Stop Being a Sick Nonprofit

For the past several days, I’ve been sick with either a cold or allergies.  In any case, I

This has not been a good week. Coughing and sniffling and sneezing!

can do what I need to do, but doing new things defeats me.  And moving to a new spot?  That causes coughing which, after a few minutes, exhausts me.  It struck me last night, after I coughed for what felt like days and only wanted to curl into myself, that many nonprofits are exactly like sick people.

Like a lot of people when they are sick, they do what they need to do—and often they do that quite well.  I am often surprised at how amazing the programs of very small nonprofits are, or how robust, when the entire organization is hanging by a string.

But the other work—the work of fundraising and board management, is a little beyond their strength.  And so they do the minimum or less, keeping them weak and sick,

If articulating the problem brings you halfway to solving it, the road to health should be obvious.  But knowing that I need to stop coughing is no more helpful than telling a nonprofit it needs to fundraise and be more mindful about who gets on their board and how the members need to act.  Both are true, of course, but we must get beyond the what to the how.

The how is less easy to define.  It is different for most nonprofits.  I can say with absolute assurance, for example, that fundraising is about building relationships with individuals who care about your cause, have the ability to support you and are people who will respond to your initial approach, but an organization without a database and no fundraising staff, will find it difficult if not impossible to discover who those people might be.  Unless, of course, the board is willing to do its job—and alas, most boards are not.

This does not, however, mean you cannot build a comprehensive and robust fundraising program.  It does mean that you will not be able to go from zero to 60 in seconds.  This is a multi-year process.  But if you don’t start now, getting there will be that much further away.

Start small.  Pick one thing and do it.

But be wise about that one thing.  Big events cost time and money.  The return on investment is small.

Remembering that fundraising is about building relationships, consider how you can do that in a sensible way.  Personal outreach (letters, phone calls, an invitation to a small group gathering) to the ten people you know can bring in 8 gifts.  Size at this point doesn’t matter.  Anything is more than you have now, and you never know what lurks behind a small first gift.

Keep in touch with those you’ve asked—showing gratitude to those who gave and impact to all.  “Because of you…” and “Because of the support we’ve received” are two sides of the same coin and can sometimes turn nongivers into supporters.

Keep building on what you are doing and know that sometimes it will feel like a slog.  But add just a few names each month and pretty soon you’ve got hundreds, and hundreds will turn into thousands, and your fundraising program will be helping your organization to flourish and grow.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to go from mired to inspired. She helps her clients create fundraising plans that fit their needs and resources and help them to grow.  Learn more at








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Your Likely Largest Donor

The biggest charitable gift I was ever involved with cam from a gentleman who, prior to the multi-million dollar donation, never gave more than a $35 annual gift.  I reached out to him, not because I thought he had money but because he had been giving to us for more than a quarter of a century.  I felt he deserved a very personal thanks.

From the moment we met, it was obvious that his capacity was far greater than what he was giving–and greater than our research department had rated him for.

“why,” asked him long after that first meeting and after his big gift, “had you kept the size of your giving so low?”

He shrugged.  “No one ever asked,” he said.  “And no one before you ever reached out to show me why my support mattered.”

Flash forward many years.

A client has a donor we’ll call Rose.  Several times a year, Rose sends in one dollar–cash.  And every time she did, the staff would grouse and the ED would heave a heavy sigh.

I get it.  It cost more to log in and send a thank you note than the dollars received.  Even adding the gifts up over time.

On the other hand, Rose had been loyally giving for almost 10 years.

I convinced the ED to reach out and tell Rose she wanted to showcase her loyalty in an upcoming newsletter.

It turned out that Rose is a developmentally disabled adult, still living with her parents.  Parents to who told us how much Rose loved the organization and how she saved and saved until she had that dollar to send.

While neither Rose nor her family have the capacity for a larger gift, Rose’s loyalty did spur other donors to increase their giving–and one donor tomato a $50,000 gift in Rose’s honor.

These stories are not anomalies.  Unless you reach out, you will never know what stands behind a small annual gift.  By reaching out to honor loyalty, you will find hidden largess–perhaps in a larger gift, perhaps in larger giving from others.  And definitely in continued loyalty, so small feat in a sector where donor attrition is far too high.

