Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Easy Money Will Be Available On August 31

August 15th, 2016 by Karen Climer

Today is the first day of early voting here in Florida. At the end of the month, there will be many candidates who will have been knocked out of the race, but they will still have money left in their accounts. There are laws about how they can get rid of that money. The vast majority choose to give it to a nonprofit organization.

How can you get that money? Just ask for it. Before the end of this week, send a letter to the candidates and ask them to donate some of their excess campaign funds to your organization. It’s even better if you can tie your organization into what their campaign supports. For example, if they have been promoting the importance of creating jobs and getting people to work, your daycare center takes care of children, which makes it possible for their parents to work. If they have been promoting quality of life, the theater you work for increases the quality of life in your city.

Be careful in this letter to only address excess campaign funds that they will have at the end of the campaign. Do not mention that they will have these funds available on August 31 or that the campaign is over Why not? Well, every candidate in almost every race believes they will win the primary and go to November. Don’t insult them by saying they will lose in August.

Should you just wait until after August 31 and only send it to the ones who lose? I wouldn’t wait. Once they lose, they want to wrap things up as soon as they can. For many, that means a few short days. Send the letter before the campaign is over. I would send it this week. Even if they do go to November, your request now is not out of the ordinary.

Where do you find the names and addresses of the candidates? Go to the County Supervisor of Elections website for your county. For other candidates, go to the division of elections for your state. For Florida, it is here. Send a letter to the candidates in the area your organizations serves.

A pretty decent amount of money goes to charity after these campaigns.  Very few nonprofits ask for it.


Posted in Acquisition, Asking, Direct Mail | 2 Comments »

What To Do When Everyone Is Donating To A Disaster And You Aren’t A Disaster Organization

June 27th, 2016 by Karen Climer

I talked to several fundraising professionals in the last two weeks. Everyone is concerned about how the $15 million that has been donated to the Pulse victims and relevant nonprofits will affect giving to their own nonprofit. Let’s face it: if Great Big Philanthropic Company donates $1 million to the shooting victims, that is probably $1 million that they will not have available to donate to the homeless shelter, the arts, or the litter cleanup initiative. So if you work for the homeless shelter, the arts, or the litter cleanup initiative, what should you do? The same thing you would do it they sent you a million dollars – thank them.

Send a note to Great Big Philanthropic Company and thank them for donating to the shooting victims. Yes, thank them for donating to a nonprofit that is not one you represent.

Dear Jane,

I saw on the news that Great Big Philanthropic Company donated a million dollars to the Orlando United Fund. That is awesome! Thank you so much for supporting our community. In times like these, everyone has to pull together. I appreciate that Great Big has stepped up, as you always do, to set the example for the rest of the community. Thank you again for everything you do to make Orlando a better place to live.

Best regards,

Director of Development

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a fundraiser say, “Fundraising is about relationships,” I could’ve single-handedly donated the $15 million. If you believe that fundraising is about relationships (and I hope you do), then focus on the relationship. Thank your donors and congratulate them for doing something cool in the community even if, no, especially if it has nothing to do with your organization or cause.

Posted in Acknowledgment, Relationships | 2 Comments »

How To Ask For Money In The Wake Of Tragedy When You Aren’t Asking For The Money For The Tragedy

June 21st, 2016 by Karen Climer

Let’s talk about fundraising in the face of disaster. Whenever there is a disaster, tons of money flows that way, meaning there is not as much left for other causes. How do you handle that?  This is particularly relevant from where I am in Orlando, Florida.

The worst thing you can do is pretend it didn’t happen. On June 12 in Orlando, we woke up to learn that the largest mass shooting in America just happened right here. That’s all anyone talked about for several days. Just a few days later, I received an email from a local health-related children’s nonprofit saying, “Please donate to us to honor your father on Father’s Day.” I wish I hadn’t deleted the email, so I could show it to you. It seemed like the most insensitive message on the planet.

