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Harvey McKinnon

Recent Posts by Harvey McKinnon:

Five Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask about Fundraising

Ask practically any executive director or development professional what they want most from their board of directors and you’re all but certain to hear “Help with fundraising!” It’s the nonprofit cri de coeur.

Such help will be more forthcoming if before recruiting a board candidate you encourage him or her to ask the five telling questions listed below. 

Four Thoughts in the Mind of Every Prospective Donor: What Every Volunteer Solicitor Needs to Know

Before you speak even a word, the prospective donor you’re visiting is already sizing you up. She’s judging your appearance, reading your body language, and, perhaps most important, wondering just how well you’ll address her pressing concerns about your forthcoming request.

In my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, I take pains to prepare fundraisers for the full gamut of inquiries they can expect from donors. Here, I’ll drill down to the four thoughts occupying your prospect’s mind the minute you walk through the door.

Donors Want to Know: Why Your Organization?


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

Mrs. Steele was called to jury duty but declined to serve, stating, "I don't believe in capital punishment."

The judge explained. "Madam, this isn't a murder trial," he said. "It's simply a case in which a woman is suing her husband. He's accused of taking the $5,000 she gave him to buy a diamond necklace and donating it to charity."

"I'll serve," agreed Mrs. Steele. "I could be wrong about capital punishment."

How quickly our minds can change when we get more information.

To the question "Why should I be interested in your particular cause?" many have a ready answer. "Because we do good work," they say. Undoubtedly true, but countless organizations do good work.

As I make clear in my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, you need to distinguish yourself from the thousands of other great causes.

I often ask people attending my workshops to tell me their unique selling proposition (USP). What is the one thing that sets their respective organizations apart from all the others?

Your USP could be many things: your history, your leadership, your accomplishments, your low administrative costs, even the nature of your appeal (e.g., "Your gift of $25 will save an area of the Amazon Rainforest forever").

Dig deep enough, and every organization has a distinguishing feature.

But, funny enough, in many cases your greatest asset is one you haven't thought much about, even though it's a big reason people might choose to support you.

Your stories.

When your organization is involved in helping people create art, protect the environment, support human rights, or research diseases, you create stories.

And stories can be yours alone.

  • "I'm writing to you because 11 years ago the Crisis Hotline saved my daughter's life. She's now happily married and has a good job. It's because of you and other generous donors that so many desperate people in our community have someone to turn to."
  • "I remember it vividly," says Dr. Ken Baum, a glaucoma specialist at Kaiser Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, when asked about his first Seva Mobile Eye Camp. "We were in Tibet and drove for five days to reach an older woman who was completely blind from cataracts," Ken recalls. "We did the surgery, and the next day when she took off the patch she burst into tears. She saw her grandchildren for the first time. I'll never forget that."
  • "I gave up a lucrative vet practice because I saw how animals were suffering in our state and knew I had to do more. That's why I founded this organization."

People remember stories. They forget facts. Even decades later I still recall stories that motivated me to give to various causes.

This is the gift you offer to your donors—a concrete, memorable, emotional experience of helping others.

This is why your particular organization deserves support.

And you don't need epic drama to touch your donors. A simple heartfelt conversation is still one of your mightiest tools.

Elizabeth Crook was chair of the Nashville YWCA board and felt a desperate need to expand the domestic violence shelter. The municipal government had agreed to give the YW land if the organization would double the shelter's capacity. To be successful, Elizabeth knew she'd have to reach far beyond their current donor base.

Because Nashville is a center of corporate healthcare, there are scores of wealthy entrepreneurs in the area. Elizabeth's challenge, and the key to her success, was to find a way to secure some of this "new money."

She identified as one of her potential donors a very nice fellow, close to 50, never married. On the day they met, he turned the tables on Elizabeth with his very first question. "So what about this organization interests you?" he wanted to know.

For Elizabeth that was easy. She explained how it was a cause that appealed to her heart. She felt there was a real need. And she thought the YW provided this service better than anyone.

Then Elizabeth turned to the man. "And what is near and dear to your heart?" she asked.

At first the man was caught off guard.

"Children," he replied after a long pause, "especially children who've had challenging situations at home. When I was growing up, it was the Boys and Girls Club that gave me a place to be. If it hadn't been for them, I don't know how my life would have turned out."

With that story in hand it was easy for Elizabeth to focus his visit to the shelter on the high percentage of women who come into the shelter with children, the quality of the YW's programs for these youngsters, and the fact that 70 percent of men in the state prison grew up in violent homes.

