JGA Counsel

authentic and strategic philanthropic consulting

Posts Tagged ‘fundraising strategies’

Sep 2014 | 3 Key Factors to Create a Culture of Philanthropy

by Dan Schipp


JGA regularly works with clients seeking to build organization-wide ownership of their development programs.  It’s a challenge many not-for-profits face.

How do you get people throughout the organization – board, administration, program staff, and support personnel – to “own” and participate in fundraising?  How do you create a culture of philanthropy?

When working with organizations I encourage them to think about three key factors in expanding ownership of fundraising beyond just the “development people.”

  1. Articulating philanthropy’s role in advancing the organization’s mission and values. Staff need to be able to see how fundraising “fits” with the organization and how fundraising is essential and noble work. The more you help all staff understand that development enables the organization to sustain and strengthen, enhance and expand its service of others, the more cooperation and ownership you’ll encourage.
  2. Creating opportunities to engage in development activities.  There are many powerful ways for staff, board, and volunteers to participate in development activities ranging from identifying potential donors, to cultivating relationships, to soliciting gifts, to thanking and stewarding donors.  One of the clients we are currently working with – a community of women religious – involves a number of its retired sisters in the cultivation of donors through ongoing correspondence, email, and phone calls.  Another has put in the job description of every employee an expectation that each co-worker will devote at least 10% of his/her work hours to development-related activities, appropriate to the positon the individual holds in the organization.
  3. Apprising internal constituents of development’s goals, progress, and impact.   Share the stories of donors, the individuals whose lives have been changed by the donors’ gifts, and the internal constituents who had a role in bringing about the donors’ gifts.  These stories help to impress upon individuals within the organization the difference their actions, words, and witness can make in bringing about gifts to the organization.  Clear and regular communication about the dollars raised, the people engaged with the organization, the benefits to programs, and the individuals assisted is essential to keeping your entire team engaged in development.

Those organizations that don’t apologize for fundraising but fully embrace it and intentionally work at building an internal culture of philanthropy put themselves in the best position to succeed.  In those organizations, all members recognize that they have a vested interest in development, they step up to play their appropriate fundraising roles, whether direct or indirect, and they are well informed of development’s goals, challenges, achievements, and impact.

Aug 2014 | The Impact of Suggesting a Donation Amount

by Jeff Small


It is a well-worn and true cliché in the fundraising world that a primary reason many donors give is “because they were asked.” But when it comes to how you ask, the situation gets a bit murkier.

What is the best way to ask a donor that will prompt them to make their best gift for a certain purpose at a certain time? One specific area of confusion and concern we often encounter among even experienced fundraisers is the idea of a suggested gift amount.

Is it rude to pressure them to give that much?  What if they planned to give, but I ask for too much and I offend them? Am I asking them for enough?  Would they give more if I left the amount unsaid?

These types of questions often lead to significant hand-wringing, and sometimes delayed solicitations as professional fundraisers weigh how much to ask for from their donors.  The research on suggesting gift amounts, however, is not as robust as the research showing that the act of asking spurs donations.

That is why I was intrigued by a recent study conducted by two University of Chicago professors in partnership with the development office of the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.  Their experiment found that suggesting a gift amount had very interesting effects.  The study utilized different scripts to solicit random groups of prospects contacted through a phonathon.  Some potential donors were asked to give a specific amount ($20) while others were asked to give without a specific target gift.

The study generated the following key findings:

  • A suggested gift amount spurred more people to give. While the suggested amount they requested was a relatively low-level investment, it did generate a much higher rate of participation.  Approximately 50 percent more of the people called made gifts when they were asked for a $20 donation (3.1 percent vs 4.5 percent).
  • Donors gave what they were asked to give – for better and worse. While the suggested donation appears to have prompted more people to give, it also likely did leave some money on the table.  The gifts made by the group asked for $20 were more tightly centered in the $20 range, and the average gift among donors in that group was $4 lower than the average gift among the group that wasn’t asked for a specific amount ($19.35 vs $23.92).  In other words, donors who would have given more than $20 were content to give only $20 when asked for it.
  • The overall impact of asking for a specific amount was positive. While asking for a specific amount didn’t maximize each individual gift, overall the increased percentage of participants giving generated a higher rate of return than not specifying a gift amount.

Obviously these results are very focused on a low dollar gift, and don’t necessarily translate to major gift asks, but it does give us a well-tested hypothesis that suggests not only are people more likely to give when asked, they are also more likely to give you what you ask for if you are specific.  This article explores a number of other angles on the topic and is worth a read for those who like experimental philanthropy research.

Aug 2014 | Elements of a Successful Parent Fundraising Program

by Lee Ernst


The other day I was reflecting on my past work with the parent constituency within a university setting.  Parents are sometimes grouped into the “friends” or “other” category of donor giving, but their needs, interests, and relationships to the school are often different from alumni and they should be stewarded appropriately.

I’ve outlined several key elements that should be considered when working with parents and a Parents Program.

