JGA Counsel

authentic and strategic philanthropic consulting

Posts Tagged ‘fundraising strategies’

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.

Jan 2014 | Telling the Story of #WomenLeading Philanthropy


by Angela White 


In the nonprofit sector, we’ve come to rely on the Women’s Philanthropy Institute for empirical data about gender differences in giving.  Fundraisers use the research from the annual Women Give reports to make the case for developing special initiatives and advance their work with female donors.

Every three years, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute organizes a symposium related to issues in women’s philanthropy.  Highly anticipated throughout the field, these events have sold out each year and 2014 promises to be another major contribution to deepening our understanding of women’s philanthropy.

Women have been trailblazers in philanthropy since the early 18th century, addressing and solving societal problems in the United States creatively and resourcefully. Yet, knowledge and awareness of their accomplishments – individually and collectively — are limited. 

#WomenLeading Philanthropy, April 2- 3, 2014 in Chicago, is about to change that!

Join a provocative conversation about how the philanthropic landscape has changed as a result of women’s increased engagement. Meet women and men who are asking the right questions about philanthropy, applying formulas that work, and developing the philanthropic leaders of today and tomorrow. With more than 25 presenters representing a cross section of the nonprofit and corporate sectors, the symposium offers an opportunity to step back and reflect on how the philanthropic landscape has changed as a result of women’s leadership.

In addition to showcasing the stories of powerful women leading in philanthropy, presenters will help attendees think about how to tell the story of women’s accomplishments as leaders in philanthropy in a more compelling way.  Can a single tapestry be woven out of the disparate pieces of the women’s philanthropy story?  Add your voice to the conversation in Chicago.

Register today.

25+ inspiring leaders, one powerful story

Nov 2013 | Using Student Organizations to Engage Younger Donors


by Andy Canada


There has been a lot research and discussion about engaging younger donors. Organizations recognize the importance of getting donors involved as early as possible, hoping that in time they can develop these young prospects into major and planned gift donors. Higher education has for years used an effective tool in the effort with development-focused student organizations.

The October 2013 issue of Case Currents has an article titled “Forward-Thinking Philanthropy” by Julie Bourbon that highlights excellent examples of student organizations from around the country and the impacts they are having on their campus. The examples show how students and development staffs can work together to educate the student population on the importance of giving back and planting the seed to be lifelong donors to their alma mater.

Student organizations are an important tool for educating your current students on the importance of philanthropy and getting them to think about how they can participate as alumni. Members also help spread the message to their friends and others on campus and can begin to put a face on the development office.

Student organizations that focus on philanthropy are a great resource that can help fill many crucial roles at an organization, including:

  • actively fundraise for a specific project such as a senior class project or a student emergency fund,
  •  work closely with the development office to host alumni when they are back on campus,
  • Engage current students on the role the philanthropy has played in building the school or supporting current projects or scholarships.

Another benefit of these development-focused student organizations is the opportunity for students to learn more about development as a profession. We are seeing more students becoming interested in entering development as a profession and these organizations provide an avenue for them to work in partnership with the development office.

As a freshman at Purdue University, I had no knowledge about development and fundraising as a career, until a fraternity brother encouraged me to join the Purdue Foundation Student Board. At the time the organization primarily assisted in hosting alumni when they would come back on campus and also helped organize the senior class gift. This group was my first interaction in development and provided me with the opportunity to meet and interact with a number of development professionals that I still keep in touch with today.

Student organizations that focus on development are not the only way to engage young donors and they don’t work for all organizations, but in many cases they are a great vehicle for your development office to use to start educating and engaging your current students on the role of philanthropy. Check out the October 2013 issue of CASE Currents for some great examples on how students are making a difference on their campuses.

Nov 2013 | Could your Facebook likes be costing you donations?

by Jeff Small


recent study by Canadian researchers suggests that not all social media engagement is good engagement if your ultimate goal is to cultivate donations. The study serves as an important reminder that your ultimate goal in any donor contact should be to nurture relationships.

In this study, researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business tested how different types of online interactions with potential donors impact their future donative decisions. 

Researchers offered different groups of participants different ways to show support for a cause without making a monetary contribution. Some were asked to join a group on Facebook, while others could receive a pin or magnet supporting the cause, and others were given the opportunity to sign an online petition in support of the organization.  Later, they were all given an opportunity to contribute financially to the organization. 

Researchers found that those who provided a public show of support (i.e. through Facebook) were less likely to make a contribution than those whose opportunity had been more private (i.e. signing an online petition others might not see).  The study’s authors speculate that when potential donors have opportunities to show support for a cause without a contribution, they feel less pull to make a statement through financial support. 

In other words, if they get credit in their social group for being charitable when they “like” your organization or join a charitable sounding Facebook group, potential donors don’t feel the need to show they’re charitable with their wallets.

Organizations that ignore social media as an opportunity to engage potential supports do so at their own peril, but as this study shows, not every interaction on social media will ultimately advance your fundraising strategy – and in some cases they just might be counterproductive. 

