Andy Robinson

Andy Robinson is a trainer and consultant based in Vermont. Learn more at and A brand-new video series, focused on effective board training, is available at

Recent Posts by Andy Robinson:

Hiring a Consultant? How to Be a Savvy Consumer

Do you need help?

Silly question ... who doesn’t?

As the gig economy expands, many nonprofits and businesses are turning to consultants and contractors to help with a variety of tasks, and to supplement staff capacity.

Who Is Your Board Fundraising Spark Plug?

Imagine the following scene.

The lonely staff fundraiser—let’s call this person Executive Director or Development Director—sits alone in a very small room, thinking about a very large fundraising goal.

“Hello, board!” the fundraiser cries out. “Are you there?”

A long pause. Nobody answers.

Four Board Behaviors Requiring Mr. Fix-it

In my book, What Every Board Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid, I make clear that the success of a board is determined in part by its collective ambition. It is easier to create a great board if you strive to be great.

How to Avoid an Overstuffed Agenda

What follows is a confession. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s true.

Three Ways to Hire a Fundraiser

Do your plans for the New Year include hiring a development director?

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?

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Nearly 20 years ago, I faced these challenges with one of my very first clients, The Wildlands Project. Together we solved the problem.

Let's call the solution "Finding major donors by mail."

Here's an exercise that will teach you how to replicate our success. You'll learn how to gently engage your board members, shift their thinking, and raise a lot of money at the same time.

In Fundraising, Personal Contact Trumps Everything

Our strategy was simple.

  1. From the organization's donor list, we segmented all $50+ donors—about 250 people—with the goal of asking them to give at least $100.
  2. We wrote a letter and mail-merged it—"Dear Fran," rather than "Dear Friend"—to make it more personal. The letter was a page and a half, printed front and back, with large margins for hand-written notes. The chair and executive director hand-signed all of the letters.
  3. We brought the letters to the board meeting and passed them around, asking trustees to write personal notes to anyone they personally knew. When the exercise was over—it took about an hour—some letters included four or five hand-written notes.
  4. We hand-addressed the envelopes, added first-class stamps, and included a response card with check-offs beginning at $100 and increasing from there.

Adding personal notes was a collegial, fun activity. Even the fundraising-phobic board members were happy to write notes, especially since they were doing it with a group of peers.

Amazing Results—and a Shift in Attitude

This mailing generated incredible results—a 33 percent response rate and almost $30,000, including gifts of $5,000 and $10,000. After these two big donations were subtracted, the average gift was $164.

For me, the best part of this experience was unexpected. Within a few weeks of the meeting, board members started contacting me—on their own initiative—to inquire about the results. "I wrote a note to Sam Smith. ... Did he respond?"

This happened often enough that I compiled a list of recent contributors and shared it with the entire board, giving them the following instructions. "These people responded to our mailing. They've all received a thank-you letter from the office, but personal thanks from you would be even better."

You know what? Most of them followed through by sending thank-you notes.

From Writing Notes to Identifying Prospects

Once board members learned how easy it was to help, and how much impact they could have, we expanded their engagement to the next level.

We asked for prospect names—and they responded. We gave them published donor lists from peer organizations to review—and they did.

With board members adding new names and reviewing other lists, we identified 400 additional prospects. A personalized "acquisition mailing" produced an impressive 15 percent response rate and more than $10,000.

We re-solicited everyone six months later, using the same process. By the end of the year, we had raised a total of $65,000 through the mail from 177 donors—terrific results for a grassroots organization.

To Engage Your Board, Start Where They Are—Not Where You Think They Should Be

Rather than complain about your board's lack of engagement, look for specific tasks that will build their confidence and create immediate results.

Anyone can write a note on a fundraising letter. Anyone can send a thank you note. Anyone can review a donor list and realize, "Hey, I know five of these people. I know actual donors!"

To build your board's self-confidence, start with this exercise, using your own list and your own letter. Then watch what happens.

Good luck!

Andy Robinson
© 2015, Andy Robinson

Andy Robinson is a trainer and consultant based in Vermont. Learn more at and A brand-new video series, focused on effective board training, is available at

Challenge Your Board, Raise More Money


You're probably familiar with the challenge or matching gift. A generous donor provides a gift or grant on the condition that you raise an equal amount from other sources.

These gifts often require a one-to-one match. Each donation you receive is matched dollar for dollar by the donor, though other ratios are possible.

If you listen to public radio anywhere in the United States, you've heard this appeal a thousand times. "Gerry Generous has pledged $5,000, but only if we raise an additional $5,000 in the next hour. Please give now!"

