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Archive for the ‘Counselors’ Perspectives’ Category

Apr 2014 | 4 Keys to Engaging Women as Leaders and Donors

 by Angela White


I was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in the March issue of CASE Currents magazine examining efforts of colleges and universities to better engage women in their development efforts.  As the article lays out well, alumnae are often under-represented in volunteer leadership roles in colleges and universities and frequently don’t register on the radar screens of advancement staffs looking to surface major donors because they don’t fit the traditional mold.

From my own experience – and a growing body of academic research on the subject – I can tell you that institutions that fall into this trap are missing out on engaging potential supporters and their significant gifts.

The article illustrates several examples of programs that are effectively harnessing the leadership of women donors and graduates, including the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Council, Duke University’s Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Initiative, and Xavier University’s Women of Excellence program.

The author of the article suggests four keys to engaging women as donors and leaders that are worth repeating:

  1. Include both spouses in giving conversations. Research shows that the majority of charitable decisions are either jointly made, or made primarily by the wife, so engaging both partners is a good strategy in the immediate gifting decision.  Long-term, we know that women frequently outlive their spouses and are left as the sole decision maker for a couple’s combined wealth.  An institution that does not develop relationships with both partners risks losing their support if their contact dies first.
  2. Understand the differences in how women and men approach giving.  As I say in the article, generally speaking women take longer to cultivate, look more to build relationships with the organizations they support, and expect to be more involved in the life of the organization.  They are savvy donors who want to see and understand the results of their gifts.
  3. Stop pigeonholing women.  This is good advice for any broadly defined group of donors. You should never rely on stereotypes or broadly drawn caricatures to guide your strategy. The author quotes Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy professor Deb Mesch’s assertion that you have to “go beyond the pink campaign” and not rely on girly gimmicks to catch the attention of women.  Women don’t need a dumbed-down or prettied-up approach, they want substance and impact.
  4. Reach out.  Women may not be as eager to self-identify or assert their giving intentions to your organization.  It takes a focused strategy to change leadership culture and inspire women to grow into their proper role as bold donors, leaders, and role models for their institutions.

I encourage you to read the entire article, examine the efforts of the institutions highlighted, and think through how your organization is ­– or can begin – working to engage women as leaders and donors.

Apr 2014 | Asking: The Value of Questions

by Ted Grossnickle


My colleagues and I at JGA ask lots of questions. At any time, our firm is doing a number of studies for our clients and that involves asking many questions. We talk with staff and volunteers, prospective donors and others to learn – and help our clients learn – how their organizations should proceed.

In our experience over now twenty years as a firm, we’ve come to appreciate the value of a good question. And the way a good question can not only help us learn but also how it can help the person answering to think more deeply and clearly about their cause.

Sometimes we hear an interviewee pause and say “That’s an interesting question” or “Let me think about that for a minute” or “I hadn’t considered that.”

It seems to me that sometimes the best question is the one that we didn’t plan to ask but which was the right one to ask given what the interviewee has been telling us. At that moment, it is the right question to ask.

If this sounds as though our interviews are highly iterative and based upon what we hear in that moment, well, that is partly true. We go into interviews knowing generally what we want to learn, that is true. But we also leave plenty of room – or space in the conversation – for what the interviewee is getting at or trying to articulate. That is, I suppose, where the art and the science blend in our work with interviewees and for our clients.

There is an old saying that the best way to raise money is to ask for advice.  That sure feels right to us because it is not uncommon for those we interview to end up being very generous supporters of their organizations. And we have witnessed some interviewees going to their organization after having participated in a study interview and saying “I’ve thought about this and want to go ahead and make my gift.”

Asking questions is a big, big part of what we do. And a big part of how our clients find their best ways forward.

My next blog will talk again about asking – only next time about asking for gifts.

Mar 2014 | Are You Investing Enough in Your Hospital Foundation?

by Andy Canada


The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) recently released a report tantalizingly titled “Optimal Investment Levels in Health Care Fundraising for Chief Development Officers.” AHP members can download the report at www.AHP.org.

This report essentially probed the key question for any fundraising executive in health care, “How much should I be spending to raise money?”  Generally speaking the answer to that question has always been, “It depends.”

And while the AHP report does not give an exact answer, it does provide some illuminating stats that should make many staff and volunteer leaders in health care organizations around the country reexamine their investments in fundraising.

