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Amy Eisenstein

Recent Posts by Amy Eisenstein:

A Simple Month-by-Month Cultivation Plan for Major Gift Donors

Cultivating your potential major gift donors builds and strengthens your relationship with them.

Cultivation is a fundraising art, and today you’re going to learn tips on Cultivating Donors.

Four Metrics to Measure the Success of Your Major Gift Program

Welcome back to the Major Gifts Challenge! If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.

Let’s not sugarcoat it ... measuring impact can be hard. The issues we tackle in the nonprofit sector are challenging.

Fame and Fortune Await! Take the NEW Major Gifts Challenge

Fame and fortune can be yours—raise major gifts for your cause and you can be both RICH and FAMOUS!

How to Raise Major Gifts When You Don’t Have Any Donors

Last week, GuideStar hosted a webinar called “How to Get Started Raising Major Gifts.” If you missed it, watch the replay here. One question was asked more than any other:

“How can we raise major gifts, if we don’t have a database full of donors?”

Happiness and Fundraising: How Are They Linked?


Reposted from Tri Point Fundraising

Read a transcript of this video:

Use Board Member Bingo to Make Board Retreats Fun!


Do You Really, Seriously Need a Board Retreat?


Reprinted from Tri Point Fundraising

This fundraising question comes from Tom, who writes:

"I can't convince my ED that we should have a board retreat. Can you help?"

Yes, Tom! I can help! Thanks for asking.

First, I would want you to find out what your executive director's objection to a board retreat is? Are they concerned about time? Money? And, maybe they don't see the value or benefit. So let's start there.

Board Retreats Are Different from Board Meetings

Let me start by saying that board retreats should not simply be longer versions of your normal board meeting. They should be noticeably different from your regular board meetings, and have a distinct feel and purpose.

For example, the items that normally appear on your board meeting agenda should not appear on the agenda for your retreat—especially reports! There should be no regular committee reports at your retreat.

And, in order to make them feel different, a board retreat should take place in a different location, if at all possible. But you don't need to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat location—although wouldn't that be nice! Hopefully one of your board members has a conference room you can use for your retreat. All you need are chairs, tables, an easel, and a few flip charts.

Pros & Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

Another thing to think about when planning for a board retreat are the pros and cons of using an outside facilitator. I'll admit, I'm totally biased on this subject, because facilitating board retreats is one of my favorite parts of my work. But also because I truly believe there are strong benefits to having a professional facilitating your retreat.

That said, here's a quick list of pros and cons, starting with the cons.

The Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

The only con I can think of is the cost. Honestly, there isn't any other downside.

And if you think of the fee of the facilitator as an investment in getting your board and staff more engaged and prepared to help with fundraising, then it's actually an investment in your nonprofit, and you can move it over to the "pro" column.

The Pros of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

So let's get to the pros—three essential reasons to have a professional facilitator.

  1. Get an outside perspective.

    Board members pay more attention to an outsider. They are less inclined to be distracted by work or phone calls.

  2. Staff can participate.

    When you have an outside facilitator, staff can participate too—and don't have to worry about the agenda or personalities in the room.

  3. Experience matters.

    Professional board retreat facilitators are trained and experienced, and usually well worth it.

Board Retreats on a Budget

If you truly can't afford a retreat facilitator, consider swapping executive directors or development directors for a day with another organization, and you lead their retreat and let them lead yours. You won't have the benefits of having a professional facilitator, but you will get the benefits of having an outsider.

Okay, I think I've gotten a little carried away with the whole facilitator thing, so let's get back to Tom's question about how to convince his boss to have a retreat in the first place.

Three Vital Reasons to have a Board Retreat

Remember, there are three key reasons for having an annual board retreat:

  1. Team Building
  2. Strategic Planning
  3. Fundraising

These are all critical topics for your board, and an annual retreat is the best place to start tackling these important issues.

Now, if you are only focused on strategic planning at your retreat, which I find to be the case in about half the organizations I work with, my question to you is this ...

How do you expect to pay to implement your plans if your board members aren't engaged in fundraising? You can have the best plans in the world, but if you can't fund them, what good are they?

