Help Your Donors!

Okay.  Now I am irritated. I tried, really hard, to make a charitable gift online.  A renewed gift, I might add.  But after 3 tries, I gave up.  I care a lot about this organization, and I will feel awful about not donating, but they are making it too hard.  The online form now wants so much information and if you get one thing wrong, or leave one thing out (really?  I can’t donate because I didn’t chose a title?) and then everything I already filled out once, twice, multiple times, gets erased and I have to start all over again.

Over the years, I have felt myself become less and less philanthropic.  Sure, I still support a host of organizations, but I don’t get the same kind of joy I used to.  And mainly it’s because of the way I, as a donor, get treated.

Beyond the difficulty of giving to some (not all, but it only takes one to put a bad taste in my mouth), there is the automatic “thank you” responses—which almost always ask me to make another gift!  I just, and I do mean just, gave, and already you want more?

Then there is the fact that I am either totally ignored until the next appeal or my inbox is so inundated with mail—usually asking for more money, so maybe it is all the same—that I wish I didn’t have an email account.

Beyond that, too many organizations are asking me to give because of the tax deduction—which most of us won’t take because most of us will not be itemizing on our income taxes. This is like the huge number of organizations who sent me email on Giving Tuesday asking me to support them because…well, it IS Giving Tuesday! Try telling me how you impact your clients, and how I get to impact your mission.  In short, tell me why my gift matters.

Most charitable giving comes from individuals like you and me. And while most of us make smaller gifts, most of the money comes from a small minority who give larger gifts.  And, guess what?  Most of those people give because they have a personal relationship with someone or some program at the organization.  And yet, few organizations reach out personally to any of their donors. Is it any wonder that retention rates are low?

Note that I said “reach out” not take to lunch (and who does that anymore?), or coffee, not visit or even see in person.  Reach out—via phone, email, letter.  Say, hey, thanks for joining us.  Could you share with me why you care about what we do?  What part of our mission sings directly to you?  And, by the way, what do we need to do to keep you close?

Once you know what matters to me, then you can give me a thank you I’ll cherish.  You know, you said you cared about our program than helps educate adults, and guess what?  Your support allowed us to…..

It’s really not so hard. If every person in your organization who is responsible for fund development (and really, that should be every person in your organization) took 30 minutes a day to reach out personally to a few (pre-assigned) donors and start a dialog, it wouldn’t take that long to touch every one of your supporters.  The results will astonish you.

And now, frustrated as I am, I am going to try once again to make a gift to that organization that matters to me, and hope that somehow I also matter to them.


Janet Levine Consulting works to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Start this year off right by contacting me and arranging for a free, 30-minute zoom or telephone consultation.  And while you are doing that, go to, sign up for the monthly newsletter and see how I can help you increase your fundraising capacity.

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Getting Closer to Your Prospects and Donors

It’s that time of the year when we tend to reflect about what has and hasn’t occurred in the past 12 months.  A time to consider what you’ve done; what worked, what didn’t.  And what you haven’t done.  And what you probably should have.

One of those things is probably more relational fundraising.

I am constantly amazed at how much time nonprofits spend on transactional fundraising. And, truthfully, the further away from your donor you are, the easier it is for the donor to say no or to say yes to a very small gift.  Get closer, you’ll be more successful.

I know a lot of development directors who have been in the field for over 20 years, and have never, ever done a face to face ask.  Or had a cultivation meeting.  Or made a call to find out how things were and, by the way, let me tell you how much your support means.  That’s stewardship and it is so much more than a thank you letter—no matter how nicely handwritten.

I am also amazed at how much effort goes into defining the “right” message for telling people what you need. Of course, the right message is not what you need (or how you do what you do), but rather in finding out what your donor needs and how you can connect that to your organization’s mission.

And yet, too many development directors spend all their time sitting at their desk, noodling over brochures that don’t raise money and events that raise something but nothing near the amount of time spent on them would make for a good ROI.  Or writing a grant for something they don’t exactly do but maybe they can tie themselves in knots to fit.  All that for $5,000.

OK, I apologize for being grouchy.  But honestly, people, it is so much more effective to meet in person—face-to-face, whether an individual meeting or in small groups—and hear what it is that you do that they care about.  And to work with your prospects and donors on crafting gifts that meet your needs and theirs.

So as you are reviewing last year and making plans and resolutions for next, try this one on for size:  Next year, I will have at least three face-to-face meetings with prospects and donors a week.  These meetings will be focused on learning about them, helping the to make the gift that will matter to them (and to us!), and to talking with them about how much their support has meant in the past and will mean in the future.


Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  Contact Janet for a free, 30-minute (phone or zoom) consultation and find out how Janet can help you.  And do visit our website, sign up for our newsletter and tell your friends about this blog.


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Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday, according to organizers, raised 27% more this year than last.  Sounds like a good thing.  Or, on second thought, maybe not.  Then again, maybe it is just a thing with no real relevance at all.

But wait, $380 Million dollars were raised.  That’s good. Right?

Could be, unless it means that $380 Million LESS is raised during the end of year campaigns.  And, if charitable giving remains hovering around 2% of the gross domestic product, then, truly it is a just a thing and new shiny thing to talk about, but which doesn’t mean anything at all.

Personally, I hate Giving Tuesday.  My inbox gets crammed with emails asking me to give because…well, because it’s Giving Tuesday.  Despite the fact that most of the organizations from which I get emails I know absolutely nothing about.  And the ones I do know, well, truthfully, either I am going to support them, or I am not. Yes, I need an ask, but honestly, I needed touches throughout the year showing me how important their work is and yes, yes…that I am important to that work.

And this year, organizations discovered MATCHES WORK!  Or maybe worked would be more correct.  Almost 100% the Giving Tuesday emails I received told me about a match.  If I give now, my gift will be worth twice as much.