There are without a doubt success stories of organizations gaining attention, reaching new audiences, and attracting new donors through social media.  This study’s findings, however, should remind us that just like direct mail, phone solicitations, or in-person fundraising, our goal with any fundraising technique should be to nurture relationships that will support an organization over the long-term, not merely to chalk up another contact.

Oct 2013 | Implement a Generational Fundraising Strategy

by Dan Schipp


More than twenty years ago I began keeping a file on generations and their attitudes and practices toward giving.  It’s a topic that has generated a lot of research and discussion over the years.  My file is quite thick.

The most recent addition to my file is “The Next Generation of American Giving:  The Charitable Habits of Generations Y, X, Baby Boomers, and Matures”.  This August 2013 report summarizes research commissioned by Blackbaud.  It builds on another study funded by the software company in 2010.

The Blackbaud study examined the giving habits of four generations of Americans:  Generation Y (born between 1981 — 1995), Generation X (born between 1965 — 1980), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 — 1964) and Matures (born 1945 or earlier).  The online survey of 1,014 U.S. donors was conducted in mid-May of this year.

There is a lot of helpful information in The Next Generation of American Giving”.  I encourage you to read the full report.  To pique your interest in the Blackbaud-sponsored study, here are five of the ten key findings as reported in “The Next Generation of American Giving”:

1.      Baby Boomers will exert an outsized influence on giving for the foreseeable future.  Although Boomers represent a third of all adults who give, they contribute 43% of all charitable dollars.

2.      Multichannel engagement and solicitation of donors is the new normal.  While all generations are multi-channel in their communications habits, the ideal mix varies from generation to generation.

3.      Direct mail is far from dead, but it won’t last forever. Generations Y and X are far more likely to give online, and as many Baby Boomers say they give online as much as via direct mail.

4.      Generation Y donors have distinct preferences in regard to the causes they support with children’s causes being their top charitable interest.  Generation Y donors also are more likely to demand accountability and transparency than older donors.

5.      The value of some channels (e.g. social media) is understated if measured by transaction metrics only, as opposed to by engagement.

For some time now we have known that the “one size fits all” approach does not work when it comes to generational fundraising strategy.  “The Next Generation of American Giving” report underscores the added necessity of a multichannel approach for all generations. 

As you develop your generational fundraising strategy, make sure you are collecting birth dates for your donors so you can track donor behavior generationally.  Then focus on the right mix of communication and fundraising strategies for each generational group of donors.

Aug 2013 | Startling Drop in Alumni Giving

by Dan Schipp


Recently, in compiling an alumni giving comparison for a client, I took a closer look at the data from the 2012 Voluntary Support of Education published by the Council for Aid to Education.  The statistics, of course, were sobering.  We are all well aware of the decline in the percentage of alumni giving to their alma maters.  What struck me was the extent of the decline – nearly 50% in just over 20 years!

Over the past forty years the percentage of alumni giving to all colleges and universities peaked in 1990 at approximately 18%.  In 2012 the alumni giving participation rate was 9.2%, down from 9.5% in 2011 and 9.8% in 2010.  The participation rates for different types of higher education institutions ranged from a low of 0.7% for public associate degree-granting colleges to 4.5% for public Master’s degree universities to 9.5% for private Master’s degree universities to a high of 21.5% for private baccalaureate institutions. (All of these types declined from 2011 except for the public associate degree-granting colleges which remained the same.)

Not only did the percentage of alumni contributing to their schools decline in 2012, so did the size of the average gift and the total amount contributed by alumni.  In 2012 the average alumnus gift was $1,206, compared to $1,224 in 2011 – a drop of 1.5%.  In 2011 alumni gave a collective total of $7.8 billion to higher education. In 2012 that total was $7.7 billion.

It is clear higher education has a challenge on its hands. Yes, the decline in the percentage of alumni making gifts to their alma maters is partly due to colleges and universities, thanks to technology, being able to do a much better job of identifying, tracking and contacting their alumni.  Thus, the number of alumni of record (the denominator in the calculation used to determine the participation rate) is increasing much faster than the number of donors (the numerator).  But there are other factors as well – changing generational attitudes toward giving, the impact of substantial college debt, fundraising techniques that have run their course, and lack of effective engagement with alumni.

What can colleges and universities do to reverse this trend?  I suggest a place to start is by asking the following questions:

  • Are we helping our students understand, while they are on campus, the importance of giving to their alma mater and the impact it has?  Are we engaging them in philanthropy as students?
  • Are we building strong relations with our alumni?  Are we offering them meaningful opportunities, beyond giving, to engage with the university community?  Are we assisting them with networking and career services?  Are we inviting them to return to campus to do class presentations and lectures and to meet with students and faculty?  Are we asking for their input and ideas?
  • Are we using a multi-channel approach in our efforts to encourage their financial support?  How well are we coordinating our use of social media, email, direct mail, phone and personal contact?  Are we conveying a consistent, compelling message of impact?
  • Are we willing to experiment, innovate and be creative?
  • Are we asking enough of our alums?  Are we providing them with opportunities to make a difference?