Janet Levine helps nonprofits increase their fundraising capacity.  Helping you to reach out to loyal donors and showing them the value of their support is just one way Janet can help your organization go from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  And do reach out to Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.

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How to Improve Your Donor Acquisition & Retention Plans with Modern Fundraising Tools


TOO BUSY TO FUNDRAISE is happy to introduce guest blogger, Zach Hagopian.  He is the co-founder and COO of Accelevents, a mobile fundraising platform that enhances silent auctions and raffles through online and text-message bidding.  An active member in the Boston fundraising scene, Zach focuses on improving traditional fundraising methods and increasing fundraiser proceeds. things are more critical to the success of a nonprofit organization than donor acquisition and retention.

While many NPOs do have some form of acquisition and retention strategy in place, most are not dedicating sufficient resources or time to make headway in their annual donor goals.

Furthermore, most nonprofit organizations are not taking advantage of the amazing online and mobile fundraising tools available to them. Online and mobile strategies not only help improve donor acquisition and retention, but they make the process easier and more efficient! This means that you can save your team of staff and volunteers significant time, AND make it easier for your donors to support your cause.

As a general note, the end goal of donor acquisition and retention is to create a respectful relationship with your donors. Rather than treating a donation as a one-off transaction, NPOs must treat a donation as the first step in a long-lasting relationship to be created between the donor and the organization.

Transforming your nonprofit into a donor-acquiring-and-retaining powerhouse may seem like an overwhelming task, but we assure you that it is not. To show you just how easy it is to implement modern tools for donor acquisition and retention, we’ve put together a quick guide to get you started.


You may argue that your NPO has implemented a strategy for acquiring new donors, but the question here is whether or not your NPO is doing it effectively and efficiently.

Typically, we have found that many organizations use traditional methods of acquisition (direct mail, physical pledge / bid / donation sheets), which may appear clunky and old fashioned to potential donors, and will ultimately turn them away.

Instead, organizations should put more emphasis on using mobile and online fundraising tools to gain new donors.

Mobile and online fundraising tools are more flexible and easier to use, and they reduce donation barriers for your potential audience. The result? An easier giving experience and more donors!

Another key advantage of online and mobile fundraising tools is that they allow your donors to share their enthusiasm instantly on social media.

By keeping your donors socially accountable and asking them to share updates on their giving experience (donating to a cause, attending a fundraiser, etc.) on their social channels, you will create viral awareness for you cause, and will begin to observe a higher occurrence of organic visitors to your donation page. This organic growth in website traffic and support is what will sustain your nonprofit in the long run.

People naturally want to join in with groups and actions if they see their peers doing so. Online and mobile tools create this social proof by providing donors with social recognition and allowing them to share their donations with their audience.

Below, you will find some of the most popular tools out there to help you with your donor acquisition strategy:

Donation Pages

Donation pages are web pages that allow your audience to make online donations to your cause. The benefit of these pages is that they provide accessibility to your donors regardless of their location. These pages are also optimized to make the donation process as easy as possible. Oddly enough, not all NPO’s are using these pages!

Online donation pages make sense because they are easily accessible, easily shareable, and are extremely easy to set up! Using tools like Crowdrise, donation pages can be created at the organization or individual level. Once the pages have been created, users simply navigate to a custom donation page to give their desired amount.

As your team sets up their first online donation page (or seeks to optimize an existing page), feel free to use some of our favorite tips to create an engaging page:

  1. Make it Visual – Take advantage of the online environment that you are now working in, and utilize great imagery to tell your story. Did your organization host an amazing event this year? Do you have vivid pictures of your volunteers in action? Use these photos on your donation page to create a more personal feel.
  2. Tell Your Story – Online donation tools make it easy to create a custom page in minutes. As part of your page setup, your organization should put extra care in telling the story or history of your cause. Successful storytelling will appeal to your audience’s emotions, allowing them to connect with your cause, and increase the chances of a donation!
  3. Include Your Donation Button! – Most importantly, do not forget to include a “Donate” button. Creating a clearly visible donation button is crucial to soliciting donations. Take Charity: Water, for example. In addition to a visual and personalized page, they created a “Donate” button that stands out over everything else on the page. Follow this strategy, and you will be well on your way to crafting a great donation page.