Engagement and Giving Opportunities

Current parents can be your most engaged prospects and donors. They have a child who is currently attending the school and are interested in helping to make it a great experience for their own student as well as others.  Create fundraising and volunteer opportunities to help them learn more about the school and engage them in meaningful ways.  This can include securing internship experiences for students at their work, endowing scholarships, supporting study abroad, and other experiences that directly affect the student experience.  Set up parent giving councils or advisory groups that have access to school leadership.  This allows the parent constituency to voice their thoughts and advice on the school. 

Parent Web Community

Parents are often some of the biggest advocates for the school.  Create communication web pages for parents, separate from alumni pages that acknowledge their interests in the school and allows them to communicate with other parents. 

Complete Data Records

Unlike alumni who automatically have records and data files created once they are students, new or current parents must have data files created.  Like with any program, without good data including emails and contact information, you have a hard time engaging potential donors.

Good Internal Relationships

A successful Parent’s Program must often partner with other departments so they can share pertinent information with parents.  It’s vital that development staff have a full understanding of what’s going on with other departments in the college, as this is top of mind to current parents.

Policy on appropriate communication

It is important for a college or university to lay out a framework of communication expectations, particularly with FERPA and other privacy issues.  Parent’s Programs should help enforce the importance of these policies when working with both parent and student.  Schools can help develop a student’s academic career while also embracing a parent into the community.

When the time is taken to plan the interactions and a strategy is developed to cultivate and steward this constituency, a Parent’s Program can be a great vehicle to deepen your institution’s relationship with future alumni and their families.

Jul 2014 | Growth in Individual Giving Highlights Need for Major Gift Checkup

by Angela White


At JGA, we believe that research informs practice, and thus we work to put recent research into practice with our clients. Recently, we have been a part of the release of the latest Giving USA report.

As pointed out in our recent analysis of this data, we are encouraged by the fact that this is the fourth consecutive year of growth in giving, following what was an unprecedented two-year drop in giving during the height of the recession in 2008 and 2009. It looks as if this total will put charitable giving within five percent of the high water mark for charitable giving that was set in 2007 before the recession. So, if charitable giving holds steady in 2014, we will likely come close to matching or surpassing the highest level of total giving that Giving USA has ever recorded.

With this news also comes the realization that individual giving continues to drive the growth in charitable giving, responsible for 72% of all donations in 2013. And, if you include bequests and gifts from family foundations, this percentage increases to an estimated 87% of all gifts given in 2013.

Individual giving is driven by individual relationships and decision-making, and I challenge you to ask yourself if you are allocating 87% of your time and resources to developing relationships that would drive positive individual giving decisions? If not, maybe it’s time for a Major Gift Check up to reignite your efforts.

A Major Gift Checkup, will help you review key questions about your major gift program that will assist you in strengthening individual relationships. These key questions focus on the effectiveness of your major gift program in these five areas:  

  1. Assessing your approach to major gift work,
  2. Engaging your organizational leadership in relationship building with top prospects,
  3. Understanding the motivations of your top prospects,
  4. Matching the right prospect with the right project and giving vehicle, and
  5. Practicing excellent donor stewardship.

Join me for our Major Gift Checkup webinar on Thursday, August 14th at Noon EDT to explore each of these 5 areas. During the webinar, we’ll look at how to apply research on major donor prospects to strengthen your major gift plan – all with the goal of growing your charitable giving from individuals.

Register now for this complimentary webinar.


Jun 2014 | Why Are Good Gift Officers Hard to Find?

We don’t know what qualifications we really need


by Kris Kindelsperger

Nearly everyone in the nonprofit world sees the chronic shortage of qualified gift officers as a critical issue. We hear it every day.  But when we seek to analyze why organizations can’t find enough talent to fill open positions regardless of the type of organization, location, or salary, one has to ask the question why?

Perhaps we are confusing “qualifications” with the ability to be successful in the position.  A search of ads for major gift officers often reveals language like “must have a proven track record of success in major gift fundraising” or “must be able to meet or exceed metric driven goals.”  Some organizations come across as viewing major gift officers as sales persons who simply need to be given sales goals and then held accountable.

We wouldn’t argue that development staff need to have clear goals and accountability measures, but if I look around at some of the gift officers who are very successful, I come to a striking conclusion. Many of them had no previous history in major gift fundraising.  Many didn’t come from development backgrounds at all.  Some of the best major gift officers are individuals who have come out of other parts of their organizations or even have come from beyond the nonprofit world.

What they do seem to have in common is a great passion for their organizations. They believe in what their organization is doing and donors pick up on this passion and believe in them as gift officers. Major gift officers must have strong interpersonal communication skills and they must understand and be able to interpret the mission of their organization. They must have a work ethic that takes them beyond the 40 hour week, they must be adaptable and they must be able to accept rejection. But none of this necessarily relates to “a proven track record of success in fundraising.”

In looking for the next great major gift officer, perhaps the person who has the greatest passion for what you do and can effectively convey that message to prospects might be worth a look.