Challenge gifts are a classic fundraising tactic because they work. Why? The pitch includes two irresistible components. Good value for the donor—"Double your money! Your gift of $50 becomes $100!" Plus a deadline that creates a sense of urgency.

Use Challenge Gifts to Inspire Action

In recent years, the concept of the challenge has expanded to include other metrics. The donor provides a contribution if you meet different benchmarks, not just dollars raised.

For example, I volunteer for a grassroots organization in my community. One of our donors wanted to help broaden our base of support, so he pledged $15,000 on the condition that we recruit 30 new donors in 60 days, regardless of the amount they gave.

This was a great motivator. We had a measurable goal, a deadline, and a pitch: "Gifts of all sizes move us closer to a big donation. Will you help?"

How can you use this principle to better engage your board in fundraising? Here are two great examples.

How to Train Your Board—Even If They Don't Want to Be Trained

A friend in Iowa had been to several of my fundraising workshops and heard I was returning to lead another. She really, really wanted her board to attend, but they expressed little interest.

So she got creative. She identified two donors who pledged $500 each on the condition that 9 out of 10 board members attended the training. (Notice the specific benchmark: 9 out of 10.)

She brought this challenge to the board with a bit of humor. "If nine of you will show up, we'll receive $1000 just because you're in the room. You don't have to participate. You can sit in the back and scowl for three hours, but you have to be there or we can't collect the money."

Well, they came, they participated, and I didn't notice any scowls. The best part? They wouldn't leave the room. When the training was over, they huddled in the back and started strategizing. With nine board members present, they had critical mass and wanted to start applying what they had just learned.

Let's be honest: what motivated the board was bribery. But because the bribe went to the organization, rather than individual board members, no laws or ethical standards were broken. They were simply given an incentive to participate, and they rose to the challenge.

Donors Aren't Scary ... Are They?

A colleague of mine, a development director, was struggling to convince her board to join her for donor meetings. They had the usual excuses, so she conducted most of these meetings without board participation.

Finally, in frustration, she shared her struggle with a foundation officer—and the two of them devised a brilliant solution. She returned to the board with a proposition.

"I just received a $10,000 challenge grant on the condition that board members join me on 20 donor visits. Every time you come with me, we receive an additional $500 from the foundation just because you're in the room.

"You don't have to ask for the gift. I'll do that. Your job is to talk about our work and why it's meaningful to you.

"Get out your calendars and tell me when you're available. I will start scheduling appointments right now."

This is an example of what psychologists call aversion therapy. People are scared of something—snakes, spiders, donors, whatever—until they're exposed to it, and then they discover that their fears are irrational. Yes, some snakes and spiders are dangerous. Donors are not. Sit down with a donor or two and you'll look forward to doing it again.

As with the previous example, this challenge grant provided an incentive for board members to change their behavior. They met the challenge and collected the grant. Everyone felt proud. After that, it was much easier to recruit board members to meet with donors.

Get Creative—Challenge Your Board!

This principle can be applied to almost any aspect of board behavior. If you're focusing on fundraising, here are a few additional metrics that could be linked to challenge gifts.

  • 100% board giving. The donor provides a gift on the condition that all board members also make a gift.
  • Prospecting: The challenge is complete when all trustees provide names of at least five potential donors.
  • Thank-you calls. When the board phones 100 donors to thank them—for example, 10 trustees each calling 10 donors—the challenge gift is received.
  • Board fundraising agreements. When you have a personalized agreement or work plan from all board members specifying how they want to participate in fundraising, you can collect the money.

Encourage the board to develop its own measurements of fundraising success. Then identify donors who will make a challenge gift to motivate the board to follow through.

Here's the best part. When you use a donor's gift to change and strengthen your organization, you engage that donor in a much deeper, more intentional way. When you meet the challenge requirements, you're delivering on your promises, reinforcing the board's efforts, and deepening your connection to the challenge donor. Everybody wins.

The preceding is a guest post by Andy Robinson, trainer and consultant based in Vermont. Learn more at and A brand-new video series, focused on effective board training, is available at

Major Gifts Fundraising: The Questions I Hear Most Often

Having worked as a fundraising consultant and trainer for almost 20 years, I'm often surprised that the same questions come up again and again.

Happily, recurring questions can generate new answers: my responses keep evolving as I learn from donors, peers, clients, and from my ongoing experience soliciting gifts.

What follows is a "greatest hits" collection of questions. You'll find more extensive answers in my books How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone and Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise More Money.

What would you consider a "major gift?"

The concept of a "major gift" varies wildly based on the size and sophistication of organizations. For big-league universities, the major gifts category probably begins at $100,000. On the other hand, for some grassroots groups, $250 might be considered a big gift.