The man was clearly moved by the women he met and the stories he heard. He pledged $100,000, an extraordinary gift from a first-time donor. And it all happened because Elizabeth took time to find out what touched his heart and presented her cause in a way that matched his values.

Elizabeth's question to her prospect is what I would call a killer question. Whose heart wouldn't open and expand when asked that simple, sincere, and disarming inquiry, "What is near and dear to your heart?

Other Excerpts 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 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.

The First Question a Donor Asks


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

If you have teenagers (or have been one), you know the person the world revolves around.

Or if by some quirk of nature your kids are model cherubs, think back to that blind date. "Enough about me," your companion said. "Let's talk about you. What do you think of me?"

Have you ever spent time with someone who talked only about him- or herself and never once asked a question about you? Of course you have. If this hasn't happened to you, then maybe you are that person!

Or perhaps it's an elderly neighbor you meet on the street. You ask with civility, "How are you?" only to be subjected to a list of ailments spanning your neighbor's entire anatomy.

In short, Me is everyone's favorite subject.

So it's no surprise that a would-be supporter's first question (whether spoken or not) is ... Why me?

It's a loaded question. By asking it, the donor is trying to situate himself in the world, or at least in your world. Going through her mind—simultaneously—are related concerns: How do you see me? Do I approve of the way you see me? Do you really know me? Do you care about me? Am I important to you for reasons other than my money?

Carol is someone who had such questions.

After a distinguished career in public health, she retired and devoted herself to a variety of organizations serving seniors. Noted author and consultant Mal Warwick, who at the time was establishing a community foundation focused on young people, approached Carol and asked if she'd become a founder. His goal: a gift of $5,000.

"Why me?" she asked. "You know I never give more than $1,000 at a time. And my interest is seniors, not youth. Why should I do this?"

This is a common dilemma fundraisers face. Virtually all people predisposed to philanthropy are already donors to some causes. It can be tough to break into their circles of concern. And yet it is possible, as you'll see in Mal's case.

"Knowing she was fully capable of giving $5,000 and that she viewed herself as a community leader, I felt I could persuade her to join the founders group," says Mal. "The challenge was to relate our mission to her fondest interests. So I asked whether she saw any contradiction in helping young people rather than seniors."

Mal is nothing if not astute.

"The question caught her off guard," he continues. "She started thinking out loud about intergenerational programs in which young people help seniors with household chores while the seniors, in turn, mentor the young. She recalled the young people who had joined in a program she herself was running. As she spoke at length about this intergenerational concept—novel at the time—she talked herself into giving the $5,000. The amount wasn't the problem. All she needed was an excuse to give."

Mal knew exactly what he was doing. In a kind and respectful way he allowed Carol to discover that she also cared about their community's youth. Like most people, she wanted to help. And by posing that one perfect question, Mal solved her problem of priorities, and his friend became a founder.

Carol essentially asked herself the question, "Why not?"

As this example illustrates, the art of fundraising is the ability to help donors understand how your cause meshes with their personal interests and how, by entrusting you with their money, they'll achieve something they want: namely, improving the lives of others.

You are looking for common ground that helps a donor to express his or her values. The "Why me?" question can also be answered with:

  • Because with your past gifts you've shown you care.
  • Because you've met so and so (a person the cause has helped), and your gift can help others like her.
  • Because you're respected, and your support will inspire others.
  • Because you know how big the need is, and your gift will help provide solutions.

There are many other answers, of course. You'll identify the best one when you deepen your understanding of the donor. And guess what? The best way to do that is to ask him or her questions!

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.

Fundraising Questions I'm Most Often Asked

When you've been in this field long enough, and maybe have a few books to your credit, you're often invited to speak at conferences. It's a great way to stay in touch with the many wonderful people in this profession. I get to reconnect with the wise elders and meet the passionate newcomers.

Invariably at the end of my presentations I'm asked a number of wide-ranging questions. Many are highly specific, but others pertain to most every organization. Here are some of the questions I'm most commonly asked.

What's one of the biggest obstacles preventing someone from giving?

As we all know, every survey that probes why people give and don't give indicates that the main reason for not giving is because they "weren't asked."

To some extent, this may be true. But the average person is asked to give almost on a daily basis. And individuals make a lot of decisions not to give.

So we need to consider other reasons. Maybe people weren't paying attention when they were asked. The timing was bad. It wasn't the right proposition. Money is tight right now. Maybe there wasn't an emotional connection. The list is long.

