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

One Thing You Can Do To Keep Your Volunteers Volunteering

February 2nd, 2015 by Karen Climer

I believe I’ve mentioned on this blog that I have another business as a children’s entertainer – twisting balloons and performing magic. (Before you judge, check out my website at www.KarenClimer.com). I get frequent – as in at least once a week – requests to volunteer this service at charity events. I received an email request the other day that really stood out.

I volunteered for an event in 2011. The nonprofit organization was great at the event. They did everything they could to make things easy for me. I knew they appreciated my being there and entertaining the children. They respected that I was providing something they would normally have to pay for. In 2012, they asked me to volunteer again. My schedule did not permit it, so I helped them find another volunteer balloon twister. After that, I never heard a word from them. Not one email. Not one piece of mail. Not one phone call. For all I knew, they had gone out of business. Last week, out of the nowhere, the chair of this event responds to the email I sent in 2011 where I agreed to do the event, and asks me to volunteer again. In case you missed that, I said that I had not heard from the volunteer in three years. She responded to a four-year old email and asked me to volunteer.  Needless to say, I declined.

After volunteering as a balloon entertainer, I didn't hear from the nonprofit for 3 years.  I felt a little deflated (pun intended).

After volunteering as a balloon entertainer, I didn’t hear from the nonprofit for 3 years. I felt deflated (pun intended).

If you find someone who volunteers a valuable service to your organization, treat them well. My definition of a valuable service is that if a volunteer didn’t do it, you would have to pay someone to do it. In my case, that meant entertaining children at an event. But it could also mean reviewing a contract, speaking at a civic club, answering the phones, painting a room, making copies for a meeting, or hundreds of other tasks. If you find someone who is willing to do these tasks for free, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate it. Keep in touch with them throughout the year. At a bare minimum, include them on the mailing list and email list. Don’t wait until three years later when you want their help again.

Posted in Cultivation, Volunteers | No Comments »

Please Quit Deceiving Your Donors With Your Reply Envelopes

January 27th, 2015 by Karen Climer
This envelope uses Business Reply Mail.  The organization expects to pay for postage.  If you put a stamp on it, you save the organization that expense.

This envelope uses Business Reply Mail. The organization expects to pay for postage. If you put a stamp on it, you save the organization that expense.

I’ve noticed a common practice on reply envelopes that I believe is deceptive and dishonest.  I don’t think these nonprofits are intentionally deceiving the public.  I think it’s more a matter of following the herd without putting any thought into it.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has a swell service called Business Reply Mail.  Many nonprofits (and for-profits, for that matter) will include an envelope where the upper right corner says, “No postage necessary if mailed in the United States.”  I assure you that USPS is not mailing this for free.  It is more like a collect call where the receiver of the mail agrees to pay the postage.  At some point, nonprofits started including a notation on the envelope that said something like, “Your stamp allows us to do even more.”  This is true.  If the donor puts a stamp on the envelope, the sender pays the postage instead of the nonprofit taking a small part of their donation to pay for the postage.  This would be like the donor making a long distance call instead of a collect call.  (Please bear with my outdated analogy.  It wasn’t that long ago that we paid for long-distance calls.)

These envelopes are deceptive.  The organization has not offered to pay the postage for you.  Your stamp is required by USPS.  It does not help the nonprofit organization.

These envelopes are deceptive. The organizations have not offered to pay the postage for you. Your stamp is required by USPS. It does not help these nonprofit organizations.

Many nonprofits wisely choose not to use business reply mail.  They include a reply envelope with no option for the nonprofit to pay the postage.  This means the donor put her own stamp on it, or it doesn’t get delivered.  Having the nonprofit pay the postage is not an option in this case.  Many nonprofits saw the notations on the business reply envelopes and decided to include a similar notation on their envelopes that said, “Your stamp increases your gift to Wonderful Nonprofit.”  That is an absolute falsehood.  The nonprofit has not offered to pay for the postage, so how does it help the nonprofit?  The donor’s stamp does not increase their gift to Wonderful Nonprofit.  Their stamp money goes directly to USPS.  If the donor didn’t put a stamp on it, USPS would not deliver it because Wonderful Nonprofit never made arrangements with USPS to pay for postage on behalf of Wonderful’s donors.