In the first book mentioned above, I focused on $500 to $5,000. These amounts are large enough to justify the time required to cultivate and solicit donors, yet small enough to include a wide range of prospects.

Taken in the context of a major gifts campaign, with many askers talking to multiple prospects, gifts of $500 to $5,000 can add up to a lot of money.

What's the most effective way to raise money?

Look someone in the eye and ask for it. Unfortunately, this is also the scariest way to raise money. If we're going to be successful, we have to confront our fears and doubts about money, where it comes from, who gives it, how to ask for it effectively, and so on.

If fear is the biggest barrier, how do we address it?

In a word, training. Lots of training interspersed with hands-on practice.

You might remember the first time you learned to ride a bike, which included the fear of falling and skinning your knees. A family member or friend probably coached you through it: you tried, you fell, you got up, you received more coaching, and pretty soon you were riding around the block.

Fundraising is the same. You learn, you fall a few times, you get up, you try again, and pretty soon donors are saying yes and handing you checks. For more training tools, visit

Nonprofits can spend a lot of money on trainers and consultants to engage their boards in fundraising. Does training really work?

Yes and no. While I continue to lead a lot of one-day workshops—often, with the client providing little advance prep or follow-through after the event—I'm beginning to question the model. A good trainer can move the needle, but when he or she leaves the room, everybody begins to backslide. Old habits, as they say, die hard.

On the other hand, when training is part of a long-term process of board education and engagement, rather than a one-off event, yes—training works. A lot of ongoing board education can be driven by board and staff leaders rather than relying on outside consultants.

Let's talk about donor meetings. What's the best location?

When we meet with donors, we generally have three goals:

  • Learn more about them
  • Look for ways to connect them to the work of our organization
  • Ask for their support (unless this is a get-to-know-you meeting or a personal thank-you after a recent gift)

With that in mind, you want a comfortable location that allows a certain degree of privacy and quiet. If the venue inspires the donor, even better. I would suggest the following hierarchy:

  • The donor's home. If someone invites you into his or her home for the purpose of being asked, this is a very good sign.
  • A show-and-tell opportunity: the site of your new clinic, a forest you are working to conserve, your preschool in action, and so forth. Following the site visit, make sure you have a quiet place to talk.
  • The donor's place of business.
  • Your organization's office or place of business—with the reminder that if you have good engagement opportunities, this moves up to item two on the list.
  • A restaurant or coffee shop. If this is your best option, take it—but beware of the loud diners at the next table or the waiter who delivers the check just as you are making your case. In a public location, it's impossible to control the distractions.

How about materials? What do you need to bring?

It really depends on the ask. Is this annual fundraising, a special project, or a capital campaign? As a general rule, keep it simple. We tend to overload donors with too much stuff. With that in mind, here's the basic list:

  • Pledge form (name, contact info, terms of payment, recognition information, etc.)
  • Case materials: a brochure, fact sheet, or newsletter
  • Something visual: a map or graph, photos, a site plan—specific to your mission and funding request
  • Gift chart showing the range of gifts needed to reach your goal, and progress toward that goal

Remember, materials don't make the ask, YOU make the ask. Even the strongest materials aren't as effective as a thoughtful face-to-face request, spoken from the heart.

What's your single best advice for those who want to learn face-to-face fundraising, but don't know where to begin?

If you're a novice, embrace that. Use it to your advantage. Pick three people you know well enough to call on the phone and have the following conversation:

"Sally, I'm on the board of [your organization]. We're learning how to meet with donors and ask for their support. To be honest, I'm a little intimidated but I really need to learn how to do this. May I come and practice on you?

"Just so we're clear, it's a real ask—I hope you will give. But more than the money, what I really need is feedback, and I think you would make a great practice partner. Can we practice this together? I would so appreciate your help."

The advantages of this approach: it's authentic, it's honest, and it shows a lot of humility. Most donors find that appealing.

As the famous fundraising saying states, "If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice."

Andy Robinson
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Andy Robinson is a trainer, consultant, and the author of six books, including Great Boards for Small Groups, Train Your Board (and Everyone) Else to Raise Money, and How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone. Learn more about Robinson at and

Asking Far and Wide: Interview with Fundraiser Andy Robinson

Andy Robinson, author of How to Raise $500 to $5000 From Almost Anyone, recently spoke with his publisher about major gifts fundraising. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to be able to share Mr. Robinson's additional thoughts with you.

You started in fundraising as a door-to-door canvasser. In what ways did that serve you later?

Canvassing is fundraising boot camp—most people don't last more than a day or two. Because we were expected to recruit about one donor for every eight doors we knocked on, the first lesson was to not internalize rejection. Indeed, I was often grateful for the person who said no quickly and clearly—because that moved me to the next door and the next prospect. To quote my friend and colleague Kim Klein, "Fundraising is a volume business." There's no better proof than canvassing.