Aug 2013 | Fundraising for the Mundane

by Jeff Small


At JGA, we serve a wide range of clients with a wide range of aspirations and needs.  Periodically, we will help small to mid-sized organizations that are facing the daunting task of raising money for something that is thoroughly uninspiring.  It is one thing to put a rendering of a shiny new building in front of a donor, or to paint a glowing picture of the impact a new program, or scholarship fund, or any number of exciting tangible new developments that an organization might have planned, but what about when you have real needs that are dare I say boring!

Think repaving parking lots, upgrading the HVAC systems, bringing sprinkler systems up to code, or worse yet debt reduction!

These are real issues for organizations that have a significant impact on their operations and missions, but they are anything but exciting for most donors.  These are essentially the brussels sprouts of the charitable food pyramid.  Grown up donors are sure they are supposed to support them, but they just don’t taste right.

So how can your organization address these critical needs?  Here are some tips that I’ve learned in my time in the sector:

1.     Focus on your mission.  

So the specific need might not be that exciting, that doesn’t make your organization less exciting.  Remind donors of the critical work that you are accomplishing and how this mundane stuff fits into your larger mission.


2.     Make it tangible.

I once conducted a site visit while reviewing a grant request from a community organization that housed men in need.  They were requesting assistance replacing their furnace which couldn’t heat the historic home where they were located. I was not overly moved by the request on paper. When I took a tour I found out that they were forced to use old space heaters to keep the men warm and a volunteer would have to stay up each night and serve as the “fire monitor” because of the in inherent risks of such a setup.  I couldn’t get out of that firetrap fast enough, and I wrote a strong endorsement of the grant request for the board of trustees, with which they agreed.


3.    Be the ant, not the grasshopper.

Just as the fable suggests, the hard working ant ends up better off than the grasshopper who ignores the coming winter.  Every organization has mundane needs that at times can become a threat to their operations.  The best way to prepare is to plan ahead for these situations, and to focus on the fundamentals of fundraising and grow your unrestricted donor base through consistent donor contact, assertive (but respectful) solicitation, and impeccable stewardship of gifts.  Organizations with strong annual fund efforts and consistent donors who give unrestricted gifts can address their needs as they arise.  Over the long term, this is the healthiest way to deal with “boring” needs.  Just as you might get away with serving brussels sprouts at a dinner party once, you’ll probably start lose dinner guests/donors if you make it a center piece of every meal you serve.

| Lead Donors Are Crucial for Campaign Success

by Andy Canada


Preparing for a campaign should be exciting, but it can often also be a bit overwhelming. We all know there are steps you can take to prepare internally and have everything ready to go (see our tip sheet on Campaign Prep), but do you know what you need to do to prepare external audiences for a campaign?

Your campaign can get off to a very slow start if you aren’t keeping your lead gift prospects informed and updated on what is taking place. We all know how important lead gifts are to a campaign but here are a few specific items to keep in mind:

  • Lead gifts build momentum and instill confidence in your donor base and within your organization
  • Lead gifts demonstrate that the campaign is feasible and will influence others to give and support the campaign
  • There is evidence that the 80-20 rule (80% of your campaign will be contributed by 20% of your donors) is actually becoming the 90-10 rule

So what steps can you be taking to keep your lead gift prospects engaged and interested in what is taking place at your organization?

Identify Priorities – It is important that everyone at your organization is on the same page about the future direction of the organization and what levels of funding will be required to get there. Do you have key philanthropic priorities that have been agreed upon by your leadership?

Plan Donor Strategies – Before you begin to engage your lead gift prospects, sit down as a team and map out a strategy for moving forward with your key prospect.

  • Who has the best relationship with the donor?
  • What priorities do you think will be of interest?
  • Who is the right team to cultivate and eventually solicit?
    • Are their key volunteers that can be engaged?
    • What level of gift could the donor potentially make?
      • Work with your team to develop a gift capacity range
      • Conduct a wealth screening on your key prospects
      • Engage board members and other volunteers to conduct a peer screening.

Listen to the Donor – This is the most important step of all – sit down and have a discussion with the donor. You will learn more from listening to your donor and engaging them in a thoughtful conversation then you will in all of the work that you do to prepare – but the prep work is still a critical and necessary step.

  • Engage your donor in reviewing the key philanthropic priorities and discussing what impact they will have on the organization.
  • If a strategic plan has recently been completed, engage the donor in providing an update on the plan or have a board member or the president meet and discuss the plan with the donor.

Your lead gift donors need to buy-in to your plan from the start. Engage them as early as possible in the campaign planning process and allow them to provide you with feedback and their thoughts. Lead gifts can make or break a campaign – so put the time in upfront to ensure you have the best strategy possible and then sit down and listen to your donor.