If you are using business reply mail, it is fair to ask donors to pay for the postage, and it’s true that the stamp allows more money to go to the organization.  The organization is saving $1-$2 per mailing.  If you are not using business reply mail, please stop deceiving your donors.  It is more than reasonable to ask donors to pay for their own postage, but don’t tell them that their stamp supports your organization when you never offered to pay for the postage in the first place.  That stamp  supports the United States Postal Service.  The money that’s inside the envelope supports your organization.  Don’t tell your donors any differently.

I would love to hear what you think.  Am I being too harsh?  Are organizations being deceptive?  Please leave a comment below.

Posted in Direct Mail, Ethics | 6 Comments »

Third Party Events Can Raise Buckets Of Money Or Drain Resources From The Beneficiary. Here Is The First Step In Making Sure They Help Your Organization.

January 22nd, 2015 by Karen Climer

I am a member of a fundraising mastermind group.  We meet once a week for breakfast and discuss fundraising trends, what’s working at our organizations and what’s not working, bounce ideas off of one another, and generally have fun discussing philanthropy.

Last week, we ended up talking about third party events.  I’m referring to a fundraising event conducted by people with minimal support from the beneficiary organization.  This could be a food drive done by a Girl Scout Troop that benefits the local food bank.  It could be a bake sale that benefits the homeless shelter.  It could be a ticketed-event like a party that benefits a national nonprofit.  Or it could be a viral campaign involving pouring water over your head.  (The Ice Bucket Challenge began as a third party fundraiser!)  The key factor, in my mind, is that the event requires minimal support from the beneficiary organization.

Quite often these events begin with a person who cares about your cause.  The person will call and say he wants to ride his bike around the state in an effort to raise awareness for your cause.  Sounds good, so far.  But he wants you to solicit sponsors for him.  Oh, and some of the venues require liability insurance, which he doesn’t have.  Can your organization provide that?  Oh, and he’s going to need someone to follow him in a car in case he gets hurt on his bike.  Can the organization donate a staff member to do that for a week?  It will be good for the organization.  Think of all of the awareness it will bring to the cause.  This is not a third-party fundraiser.  This event is a leech that is sucking the resources of the organization.

In order to prevent well-meaning individuals from draining the resource of the organization, I suggest you create guidelines about third-party events that include what your organization can and cannot provide.

Can you provide brochures or a video?  Can you send a staff member to the event?  Can you cover the expenses of the event?  Do you want to be the sole beneficiary or can the proceeds be split between several organizations?  There is no right or wrong answer.  It’s what works for your organization.

I know of one nonprofit who makes so much money from these third-party fundraisers that they have a staff member devoted to them.  This staff member provides support to the people doing the event and flies all around the country attending third-party events.  That seems crazy to me, but for this particular organization, third party fundraisers are a significant portion of their budget, so it’s worthwhile.

If you have a strong brand, do you want people to list you as the main beneficiary but then split the money with several groups?  For example, “This event benefits Strong Brand Nonprofit and other similar organizations.”  The reality is that Strong Brand gets about 25% of the money.  You could argue that 25% is better than nothing, but it’s also a little deceptive.  I recommend that your third-party guidelines include that you are the only beneficiary.

Do you want to solicit your donors and sponsors to support the third party event?  If so, what’s the extent of it?  Will you do a few small social media mentions?  Will you send a postcard to your entire mailing list?  Will you give the third party the mailing list and tell them to do the mailing?  Will you ask your #1 donor to sponsor the third party event?  These are all things I have been asked to do by the third-party organizers.  It’s up to you what you decide to do.

If you search the internet for “Third party fundraising events”, you will find plenty of examples of guidelines for small and large organizations.  Check out a few to get some ideas.  What is most important is that you have some guidelines and you spell out very clearly what you can provide and what you cannot provide.  Third-party fundraisers are great when they involve minimal participation by the nonprofit, but it is easy to get sucked into a third-party event where you are spending significant resources on an event that is supposed to be run independent of you.

Posted in Events | No Comments »

Ask Donors To Volunteer Time. Ask Volunteers To Donate Money.

January 7th, 2015 by Karen Climer

People who volunteer their time give more money than people who don’t volunteer.  So, it makes sense that we would ask volunteers to donate because volunteers give more money.  It also makes sense that we would ask donors to volunteers so that, as they volunteer more, they will give more money.