The one quality a fundraiser needs the most is ...?

Bravery—though it would be hard to argue with persistence. If you don't ask, you don't receive.

Faith-based organizations attract more money than any groups. What can schools, museums, and civic organizations learn from them?

First, don't make assumptions about who has money and who doesn't—ask everyone, ask often. Second, engage your constituents as deeply and as regularly as you can. I often ask my secular clients, "Do you know your people as well as a church knows theirs?" The answer is usually no.

Tell us the top two or three motivators for why people give.

They were asked. They were asked by somebody they know. It's a way to participate—to belong—without investing time, which is even harder to get than money. Having said that, I'd be careful about generalizing. As a colleague likes to say, "If you know one donor, you know one donor."

In your book, you cite a woman who enrolled in your workshop because she was "Trying to get over myself." Tell us what she meant.

As solicitors, how we feel is secondary. The more important question is, "How does the donor feel?" People generally feel good about giving. So to paraphrase, the woman at the workshop was saying, "I want my ego out of the way so I can be of service to my organization." For a fundraiser, that's the sweet spot.

Friendship and fundraising: is that a volatile mix?

Of course—but so is friendship and a dozen other things, including politics, social class, sports teams, religion, whether your friends approve of your spouse, and so on. None of these things prevents us from making or keeping friends.

In my experience, solicitors tend to fall into two camps: people who prefer to ask people they know, and those who prefer to ask strangers. The first group tends to have greater success.

If you're uncomfortable asking your friends, try this: "Our organization is doing great work, which is why I support it. Giving a gift is one way you can participate. If you choose not to give—for any reason—that's OK. You and I will remain friends regardless. But I hope you can help."

You say that fundraising boils down to two jobs—the asker who asks for the gift, and the decider who says, "Yes, I'll give," or "No, I'll pass." You stress how it's important not to confuse these two jobs. Clarify that if you will.

We make assumptions about the people around us: "She can't contribute, she's broke. He won't donate, he has other priorities." Consequently, we don't ask a lot of people. We take a decision that should be theirs—to give or not to give—and make it for them, based on these assumptions. Remember, the number one reason that people give is because someone asked. By NOT asking them, we disempower them.

One of fundraising's conventional beliefs is that economic peers have to be involved in the solicitation. You disagree, don't you?

The peer-to-peer concept shouldn't be based on wealth, but rather how strongly you both support the mission. As an asker, you can talk about your own gift in this way: "Our organization is among the top three I support each year. I hope you'll consider making it one of your top three." Using this model, it's less about the money and more about the level of commitment.

Toward the end of your book you say this: "Ask for the gift and wait with your mouth shut. If you take nothing else from this book, please remember to ask and then be quiet." Elaborate a bit.

When you ask and be quiet—"We were hoping you would consider a gift of $10,000. That would be so significant for us"—you have all the power you'll have in that conversation. As soon as you start apologizing and backpedaling—"I know this is a bad time, any amount would be great, we're so sorry to impose on you"—you end up in a submissive position. Effective solicitors are proud of their organizations and feel honored to be asking for support. When you ask and wait—in silence—you reinforce that message.

You hear a lot these days about retaining donors and how it's much more cost-effective to nurture a long-standing relationship than continually uncover new donors. Give us your best advice for building donor loyalty.

There's a famous fundraising saying: "If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice." Engage your donors, as appropriate, in giving you feedback on both your programs and how well you treat your supporters.

It seems more and more organizations are turning to staff to solicit gifts rather than volunteers. What are your feelings about this?

Mixed. Recently, I've been leading a workshop called "Give Up on Your Board," which emphasizes using all staff to help with fundraising. You can adjust employees' job descriptions, supervise them, mandate appropriate training, and even reward them for successful fundraising campaigns with all-staff bonuses, professional development funds, and paid days off.

On the other hand, board and volunteer fundraising training continues to be the largest component of my practice. The demand is endless. Because I have experienced boards and other volunteers who embrace fundraising and do it well, I haven't totally given up. At least not yet.

© 2013, Emerson & Church Publishers.

Andy Robinson, also the author of Great Boards for Small Groups and The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances (with Nancy Wasserman), has been raising money for social change since 1980. As a trainer and consultant, he has assisted nonprofits in 40 states and Canada, leading workshops on fundraising, grantseeking, board development, strategic planning, marketing, leadership development, and earned income strategies.

It's Not Your Money: How Your Board Can Resolve Financial Conflicts of Interest

Excerpted from The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances