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As we head into late summer/early fall, most people’s attention turns to the kiddos heading back to school, the weather finally cooling off, and the leaves changing colors. However, as nonprofit professionals, our attention turns to one thing – the single most important event for all nonprofits – end-of-year (EOY) fundraising!

The 7 Biggest Mistakes In Handling Donor Data

So much is written every month in various nonprofit publications and blog posts regarding the insights and best practices revolving around fundraising. Virtually all of them are truly insightful and can lead to greater successes.

How Can Nonprofits Become Agile Learners?

Flickr Photo by Ale Nunez

I read this wonderful article “Agility Is Today’s Most Critical Leadership Competency” by Julie Winkle Giuliani, author of “Watch Them Grow or Watch Them Go.” Agility is defined in the dictionary as light and graceful or as a project management approach, but she defines agility as the ability for continuous learning and as a leadership competency in today’s complicated world.

The leadership qualities she identifies are what many of us have been described as networked leadership:

  • Expansive, possibility-oriented thinkers, able to recognize patterns, connect dots, and see changing conditions before others do;
  • Collaborative, inclusive, and curious;
  • Able to act quickly, set new direction, make smart but fast decisions, and engage in focused experimentation; and
  • Equally comfortable improvising as necessary and also translating those improvised moves that worked into codified strategies, systems, processes and tools that help the organization continue to evolve.

Learning agility is valuable skill because it can help organizations get to better outcomes, especially when it becomes embedded into organizational culture and systems for continuous learning and improvement. The article describes ways that individuals can develop their learning agility muscle.

  • The Tension Between Getting It Done & Learning: With resource strapped nonprofits, how to get it down efficiently as possible might get in the way of learning. Yes, templates and codification is a good thing, but sometimes learning is about serendipity or taking that extra time to learn about a new topic or practice with a different method or tool. I think you have to walk that tension between being efficient and checking it off your to do list with time to explore and learn. Or else, your work becomes stale and boring — and you miss an opportunity to innovate.
Source: Ann Friedman
  • Getting Feedback: According to the post, the best way to learn is to ask for feedback on your ideas or work process. You have to truly value feedback, even if isn’t just an affirmation of your idea. And, in this day of social networks — feedback can come from a variety of sources and unsolicited. So, I thought this matrix was highly useful to help sort out when to pay attention to feedback based on who the people who are offering it.
  • Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone: When you reach a certain level of expertise, you don’t have to think too much to get a project or task done. So, trying something new is a risk – and takes more effort. And, it might not be successful. However, if you think of getting out of your comfort zone as a way to become an agile learner, the benefits outweigh the challenges.

The article suggests that the skill of self-reflection is the secret sauce for learning how to become an agile learner. How many of us allocate quiet time to reflect every day on what we learned and how we can build on that insight? It is tempting to simply not do that because the pull of your task list is too strong.

What exactly is reflective practice and how do you do it? There are many formal methods and individual and peer group practices, but my favorite is an agile method for reflective practice from Peter Bregman’s 18 Minutes A Day. He describes a simple technique of taking 5 minutes every morning to write down 3 important tasks to accomplish and then reminding yourself every hour as to whether you have completed those tasks using your iPhone alarm. And then reflecting at the end of the day for 5 minutes about what you accomplished. I use this method along with a “To Done” journal to mine my experience for new insights.

Are you an agile learner? How do you make sure that you are learning everyday as part of your nonprofit work? What gets in the way of learning when working for a nonprofit?

Beth Kanter

The preceding is a cross-post by Beth Kanter, the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits. To read the original article on Beth’s blog, click here. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing. Beth is an internationally recognized trainer who has developed and implemented effective sector capacity building programs that help organizations integrate social media, network building, and relationship marketing best practices. Beth is an expert in facilitating online and offline peer learning, curriculum development based on traditional adult learning theory, and other instructional approaches. She has trained thousands of nonprofits around the world.

8 Social Insights That Drive Engagement (which you probably don’t know)

You have your email list. You have your phone numbers, zips, and addresses. Heck, you even know how many actions each person has taken, their last donation or purchase, and if they open emails. But there’s something incredibly valuable missing here.

What to Do When Fear Leads to Fundraising Failure

It may be noble for the captain to go down with the sinking ship, but a compelling fundraising offer it is not.

Ask Andrea: Celebrity Challenges

Do you have a question to ask me? Email me, Andrea Kihlstedt, at for your chance to be featured in the column!

An Exercise That Raises Money While You Do It

A version of this article originally appeared in Grassroots Fundraising Journal

Is your board afraid of fundraising? You're not alone. Most boards find the whole subject taboo.

Here's a real-world example. Imagine that your nonprofit faced the following challenges:

  • Most of your board members are both unskilled at fundraising and anxious about doing it. (Sounds familiar, right?)
  • You board gathers only twice per year—it's an international organization—so there aren't many board training opportunities.
  • As a grassroots nonprofit, you don't have the money to fly around North America to coach the trustees or meet with donors.