The AHP report identified high performers by combining the upper quartile of respondents to their annual survey and participants in their benchmarking service. They then utilized a sophisticated regression analysis to evaluate the impact of different types and levels of investment in fundraising among this group.  The median net production revenue among these high performers was $13 million in 2012.

The study concluded that several key investment thresholds were met by most high performing institutions in their sample.  For hospitals and foundations in the U.S., those were:

  • Utilizing seven or more FTE in fundraising;
  • Investing $800,000 or more in salaries for those employees;
  • Retaining experienced staff with at least five to seven years of experience; and
  • Achieving average gift levels of $535 or more.

The report is quick to point out that its findings should not be the sole data point used to evaluate any one foundation’s best strategy, but it does provide some thought provoking points.

For example, the study’s authors point to one participating foundation at a large hospital that currently utilizes three full-time employees with combined salaries of $200,000 to raise an annual net revenue of $682,000. By any measure, this is an efficient operation that is doing good work for the organization it supports.

The authors of this study suggest, however, that they are essentially leaving money on the table.  The regression model developed through the study suggests that based on the reported success of its peers, that foundation could add three to four FTE and likely double its net revenue and ultimately its support to the hospital.

The findings of this study reinforce what so many of us already know – that fundraising, when done well, is an incredibly productive investment.  When an organization is able to invest in a sufficient number of experienced professionals to share their story and build lasting relationships with donors, the results are significant and positive.

Mar 2014 | Key Elements to a Successful Day of Giving Campaign

by Lee Ernst


In the past year, my colleagues and I have noted that more and more institutions are conducting “One Day of Giving” campaigns.  And several of our clients are as well.  The campaigns focus on one day of giving that amplify a school’s fundraising efforts through social media.  Legions of volunteers, along with staff push out the campaign message asking for support from alumni to reach challenge goals throughout the day.

You might have participated in one yourself.  You wake up, check your email and find a message from the president of your alma mater asking you to participate in the school’s campaign.  It’s for one day only and it’s going to be fun!  These One Day of Giving campaigns are building momentum and have seen tremendous success.

It’s a new approach to engaging alumni, one that is truly meaningful to many and one that builds a sense of community.  Let’s be honest, colleges and universities are often viewed as formal institutions with a certain level of gravitas surrounding them.  A campaign like this allows alumni and friends to see another side of their alma mater.  One that is humorous, even playful, and perhaps more spontaneous.  And this is important.  As donors, we want to see the human side of these massive organizations.  It helps make us feel connected, and that’s a major reason for these campaigns.

Several key ingredients to a successful One Day of Giving campaign.

1.       Volunteers, Volunteers, Volunteers

Volunteers are the key to making the campaigns successful.  You need a social media army of top influencers – those that have a strong presence in social media to help push your message.  If you have 200 volunteers that each have their own network, you will reach thousands more people than if you and staff did it alone.

2.       Challenge Donors

Prior to kicking off the campaign, reach out to several donors who will agree to offer challenge matches throughout the day.  This is incentivizing to participants and can have a tremendous effect on the dollar amount raised.  It shows that people are out there willing to give in a really big way.  Everyone’s in it together.

3.       Surprise!

The reason so many of the Day of Giving Campaigns are successful is the fact that they are built around the element of surprise and create a dynamic and “urgent” or exciting  atmosphere for everyone involved.  Alumni receive an email or message on the day of the campaign from their institution and it’s unusual and intriguing.  It’s new and they know for one day only, they have an opportunity to join forces with other alums and have the power to make a really big impact.  And the results will be known by all in less than 24 hours.

4.       Low Cost, High Reward

These campaigns do not have to be expensive or time prohibitive.  Many institutions have done them all “in house” using their own IT, marketing and annual fund staff to organize the campaign.  Depending on an institution’s capabilities to handle a large uptick in gifts and website views, they will contract with vendors to assist in the design of a campaign webpage, donation platform and marketing efforts.  Many are planned and executed in a 6 month time frame.  Even if you don’t raise millions, you engage people in a new way and get them to think about your school in a different way.

One Day of Giving Campaigns can be a great way to engage your alumni.   My colleagues and I are excited to watch more schools participate in them and we will be posting more information in the future on this topic.

Mar 2014 | 3 Keys to Successful Gift Solicitation

by Dan Schipp 

Recently, a young development officer, a few years into her work in fundraising, shared with me her frustration at not being as successful in soliciting gifts as she had expected to be.  She asked, “What am I doing wrong?   What do I need to focus on to be more successful?”

