Frequently Asked Questions
You must live in Palm Beach if your real estate transaction was printed in the Sunday paper!
In charitable areas like South Florida, it is natural for everyone to be involved in several important nonprofits. All usually have wonderful mission statements and dedicated staff. However, charitable giving needs to be strategic, and not piecemeal. In places like Palm Beach, Dallas, Houston, Scottsdale, and Beverly Hills, it can be death by a thousand cuts with endless galas, luncheons, fashion shows, polo matches, annual appeals, matching gifts, capital campaigns, and the all new addition, the “Great Give!”
Defining your giving interest and priorities makes it easier to politely decline endless requests. Think long term, and consider what your philanthropy will say about you in perpetuity. Plan accordingly so your dollars are maximized and make the biggest impact.
First, do not attempt to outspend other charities with expensive thank-you gifts. You cannot compete.
Second, gifts from the heart are always welcome. One of the best gifts is a hardbound book (from Shutterfly) that includes pictures of the donor, the individuals served, and thank-you notes. Imagine my surprise when the gala chairman called and requested additional books for her office, her children, and select close friends.
Other gifts from the heart include handwritten thank-you notes, framed photographs, keepsake event publicity, etc. Be creative, and give gifts that money cannot buy.
No, they are not.
A key trait among stellar fundraisers is their ability to send handwritten notes effortlessly and frequently. Regardless of what others may say, a personal note in longhand remains the hallmark of a polite society.
- Use a first-class stamp, not the office postal meter
- Invest in quality notecards
- Do not enclose your business card
- Handwrite the return address — do not use a rubber stamp or label
- Never sign your full name, use your first name only
- Blue ink is best; red ink is a turn-off
Sadly, too many fundraisers are overzealous in their attempt to raise money, simultaneously thanking the donor and then immediately asking for more. This is bad form. Thank-you letters should never be viewed as asking. Donation acknowledgements deserve singular attention.
A proper donor thank-you letter should not only be appropriate for tax purposes, but include personalization. I prefer using a blue ink pen to sign the letters to ensure the donor understands the signature is original and not a fancy print job.
Any longtime fundraiser has a "war story" regarding a returned check. Often it is the donor you least expect who bounces the check. Rarely has a donor not corrected a bad check. However, proper discretion is key in such situations.
Nine times out of ten, it is a timing issue where account clearance has not occurred as quickly as hoped. Rarely have I had a donor welch on a bad check.
First, assume the donor simply made a mistake and the check is good. Call the donor and immediately acknowledge, “I know the bank has made a mistake in this, but they just called… please know you and I are the only ones who know this!”
Second, do not breathe a word to anyone, as donors can be horribly embarrassed. Quickly make internal calls to ensure Accounting is prepared to handle the issue discretely and the volunteer Treasurer knows not to discuss.
Third, if the check is officially bad and the donor cannot honor the commitment, weigh your options before involving others. These situations can be political landmines. Sometimes it is better to allow the donor to save face by making payment arrangements and pretending they will actually fulfill pledge. However, if naming opportunities or major sponsorships are involved, proceed with caution.
Your situation is not uncommon. It is not a comfortable situation to teach a colleague how to eat in a formal setting. However, I might suggest you consider a Business Etiquette 101 training course and make it available to the entire team called upon to interact with donors.
Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore (www.etiquetteexpert.com) has written several books addressing such quandaries in an entertaining, enlightening, and educational manner. Over the years, I have contracted with her to teach such classes in a continuing education format. Happily, everyone walks away appreciating the experience.
Another alternative is to make a point to get to know your colleagues well enough to determine their level of comfort with donors. Some appreciate a donor visit to their department where they can demonstrate the program’s effectiveness first-hand. Others loathe the three-hour country club luncheon. Allowing all to operate in their comfort zone makes for a far more enjoyable (and effective) experience.
Often, donors are inundated with flowers at times of illness or loss; additional bouquets are sometimes lost in the shuffle. It has been my experience that food items are always appreciated and enjoyed. Brenda Starr’s Gourmet Goodies (www.brendastarrsgourmetgoodies.com) offers a variety of high quality bundt cakes with a long shelf life and five-star look. Cakes are shipped right to the door of the recipient and always include a handwritten card. Never have I sent one of these cakes that the donor did not personally comment about it.
Being in South Florida, we are blessed with fresh oranges. Delivering a gallon of fresh-squeezed orange juice to the home of a donor with the sniffles is always an inexpensive and creative treat. Make sure it is accompanied by a fun get well card, of course!
Be practical, but creative. Appeal to the palate and you’ll hit a home run every time.
Yes! If your development director was invited to serve by your gala chairman, terrific. Fundraising is all about relationships, and this is the kind of quid pro quo that can be personally appreciated.
I suspect your development director knows he cannot solicit funds on behalf of the other organization (that is non-negotiable), but he can be a visible presence offering solid advice to the committee. His presence and expertise speak volumes about your organization. And I bet good money that when he asks anyone on that committee for reciprocation, they do so.