How would you turn these barriers into assets?

About the Capital Campaign Table of Gifts

Adapted from How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps

A "gift table" is a commonly used fundraising tool showing how many donors are needed at what levels of giving to achieve a desired goal.

What decades of experience have shown is the following:

  • Most fundraising campaigns require one gift that totals 15 to 20 percent of the goal. This one gift sets the bar and others will give in proportion to it.
  • In most campaigns, the top 10 gifts will make up at least half of the goal.

If you can raise the 10 gifts that get you over the halfway mark, the rest is likely to fall into place because these gifts create a sense of inevitability, and build confidence in other donors that your project will be successful.

Here's what a typical table of gifts might look like:

#Gifts Amount Total Given Cumulative Total
1 $250,000 $250,000 $250,000
2 $100,000 $200,000 $450,000
4 $50,000 $200,000 $650,000
8 $25,000 $200,000 $850,000
10 $10,000 $100,000 $950,000
200 <$10,000 $50,000 $1,000,000

The pattern underpinning the table of gifts is somewhat mathematical, but the exact formula you use will grow out of your understanding of your organization, your community, and your donor base. A more common and less stressful pattern would show a donor base that's large enough to line up four or five prospects for every anticipated gift.

But the table of gifts isn't just a road map. It's also a mirror, a conversation piece, and a yardstick. As you tinker with the numbers, notice how quickly you identify where your own gift fits on the chart.

You'll also find that everyone you show it to experiences the same reaction. The table is like a mirror, reflecting back our ability to give. It's also a wonderful conversation starter when you're actually soliciting gifts. The table defines possible gift levels in an objective, non-threatening way.

I remember Barbara, a wonderful volunteer and donor who was willing to solicit her friend Charles for the hospice in her community, even though she was very uncomfortable talking about money.

The idea of asking her friend for a gift of a specific amount made Barbara almost nauseated. The development director thought Charles had the capacity to give $50,000 but he knew Barbara would be incapable of asking for that. So instead he sent her off with a gift table that had the $50,000 level highlighted.

When Barbara sat down with Charles, she didn't have to say anything about the size of the gift. All she had to do was to place the chart in front of him. Charles could see that $50,000 wasn't the largest gift but was still in the top group. He looked at Barbara and said "So this is where you think I fit." Barbara nodded nervously. "You're right," Charles said." And that was that.

One last thing about the table of gifts. In addition to the other uses I mentioned, it's also a yardstick for progress. As gifts come in, you can literally check them off, showing donors in a very specific and visual way how your fundraising is progressing. That reinforces their confidence in you and very well could lead to additional gifts from friends and colleagues of theirs.

Andrea Kihlstedt
© 2010, Emerson & Church, Publishers. Adapted with permission.

Andrea Kihlstedt has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising. 

Ice Cream Sundaes and Why Good Data Matters

The last time GuideStar attempted to make a video, YouTube was still an infant. That video included scenes of a soap opera production set sans camera and, quite amazingly, a young lady sticking her head into an ice cream sundae. (Don’t believe me? See the screenshot below.)

Better Data Makes For A Better World

There’s a lot of talk in the tech industry of having the next big thing that’s going to change the world. I think we can all agree there are some times where ‘changing the world’ is an understatement - think about what you would do without your smartphone or access to something like Google, GPS navigation, or even Facebook and Twitter. More often than not though, it’s a mixture of hope and hyperbole and I think the world is starting to catch on - look no further than the current trend of American television commercials (including this one with Jeff Goldblum) satirizing our industry.

5 Board Fundraising Myths – BUSTED!


The first thing anyone will tell you as you craft your social media presence is that you have to have content to share. From blogs, to photos, to videos, there’s really no end to the different types of content you’ll be encouraged to produce. We non-profiters are used to telling stories and creating content, but the internet is now so saturated that it can be hard to get heard above the noise. That’s why I want to challenge the notion that content is king.

Data Science, a Critical Tool in the Nonprofit World in 2015

For Brian Lange from Datascope Analytics, there’s never been more opportunity for nonprofits and foundations to adopt evidence-based practices in their work.

Updating your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile Just Got Easier! Here’s Why.

We are pleased to launch our new user interface for updating your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile, which we hope will make it easier than ever to claim and update your GuideStar profile. As I’m sure you already know, every tax-exempt nonprofit registered with the IRS already has a profile on GuideStar, but many only have information from their organization’s IRS records—that is, until they take the opportunity to update their Nonprofit Profile. And this ability to take control of your organization’s profile is something that we believe really empowers nonprofits to tell a stronger story about the causes they care about and why. The refreshed interface is all about making it easier and faster for organizations to update their Nonprofit Profiles for immediate, wide-reaching access to foundations, grantmakers, donors, and nonprofits alike.

Board Recruiting Best Practices – Where and When should your board meet?