If you worked in nonprofits for even a short time, you have heard (or maybe even participated in) this conversation:

Development manager: Let’s ask the volunteers to donate money.

Volunteer manager: We can’t ask them to do that.  They already give their time.

Development manager: We’ll they can give both.

Volunteer manager: If we ask them for money, they might quit volunteering.  I can’t afford to lose Betty – she’s my best volunteer.

A variation of the conversation goes like this:

Executive director: We need all of our board members to give money.

Board president: We can’t ask them to do that.  They already give their time.

Executive director: We need them to give both time and money.

Board president: If we push too hard, we are going to lose board members.  And what about Lisa – we can’t ask her to give.  She just lost her job.

By the way, the reverse is rarely true.  If the volunteer manager suggests that we ask all donors to volunteer, usually no one feels the need to “protect” the donors.  We figure if the donors aren’t interested, they won’t volunteer.  But sometimes we feel the need to “protect” the volunteers from being asked to donate, as if asking for money is offensive.

If you really want to serve your organization, you need to ask donors to become more involved in your mission by volunteering. Likewise, ask volunteers to become more involved by donating.  It’s not our job to “protect” anyone from being asked.  It’s our job to give supporters the options of the ways they can become involved, and allow them to choose what works for them.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Amazon Smile Is Costing Your Organization In Ways You Might Not Realize

December 19th, 2014 by Karen Climer

You have probably received dozens of emails from nonprofit organizations suggesting that you do your Christmas shopping on Amazon Smile.  I’m not a fan of Amazon Smile because organizations spend way too much time promoting Amazon instead of asking for donations.  A customer has to spend $1,000 on Amazon for your organization to get $5 (the minimum payout).  If you just asked for the $5, the donor would probably give it to you.

Recently, I read a piece by Alan Cantor that offers some other thoughts about Amazon Smile.  Amazon might not reflect the values of your organization.  If you are using Amazon Smile, or any other similar corporate partnership, I encourage you to read it.

Lastly, this piece from the Seattle Times often another perspective.  Amazon Smile donations do not reflect the values of Amazon.  Additionally, it mentions an organization that received $18.32 from Amazon Smile after spending $126.09 advertising it.  Even organizations that do not purchase advertising are losing money on Amazon Smile.  You are spending your time (which equates to money) advertising for Amazon instead of raising real money for your organization.

It’s not often that the entire substance of my blog post is to send you somewhere else to read something, but these two pieces are that good.


Posted in Cause-related Marketing, Corporate Giving | No Comments »

How Your Organization Can Become Known As The Expert

December 8th, 2014 by Karen Climer

I’m one of those people who writes letters to the editor frequently. Every day when I read the paper (yes, I actually read the print edition), there is an article that makes me think of a nonprofit organization that could submit a letter to the editor. Unfortunately, very few do. The editorial page is one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper, and everyone has the opportunity to be on that page.

For example, in Orlando, homelessness has been a big issue lately. All of the local government entities and community leaders are coming together to work on this issue. If I worked with the homeless population, I would write a letter to the editor thanking the City and County for the leadership in solving the problem.

Another recent Orlando story was about a teen mom who received a letter in jail with drugs in it. Plenty of organizations could write about this.  A crisis pregnancy center could write that sadly many teen parents are in prison, but the ones in our program learn to make smarter decisions. Foster parent organizations can write that when parents are incarcerated, XYZ Organization places these children in good homes. We are always looking for good people to be foster parents. A place that works with at-risk teens could say how sad it is that the woman is in that situation, but our teens are learning to stay out of jail and off drugs.

The most recent letter I had published was related to the groundbreaking of an inclusive park in Orange County. My letter thanked Orange County government for creating an inclusive playground and included some thoughts about attitudes towards people with disabilities.  I know this about the editorial department…if I, your average citizen, send a letter that says thanks for building the park and the CEO of the local disability organization sends a letter that says thanks for building the park, almost without exception, they will print the letter from the CEO of the disability organization.

Writing these letters is not so much about raising money. This is about having your organization viewed as the local go-to source for information about your cause.  If you are going to give money to a cause, let’s say homelessness, are you going to give to homeless shelter that is the local go-to source on homelessness, the one that is interviewed every night that it freezes (not many nights here in Orlando), the one that is on the cutting edge of solving the problem?  Or are you going to give to the homeless shelter that is following the first one?

When you read the paper tomorrow, look for something that relates to your organization and write a letter about it.  If you can’t find anything relevant, call me and I’ll help you find something.

Posted in Marketing, Publicity | No Comments »

Hope Is Not A Strategy

December 3rd, 2014 by Karen Climer

There is a gag gift item called a parking lot angel.  It’s a plastic angel that sits on your dashboard.  When you get into a crowded parking lot, you wind up the angel.  It will flap its wings and help you find a good parking spot.  I haven’t been able to verify its effectiveness in finding a parking spot.  But I can guarantee that you will have fun watching it while you drive up and down the parking rows.  It reminds me of a nonprofit in town called Do-Gooder Nonprofit.

When you enter a parking lot, the parking lot angel flaps its wings to help you find a good parking spot.  Don't let this be your organizational strategy.

When you enter a parking lot, the parking lot angel flaps its wings to help you find a good parking spot. Don’t let this be your organizational strategy.

The former CEO and the former CFO of Do-Gooder Nonprofit always talked about the Do-Gooder Angel.  Whenever the organization was in a financial bind, they said, “Don’t worry.  Whenever we have financial problems, the Do-Gooder Angel brings us a check.”  I wish I were joking or exaggerating, but sadly I am not.  This was their business strategy.  Do-Gooder Nonprofit had a strategic plan that ended three years earlier.  No one bothered to update it.  Everyone blamed the economy when Do-Gooder Nonprofit laid off nearly half of its staff.  They blamed the economy when they spent all of their endowment.  (Yes, the principle of the endowment.)

In case you haven’t figured it out, the Do-Gooder Angel was about as reliable as my parking lot angel.

Do-Gooder Nonprofit lacked three things: a written overall strategic plan, a written fundraising plan, and a lead fundraiser who could lead, motivate, and get results.

You absolutely must have a strategic plan. Otherwise, it’s like walking into Grand Central Station and getting on a train.  How do you know if you are on the right train or heading in the right destination if you don’t know where you are going?  Even if you are on the right train, you won’t know which stop to get off at if you don’t know where you are going?

You absolutely must have a fundraising plan.  It’s not about making long-range decisions.  It’s about thinking things through so you understand the long-term impact of today’s decisions.  It’s OK to make changes to the plan, but be sure you have a reason for changing.  “Because we felt like it,” is not a reason.  “Because we have new facts that show that B is better than A,” is a reason.

You absolutely must have a fundraiser who can lead, motivate, and get results.  Actually, you need several fundraisers who can do this.  At a minimum, you need the board chair and staff CEO.  Even if you have a development department filled with rock-star fundraiser officers, they will achieve only minimal success if the board chair and the CEO are not interested in fundraising.

I know that you are busy putting together a year-end email campaign, or dreaming up that next Ice Bucket Challenge, or booking a headliner for the next event, but you must make time to develop the plan.  If you do not have a strategic plan, a fundraising plan, and solid leadership, you are wasting your time focusing on tactics.  You might as well be looking up in the sky for the Do-Gooder Angel.

Posted in Planning | 2 Comments »

If Someone Visits Your Facility, Find Out Who They Are

November 11th, 2014 by Karen Climer

I work with a lot of small nonprofit organizations.  One of the biggest problems these organizations have is identifying prospects.   Let’s say you have an affinity for antique teapots.  You suspect there are others who are interested in them as well.  You decide to start the Museum for Antique Teapots.  You know several of the local teapot buffs in town, so you contact them.  Once people hear about your project, many teapot buffs contact you.  You are well on your way, but it doesn’t take long to exhaust this list of prospects.  You know there are more people in town who are interested in teapots, you just have to find out who they are.  This is a huge challenge for all nonprofits, but particularly small nonprofits and new nonprofits.

This past weekend I attended the open house of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando.  Thousands of other people attended as well.  No one knows I was there.  Well, no one from the organization knows.  The performing arts center has no way to contact me.  I expressed enough interest to show up at the facility, but they did not express any interest in even finding out my name.  It would have been a very simple thing to raffle off some free tickets to shows.  All those thousands of people would have voluntarily submitted their name, address, phone number, and email.  The performing arts center could use this information not only to solicit donations, but to sell tickets as well.  Talk about a missed opportunity.