Really?  I don’t think so.

A donor, or a group of donors (or maybe the organization created the match out of operating funds) gives a gift which is then touted to be a match.  And if you give today, then all gifts up to some amount of money will be matched dollar for dollar.  Except they really won’t.  The gift (or the operating funds) is already theirs.  It’s smoke and mirrors to make me feel that my gift is actually larger than it is.

Matching gifts used to mean that someone will give up to X as additional funds up to that amount are raised. In other words, I will match up to $100,000, but if you only raise $25,000 guess what?  I only give you $25,000.  Challenge gifts, on the other hand, say , “I gave $100,000.  Can all of you together give $100,000.  That way, the organization will have $200,000 new dollars.”

But things have gotten muddled.

Or maybe I’ve just grown too cynical.  Or too much of a pedant.

None of this is to say that Giving Tuesday is a bad thing.  On the contrary.  Anything that gets nonprofits to actually ask for support is, in my estimation, a good thing—though truth to tell I’d prefer more relational type of asks.

Beyond that, Giving Tuesday should not be a stand-alone thing, or a competition to other aspects of your development plan.  Rather it should be part of your End of Year campaign.

Most charitable giving happens at this time.  Offering donors many ways to give and reaching out to many different cohorts of potential supporters is a good thing.  Who cares, really, how much Giving Tuesday brings in as a stand-alone appeal. Consider, instead, how your end of year is growing, both in number of donors, size of gifts, and ways that all this happens.  Then think of Giving Tuesday as that first toss of the ball into the game of end of the year giving.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn how she can help your nonprofit at  Visit and sign up for our newsletter and ask for your free 30-minute consultation.

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Keeping Track

Many, many years ago, my first husband bought one of the first models of the IBM PC, hooked it to a modem, and waited for it to do something.  Which, of course, it didn’t.  I often think of that as I talk with clients—those (alas, too few) who actually have donor databases—about how they are using their constituent relationship systems (CRM).

By and large, they are not. They are either using these systems as a mailing list, and/or as a secondary accounting system.  Neither are what these systems are meant to be.

A CRM is a way for you to learn about your donors, understand what they care about, how they respond to you, create meaningful relationships with them.  But the CRM itself doesn’t do a thing.  It’s how you configure it; populate it; use it that can make a true difference in your fundraising.

To begin, you must make clear decisions about how fields are defined and what you will using various elements of the database for.  Data entry has to be standardized and you must have a regular accuracy check.  I always recommend weekly reports showing what has been entered, by whom, with an eye to catch and fix errors immediately.

Typically, in a CRM, you are looking at Constituent records and Gift Records.  The more information you put in your constituent record, the more helpful your database will be.  Not only can you with most software packages identify who you are sending something to, you can personalize the way you address them. The more personal you can get, the more likely someone is to pay attention to what you are writing.

Fundraising is all about getting up close and personal.  Your CRM can help you do that, but only if you are inputting important information. Think about all the things you’d love to know about your donors—and then think about where you would store that information so you can get it out.

Getting information out is one of the big issues with CRM software.  Wrongly input, information can get “stuck,” unable to be extracted in helpful ways.  While some things will only be important for that particular constituent and used only when you are developing a specific donor profile, other information you’ll want to be able to query on and pull reports. These will not only go into different places in your database, they will be stored differently.

A contact report can be written in paragraphs or bullet form.  You’ll want that information as you are creating a cultivation plan or looking to reconnect with that donor.  Who was a former board president, however, is probably something you’d like to be able to query and pull out a list of all former board presidents.

As you consider what CRM to buy, how to update what you have, whatever your database situation, first consider how you will want to use this tool.  And from there, you can build a roadmap to help you to get there.

Just remember, IT won’t do a thing without your guidance.

Janet Levine works to help nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  She can help your organization increase its fundraising, empower your board, train your staff.  Find out how at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact Janet about a free 30-minute phone or zoom consultation.


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End of the Year Fundraising

It’s almost Thanksgiving. Will you be able to give thanks that your end of year campaign has already been launched or ready to go?  Or will you be panicking that (once again) a great opportunity is being lost?

Whether it is because this is when we all ask for support or because it is the time of year when people think about giving (or some combination of the two), end of the year is when most of a nonprofit’s charitable revenue comes in.  Over 30% of all giving happens in December, and most of that in the last three days of the year.

The good news, for those of you who haven’t done your end of year appeal, is that there still may be time. The bad news is that without careful planning, you don’t have time to develop a full-blown campaign.

In fundraising parlance, a campaign is a time-limited effort to raise funds in a variety of ways for a specific purpose.  That purpose can be your operating funds.  If you only send a direct response letter, you will be lucky to get a 4% effective (number of yeses relative to number of asks) rate.  The more platforms you put your appeal on and the more carefully you send out your various appeals, the higher that number will go.  The higher that number, the more you will be bringing in.

End of the year shouldn’t just be about asking, however.  It is such a great time to tell your donors (and would-be donors) what their support has meant over the year.  Telling success stories in emails, e-blasts, newsletters, letters, on social media (you get the picture—and while we are here, pictures are often worth 1,000 words) helps donors feel connected and, understandably, that their support really does matter.

It’s also a good time to clue your community in about what you are planning for next year.  What new things are on the horizon?  What things will you be enhancing, continuing…or stopping? What changes are happening in your staff, in your board, with your programs?

The more you can engage and involve your donors, the higher your retention rate will be.  And that means the more successful your end of the year campaign!


Janet Levine helps nonprofits move from mired to inspired. Inspire your board by bringing Janet to do a training.  Stop being mired by hiring Janet to help your fundraising team plan a successful next year. Email her directly or go to www.janetlevineconsulting.comto learn more.


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