So, having a retreat to discuss both planning and fundraising are critical!

Watch the Video!


The preceding is a guest post by Amy Eisenstein. Recognized as a leading expert in her field, she's helped small and large nonprofits alike raise millions of dollars through major gift and capital campaigns, board development, annual fund campaigns, direct mail, and planned gift solicitations. Amy's primary mission is to make nonprofit development simple, helping them to clear away the complexity and raise funds much more effectively.

How do I Explain a Reserve to My Donors?

A few months back I was facilitating a board retreat for a historical society in Denver and talking about the importance of fundraising, when a board member named John stopped me and asked me this:

Stay the Course to Raise Major Gifts

Do you want to raise major gifts for your nonprofit, but feel held back by lack of know-how, courage, or time?

The good news is that those first two obstacles are fairly easy to overcome. You can learn how to raise major gifts fairly easily by reading books (and/or blogs) and taking classes.

As for lack of courage (aka fear of fundraising), the best way to overcome it is practice—practice sessions with your board, staff, and volunteers, and by looking at each major gift ask as an opportunity to practice.

So don't let lack of know-how or fear of fundraising hold you back—I've worked with plenty of people who overcame either (or both!) of these challenges quite easily.

The lack of time excuse, on the other hand, is a tricky one; particularly if you're dealing with it in addition to, say, fear of fundraising. After all, that mountain of paperwork and the next mailing, while routine and boring, can look pretty inviting when you compare them with overcoming fear!

But the fact remains that the most cost-effective way to raise money is by implementing a major gifts program. The good news, though, is that major gift fundraising also takes less time than, say, putting together big events.

The only way, however, to achieve a successful major gifts program is to work on it consistently, every week, 52 weeks a year (minus your vacation time, of course!).

In other words, you have to stay the course in order to boost your nonprofit's bottom line with major gifts.

But don't despair! You don't have to hire extra staff or add 20 hours to your already-overworked week to make major gifts happen. In fact, you—yes, you—can raise major gifts in only five hours a week.

That's right. Just five hours a week. But as I said above, a successful major gifts program means setting aside five hours every week.

So how are you going to do it? Here are my five top tips for consistently setting aside the time you'll need to raise major gifts:

  1. Get buy-in from your staff, board, and other volunteers—and then ask for their support. As you'll learn, you aren't going to raise this money by yourself; a successful major gifts program depends on the active participation of your board, executive director, and development director. By getting them (and the rest of your staff) enthused about the possibilities first, though, you'll also be able to ask for support in other ways, which leads to ...
  2. Delegate! You've made it clear that you'll be able to help significantly boost your organization's ability to change and save lives through raising major gifts. Your board, staff, and other volunteers are excited about the possibilities. Great! This means that you now have leverage to ask a volunteer to help organize the next bulk mail project, for example, or to ask a member of your board to take the lead on an event.
  3. Set aside your major gifts work time on your calendar. Do this for weeks in advance, and be sure to share this information with your staff, volunteers, and board. In other words, let them know that you shouldn't be interrupted from 9 to 10 a.m. each day, because you'll be working on major gifts!
  4. Evaluate your priorities. Do you really need to attend every meeting you have scheduled for the next month? Are you the only person in your organization who can reliably enter donor information in your database? Before you can delegate you need to be clear about which tasks you simply must do, which are okay to pass along to someone else, and which ones you're able to let go.
  5. Take care of yourself. Yes, I know, virtually every consultant emphasizes the importance of self-care (including time off). So why mention it here? Because implementing a brand-new program, particularly a major gifts program, is stressful, and stress makes it harder to raise money—particularly major gifts. Taking care of and pacing yourself as though you're running a marathon (which, in a very real way, you are), will allow you to stay the course and succeed.

For more detailed information on starting and implementing a major gifts program, visit my blog and the Major Gifts Challenge.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, Tri Point Fundraising
© 2014, Tri Point Fundraising

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is a leading fundraising consultant, speaker, and coach who has taught hundreds of people how to raise major gifts. Her latest book, Major Gifts for Small Shops, covers how to defeat the fear of fundraising, how to find time for and stay the course with major gifts, and other proven advice for creating and sustaining a successful major gift program.