Being active in the community means helping others, avoiding singular focus on your organization. The most successful nonprofits are often those that creatively engage in every aspect of the community. Do not be afraid to mix it up a bit.
*My answer above does not address a situation where you suspect your development director is shopping for a new job. Trust is key.
Some organizations base their entire income on direct mail efforts. However, for the novice fundraiser or non-profit, doing so is a risky bet. My approach to direct mail is different than most in that it targets smaller audiences with a propensity to give.
Individuals with a propensity to give are those with demonstrated philanthropic commitment to like-minded organizations and/or fundraising efforts (e.g. Fine Arts, STEM, Early Childhood Education, Ecological Conservation). These individuals are easily found via annual reports, gala invitations, and newsletters of the various organizations. People love to broadcast the names of their supporters: Save those publications, and catalog them for future use!
Once a targeted mailing list is in place, consider the author of the letter. Who has the common link to the majority of donors on the list? Is it one of your board members? A volunteer? A community leader? Look for the individual who has the ability to raise support via the mere mention of his/her name.
Design personal letterhead for the author of the letter to ensure the communication looks like it was written specifically for the recipient. Do not send something that looks and feels like a Xerox copy. The text of a solicitation letter should tug at the heartstrings and reference local stories, rather than referencing generalities. Each letter should be personal, local, and relevant to the reader.
The call to action should be clear, and the response mechanism (return envelope, pledge card) must be concise and simple. The return envelope should be addressed to the author as it makes the reader believe the author will personally know if he or she donates. Take the hassle out of the response and success rate climbs. Never use a postal meter or bulk rate indicia; a first-class stamp is first class!
Welcome to the world of special event fundraising!
Years ago, I was in a similar fix. We were hosting a huge event at The Breakers (www.thebreakers.com) in Palm Beach. The ballroom was maxed at 500 guests. We needed 50 more seats. However, we came up with two solutions:
One additional person at every table. Each table now had 11 seats instead of ten and allows for strategic placement of single guests.
Use 60-inch round tables instead of 72-inch round tables. The extra floor space created more room for additional tables.
Both of the "solutions" did require us to forgo the wide, more comfortable chairs with arm rests. However, no one really noticed the chair selection.
Happily, everyone was accommodated. Now, if the above options do not work, you can always spillover into additional adjoining ballroom space. Most ballrooms are equipped with connecting rooms generally used for cocktail hour, or pre-event gatherings. If this approach is used, those seated in the next room might feel slighted. Find a few of your more notable guests and enlist them to sit with those guests as part of a fun twist on the event. If more laughs are had in the adjoining room, no one will care where they are seated. Also, ensure the event chair and committee members circulate to the least desirable tables as a goodwill gesture.
Everyone loves a prime table, but that is not a reality at most gatherings. Having the event committee seated throughout helps quell any hurt feelings over seating. Unhappy guests will always make their feelings known to the paid staff, but rarely raise their voice to a gala chair. Allow the gala chair to help run interference when possible. The occasional tongue-in-cheek comment from the stage about seating helps, too.
No, your expectations are not wrong!
Few organizations realize that communications cannot serve two masters. What I mean is this: Newsletters must be geared either to a fundraising audience or to those being served by the programs. Trying to gear to both is a very difficult way to find success.
All communications should be strategic to ensure dollars spent – written text, photography, postage - provide some type of return. Having a goal for each communication is key, yet few organizations actually understand this concept.
Newsletters take a tremendous amount of time to produce and are often sent to everyone in the organizational database. Then, the fundraising staff is shocked when the newsletter produces precious little income. And those served in the programs weed through the publication looking for something relevant to them. The majority of publications are frustratingly useless, however they make staff feel productive for having created them.
Again, each communication should have a clearly defined goal, with text supporting the goal, and a call to action. After reading the communication, no doubt should be left in the reader's mind as to the intent and purpose.
Examples for a fundraising newsletter:
Articles feature donors who support/underwrite programming. These feature stories should speak to the specific program, include a photo of the donor with a student from the program, and heartwarming examples of success. They should also challenge the reader to join with the donor and support the effort.
Example of a programming newsletter:
Articles feature the program with explanations of what it is, who it serves, how it serves its audiences, and the desired outcomes/goals. It closes with contact information on how to be involved in the programs.
Remember this: The materials colleges use to recruit students are not the same as those used to recruit donors. Know your audiences, and understand what it takes to get them to respond. Communicating for fundraising purposes requires strategy.
Simply put, run to your local Community Foundation and enlist their assistance. Community Foundations are designed to be the central depository of gifts in perpetuity bettering the local community. These organizations are part of a national network and often serve as the philanthropic hub, offering resources to other nonprofits and providing infrastructure guidance to startups.
The beauty of a Community Foundation is the fact any nonprofit can open an account and/or become a donor. Allowing your scholarship endowment to be administered by the Community Foundation ensures safety, investment expertise, and permanence. Donors rarely give large gifts to organizations without impeccable track records. Having a trusted third party handling the transaction eliminates any doubts and instills confidence. Additionally, the nonprofit thrives because the donations invested at the Community Foundation cannot be diverted unless the organization ceases to exist.