But there is one critical and overlooked reason, in my opinion. Organizations fail to make giving as easy as possible.

I'm sure everyone reading this has visited a website where they've tried to make a gift or buy a product. And it's frequently painful or overly complicated. It's not uncommon to be asked to provide information you don't want to offer. As a result, many decide to abandon the transaction.

We need to examine every channel we use and discover how to remove any barriers. When we focus on the donor experience, we make it easier for him or her to give—a simple landing page, taking credit card donations at an event, a toll-free number. It all adds up to make a significant difference.

In my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, one of the questions I discuss is this: "Is it easy?" As time goes by, I increasingly think this question is the second-most important of the 11 core questions.

What's the easiest way for donors to give?

That's simple. Monthly giving. When individuals become monthly donors, you don't have to continually solicit them. They'll give you 12 gifts a year—for many years—often for the rest of their lives. I've been on one monthly program for 35 years now. There's no chance I'll ever cancel it. And to date I've made 420 monthly gifts. I've also made many other single gift donations to this organization, as well.

Monthly donors contribute billions of dollars globally—in $10, $25, and $100 amounts each and every month. And because the gift comes in every 30 days, it adds up to be a fabulous amount of money.

Should organizations move all of their fundraising online?

We were conducting a fundraising audit recently and interviewed Claire, a $250,000 donor. She said her one complaint about the organization was that they moved their print newsletter to online.

She loved having the printed version around, so she could show it to people (wealthy friends!) and it reminded her of the cause. Is it worth reviving the print newsletter for just this one donor? I think the answer is yes. Are there more donors exactly like her? Absolutely.

Older donors may book cruises online or use Facebook to connect with their grandchildren, but they are still heavily print oriented. We abandon this medium at our peril.

As we know, older people control the vast amount of wealth in our society. Virtually all really large gifts come from people over 60 and frequently over 70. As a population, these donors are more loyal, more philanthropic, and approaching the age when they'll start leaving legacies. Organizations that focus on their preferences will raise the most money. And print still makes a lot more money than digital.

Last year, online fundraising grew by about 13 percent. This sounds great, but we have to put it into context—going from about 1.8 percent to 2 percent of giving is still pretty small. Moreover, many organizations spent a lot more money and time growing their digital programs.

I'm all in favor of investing in digital when it makes economic sense. But for many if not most organizations, a massive investment shift to this channel will cost them.

How can I stop my communications and marketing staff from messing up my fundraising?

At organizations that depend on gift income, I believe the communications and marketing staff should be at the service of the development department. Pretty much every senior fundraiser around the world will vouch for the fact that communication and marketing staff almost always reduce fundraising income.

This shouldn't be surprising since fundraisers and communication staff have different priorities and experience.

Here's one example. The communication and marketing staff at an organization I worked with hired a big commercial ad agency to conduct a branding and fundraising campaign. The organization paid the ad agency a whopping $1 million.

The campaign they developed was all about ego. It talked about how great the organization is—"cool" really. As for donors, it barely gave them a second thought. And the result? An appalling fundraising campaign that raised a total of $7,000!

In this case, the organization's leadership preferred a brand campaign that made them feel good about their organization. They could go to parties and collect compliments.

The harsh truth is I've seen too many organizations spend lots on branding or rebranding, and in every case either it didn't help or had a negative impact on fundraising.

I'm familiar with your book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks. Tell me, if you had to make it an even dozen, what is the 12th question you would add?

While researching the book, I spent a hefty number of hours narrowing down hundreds of questions. When I started, my objective wasn't to have 11. I would have been just as happy with 10 or even 12.

One question I considered was: Should I leave a legacy to this organization? But the reality is the majority of donors won't ever think about this. Keep in mind, however, that when you can answer the 11 questions I address, it does set the stage for a donor to seriously consider leaving a bequest.

Harvey McKinnon
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Harvey McKinnon is 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 (Emerson & Church), 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.

Communicating with Donors: Interview with Fundraiser Harvey McKinnon

Harvey McKinnon, author of The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave, recently spoke with his publisher about donor relations. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to share Mr. McKinnon's additional thoughts with you.

One of the questions you cite in your book is "How will I be treated?" In your experience, are donors treated well today?

I'll let you judge for yourself. In a recent "mystery shopper test" we sent gifts to 28 hospitals on the same day. One organization sent back a warm thank you immediately. But the average response for the others was four weeks. And one hospital didn't respond with a thank you and receipt for 90-something days.