May 2014 | Top Philanthropic Trends

by Angela White 


On May 20th, JGA had the privilege to join the AFP-Indiana Chapter to host Stacy Palmer, Editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, to celebrate JGA’s 20th anniversary . Stacy presented a national perspective on philanthropic trends to the crowd of philanthropy professionals and foundation leaders. Stacy outlined the following trends that present opportunities and challenges for all of us working in philanthropy:

  1. Role of Government: We cannot take for granted the charitable deduction and must keep a watchful eye on this important deduction and not take it for granted. The charitable deduction is a part of the bigger conversation about the role of government in the United States.
  2. Measurement and Performance:  It is important to move from measuring overhead to measuring outcomes and performance.  This continues to be a controversial topic as nonprofits debate what results should and can be measured , including how we measure the cost of changing lives.
  3. Beyond Donations: Several states are now offering social impact bonds and The Nature Conservancy is offering conservation notes -   both of these vehicles offer investment returns to donors as an investment vehicle beyond making a pure donation to a nonprofit.
  4. Professional Leadership and Talent:  The turnover of fundraising professionals and tensions between the CEO and the CDO make it difficult to retain good talent and to grow the next generation of fundraising professionals.  In addition, the fundraising profession struggles to mirror the changing face of America and those we serve.
  5. Anger over Nonprofit Salaries:  Federal and state regulators are going after $1M+ nonprofit salaries and considering actions to cap salaries. At the same time, both charities and donors are demanding that salaries be tied to results.
  6. Use of Charitable Gifts :  Many issues have arisen in the public’s mind around published lists that highlight the “best and worst” charities.  Several watchdog groups capture the public’s attention despite the manner in which these groups calculate return and impact. In addition, “effective altruism” is an emerging trend, led by young entrepreneurial donors that base contributions on the biggest “bang for the buck.”

These six trends paint the landscape for our work and give us much to consider as we move into the second half of 2014. At JGA, we believe understanding the broader philanthropic arena is key to both effective giving and receiving.


May 2014 | 3 Keys to Investment-Level Gifts

by Kris Kindelsperger


When engaging donors in a campaign, it is tempting to simply list organizational needs and wants. However, while the needs are often well justified, it is wrong to assume that donors will inherently understand “why” programs, facilities, equipment, additional staff, or endowments are important to the growth and advancement of the organization.

When it comes to fundraising, our experience is that there are three elements that must be in place before donors will seriously consider “investment level” gifts for organizational needs.

Vision – Donors want to know that there is a vision for the future that goes beyond the status quo. Because we are a great institution of higher education, an excellent arts organization, or an outstanding social service agency is as motivating to most donors today as it was in the past. They want to invest in the organization’s vision for the future. It is crucial in a campaign to bring an aspirational picture of that vision to life for the donor.

Leadership – Donors want to see strong, competent, engaging, and persuasive leaders. They seek a level of confidence that the CEO of the organization has the “stuff” to lead. Leadership manifests itself in many different ways. CEO’s are not all extroverts or possessed with commanding personalities, but they must engender confidence with donors if they expect them to invest in the organization.

Direction – A combination of vision and leadership, donors must believe that the organization is headed in the right direction before they will likely make significant gifts. A sense that the organization is properly focused and pointed forward gives donors the confidence that their gifts will make a difference not just for today but for years to come.

Make no mistake, organizations must have a compelling case for support for fundraising, but communicating these key concepts of vision, leadership, and direction will catapult any fundraising program to success.


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.

Jan 2014 | Are you Fundraising to Stay Alive or Fundraising for Sustainability?


by Kris Kindelsperger


This may seem like an overly dramatic opening, but in this time of increased pressure on fundraising, shrinking advancement budgets, and a demand for short-term results, the stakes are high. It pays to ensure  your organization is focusing on the fundraising practices that will yield the strongest results in the long run.

A review of recent research and studies on the various solicitation strategies shows that the most commonly used techniques —  direct mail, phonathon, special events, and even web/mobile giving —  have either a very high cost to raise a dollar or a very low response rate (for some, both).

Personal solicitation, however, particularly when focused on major and planned gifts yields the highest return on investment of any form of solicitation and has the highest positive response rate.  And, guess what, though it requires an institutional investment in staff, it raises the most money.

So, why haven’t we all embraced face-to-face solicitation as our primary means of fundraising?

Some leaders of organizations note that they can’t afford to wait for major gifts to mature.  Others say they can’t justify the investment in staff at a time when every organization is increasingly focus on operating “efficiently.”  The biggest hurdle, in reality, is that many development staff, presidents/executive directors, and board members are not very comfortable with face-to-face solicitation.

If your organization wants to move toward the most cost-effective, results-oriented form of solicitation, you may need to increase your risk tolerance. Most importantly, take the time to develop a plan that demonstrates  the kind of investment that will be required to seriously ramp up your personal solicitation of major and planned gifts, matched with a corresponding estimate of the potential return.

Take the time to educate leadership on the value of investing in a sustainable fundraising strategy and you — and they — may be surprised with the outcome.