If someone takes the effort to come to your event, visit your facility, or otherwise engage in your organization, find out who they are.  Some people won’t want to give you their information, but the vast majority will (especially if you are having a raffle).  These people are prospects.  They are raising their hands sand saying, “I’m interested in your organization.”  Don’t miss the opportunity to find out who they are.

You can bet when you visit my teapot museum, I will not only ask you for your name, I will follow up and thank you for visiting.

Posted in Acquisition, Events | No Comments »

Don’t Ask People To Respond. Ask Them To Donate.

November 7th, 2014 by Karen Climer

Have often have you received a solicitation letter that ends with, “Please respond today.”?  I’ve written letters that ended that way.  Sometimes, for variety sake, I would use the synonym, “reply” as in “please reply today.  I don’t use either of those words anymore for two reasons.

First, it’s vague.  When I send a solicitation letter, I’m not looking for a response or a reply, I’m looking for a gift.  If that’s what you want (and I assume it is), then say that.  People are more likely to do what you ask, when you say, “Please mail your donation in the enclosed envelope.” Or “Please send your donation today.”  You can use “reply” in an email if you want them to hit the “reply” button.  But if you want them to click on a link to make a donation, say that.

Second, it’s transactional.  When I receive a credit card application or a magazine subscription offer, it says, “Please respond today.”  I’m offering you this great magazine at a super price, if you respond today.  That’s very transaction, and it’s very different from fundraising.  In fundraising, we aren’t looking for one-off customers.  We are looking for people who will join us in a journey to solve a societal problem.  A good call to action for that would be, “Please join me in saving these magnificent animals from extinction.”  Or “Please join me in ensuring that Eastside Youth Orchestra continues to showcase the finest young performers of our time.”

I know longer ask people to respond or reply to the letter.  I ask them for what I really want, which is to join us in our mission by making a donation.

Posted in Asking, Direct Mail | No Comments »

How One Organization Can Improve Their Memorial Thank You Card

October 29th, 2014 by Karen Climer

The benefit of sending fundraising material to me (or to any of the people who save their mail for me) is that you get a free analysis of your work.  Today, we’re looking at a from Hospice of the Comforter.  It was a 4″ x 5.5″ greeting card, which makes it a little friendlier and more personal than a letter.Hospice thank you

The effect of the personal card is lost when I read the first sentence.  It says, “On behalf of the Florida Hospital Foundation, we are excited to welcome Hospice of the Comforter to the Florida Hospital family.”  Huh?  What does that have to do with my gift?!  The background is that Hospice of the Comforter used to be independent, but is  now part of Florida Hospital.  But I’m over here trying to find a meaningful way to cope with the death of a loved one.  I’m not exactly concerned with the business side of the hospital and hospice.  I’d recommend deleting the first paragraph entirely.  The second paragraph makes a much better opening sentence.

The third paragraph is fine.  It mentions the name of the deceased so I know Hospice knows my intention.  I might include something that said Hospice would notify the deceased’s family.  That’s a big concern among donors.  They want to be sure the family knows, so I would be sure to mention that somewhere.

The fourth paragraph is interesting.  I love the first sentence, “Your tax receipt will arrive soon, but we couldn’t wait to say ‘thank you!'”  It lets me know that I’ll get another thank you.  It’s conversational.  I like it.

The last sentence says, “Please continue to keep our patients and their families in your prayers.”  Seriously?  I just lost a loved one.  A better choice might have been, “During this difficult time, we will continue to keep you and your family in our prayers.”  Come on Hospice!  It’s not all about you!

Memorial letters are difficult because they are about death.  In some cases, the donor just lost someone very dear to them.  In other cases, they have never met the deceased, but know the someone else in the family.  If every there was a time for a non-institutional, non-sterile, yes-we-are-real-people-too letter, this is it.

In terms of thank you notes, this one is not bad.  A few minor tweaks will make it better.

What about you?  What did you think of the thank you note?  Feel free to share your comments below.

Posted in Acknowledgment, Donor-Centered | No Comments »

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