In responding to the young fundraiser’s questions, I reminded her of three keys to successful gift solicitation — prepare, engage, ask – and I posed several questions to her.

  • Are you properly preparing for your calls?  Are you doing your homework?  Are you clear about your objective for the call?  Do you know the primary messages you want to convey?  Are you taking the time before the call to think about the questions and objections you might encounter?
  • Are you engaging the prospective donor(s) in the conversation? As you make the case for your organization, are you asking for the prospective donor’s views?  Are you probing their interests and concerns?  Are you truly listening to them or are you totally caught up in your own words?
  • Are you asking clearly and specifically? Are you asking directly or are you being vague and “sugar coating” your request?  Are you proposing a specific gift amount to the prospective donor?

I also reminded the gift officer of what she must bring to the call:

  • Knowledge – sufficient knowledge of the organization to be able to talk informedly about its impact, priorities, challenges and opportunities;
  • Energy – genuine interest in and appreciation for the chance to connect with the prospective donor and enthusiasm for the opportunity to align the donor’s interests with the organization’s mission and plans;
  • Integrity –  firm adherence to carrying through on her commitments and not promising what she and her organization cannot deliver;
  • Passion – a fervor for the mission of her organization reflected, in part, by her own financial support of the organization.

Finally, I encouraged the aspiring fundraiser to approach her calls on prospective donors with the words of Maya Angelou in mind:  “People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did.  But they will never forget how you made them feel.”  I expressed my confidence that if she focused on these things, she would be more successful in her gift solicitation calls.

Mar 2014 | Getting Your Board Engaged Beyond Fundraising

by Kris Kindelsperger


Have you experienced the following with your organization?

  • Board members who have poor attendance at meetings, don’t seem to become fully engaged and may eventually fade away from your organization.
  • Board meetings that are full of reports but fail to create an interactive and paticipatory environment.
  • Board members who do not fully embrace a culture of philanthropy.
  • Board members who do not characterize their board engagement as a substantive experience.
  • Board members who have difficulty finding the appropriate ways to share their expertise and ideas without venturing into micro-management.

Join the world of nonprofit governance!

All of these experiences are a function, at some level, of a lack of effective board engagement. An engaged board member is committed to your mission, dedicated to her/his board responsibilities, and is willing to give time, expertise, influence, and resources.

If you would like to enhance your board engagement, don’t worry there are steps you can take.

Establishing board engagement begins early in the process and doesn’t end once the board is formed. Engagement is ongoing and activities should take place throughout recruitment, integration, and retention.


Building a good board begins with pre-board involvement and vetting. Board recruitment should be a high priority and ongoing. You should “test” prospective board members through advisory boards, non-board membership on committees, participation in events, special opportunities to “look behind the curtain,” etc.

Keep in mind, this is the reverse of the way many approach board recruitment. Often, we hear, “If we can just get them on the board we can make them into true believers.” If you carefully vet prospective board members in advance, you will get fewer surprises and stronger board members.


Orientation is actually an opportunity to “launch” new board members. Our instinct is often to slowly ease new board members into the organization. In reality, many board members are “lost” in the first few months of their association with you.

You need to be aggressive in orientation and in finding a meaningful slot for each new board member right away. It is prudent, however, to go slower on fundraising.

Provide every board member with an aggressive, personalized, and mandatory orientation. Give them a deep dive into what you do and what makes you tick. Also make sure you show them not just the sizzle but also the warts so they get an authentic look at the opportunities as well as the challenges.


Board retention is about finding substance in the board experience for both staff and board. Creating intentional interaction with those who deliver the program – deans, instructors, musicians, program officers, artists, etc. – is key. Treat your board members as the insiders that they are and allow them to tackle substantive issues. Keep them educated about issues critical to your sector and have authentic conversations about the issues facing your organization. Ensure that every board meeting has at least one substantive issue to discuss that impacts the future and the mission of the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, truly engaging your board is not easy, nor is it a onetime task. Engagement needs to be managed intentionally and mission fit is critical. You have to be comfortable turning board members “loose” with your staff and artists when unpredictable results could occur. Engaged and satisfied board members are challenged, not given the easy road, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. But though this effort will take time, it is well worth it in the end.



