The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Andrea Kihlstedt

Recent Posts by Andrea Kihlstedt:

Follow-up to Capital Campaigns for the 21st Century: What’s New and What’s Not Webinar

Below is a follow-up by Gail Perry and Andrea Kihlstedt to a handful of questions submitted by participants during the October 8, 2013, webinar “Capital Campaigns for the 21st Century: What's New and What's Not.” To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the webinar, please click here. We've posted even more answers to your questions from Gail and Andrea on our Tumblr here.

Feasibility Studies: An Unnecessary Expense Designed to Make Consultants Rich, or an Important Part of Your Next Fundraising Campaign?

Why in heaven's name would you hire strangers to talk to your most valuable donors and volunteers? How do you know that a third party will represent you and your organization the way you wish to be seen? Will your prospects, donors, and volunteers really confide in someone they don't know?

Interview with Fundraiser Andrea Kihlstedt

Andrea Kihlstedt, author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps, recently spoke with her publisher about fundraising. GuideStar has published excerpts from Ms. Kihlstedt's book (see the links below), and we're pleased to be able to share her additional thoughts with you.

Your book has an ambitious title—How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. You're saying it can really be boiled down to 10 steps? I'm skeptical.

I worked with organizations on capital campaigns for over 25 years. Early on, this kind of awe-inspiring fundraising seemed hugely complicated to me. But gradually, as I worked on campaign after campaign, I came to see that they're really based on simple concepts. To the extent you can stay focused on these prescribed steps, your success will be more likely.

There's a lot of conventional thinking when it comes to fundraising. What "truisms" should be cast aside today as antiquated?

I'm not sure we should cast aside truisms but some things are happening that are changing the way people function.

When I began, people had more time to volunteer. Their lives were more stable and they expected to work for the same company and live in the same community for most of their lives. And the word "community" meant a geographic area or neighborhood.

It doesn't take hard research to see that these things have changed. Today in many families both partners work full-time. In small and mid-sized communities, many of the businesses aren't locally owned. And many people have stronger ties to their Facebook communities than their next-door neighbors. All of these changes have consequences in fundraising. They lead to less active volunteer involvement, giving that isn't restricted to the community, and less loyalty to specific organizations. Today it's as easy to feel great about a gift you make to an organization in Somalia as it is to your local hospital. And, funny enough, many organizations raising money through the Web make you feel even more connected than ones in your hometown.

Social media—do you see it playing a substantial role in tomorrow's big-dollar campaigns? How?

I have a hunch that over the next few years, the space between crowd-sourced fundraising methods and capital campaigns will shrink. When I look at fundraising platforms like KickStarter or DonorsChoose, I see the principles and systems of capital campaign fundraising laid out remarkably well for small individual drives. Teachers can raise money for their classrooms through DonorsChoose and artists can run their own little campaign campaigns through KickStarter. Traditional campaigns haven't yet figured out how these new platforms fit in, but within a couple of years, I'm sure they'll be incorporated into every campaign.

Most organizations, at one time or another, have launched a major gifts campaign. As a percentage, how many do you think succeed in raising most of their goal? And what's the leading reason, generally speaking, for those that fail?

There's no way of knowing how many major gift campaigns fail. But I'm quite sure when they do fail, it's for two reasons: 1) They haven't communicated clearly the real difference a donor's money will make in the lives of others, and 2) They haven't found the courage to ask people face to face for specific gifts.

Is there a nickel's worth of difference between the sexes when it comes to philanthropy?

Research shows that women give more generously and more publicly. But personally I haven't found that to be the case. Generous people give generously whether they're male or female. If anything, the gender differences are becoming less distinct as women play a more equal role in society.

Along the same line, tell me the differences you perceive between today's donors and, say, those of 15 years ago.

I encounter more wealthy young people than I did 15 years ago. It's not uncommon today to meet people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who have made a ton of money. Many of them are risk takers. They're impatient, keen on seeing results, and excited about innovating. To them, traditional campaigns are boring. They're more interested in investing in social good than outright gifts. That said, I have been involved in campaigns where wealthy young donors have been heart-stoppingly generous.

Everybody and his brother is afraid of asking. I realize there are workshops and role playing but I'm in a hurry. Tell me the best QUICK way to overcome fear. And please don't pull a Nike and say, "Just do it."

Speak from your heart and only ask for gifts when you're fully committed to the cause, which means you've made your own gift first. Your commitment will carry you through your fear.

When you ask someone to give, you have to be ready to have a serious and personal conversation about you we believe in. That sort of intimacy requires courage.

You've consulted with organizations for nearly 30 years. Tell me the worst piece of advice you ever gave to an organization—something that still makes you cringe today.

I've given my fair share of lousy advice, but probably the worst is when I've encouraged clients to be too cautious. In my early years, I was so keen on successful campaigns that I was too timid and conservative. It would have been wrong of me to suggest foolish risks, but big, bold ideas, if supported by excellent people, have a way of attracting remarkable resources.

What's your favorite philanthropy quotation?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." Anaïs Nin.


© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Andrea Kihlstedt has written two books on capital campaign fundraising and a third on Asking Styles. She cofounded Asking Matters, an invaluable resource that teaches people how to ask for donations in a natural way that complements their own personal Asking Styles.


Follow-up to Year-End Fundraising Webinar

Happy New Year from all of us at GuideStar! We hope that 2013 is happy, healthy, and prosperous for you and yours. The GuideStar Blog took a brief hiatus but now we're back to business. As we continue to shape our content, we hope to hear from you. Please email if you have suggestions or would care to submit a blog post. Cheers!

Capital Campaign Magic: Revealing Five Secrets of Success

Have you noticed big capital campaigns in your community that raise millions ... even hundreds of millions?