Online Silent Auctions and Raffles

Similar to online donation pages, online silent auctions and raffles reduce barriers to donation and can lead to increased donor acquisition. While traditional silent auctions and raffles are physical in nature and thus may actually offer barriers to donation, their online counterparts make participation extremely easy.

Due to their online and mobile nature, these fundraisers can engaged with from donors all over the world, not just those that are able to attend your yearly events.

Furthermore, accepting donations in the form of an auction or raffle allows your guests to have a chance in winning great items. This positive experience will then be associated with your nonprofit, building a relationship with your donor and encouraging further engagement.

Once you have improved your acquisition strategy, it will be time to focus on retention.


While donor acquisition is how NPOs are able to “build the top of their funnel,” retention can add sustained value to your nonprofit.

It is much more expensive and time intensive to acquire new donors (customers) than it is to encourage repeat donations (purchases) from current donors (customers).

One of our favorite donor retention strategies is something we call the “Ask, thank, report back strategy. Just as it sounds, organizations should follow the steps of asking for donations, thanking their donors, and reporting back on what donations were used for and how they helped the cause.

Below, you will find some of the keys to implementing this strategy, as well as our favorite tools to execute it effectively.

  1. Gratitude

Our first key is to express gratitude and thank your donors in a timely and authentic fashion.

The easiest way to improve your donation acknowledgement is to focus on promptness and authenticity. The sooner you thank your donors after their contribution, the more likely they will be to return in the future.

Additionally, thanking your donors in an authentic, “non-canned” fashion will help your donors relate to the human side of your nonprofit. Feel free to mix it up every once in awhile and send out hand-written letters! Just because online tools are effective, that does not mean that you need to rely on them all of the time.

  1. Keep Your Donors “In the Loop”

Once you have sufficiently acknowledged any contributions from your donors, it’s time to focus on the “report back” portion of our strategy. Here, your team should focus on keeping your community of supporters updated on what their donations are being used for.

Identify the cause that your donors’ funds are being used for, and spend significant time and effort to create shareable content on this cause. Some of our favorite pieces of content are in-depth case studies, expert interviews, and especially videos!

  1. Provide Opportunities for Your Donors to Support Your Organization without Donating Money

If you really want to stand out to your donors, try providing them with an opportunity to support your organization without donating money.  In creating a lasting relationship with your donors, it is critical to provide avenues for them to get involved in ways that are beyond just giving money.

Focus on creating unique opportunities for your donors to support you. These could be anything from volunteering to joining a committee for a special event. Creating unique opportunities for your donors will encourage them to support your organization in ways beyond just donated their money!

Tools For Donor Retention

Each of the tools below can help your organization implement a successful donor retention strategy – when used in combination, your team will be able to create a holistic and effective donor retention strategy.

  • Peer-To-Peer Campaigns

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) campaigns are fundraising campaigns that empower your best supporters to help raise funds for your cause. Some of the most popular P2P campaigns include physical events (Boston Marathon), and personal challenges (the Ice Bucket Challenge).

Creating a sense of responsibility and empowerment will go a long way toward creating lasting relationships with your donors!

  • Donor Management Software

Donor management software will allow you to store information on all of the actions of your donors, including donation amounts, frequency, and how long these donors have been with your organization.

These systems are also helpful in managing your outreach and acknowledgment strategies, as they will often allow you to create custom “Thank You” templates and adjust the frequency and timing for sending out your acknowledgement notes.

  • Social Media

And finally, what would this article be without a mention of social media?

Social media should play a critical role in helping your organization keep your donors “in the loop,” and will also allow your organization to have a more personal connection with your donors.

Be sure to use social media to provide any updates that you are also sending to your donors via email. Some of our favorite social media updates include:

o   Donation amount milestones

o   New initiatives launched with the help of donor support

o   Video recaps for your nonprofit’s fundraising events

This guide is just an intro to the amazing online fundraising tools and strategies out there – we hope that this assists you and your NPO in your mission.


