasn't a board retreat or a strategic planning session.