Ouch! Ninety days?

A long time, for sure. A client of ours has a great policy. As soon as they receive a gift of a thousand or more, they immediately call the donor. The person making the call has the highest-ranking title in the office that day. A few months ago, they received $10,000 in the mail. But there were no senior staff around—none. So the gift processor picked up the phone herself. She thanked the donor and learned that he'd sent $10,000 to five organizations, and her group was the first to thank him. To recognize their efficiency and how they treated him, he gave an additional stock gift of $122,000. I'm pretty sure the other four organizations don't know what they lost.

You talk a lot about storytelling in your book. You're convinced it's critical in fundraising, aren't you?

Yes. And for the simple reason that stories make needs come alive. You might call them the connective tissue. Right this minute in Niger there are a thousand starving children, you tell me. But that's a number, an abstraction to me. Tell me the story of Samira—so hungry she digs through the garbage for a fruit pit with pulp on it—and I begin to understand the desperation. I get emotionally connected. I start to visualize the suffering child and want to help.

Generally speaking, what about the solicitor matters most to the would-be donor?

Trust is absolutely essential. Without it, a gift is unlikely. Trust in and of itself may not be enough, but it's the critical component.

And what's not so important?

How smart you are. I know some brilliant people who aren't good person-to-person fundraisers. They don't connect well with people. They're not great at reading social cues and can't engage in the kind of conversation that motivates donors to part with their money. And then there are other fundraisers of average intelligence, who because of their charm, passion, and integrity raise a fortune.

Urgency is a word you hear a lot in fundraising, that donors need to feel their gift is needed NOW. That's easy to communicate when there's a disaster or when, for example, you're a health agency fighting a deadly disease. But that doesn't describe the mission of many organizations. What are they to do?

The first thing I'd say is tell a compelling story. If you speak of a child in need, a river that'll only be saved if action is taken now, the donor is more likely to understand the urgency. Another approach is to use deadlines or milestones. For instance, you can send a child such as Claire to a summer camp if you respond by May 31. Helpful, too, are specific dollar targets. If you can say that a $5,000 scholarship will help a student enroll in college and achieve their dreams, that adds urgency.

By economy of scale, a national organization, whether it's engaged in health or social welfare or youth development, is able to spend less per dollar on fundraising than a grassroots group or a start-up agency with perfectly noble goals. Is it really fair, then, for a potential donor to put a lot of emphasis on overhead?

I can understand why rating agencies, and even some donors, want a simple tool to evaluate organizations. It's partly because they have so many choices. But I'm convinced that looking only at overhead and ratios is a horrible metric on which to base your giving. What you want to look for is impact. Keep in mind that it's all too easy for organizations to allocate funds in a slightly dishonest way. Meaning money that should really be allocated to fundraising or overhead is conveniently counted in the "education category." This means that nonprofits that are more transparent and honest will be penalized. That’s wrong. I give to a number of organizations that spend practically all their money on overhead because I know they're going to grow, and I like what they're doing.

Fundraising through social media—right now is it real or much ado about not much?

For emergency campaigns it can be lucrative. Social media can also work reasonably well with peer-to-peer fundraising. The problem here, though, is that people aren't giving to the cause, which they frequently don't care about, they're giving to their friend. And they're difficult to convert to long-term donors. If you think the attrition rate for direct mail is bad, take a close look at donors who come in through social media. It's appalling.

Anything we can do about it?

Yes. Don't rely solely on the Internet to renew online donors. From our experience, and it's extensive, you have to try to convert these individuals using a combination of channels, including the mail and telephone.

Pick the most important of the 11 questions in your book and tell me why.

First a caveat. The most important question varies from donor to donor. There's virtually nothing that applies to 100 percent of any population. But if you forced me to choose one question that's most important to the majority of donors it would be: Will my gift make a difference? All else equal, if you can answer that question honestly, and compellingly, your chances of getting a gift soar.

And I assume since you discussed it last, the question "How will you measure results?" isn't as pressing for donors?

It's extremely important for a certain percentage of people—usually high-dollar donors. But many others simply trust that a well-known organization will use their money responsibly. But make no mistake about it. Organizations that fail to report back on their successes—essentially how a donor's gift was used—ultimately raise less money and lose more donors.

© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Harvey McKinnon is 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.

After the Yes: 12 Questions You Can Ask Donors Once They Say Yes

Adapted from Grassroots Fundraising Journal

How Much Do You Want?

Excerpt from The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave