Posted on

Advancement’s new vocabulary: “Tweets” and “likes”

By Mike Wiese, associate

Should your organization consider using social media to engage young people’s support and involvement? The answer is yes. While in the past this generation may have primarily been reached through a printed letter, newsletter or advertisement, today’s young people are more apt to communicate via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest and other such platforms as well.

Before considering specific tools, let’s understand why social media as a whole works. Young donors like social media because they want to be personally connected with things and people that they care about. Relationships matter to them and they want to stay in touch. If young people are passionate about your mission and want to be active on your behalf, you need to communicate via their tools and let them use those tools to spread the word. Social media is the most effective way that young people share word of mouth endorsements.

Here we offer pros and cons of the two most used forms of social media today—Twitter and Facebook—along with one suggested way your organization can begin utilizing these tools to build relationships with younger donors. As the previous paragraph suggests, however, many younger donors are seeking, first and foremost, not a repository for their funds, but a connection and a relationship. Social media allows them the opportunity to stay in touch with your organization and to be active on its behalf in other ways as they establish their own habits of charitable giving that may benefit you in the future.



• More than one quarter of online adults between 18-29 use Twitter—nearly double the number of users age 30-49.*

• In a short message (tweet) you can let followers know about an activity to generate attendance.

• Followers can easily share information, ask questions, get questions answered and pass your information on (retweet) to their followers.

• You can follow other experts to learn from them and share with them.

• One can monitor keywords (through hashtags) to see what others are saying about your organization.

• Account set-up and use are free.


• Messages are limited to 140 characters.

• Time is required to build community and post meaningful tweets.

• Tweets need to be meaningful and in line with specific marketing objectives and brand.

• Although you can include a link to visual items, Twitter is not good for visual content.

Example: A group of constituents follows your organization on Twitter. On the morning of a major event, you want to remind your followers that the event is later that day. You send a tweet to your followers, some of whom retweet to their friends that they are going, and invite those friends to come with them.



• Users include over 1.1 billion individuals—67% of all adult internet users—from a broad demographic.*

• Visual content can be shared easily.

• Facebook is interactive and allows people to respond to your posts (through comments and likes).

• Content can be linked to websites or other social media sites such as Instagram (sharing photos) and Pinterest (“a tool for collecting and sharing things you love”).

• Ads can be purchased that align to a profile of people who are likely to be interested in your organization.


• Setting up a “Facebook Fan Page” and getting fans for your organization requires time and resources. (People become fans by liking your organization’s page.)

• Posts need to be meaningful, informative and to support your marketing objectives/brand.

• Pages must be kept up to date and regularly monitored.

• Facebook ads require a budget.

• Having reputation management policies in place is important if someone places a negative post on your page.

Example: After your event you post an informative update and photos on your Fan Page to let your fans know what happened. Fans respond to the post by “liking it” and sharing a comment. Some fans post your message on their personal profile page to share with their friends.

Major companies are shifting large portions of their communications budget away from traditional media to social media. If you haven’t already, you may wish to consider adding a social media component as part of your next advancement plan. The two examples listed here just scratch the surface of what is possible. AAI is prepared to offer additional ideas for faith-based nonprofits who wish to incorporate social media into their overall advancement strategy.


*Statistics according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Post-Election Survey, November 14-December 09, 2012.


Posted on

Barn raising and fundraising

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” –Matthew 6:26 NIV

Kevin King references this passage when describing the historical fundraising philosophy of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), where he has served as director for the last nine years. MDS is an extensive volunteer network of more than 3,000 Mennonite, Amish and Brethren in Christ churches and districts, which respond to those affected by natural disasters throughout the United States and Canada.

The vision for MDS was birthed at a Sunday school picnic in Hesston, KS in 1950 and was based on a Christian understanding of mutual aid. As the organization’s website explains, “For generations prior to 1950, mutual aid was an informal practice performed by Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups who felt that their faith was best expressed in the day to day actions of caring for one another. Through spontaneous gestures of assistance such as the well-known barn raising and the lesser-known harvest bee, the Anabaptists put their faith into action when fellow church members or neighbors faced calamity.”

Historically, MDS’s approach to fundraising has rhymed with this philosophy of mutual aid. “We have never had full-time development staff,” points out King. “We have a trust with the Church that when our ‘barns are empty,’ we are to let the Church know so its members can provide accordingly.”

However, a unique set of fundraising opportunities and challenges is leading Mennonite Disaster Service to take initial steps toward development approaches that reflect best practices.

One challenge is overcoming what King calls “the CNN effect,” a phenomenon where many new donors give when disasters receive immediate and sustained media attention, especially television coverage.

A particularly remarkable example happened in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina (and one month later, Hurricane Rita) struck the Gulf Coast. National media reported on the catastrophe for months following the event and contributions to MDS totaled $6 million. By contrast, when Hurricane Ike—the third largest disaster in United States history—struck three years later, the media was preoccupied with a national election. As a result, MDS’s contributions capped at just $70,000.

Income fluctuations like these dramatically affect how MDS is able to respond to a given disaster. In the case of Katrina, the large volume of designated donations enabled the organization’s longest recovery effort to date—seven years. MDS hired additional staff to enable the increased need for volunteers and leadership in the Gulf Coast. Nearly 7,000 volunteers served in 2007.

However, by 2010 the number of volunteers in the Gulf Coast dropped closer to the median (2,500 annually) and, like many nonprofits, MDS had seen general contributions drop off in the midst of the economic downturn. Project leaders were consulted about possible cost-saving measures they might take and organizational downsizing—“rightsizing,” says King—was required.

Operating a project site involves feeding, equipping and sheltering volunteers, and costs approximately $38 per volunteer per day. Even while designated funds allowed Mennonite Disaster Service to continue Katrina recovery efforts for another five years beyond the start of the recession in 2008, other project sites (i.e. those responding to relatively under-reported disasters) struggled.

A second challenge organizations like MDS face is the profile of disaster donors. As King describes them, “Disaster donors allow their hearts to be touched by human need and they respond.” But according to a study conducted by The Indiana University School of Philanthropy one quarter to one half of first time disaster donors never give again to the same charity. The hurdle for MDS, then, is to turn more of these first-time donors into regular, faithful givers.

Yet a third challenge is that MDS can’t simply wait for contributions to start rolling in once disaster strikes; constituents also expect the organization to maintain a level of disaster preparedness.

King is grateful for a core of loyal and faithful donors who understand this reality. Following Hurricane Sandy, for example, MDS observed that almost 90% of its faithful donors—those individuals who have contributed each of the last three years—gave to the general fund rather than specifically for Sandy. “These donors understand the full picture of disaster recovery,” says King.

Though they still have no official development officer on staff, Mennonite Disaster Service has already begun implementing a number of fundraising best practices, including:

• Being more attentive to first-time donors, with the goal to reduce attrition rates among this group to 25%.

• Analyzing giving trends of various stakeholder groups and segmenting the annual appeal to fit each.

• Identifying key messages for external communications and strengthening the case for support.

• Preparing accountability reports for donors to let them know how their donations are making a difference within the first six months following a disaster.

• Building a stronger online presence.

• Working strategically to receive grant funding from community foundations.

• Stabilizing funding streams by fully implementing a diversified fundraising program that includes annual appeals, special events, relationships with donors, grants and planned gifts.

• Personally thanking donors, for which King and several board members share responsibility.

King shares a story to illustrate the power of saying thank you. “Just before Christmas, we were swamped from Hurricane Sandy, and I was paging through receipts. I noticed one new donor who had given pretty serious dollars, and decided to call her and thank her.” King was floored by the woman’s response. “I’m glad you called,” she said. “I was just sitting here thinking that I need to give more money. How much do you need?” Not only did she increase her initial donation by five times; King feels confident she will be a long-term donor to MDS.

Or how about this story, of a chance encounter King had while going through airport security. “I struck up a conversation with the man next to me and he ended up inviting me to lunch. As we talked, he was moved almost to tears as I described how volunteers from Lancaster County, PA would get up early, drive to Far Rockaway, NY for Sandy clean-up, work all day, and then drive home again. It turns out he is a venture capitalist for a major corporation.” The conversation ended with the man directing King to his company’s website for information on corporate contributions; he expects to visit it soon!