Am I saying that when there is a disaster, you have to drop all of your fundraising? No. But I am saying that you have to be mindful of the disaster. I remember a letter I received a month after September 11, 2001 from a crisis pregnancy center. The letter had a Johnson box* that said, “After our national tragedy, even more people are defining the quality of life not by the size of their houses or the newness of their cars, but by how the grownups look out for the children.” This was great. It addresses that we, as a country, just experienced a great tragedy, but didn’t dwell on it. It was even better that it tied the tragedy back to the pregnancy center (…how the grownups look out for the children).

So back to my original email example, I wish that organization had had a message that said, “Now more than ever, we recognize the importance of fathers. Many just lost their fathers. Others just lost their sons. Please consider honoring your father, but donating to us.”

Don’t dwell on the tragedy, but don’t ignore it either. Also, find a way to connect the tragedy to your mission.


*A message at the top of a direct mail that contains the key message of the letter. Sometimes, it is in an actual box, but it doesn’t have to be. People might not read the letter, but they will read a Johnson box.

Posted in Asking | 3 Comments »

Four Quick Tips To Make This The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

December 29th, 2015 by Karen Climer

America is a nation of procrastinators. Every year, December 31st is the top day for donations. In fact, 12% of all donations come in the last three days of the year.  This Thursday is charity’s version of Black Friday. This is our Super Bowl Sunday. You can’t afford to ignore December 31st.

I recommend sending a minimum of three emails on December 31st to your email list. Yes, three. No, that is not too many. No, you will not have a massive influx of opt-outs because you send several emails one day of the year.

Here are four quick tips for your emails:

1. Spread the three emails over the course of the day. For example, one at 10am, the second at 2pm, and the last at 7pm. (These times have not been tested. They just seem good to me.)

2. You will be tempted to spend the majority of the email focusing on the tax deadline. Don’t do that. Focus on the mission. Yes, you can mention the midnight tax deadline, but the core of the case is the mission.

3. Use a email subject line that makes people want to open the email. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Procrastinators unite
  • Need a last minute gift? It’s right here.
  • We’re almost out of time
  • Your gift will be DOUBLED!
  • How many children will die in 2016?
  • Five reasons why 2015 was the best year ever
  • Make 2015 count

4. Include a link directly to your donation page. Not to your home page, but to the donation page.

The most important thing is to send these emails. Don’t read this blog posting and say, “That’s a great idea. We should do this next year.” Do it this year!

Posted in Email, Year-end fundraising | No Comments »

No, Mr. Major Donor. We Aren’t Interested In Making You Feel Important

December 14th, 2015 by Karen Climer

Recently, I was sitting at my desk, thinking about the weekend, when the phone rang.  This call was a fundraiser’s dream.  Someone who I had never heard of was just surfing the internet and came across a client’s website.  He had a family foundation, and wanted to make a major gift.  Could I let him know what naming opportunities we had?  Yeehaw!  He told me the gift size he was thinking about, but it really depended on the naming opportunities.

I talked to the client to be sure I had the most updated list of naming opportunities.  Well, it turns out the client isn’t too interested having anything else named.  The board will discuss it, but we don’t want anyone else’s name on anything.  Holy guacamole! He said he was considering a six-figure gift and we can’t put his name on a plaque?! Did I get this right?

Last week, in a meeting for a different organization, the prospect asked a hypothetical question about naming the building.  (That’s a buying signal if I ever saw one.)  The board member hemmed and hawed.  He said he would discuss it with the board, but what it comes down to is that the board member doesn’t want someone else’s name on the project.  Huh?!

Two different organizations.  Two different prospects.  But neither of them is really interested in naming something after the donor.

There are situations where it’s not appropriate to name something after a donor.  For example, the hospital might not want the cancer wing named after the R.J. Reynolds family.  Or if the lead gift to the new science building is from John Hairbrain, well, maybe you can get him to honor a relative (with a different last name).

That wasn’t the situation I was dealing with.  I was dealing with people who view donors as ATMs who should spit out money then blend into the background rather than viewing donors as real people who give because they want something in return.