Black, White, or Gray: How are Your Fundraising Ethics?

Have you ever been in a situation that didn’t feel quite right? Or, where you weren’t sure what to do?

We all have, and it’s probably because some ethical dilemma was taking place.

Sometimes there’s a clear-cut answer when it comes to ethics — such as when ethics and the law intersect. For example, you shouldn’t steal — stealing is both unethical and illegal.

However, sometimes unethical issues are legal. One example of something that is legal, but unethical for a development director to accept a personal gift from a donor. For example, let’s say you have a major donor who gives you an expensive gold watch for Christmas or leaves you a personal bequest in their will. What do you do?

Why Are Fundraising Ethics so Important?

The reason that ethics is so important in the nonprofit sector is that fundraising is all about trust.

Would you give to an organization or individual you didn’t consider ethical?

How do you think donors react when they learn that an organization has engaged in unethical behavior?

When facing an ethical situation, ask yourself if it passes the stink test. If it looks like a skunk and smells like a skunk, it’s probably a skunk.

You have intuition for a reason — trust your gut.

When Good Intentions Go Bad

Yesterday, I received a call from a development director — let’s call her “Mary” — because she was concerned about a situation at her organization.

Mary’s board members agreed to co-host/sponsor a fundraising event with a for-profit company (yellow flag) without consulting her (red flag). Unfortunately, the board members didn’t ask the right questions, because they were so blinded by the promises of an “easy” fundraising event. Sadly, the event didn’t raise any money (high expenses, low revenue), and the for-profit company received all the benefit (high visibility). Not only that, but the company was the one collecting the checks.

Major ethical dilemma here. Oops!

In order to prevent this type of ethical dilemma or deal with any situation that may arise, here are some rules of thumb to follow before you find yourself face-to-face with an ethical quandary.

Rules of Thumb for Ethical Fundraising

1. Check the AFP Code of Ethics

Start at the source — the AFP Code of Ethics. Have your staff and board members read and discuss the code to ensure they understand what is considered ethical and what isn’t.

If you are a member of AFP, you can take their Ethics Assessment Inventory, which is great food for thought and lets you know how you are doing.

2. Front Page Test

If you don’t want whatever you’re doing to be on the front page of your local paper or the sordid topic of some blogger, it’s probably not ethical. Ask yourself: Is there a possibility that your organization could end up on the front page of the paper for this action? Would you be proud or would donors run?

3. How Would Your Parents Feel?

Similar to the front page test, would your parents be proud or disappointed if you took the action you’re considering?

4. Trust Your Gut (and Your Nose)

Finally, once again, if it’s black and white and stinks, it’s probably a skunk. In other words, if it looks like a skunk, and smells like a skunk, it’s probably a skunk. And, if there’s a fundraising event or major gift that comes your way that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

That’s how Mary’s board got themselves into hot water. They didn’t pay attention to the many red flags waiving in front of their noses.

Shades of Gray

The difficulty with ethical situations is that they are not always black and white — in fact, they are often gray.

The most important thing to do when faced with an ethical dilemma is to be open and honest about it with your executive director and board. Discuss the situation and come to an agreement about what to do. Do not keep it a secret — it’s probably a red flag if you don’t want to tell anyone.

Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma at your organization? What did you do? Tell me about it in the comments.

The preceding is a cross-post by Amy Eisenstein, CFRE, author, speaker, trainer, and owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm. You can read the original post here. You can also view her presentations and listen recording of her November 2013 webinar for GuideStar here. Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE is a best-selling author, speaker, trainer and consultant, as well as the owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm for nonprofit organizations and foundations. Her published books include: Amazon Best-Seller Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops: How to Leverage Your Annual Fund in Only Five Hours per Week, Raising More with Less: An Essential Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Professionals and Board Members, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop. She currently serves as the president of the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – New Jersey Chapter. Amy received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from the Wagner Graduate School at New York University and her Bachelor’s Degree from Douglass College at Rutgers University. Amy became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2004 and became an ACFRE in 2013. Please visit her website for her free eBooks at