Don’t Hang Up Too Soon

A donor called to make a $5,000 gift in memory of her recently deceased mother.  The donor was interested in what people today are concerned about—effectiveness of our programs, our efficiency rating, the people we serve.

We discussed a number of possibilities regarding how the gift could be used. After asking a number of questions about our organization and its programs, she decided where she wanted her gift to go.

She was ready to hang up when I asked her to tell me about her mother.

She was caught off guard, but proceeded to tell me what a loving mother and wife she had been, how dedicated she had been to her church, and how uncomfortable her mother would have been to see the big fuss everyone had made over her at her funeral.

We visited about her mother for 20 minutes, she on the east coast of the United States and I in the west.  I asked questions about her mother’s life because I was interested. She found some catharsis in sharing stories about her mother.

As development people, we are about people and ministry.  We are not just about dollars.  We seek funding because of the difference that funding will make in the lives of those less fortunate, or those who are hurting, or those needing guidance and comfort… and because of the difference those gifts will make in the lives of the donors who respond to God’s grace by giving gifts.

I could have hung up the phone after we determined how the $5,000 was to be used.  That would have been a somewhat cold transaction,  By asking about her mother, and listening to the story of her life, this woman was given another opportunity to share the story of her mother… and celebrate the life they shared together.

Introducing Your Ministry to Potential Donors

Small, intimate events are a wonderful way to introduce prospective donors to your ministry and its mission.  There are critical elements that will make—or break—these events:

Encourage your best donors to invite friends, colleagues, or other members of their congregation.  Not only is this a great way to build attendance, it involves your current donors and helps cultivate their dedication and continued support.

Keep the event SHORT.  From the moment attendees arrive to the time they are free to leave, no more than an hour should have elapsed.  If done well, many will choose to stay and visit anyway.

The speakers should include the CEO and the host donor.  The host donor speaks to why the ministry is so important to them; the CEO should share a bit about the mission and how it is changing lives for the better; and the host donor thanks attendees for coming and encourages them to welcome a visit from staff in the coming week.  The event adjourns.  Most importantly, each one speaks PASSIONATELY and BRIEFLY.

Attendees should fill out some type of contact card, with the understanding that staff will be calling within one week to follow up and invite engagement in the ministry.

FOLLOW UP!  This event is simply a waste of time and money if you expect the prospective donors to call you.  Do not wait…carpe diem!

Don’t Publish Bad News

I was a visitor at a worship service several months ago, and among the announcements in the bulletin was this line:

Received last week: $2,238.53
Needed each week: $2,750.00

After the service, I asked a member of the congregation if that deficit announcement was unusual.  She said, “No, we’re always behind.”

If you see this kind of announcement in your church bulletin, or even in the monthly newsletter, please try to get it eliminated. Why? It creates a negative image and does nothing to increase offerings.

Dividing the annual budget by 52 Sundays just gives inaccurate information, particularly during low attendance months. Neither income nor expenditures are exactly the same over the course of the year. Members wonder how they can see a deficit all year and then the deficit miraculously goes away at the beginning of the next year.

How, then, can we adequately report the financial status of a congregation? The amount received can be reported along with a sentence or two about a ministry that offerings help support. I also recommend giving updates in quarterly financial statements rather than bulletins or newsletters for the whole world to see. If I am looking for a new church home, I’m not going to be inclined to join a congregation that advertises it’s in debt.

Transparency is important, so financial statements prepared for council meetings can also be made available for those who are curious or have a need to know about the details of how the money comes and goes. I also recommend to finance committees who absolutely obsess about “being behind” to go to individuals and ask them to make up the perceived “deficit,” beginning with members of the finance committee. That usually gets them off that subject.

Seven Elements of a Gift Acceptance Policy

If your organization doesn’t have a Gift Acceptance Policy, first consider why you need one. If such a policy is already in place, consider reviewing it annually with board members and fundraising staff. This routine practice educates new members to the team and affords regular consideration of changes to the policy.

As you draft your policy, incorporate these seven elements:

1)     The organization’s mission and purpose. Your guiding principles should frame the decisions to accept—or decline—gifts to the organization.

2)     The purpose of this policy. The aim of this policy is not to restrict the organization, but rather to guide decisions and protect the organization’s assets, fundraising staff and donors.