It is imperative that we view donors as partners.  The vast majority of donors do not want their name on the building, but they do want something. Usually that something is that they want to feel like a worthwhile part of a worthwhile project. If you do that, the money will keep flowing. If you treat them like ATMs, the money will soon run dry.

Posted in Cultivation, Recognition | No Comments »

Don’t Worry About The Watchdog Websites

October 12th, 2015 by Karen Climer

I had an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel today regarding Charity Navigator. Climer My Word 10-12-15My op-ed is written toward how donors might want to think about this, but now I’m going to talk about how charities ought to think about this.

How much effort should we put into getting the highest rating from a charity watchdog site? I recommend to my clients that they put no effort into it. If you get the top-rating, that’s great. If you don’t, don’t lose any sleep over it.

But, Karen, won’t we lose donations if we aren’t a four-star charity? I doubt it. Hope Consulting did a study in 2010 called Money for Good and they found that very few donors research nonprofits before they give. Those that do research, look to the nonprofit itself for information about efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, nobody is looking at Charity Navigator or other rating sites.

What information do the donors want? You can post your Form 990, audit, and similar information on your website, but that’s not the most important thing. Give donors information that matters – information about how effective you are in your mission. Include information about the process AND the product. Donors want to know that on an average night 100 people stay at the homeless shelter (process). They also want to know that you placed 24 families in permanent housing last year (product). Many nonprofits only give the process results – be sure your organization gives process and product results.

We are smarter consumers than we were 20 years ago. Most consumers have a fairly decent BS meter. In fact, I bet 90% of consumers would say they have an above average BS meter. Consumers know that it doesn’t matter if the local hospital has top ratings from all of the watchdog websites. If people leave the hospital sicker (or deader, if that’s a word) than when they arrived at the hospital, the hospital is failing in its mission.

Consumers don’t care if the local dance company spends 99% of its money on programs. We measure the quality of a dance company based on the quality of the performance. Also, it doesn’t matter if the dancers thought the performance was great. It matters if the audience thought it was great. Ask your clients if they are happy with the results. Don’t ask the staff.

The inverse is also true: if you spend 99% of your revenue on non-program expenses, but you present world-class dance performances that consistently sell-out, you will continue to have donors.

Karen, that just isn’t true. We have a fantastic program and are helping a lot of people, but donors still ask about our overhead ratio.

Donors ask about the overhead ratio when they don’t know how else to measure success. If I am a patient of the hospital, I know how to measure the hospital’s success. If the hospital made me feel better, the hospital is great. That sounds silly, but that is the criteria that people use. Have you ever heard someone say, “East Cupcake Hospital amputated my leg when the problem was my arm, but they do a good job on everyone else, so I’m going to send them some money.”? No!  We measure the hospital based on our own experience, or the experience of someone we know.

If it’s an organization where we aren’t a client, let’s say it’s a drug rehab center for teens, then we use other criteria. If the drug rehab center presents a solid, compelling case that lets me know that teens visit this place one time, and never have a relapse, then I’m in. If they talk about processes (not results), use a lot of jargon, and generally leave me unsure of their success rate, then donors fall back on the overhead ratio because it’s something that makes sense to them.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the watchdog websites, and how much effort your organization puts into them. Please leave a comment below.

Posted in Communication, Donor Motivation, Nonprofit issues | 1 Comment »

Did You Forget Me The Way Your Donors Forget You?

July 7th, 2015 by Karen Climer

Do you still remember who I am? I know it’s been ages since I wrote a blog posting. I had the best intentions, but other things got in the way. (Sound familiar?) I like to think that all my blog readers are sitting around thinking, “Gee, I haven’t seen anything from Karen lately. I wonder what’s going on with her.”

But the reality that most of you probably forgot about me. You might not have even noticed that I didn’t post any new blogs. After all, you have your own lives to worry about.

You aren’t that different from the donors of just about every nonprofit in town. Out of sight; out of mind. If you don’t communicate with your donors, they will forget you and move on to an organization that does communicate with them. Most donors are reactive. They do not wake up and decide to send you a check. They think about you because you remind them to think about you.