Where and when your board meets might be more important than what your nonprofit actually does…at least to some potential board members. Surprising news for some nonprofits, but with nearly 2 million board seats opening up in the country every year, board candidates have a lot of options when deciding to join a nonprofit board. For most board candidates, there is no shortage of potentially appealing board on which to serve. So how do board candidates choose a board? Believe it or not: if often comes down to where the board meets and at what time of day.



At three recent philanthropy gatherings*, I’ve heard open discussions of failure in grantmaking strategy and execution. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but I’m heartened by this mini-trend.


Founder’s Syndrome and Fundraising

If you are the founder of a nonprofit organization, work for a founder, or followed a founder into the executive director's chair, I don't need to tell you what Founder’s Syndrome is.You have your own stories.

Happiness and Fundraising: How Are They Linked?


Reposted from Tri Point Fundraising

Read a transcript of this video:

A Key Question on Donors' Minds: Why Are You Asking Me?


Excerpted from The 11 Questions Every Donors Asks & the Answers All Donors Crave

My uncle Russell once said to his wife, "You must admit men have better judgment than women." Annie replied, "That's certainly true. You married me, and I married you."

Whether women have better judgment isn't a discussion I'll entertain here. For that, wait for my next book, Putting Your Foot in It.

But one thing I do know is this: the first thing prospective donors judge, even before your proposal or your cause, is y-o-u.

They take your full measure, which typically means any or all of the following:

"Who are you?"
"What's in it for you?"
"Have you given?"
"Who else has given?" And, "Do you genuinely believe in this cause?"

Who Are You?

A friend? A peer? A stranger? A volunteer? Staff? All things being equal, the closer you are to the prospect, the better your odds are of securing a gift.

Sure, at times it's easier for a friend to say no. But my experience (and that of many fundraisers) is that it's painfully hard to turn away a close acquaintance or someone you love, who's passionate about a good cause. Too much is at stake emotionally.

Besides friendship, what else helps? Titles. The individual who has CEO on his or her business card will open more doors (and wallets) than an Assistant Manager for Small Dollar Gifts. Unfair, perhaps, but undeniable. The fact that your campaign chair or board president is asking underscores the importance of the gift.

Also, local or national standing plays a role. A highly respected community leader or an Olympic medalist will open doors—and checkbooks as well.

Then there's the matter of business relationships. If the person asking is in a position to benefit the donor's company or career, he or she is harder to refuse.

Last, if the solicitor is someone known for impeccable integrity (think Nelson Mandela or someone of equal caliber in your area of concern), then the chances for success increase measurably.

What's in It for You?

When a donor thinks, "What's your particular interest in asking me for money?" the underlying question is "What are your motives?" And motives mean everything.

If the person you're asking feels you're sacrificing your time for the cause, that your passion is genuine, and you truly care how the gift will be used, then the question "What's in it for you?" will be laid to rest.

If on the other hand donors feel you're deriving some personal benefit, they're less likely to be interested.

David Dunlop, one of the cocreators of Moves Management and a truly great fundraiser, sums it up this way: "If we are really skillful in our work, we'll have people asking who are so deeply committed to our cause that the answer to why are you asking will be obvious."

A worthy goal indeed.

Have You Given?

One of the first lessons I learned in fundraising is that it's difficult to ask if you haven't given yourself.

Imagine if a donor asks the solicitor, "What have you given?"

Does the solicitor inspire a gift by replying, "Hey, I'm giving my time—that's my gift."

That's when the would-be donor stows his or her wallet and says, "Sign me up for a few hours Saturday morning."

There are no inspiring or successful answers if you haven't given generously yourself.

Understand, the solicitor's gift needn't match what you hope the prospect will give. In fact, the amount is often less. You may be asking for $5 million while your own stretch gift is $500. That's okay. What matters is that your giving is proportionate to your means.

Donors have every right to be suspicious if the person asking hasn't given. Why? Because the asker should care enough about the cause to be its advocate—rationally, emotionally, and financially.

Do You Really Believe in This Cause?

Ever notice how the best salespeople are those who truly believe in their products? Their enthusiasm is real—and contagious.

In the same way, a person asking for a gift must convey his or her own passion. A fundraiser needn't be flamboyant or a skilled salesperson. But the person asking does have to communicate his or her belief that this is a wonderful and worthy cause.

Even better is the solicitor who's personally touched by the cause. If, for instance, someone is approached for a gift by a cancer survivor whose life has been saved by laboratory research, it's immensely powerful.

The same would be true if the asker is a businesswoman who grew up in poverty. Then, thanks to a summer camp program funded by this organization, her life was turned around. How could you not be inspired to give?

Another Excerpt from This Book


The preceding is a guest post by Harvey McKinnon, 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, 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.

A Battle of Mythic Proportions

Expanding Engagement Through the Power of Influencers

A challenge that nonprofits face every day is: How do we reach and inspire new supporters?

Using GuideStar as a Student

Artisha Naidu