3)     Use of legal counsel. Outline circumstances when legal counsel should be consulted, such as reviewing certain gifts, contracts and legal documents, transactions with potential conflicts of interests, etc. Specify when appraisals are required, and who will pay for the appraisal. 

4)     Consideration of a donor’s conflict of interest. The organization should encourage donors to consult with their professional advisors before making substantial gifts to the organization.

5)     Donor restrictions on gifts. What kinds of gift restrictions does the organization allow a donor to impose?

6)     Composition of a Gift Acceptance Committee. Inevitably, there may be rare exceptions to the gift acceptance policy or unique gifts which require consideration. Exceptions to the gift policy must be rare, well-supported and reasoned.

A small team of the organization’s financial governors may be named to a review board for consideration of these exceptions. These team members may include the chief financial officer, chief fundraising personnel, chief operations officer and president of the board. When applicable, the team may consult experts such as environmental analysts, property brokers and legal advisors.

7)     Types of gifts the organization receives. Small non-profits may not be able to accept all types of gifts, due to expertise in handling the gift or the resources available. Commonly, organizations receive gifts of cash, tangible personal property, marketable securities, real estate, life insurance. There may be reasons why an organization may decline any of these types of gifts. Such reasons for exemption should be outlined in the policy.

Three Reasons to Have a Gift Acceptance Policy

In the midst of ongoing responsibilities of cultivating relationships and increasing funds for your organization, developing foundational policies can be overlooked.

If your organization doesn’t have a Gift Acceptance Policy, here’s why you need one:

  1. Not every gift is a “good” gift. For many non-profit organizations, this basic statement can be difficult to reconcile. There can be a number of reasons a donor’s gift may burden an organization. Consider hidden costs such as taxes, fees and liability coverage to keep the gift; the costs of staff time to manage or care for the gift; and the likely market or environmental factors which may implicate selling the gift. A gift acceptance policy helps an organization from receiving gifts with unexpected costs of the organization’s time, money and exposure to liability.
  2. A policy guides fundraising staff. When a donor wants to make a gift to the organization, fundraising staff are conditioned to accept it. But if not every gift is a good gift, fundraising staff may see declining a donor’s gift as threatening to the relationship they have worked so diligently to cultivate. A gift acceptance policy defuses the urgency of deciding with a pending gift, affording the fundraising staff to pass along the unusual gift offer to the gift acceptance team for consideration.
  3. A policy protects the organization. It’s not unusual for gifts to come with unexpected costs such as professional fees, appraisal expenses or other dues. A well-developed policy outlines who will pay for these costs. Detailing very clearly how assets are handled by the organization eliminates misunderstanding from the donor as to what is expected.


If you already have a Gift Acceptance Policy, it’s important to review the document annually with board members and fundraising staff. The policy, meant to guide—not restrict—your team, may require changes unique to your organization’s circumstances, which may restrict or expand types of gifts received. The policy should allow rare exceptions for specific consideration, and should explicitly state how those rare exceptions should be handled.

Best Interview Question Ever

Before I became a consultant, among other things, I served as General Chair for a congregational stewardship appeal.  Task number one was to interview consulting firms.  I had bad memories of that from my time as a parish pastor!

My first question and the question that I think is the best to ask when interviewing potential fundraising consultants:

“What is the largest gift you have ever personally given, to whom did you give it, and why?”

Our first consultant was a deer caught in headlights.  He stumbled around for a few minutes, grimaced, and then told me about a $1,000 gift he had given once.  I questioned him a few times and he couldn’t do any better.

The interview was over.

He had no integrity.  You cannot ask others to become generous if as a consultant if you aren’t generous yourself.

Measuring Your Fundraising Efforts

How many times have you been scrambling at the end of the fiscal year because you suddenly realized you are short of goal? For most organizations, it seems this scenario is more the norm than the exception. Establishing benchmarks and measuring your efforts throughout the year can minimize that last-minute scramble.