Many nonprofits are afraid of over-communicating. I have seen dozens of development and marketing departments have meeting after meeting where they say, “We just sent them something last week. If we send them another email, they will unsubscribe.”

I’m about to reveal the secret to how often you can communicate with your donors (or ticket buyers or alumni or any other constituency you have). I have discovered this secret through my own personal experience with the organizations I donate to, through my experience working with other organizations, and through research that fundraisers and marketers have conducted.

You can communicate with your donors as often as you have something valuable to say. If your communication adds value to the life of the recipient, you can communicate several times per day. If your communication does not add value, once per year is too often.

I receive an email every day from a specific for-profit organization. I look forward to reading this email first thing in the morning. It is short, and I always benefit. I learn something new or I am made to think about something differently because I read these daily emails. In fact, if I received an email from this organization twice a day, it wouldn’t bother me. I would read it every time.

There are other organizations that send me a monthly or quarterly newsletter that makes me say, “Where is the unsubscribe button?” It’s not that I dislike the organization. It’s that the communication adds no value to my life.

So, communicate with your donors more often, but be sure that your communication adds value to their life.

Posted in Communication | 1 Comment »

Four Ideas To Increase Engagement On Social Media

March 31st, 2015 by Karen Climer

There’s an old vaudeville joke that goes like this:

Woman 1: My husband wants to have sex every single night.

Woman 2: Yes?

Woman 1: Well, that’s a pain in the neck.

Woman 2: Then you’re doing it wrong.

If you are using social media as a way to push content out to your friends, you are doing it wrong. Social media is not about pushing out content. It’s about being social. If you want to push information out to people, use a postcard, e-newsletter, print newsletter, or similar format. If you want to engage your audience in a back-and-forth conversation, use social media. How do you do that?

Most importantly, allow people to engage. If you are a pet shelter that euthanizes animals, and someone posts something on your Facebook about what a terrible organization you are for killing animal, don’t delete it. Instead respond to it and say that you humanely euthanize animals, or whatever your standard line is, but don’t delete it just because you disagree with it. Let the dialogue happen. Your supporters already know you euthanize animals.  This isn’t news to them. Many of your supporters will even defend you.

Create opportunities for people to engage. Hint: asking them to like something on Facebook is not engaging. It takes more effort for me to throw away your postcard than it does for me to like a photo on Facebook. So what can you do?

Ask them to come up with a caption for a photo. If you are a science museum, post an unusual photo of the universe. The best caption wins the Galileo Award (or some other silly award). If you are an affordable housing organization, post a photo of someone walking into their new home for the first time. If you are a university, post a photo of the graduating class throwing their caps in the air. You get the idea.

Have another type of contest. If you are an art museum, show a photo of a close up of one small part of a painting and ask people to identify it. If you are a historical society, ask a history trivia question. If you are a pet shelter, ask people to name the new animal that just came in without a name. Offer a prize to the winner. The prize does not need to be a new iPad, or even anything of value. The prize can be bragging rights, but you have to declare a winner. For example: “The correct answer to the trivia question was Abraham Lincoln. Congratulations to Smithers who was the first person to answer correctly and is this week’s trivia champion.”

If you want your supporters to engage with your organization on social media, you have to give them opportunities to engage beyond liking your latest post. Try one these ideas. Try it at least a few times before you decide it doesn’t work. (That’s good advice for anything, not just social media.)

Posted in Social Media | No Comments »

If Donors Don’t Respect Your CEO, You Aren’t Getting Very Far

March 13th, 2015 by Karen Climer

Jerry Panas says, in MegaGifts, that “million dollars gifts are made to organizations where there is an unbreakable bond of regard and respect between the donor and the organization’s chief staff person.” In Panas’s research, he could not find one instance where a donor made a major gift and did not have high regard and respect for the CEO.