A few examples of Board Engagement Activities:

  • Give board members an opportunity to “look behind the curtain.” Provide unique opportunities that they would not experience otherwise, such as a chance to have one-on-one interactions with key staff members, such as an artist, professor/dean, researcher, zookeeper, etc.
  • Give them hands-on ways to be involved. Let board members assist in fulfilling the organization’s mission without micromanaging, through volunteering, hosting shows or events, being tour guides, hosting alumni groups, etc.
  • Have a mission moment at the start of every board meeting. This allows board members to hear from someone in the organization about what is happening in a particular area or project.
  • Schedule personal meetings for the CEO with board members. These periodic intentional one-on-one meetings are an opportunity to discuss their board service and engagement.
  • Assign mentors to each board member. Their role is to get the new board member engaged and make certain the acclimation to board membership is a good one. This not only engages the new board member, but also keeps the current board member active in sharing why he or she is on the board, etc.
  • Communicate frequently with your board. Use email to communicate between meetings and events. Give them quick news updates, such as an announcement of a gift or grant, a great new staff member hired, a recognition received, booking a special artist or show, etc. Board members like to hear good news first.
  • Consider the expertise of each board member and “exploit” it. Leverage the talents of your board members to expand the reach and the impact of the organization. Board members can geometrically multiply the good work of staff, if used effectively.


Feb 2014 | CAE Reports Record Giving to Colleges and Universities in 2013

by Jeff Small


The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) released the annual results of its Voluntary Support for Education (VSE) survey earlier this month. The good news for colleges and universities is that charitable giving to higher education continues to rebound from the deep dive it experienced during the recession.

The VSE estimates that colleges and universities received a record $33.8 billion in 2013. This is a nine percent increase from 2012 and is up 20 percent from the low point of giving during the recession. Donors and institutions have also shown signs of moving back into an aspirational mode with giving to capital purposes rising at nearly double the rate of giving to current operations (6.9 percent vs 12.4 percent).

During the recession, institutions and donors helped to blunt the impact of the drop in giving by shifting gifts away from longer term capital projects and focusing instead on current operating costs. Giving in both areas has rebounded in the past two years, but there has been at least some sense that some signs of growth were corrections in that pattern.

Taken as a whole, the significant overall giving increase, the growth of gifts to current operations at a rate well above inflation, and the rapid increase in giving for capital purposes should give college and university leaders confidence. It seems donors are once again ready to engage and invest in the present needs and the future goals of their institutions.

These results align with a number of other objective economic and charitable indicators, as well as our own experience here at JGA. Consumers, donors, foundations, corporations, and nonprofit organizations have begun to accept that the economic recovery, while not overwhelming, is real.

While these results are extremely promising, the VSE report once again found a troubling decline in alumni participation rates. Only 8.2 percent of alumni gave to their alma maters in 2013, a slight decrease from the 9.2 percent who gave in 2012.

While the year-to-year decrease is not huge, it continues the consistent downward trend in alumni participation that has been occurring since the early 1990s. The impact of this decline has been mediated in part by the fact that the average giving by alumni has increased, it still presents a long term problem for what is the core source of support for colleges and universities.


Feb 2014 | Using Wealth Screening as a Campaign Tool

by Lee Ernst


You’ve almost undoubtedly heard something along the lines of Benjamin Franklin’s “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” philosophy, and when it comes to working with donors, it’s no different.

Wealth screening is a great tool to use when planning for a campaign. It can help provide guidance on which individuals to focus your efforts on based on ratings assigned from data sources.

There are several wealth screening services available and finding the right one for you takes a little research and investigation. Each uses slightly different logic, knowledge sources and values. But, the point is the value in having a resource like this.

Let’s take a look at the specific advantages this information provides when planning a campaign:

  • Helping you segment your market and focus your efforts. Some donors with potential will need more attention; others can be engaged via mass efforts. Given limited resources, screenings help you use yours in the best way.
  • Finding out about the other causes important to your prospects and donors. Are they trustees at a hospital? Do they sit on the board of their alma mater?
  • Learning if someone is a planned giving prospect. As many of us know, planned giving donors don’t always fit the classic “major gift donor” profile. Wealth screenings also show property holdings which can play a part in the planned giving conversation.
  • Providing background for solicitations. Results from electronic screening can help assure campaign volunteer solicitors that a “recommended ask” is based upon some quantifiable research. It’s a nice way to blend intuitive thoughts with more black and white data.
  • Early solicitation planning. Screening during the quiet phase of early campaign planning helps to focus and initiate solicitation planning. (Another round of screenings later in the campaign is often helpful but initially, a first screening helps to put together a first list of prospects.)
  • Feasibility study interview preparation. Screening as you are preparing for a feasibility study can provide helpful background on persons being considered for feasibility study interviews.