You can (and should!) follow Zach on: Facebook:    



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The Right Attitude

It was a story within a larger story about people who started new careers late in life.  The woman was in her 80s or 90s and her nephew or grandson asked her why she was working so hard.

“I’m worried about money,” she said and he scoffed.

“You have enough money to last you until you are 110.”

She responded, “And then what will I do?”

I love that attitude.  The one that doesn’t see anything ridiculous in worrying about what you will do when you are 110!

Attitude is more important than we frequently acknowledge.  If I think I can, often I can.  If I assume I can’t, well that’s a sure recipe for failure.  In fundraising, attitude is even more important.

I do a lot of board retreats and many of them are focused on fundraising.  What gets in the way of board members is mostly their attitude.  Fundraising, they think, is “hitting on” someone.  It is offensive.  It is scary.  It makes them uncomfortable.

If, however, we can change that attitude, fundraising becomes what it really is:  An opportunity for someone to give to an amazing organization.  It opens the door, invites the person in.  But if I invite you in with an apology for asking you to enter a horrible place, how willing will you be to walk through that door?

On the other hand, if my attitude is one of generosity and of joy in asking you to come on in, you are much more willing to join me.

Likewise, an attitude that says I am comfortable talking about a gift with you makes your prospect far more comfortable also.

It starts, of course, with clarity.  If I ask you out to lunch and in the middle of that lunch I start to talk about a charitable gift, you would be within your rights to feel a little put out.  However, if when I ask you out, I am clear that the purpose of this lunch is to talk about that gift, you have a choice.  Yes, I’d love to or no, please don’t do that.  On the fence?  Then say so.  Okay, I’m willing to hear you out, but do know that I am not at all sure about supporting your organization.

Our attitude really does affect outcome.  If I think I can’t, guess what?  I probably can’t.  But if I know I can, and if I know that my organization is truly terrific, I can ask you for a gift that will not just work for my organization but will make you, the donor, really happy about the gift you gave.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, taking them from mired to inspired.  Her can-do attitude is infectious, helping organizations to increase their capacity and create stronger boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter, and do reach out to Janet and ask for a free, 30 minute consultation



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Right-Sizing Your Board

Boards.  For a small nonprofit, recruiting the right board members may be the hardest chore.  Harder even than fundraising.

So much time is spent on finding 15-20 good board members. Board members with affluence and influence.  Those who can open doors and those who can give gifts.

And the more I work with small nonprofits, the more I wonder if the focus is in the wrong place. Certainly, most of the small nonprofits I know, have a hard time finding these board members.  Too often, to fill the spaces, they end up with a people who don’t care much about what they do.  Others that care, but not enough to show up to meetings.  Not enough to make stretch gifts.  Not enough to ask their friends to support the organization.  And 3 or 5 who are the board members the organization deserves.

Maybe small nonprofits should have commensurately small boards. Boards of 3-5 people who care passionately about the mission of the organization and willing to be serious about their roles and responsibilities.

Okay, I get it.  With a smaller board, fundraising could go down.  Or you could create a fundraising committee (or a Leadership Council, or 100 other auxiliary groups) that is made up primarily of non-board members.

These folks you find from your donor list.  They don’t have to be big givers.  Just givers who are willing to go to others and say “Join with me.”

And each time someone makes a gift, engage with that someone and find out if being part of your fundraising committee, Leadership Council, whatever, is something they might be interested in.

Whether they are or not—and I’m guessing most will say no thank you—the purpose is to let you reach out and not ask for a gift.  Reach out in a way that is personal.

Best of all, as you engage with a small board and a small group of ambassadors who are opening doors and engaging prospects, you are connecting more deeply with them.  It’s easy to meet with 3 or 5 people one on one at least once a year.  And until the fundraising committee, Leadership Council, etc, grows to  beyond 10 new people (not counting the one or two who also serve on the board), you can meet with them one on one also.

The payoff will be terrific.

Small boards, fundraising committees/Leadership Councils are not for every nonprofit.  But if you are having trouble growing your board with the right people, it may be time for  you to think quality not quantity and shrink your board to the best members you have.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build better boards.  Learn how she can help your organization go from mired to inspired at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.



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