In other words, even if you have the most compelling mission on the planet, you have the best outcomes, you have the warm and fuzzy stories, and your overhead ratio is excellent, none of that matters if the donor doesn’t respect your CEO. So, a solid CEO is not necessarily the motivation for giving, but if it’s not there, you aren’t getting the gift.

Although, in many cases, it is the motivation. There was a client I had a few year ago that received significant money each year from a local foundation. The foundation’s giving criteria are described in terms of “We absolutely will not fund you if you do A, B, or C. Don’t even waste your time applying.”  Well, this client did A. BUT, they received significant money every year from the foundation. One time, I asked the Vice President of Development about it. He said, “Well, it’s because [foundation CEO] thinks the world of [organization CEO]. This is not an unusual situation. In fact, I’d venture to guess that nearly every foundation, corporation, or major donor, makes at least one exception to their giving policy because, even though that organization doesn’t fit within their normal giving, they have so much respect for the CEO that they make an exception.

So, if your donors don’t respect the CEO, you aren’t getting more than a token gift.  If they do respect the CEO, they might break their own rules to give you a gift.

Posted in Donor Motivation, Major Gifts | 1 Comment »

Don’t Be A Fundraising Anti-Vaxxer

February 17th, 2015 by Karen Climer

The recent measles outbreak at Disneyland (Disney World is still safe. Come to Florida!) has brought new attention to the anti-vaxxer movement. Anti-vaxxers are people who, against the advice of medical professionals, choose not to vaccinate their children against potentially deadly illnesses including measles, mumps, and rubella. The anti-vaxxers believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Science has debunked this myth multiple times, but the anti-vaxxers hold fast and ignore the research.

The anti-vaxxers are allowing their own personal opinion to override proven facts.  Many have criticized and even ridiculed them for doing this.  Yet, how many of us make our fundraising plans using the anti-vaxxer strategy?

The anti-vaxxers are allowing their own personal opinions to override proven facts. Many have criticized, and even ridiculed, them for doing this. Yet, how many of us make our fundraising plans using this same anti-vaxxer decision-making method?

The fundraising world has its own version of anti-vaxxers. These are people who ignore the research and just sort of make it up as they go along. These are people who think they can succeed almost by chance – by dressing nice, charming the right people, and doing anything other than studying what actually works.

You might be an anti-vaxxer if you’ve ever said, “This direct mail letter is ugly. We can’t send this out. No one will ever believe this underlining and highlighting.” The research proves that this type of writing works in direct mail. If you ignore best practices, and insist on doing what you like, you are a fundraising anti-vaxxer.

You might be an anti-vaxxer if you’ve ever said, “We’ve got to change this campaign message. I don’t like it. The board treasurer doesn’t like it either. In fact, no one on the staff likes it.” Your opinion is irrelevant. If you ignore the target audience, and focus the message on what you like, you are a fundraising anti-vaxxer.

You might be an anti-vaxxer if you’ve ever said, “We need to raise a lot of money.  Let’s start by having a golf tournament.  Then we’ll send out a letter.”  If you don’t start with the board of directors, followed by major gifts, you are a fundraising anti-vaxxer.

You might be an anti-vaxxer if you’ve ever said, “We need to focus more on younger donors.” I know, I know. You’d rather deal with people in their 20s-40s because that’s your age bracket, but the research shows that older people are more generous. (Hint: They have more disposable income.)  If you ignore the research, and do what feels good to you, you are a fundraising anti-vaxxer.

Much of fundraising is counter-intuitive. It is counter-intuitive that longer letters raise more money. It is counter-intuitive that, in this day and age, direct mail and telefundraising work better than email campaigns. It is counter-intuitive that email is more effective than both Facebook and Twitter combined. Forget your gut feeling of what you think will work. Focus on actual results and solid research. (And trust your doctor about those childhood vaccinations.)

Please share any other examples of fundraising anti-vaxxers in the comment section below.

Posted in Board of Directors, Communication, Direct Mail, Email, Major Gifts, Nonprofit issues, Social Media | No Comments »

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