Now here’s the grain of salt. This is all public data. With that there is an inherent possibility of some incorrect or limited information – so you may well get only a partial picture of a person’s wealth. Manage your expectations and realize that not every rating will be perfectly accurate.

When you start making connections and having real conversations you’ll be able to couple the public data with the real and emotional data you discover along the way and move into relationship building. And the efforts of you and your volunteers will be focused on those who can make early and big differences to your campaign. Enjoy your screening!

Feb 2014 | Leading by Example

by Angela White


Ted Grossnickle received the Man of the Year award from the Indianapolis Association of Wabash Men over the weekend for his dedication to the college as trustee, volunteer, mentor, and as co-chair of their most recent successful campaign. Ted was honored specifically for his significant contributions not only to Wabash College, but to the hundreds of nonprofit organizations he has guided over the years.

Ted truly sees his role in philanthropy as an opportunity to strengthen the field of philanthropy and empower nonprofits to make the world a better place.

He doesn’t feel being asked to donate or even asking others to donate is something to avoid, but rather something that should be embraced. It is through giving that we have the ability to create something better in which everyone can participate.

In a recent article in Wabash Magazine, Ted shares the impact that he sees occur frequently during donor discussions.

“We talk to people about their gift not so much in terms of its size or how they’re going to pay it, but rather what their gift will help to make happen. What will happen that, without that gift, would not. When people realize what their gift in concert with others will cause to occur, then they can be caught up in the joy of giving.”

It is that impact, that ability to share the “joy of giving,” that unites all of us in development and makes us love this profession. At JGA, we are honored this year to be celebrating our 20th anniversary and even more proud that our co-founder Ted has been recognized not only for what he has achieved here at JGA, but for his own dedication to giving back to the community and to the college he treasures.


Jan 2014 | Engaging the Board in Fundraising

by Andy Canada



I am guessing if you have worked with a non-profit for very long then you have asked the question or been asked “What role does the board play in fundraising?”

It is a question that comes up in almost every organization and in many cases comes up year after year. It is important to address it head on and make sure the organization’s leadership, staff, and board members are all on the same page.

Board members have many critical roles and responsibilities with an organization and fundraising literally needs to be on the list.  Fundraising and development has to be specifically listed on the board’s charge and also discussed during the recruitment of board members.

An organization needs board members to be engage in fundraising and there is no reason to not specifically discuss it on a regular basis and even track their activities. In many cases, board members set the tone for the entire organization’s fundraising program. If they are willing and able to communicate effectively on the mission of the organization to their network of contacts, it can empower staff and other volunteers to do the same.

There are many different roles that board members can play in fundraising. Not every board member will be comfortable asking for a gift, but there are some core activities in which all board members should participate.

  1. The most obvious and critically important is for them to personally contribute to the organization. This acts as a demonstration of their commitment to the organization in their own gifting priorities.
  2. All board members should help to identify and evaluate potential donors. This helps the staff and organization focus on the potential donors that have an affinity and capacity to move the organization forward.
  3. Attend events hosted by the organization or represent the organization in the community. Their presence will show they are committed to the organization and that it is important to them.
  4. Play a role in stewardship of donors. Board members can call and personally thank donors, send notes, or invite them to events.

In many cases the list above will be all that some board members will be comfortable doing. In some cases the list above might make some board members uneasy, but with the proper coaching and encouragement from the staff and fellow board members all members of the board will get engaged.

Board members that are part of your development committee or that want to play a more active role in fundraising can be excellent resources for your organization. They can provide more coverage in interacting with your donors and prospects. Some specific activities that more active fundraising board members can participate in include:

  1. Open doors for staff members to contact potential donors
  2. Personally assist with cultivating potential prospects and donors.
  3. Solicit gifts from members of the community and other members of the board.
  4. Host small gatherings at their home or offices to educate and further engage members of the community with your organization.

A key that I have found is addressing fundraising with your board members directly. Many want to find constructive ways to help the organization move forward but they may need some help in identifying specific tasks. Work closely with your board members and find items from the list above that they are comfortable with. They can be one of your best assets in moving a relationship with a prospective donor to the next level or introducing a new potential donor to your organization.