How Big Should Your Endowment Be?

No one has ever accused me of being a math whiz. In fact, numbers seem to roam around my brain, sometimes reconfiguring themselves in strange ways that have little to do with reality.

Fatal Fundraising Flaw: Don't Succumb

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

I recently worked on a project to raise $1 million to renovate a community market building that's home to many local businesses.

In an early planning meeting, George, one of the more powerful committee members, said he was convinced the best way to raise half of the money was to get 500 people to each give a thousand dollars.

"After all," George reasoned, "the market is the heart of the community and hundreds of thousands of people shop here every year. Why should a few people bear the brunt of this fundraising?" George suggested we sell 500 paving bricks at a thousand dollars each. "We'll raise half the money that way and be done by the end of the summer," he concluded.

Sounds deceptively easy and logical, except for one fatal flaw ...

People—and count yourself among them—aren't inclined to write checks of a thousand dollars without being carefully cultivated and solicited. George's idea was simply impractical. We had neither the staff nor the time nor the resources to identify, cultivate, and sell bricks to 500 people.

George's belief that raising money through lots of smaller gifts isn't uncommon. And certainly you'll want to invite as many people as possible to contribute what they can. But before you approach smaller donors you need enough large gifts to anchor the campaign. You ignore this part of the fundraising process at your own peril.

Take the temptation of direct mail, for instance. Blanketing your community with a general appeal is certainly easier than summoning the courage to ask selected people for sizable gifts. Just ask the library in a small town, where a wonderful group of people decided they were going to raise $2.2 million from private sources to help expand the library. They did in fact raise $900,000, leaving them $1.3 million short.

Approximately 34,000 people live in the town where the library is located, and their small trailer-like library was very popular. So the board figured they could send a letter to everyone asking for help to build a new facility. They wrote a great letter, developed a pledge form, and secured all of the town's names and addresses. They even put personal notes on many of the letters. With great anticipation, the letter was sent.

How much of the hoped-for $1.2 million came in from that mailing? To the board's surprise, just over $14,000. Not nearly enough to complete the campaign.

With some rare exceptions, the direct mail approach results in small gifts. To succeed in raising the remaining $1.2 million, the library needed additional big gifts. Who do you know would send $10,000, $25,000, and $50,000 via the post? (Ultimately, the library exceeded its fundraising goals.)

Raising large gifts requires effort, but it's a more strategic kind of effort, not the many hours of volunteer work required to get out a mailing. It takes time and thought and energy to build solid relationships with the right people, but once that's done, the asking part is easy.

Everyone's Fundraising Fantasy

Dave, the executive director of a youth services organization in New York City, established a charter school to expand and extend the services his agency provided for young people and their families in a notably poor neighborhood.

In the first year, the kindergarten and first grades were up and running in classrooms rented to them by a local public school. But wanting to expand, Dave set about planning to build a facility that would accommodate grades K-6.

What Dave wanted wasn't just a school, but a combination community center and school. He wanted a place where parents could get involved. A place that had theatre and music and sports along with child care and even a health clinic.

For the most part, the board was supportive, but some members had serious concerns. They wondered how Dave could maintain basic operations while devoting significant amounts of time and money to his new goal. And Dave knew that many board members weren't eager to commit their funds while the economy was so gloomy.

But Dave felt they couldn't sit back and wait. He already had waiting lists for the kindergarten class in the fall. The first graders would soon be ready for second grade, and next year he'd need classrooms for the third graders.

In meeting after meeting, Alex, one of the newer board members, sat quietly and attentively, listening and asking questions. He'd been involved as a volunteer for some years and knew firsthand the challenges young people in the community faced. His quiet and thoughtful ways had already earned him respect among the others at the table, but no one anticipated the way he would act on his commitment.

One day, after a particularly challenging meeting, Alex showed up unexpectedly at Dave's office. Fearing the worst, Dave asked his assistant to hold his calls.

Alex began the conversation in his characteristically understated way, telling Dave how important the organization was to him. He predicted dire financial times ahead but still felt they should move ahead with his plans for a new building.

"This isn't the time to stop growing," Alex said. "This downturn offers opportunities that'll disappear when conditions improve."

Then he added, "I know you'll have to invest to get the plans shovel-ready, so I've decided to cover these costs." With that, he handed Dave a check for $1 million!

Alex's extraordinary gift did much more than provide the planning funds. It created a sense of credibility and inevitability for the project. Board members who had been skeptical stopped their carping. They knew that when the project took clear form—with a site, a plan, and a budget—they'd be asked to give. And because Alex set the standard, they'd be more likely to stretch.

To be sure, Alex's gift was a surprise, but it didn't come out of nowhere. He had been intimately involved with the organization for many years. He had served as a volunteer in the programs, working with a group of young people from the time they were eight until they went to college. Alex had also attended early planning meetings for the project.

My point is, if you've involved people who are capable of making large gifts in the early steps of your fundraising, you'll be ready to ask them for their commitments without much fuss. One of the counter-intuitive aspects of well-executed fundraising is that the largest gifts are often the easiest to secure. You won't need fancy proposals or glossy brochures. But, unlike Dave, in most cases you will need to ask.

Andrea Kihlstedt
© 2010, Emerson & Church Publishers. Excerpted from How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps; excerpted with permission.

Andrea Kihlstedt is fascinated by what makes people tick. She has spent the last 28 years as a capital campaign consultant, working with organizations large and small, giving her ample opportunities to observe remarkable people who through their courage, commitment, and energies make our world a better place through fundraising. For more information, visit, a Web site designed to provide tools that inform, support, and motivate people to go out and ask for gifts.

Asking Your Insiders to Give

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