Getting Ready to Plan–Planning to Fundraise

I’m getting ready to leave for 2 weeks in Rome.  I know, it really is a tough life.  But I hate

Piazza Navona – Rome

to travel.  Not going to new places. That I rather enjoy.  Not seeing new things.  That is exhilarating and yes, fun.  But the planning, packing, getting there (and then doing it all in reverse) almost defeats me.   The getting ready sometimes is so daunting we never actually get off the dime.

For some, it’s never getting past the planning to plan whatever it is they need or want to do.  For others it’s just avoiding any planning at all.  And for some, it’s constantly getting sidetracked by all that could be done, perhaps should be done, might be done that they never focus enough to get any part of it done.

Does any of this sound like you or your organization?

If so, here’s what you are going to do:

  • Pick a destination.  Any destination.  This year we will improve our donor retention by 15%. That’s a pretty good destination.  Or We will build our donor pool by 100 more prospects. Yours might be broader, a bigger stretch, or just the opposite—smaller, closer to get to.  It doesn’t matter.  Just decide where you are going to go.
  • Consider your resources and decide how you are going to do that.  Each week, our Board members will write personal thank you notes to every single donor for every single gift, and in that note, we will tell the donor why his or her gift matters so very much. That’s doable. Every month we will add 10 new names to our pool. These will be new people we meet (and yes, “we” includes but is not exclusive to the board), have read about, used to have as a donor.  All that is pretty doable, also.   The next step is harder–ensuring it gets done.
  • Establish a way to measure your accomplishments.  We’ll address the envelopes, and ask the Board members to drop off the notes for us to mail. A little clunky, but hey…whatever will work.
  • Celebrate each success, no matter how small.  At each Board meeting, we will make a big deal out of every follow-on gift we get and every new name we add. That would serve two purposes—you’d be celebrating success and making Board members feel that their work had value (which, by the way, it does).

Once you get this under your belt, try a little side trip or another destination.  Pretty soon, you’ll have a plan.  And while it may not be Rome, it will be a very bene thing to do.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them go from mired to inspired.  Learn how Janet can help you increase your fundraising capacity and ignite your board at While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet to schedule your free, 30 minute consultation

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Follow Through Counts

We had planned a car trip before we found out that my husband would be working inRome for 2 weeks at the end of June.  But it’s been so long since we’ve had a vacation that was not tethered by family or work, we decided to take the week we planned.  We PLANNED to drive up the coast, but rock and mudslides put paid to that idea.  So we drove up in the middle, fighting heat and boredom, until we headed west to the ocean.  Where it was still hot.  And in a moment of let’s do something different, we headed up to Lake Tahoe.

Thanks to Hotel Tonight, we were able to get a room in a very upscale hotel at a price that made us sure the website was just hype.  It wasn’t—and we spent 3 glorious nights pretending we were richer than we are.

Seriously, the place was luxe.  We had a view of the lake from our terrace; the room was large and the bed really comfortable.  The staff was friendly and thoughtful.  All in all, I might have given it a 5 out of 5.  Except—follow through on things was less than stellar.

For example, the person who brought us up to our room noted there was only one bathrobe in the bathroom.  “I’ll get another sent up pronto,” he said.  Three days later, there was still one robe.

Then my husband really wanted to be able to make tea in the room.  Three staff members said, absolutely—coming right up.  We finally found an unattended housekeeping cart that had the tea pods, and so we swiped a few.

And then, when we got home, we noticed that there was a breakfast charge on the bill that wasn’t ours.  I called—and the nice young woman at the desk said, “Let me check with my boss.  I’m sure I can just delete that, but I’ll get right back to you.”
That was 4 days ago.  I’ve called and emailed, but no one seems to have an answer.  And now I’m thinking 3, or maybe even 2.5 out of 5.

Follow through, doing what you say you are going to do, keeping your customers (and don’t think that donors aren’t customers) feeling that they matter and you care, is critical.  No matter how well you do everything else, dropping the ball when you say you will do something will sour everything.

We didn’t need the second bathrobe.  Heck, we didn’t even use the first.  But the fact that we were told it would be taken care of left us feeling as if we didn’t matter very much, or the staff member just didn’t care.  And if he doesn’t care, should we?
This is really important for nonprofits.  Fundraising suffers big time when balls are dropped.  Funders, especially, can get understandably testy if you don’t submit that report they requested (or the one YOU suggested!), and prospects will decide to give their money elsewhere if they are not well taken care of.

Taking pride in following through, Janet Levine works with nonprofits to move them from mired to inspired–raising more money and having more committed staff and boards.  Follow through by contacting Janet and arranging for your free, 30-minute consultation.  

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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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