For annual giving programs, there are 5 essential measurements:

  1. Amount of contributions for the current year—consider unpaid pledges and secured gifts separately
  2. Total number of donors for the current year
  3. Total number of donors increasing their support from the prior year
  4. Percent of donor retention from the prior year
  5. Number of new donors for the current year

For each of these measurements, it is helpful to compare them to the same data over 3-5 years to avoid abnormalities such as substantial one-time contributions or broad economic changes. Measuring these five areas provide a framework for donor assessment and fundraising efforts.

Staff Giving

This week I witnessed a staff giving campaign kickoff at a large organization with which I am working.  This was a different experience for me, however.  Among the almost 80 staff in attendance, there was an excitement surrounding the kickoff that I have never before encountered.

The staff campaign leadership actually kept secret the date and time that the pledge sheets would be distributed, because there is great competition to be the first team to turn in their forms.

What does that say about the organization?  What does that say about the staff? What does that say to external donors?

First, it tells me that the organization leadership involved many stakeholders in developing the mission of the organization.  The staff was involved not only in the development of the mission statement, but is responsible for sharing that mission with the public (regardless of their position or role within the agency). The staff at every level is also held accountable for achieving the mission.

It tells me that staff trusts management.  Staff will not give for the same reasons that external donors will not give, and one of the main reasons frequently given is lack of trust in leadership.

External donors are going to look at this ministry and feel comfortable that their gifts will be used well, because there is 100% staff giving participation.  They will note the same dedication.

Does your organization have 100% giving by your staff and board?  Do you even give them the opportunity?  If you have asked and some or even many have declined, what does that say about the state of your mission?  Is it time to take a long hard look at your ministry’s mission and vision?

Generation Y: A Case for Courting Millennials

New articles and surveys are always popping up on the topic of America’s youngest adult generation. There’s a race to understand this cohort of some 70 million born 1981-2000, which, by their sheer number, will be influential leaders and consumers in the decades to come. They are considered the most ethnically diverse generation—1 in 3 is considered a minority, have been shaped by heavily-involved “helicopter parents” and, thanks to the well-connected age of information and travel, are considered more globally and civically conscious than previous generations at their age.

As fundraising professionals considering how to best allocate their budget resources, this up-and-coming generation is often overlooked. Non-profit organizations are often remiss in engaging potential young donors, instead waiting for a future time when they are perceived to have greater financial stability and resources. However, as organizations seek to supplement an aging donor base, this philosophy to dismiss young potential donors may prove costly over time.

The 2012 Millennial Impact Report revealed that 75% of young donors financially supported a charity last year. While those contributions were generally small, the cultivation of greater future support has begun. And the value young donors bring to a cause may be greater than the financial support they provide. As a highly networked, social group, Millenials are quick to give their opinion and rely heavily on the endorsements of their peers. Channeling this buzz in support of your organization’s mission can elevate your organization’s profile and enlarge your potential donor and volunteer bases. This generation is more likely than previous ones to get involved in an organization simply on the recommendation of their peers. Millenials want to get involved now—and to know that they are making a difference. Waiting for them to financially mature may mean your organization misses out altogether.

What can you do now? Develop a realistic strategy for how you’ll actively involve young potential donors. Typically, this generation isn’t seeking lengthy terms on governing boards, or high levels of time commitment. Instead, ask them to pass along information on organizational updates and events to their peers. Encourage them to attend your organization’s events, participate in a short-term project or distribute promotional posters. Ask them to blog about the good work your organization is doing. These types of engagement benefit the organization and provide meaningful work for young potential donors as you cultivate them for greater involvement.

Stewardship: Ready, Fire, Aim

My phone rings….”Can you do a talk to the kids before Sunday School.  They will be getting offering envelopes and we want you to tell them about giving.”  “I can do that,” I reply.  “What will the offering from the kids be used for?” I ask.  “Let me get back to you!”

As I thought about this conversation, isn’t this how we often do stewardship and fundraising?  We start with our desire to get money, or perhaps our desire to teach generosity and instill a value that everything comes from God.  Then, we decide what we need the money for.

In stewardship and fundraising, the “Case for Gifts” is most critical.  With a good case, gifts will come because it is a cause that people can wrap their minds around it.

As you begin to think about your fall stewardship appeal, decide on your case first.  Then, go back and figure out who you will ask, for how much and how you will ask them.

My next question when they called back…”How will we let the kids know the impact of their gifts?”  Don’t worry, we’ll figure that out too!