And how about this one, which shows what can come from taking time from one’s own agenda to respond to another’s need, much like MDS volunteers do each year. “After Hurricane Katrina, I got a call from a reporter. I was incredibly busy, and was tempted to not take the call. But something in me said, ‘Go ahead and give the guy a story.’ Just before we hung up, I asked him again which paper he was from. It was the Chicago Tribune! That article alone generated $600,000.”

Stories like these abound within the work and culture of Mennonite Disaster Service, as they do for all nonprofit human service organizations. “Right now on any given weekday, we have 350 volunteers working at 12 project sites around the United States,” explains King. “The genius of MDS is that we have access to all of these practical, hands-on stories.”

Undoubtedly, the strategies listed above reflect a development effort that is more sophisticated than a simple call to a barn raising. But in both cases, compelling stories of human need and compassion are what King believes will persuade constituents to respond.

Posted on

Supporting advancement through communications

What vehicles does your organization use to communicate with its constituencies? How do you use each of them? To share about campus life? To inform of upcoming events or opportunities to get involved? Simply as a means of staying in touch? The answer is likely “all of the above”—and perhaps more.

On some level, we hope that our communications foster in our constituents a sense of goodwill that translates to ongoing support of our mission. Sometimes new professional print pieces are called for—to introduce a capital campaign or reveal a program initiative, for example. But AAI encourages organizations to think more intentionally about how their existing communications tools can also effectively support their advancement goals.

Communications refers broadly to all the ways an organization brings matters to public attention, including

• print media (newsletters, bulletin, inserts, annual reports),

• comments made by the CEO at various events,

• electronic media (website, e-newsletter),

• social media.

We also define the word support in broad terms. AAI often reminds clients that there are at least five primary ways constituents offer support: through money, time, participation (as a resident, student, client, etc.), prayers and advocacy. Finding ways to appeal to each of these is the aim of effective communications.

Let’s examine some concrete ways various communications can give more attention to advancement.

Highlight development. Consider including a personal message from the development department in each issue of a newsletter. At the very least, make sure to include contact information for your development director; this should also appear on your website.

Re-think the “wish list.” Many publications include a wish list of new/used items. Consider also listing projects to which persons may donate time or skills. Examples include reading to residents, offering transportation, stuffing envelopes or providing labor for a simple renovation. Sharing prayer requests demonstrates to stakeholders a level of transparency and invites their sympathy, support and/or celebration for specific situations you face.

Reveal your strategy. Do you have a current strategic plan? Keep it in front of your constituents and, at appropriate stages, invite participation for special projects like landscaping, scholarships, or creating a benevolent fund. Would an honored class like to donate toward a need or hold a working reunion at your annual auction? Perhaps a major donor would be willing to match any gifts that come in within a certain time frame.

Tell your stories. What made a recent gift so special? Why do three generations of one family volunteer to serve together at your annual fundraiser? What’s the story behind a unique silent auction item? How is one recent graduate making a difference in a new setting? When did the tradition of resident-led Bible studies begin? Who spoke at this year’s appreciation dinner and what key points do you wish all constituents could hear? How did a distant alumna decide to send her student to spend his senior year at your school, and what has that student’s experience been? You get the idea. A good story can describe an otherwise ordinary event in ways that interest and inspire. (See Associate Dan Hess’ tips for crafting such stories.)

Note preferences. Are a lot of your constituents opting to receive communications from you electronically? Take that as a sign of internet savvy and, if you haven’t already, consider setting up the capability to receive online donations through your website. You can also seek feedback from constituents via your website, Facebook or Twitter. What would they like to hear about in future correspondence?

We recognize that none of the ideas mentioned here are particularly earthshaking. And most are easily implemented. If you are already including many of them in your communications plan, keep up the good work! But if not, we encourage you to be more intentional about selecting content for your various publications. Does each item somehow serve to reinforce your mission and purpose, and invite stakeholder support? If not, consider our ideas; they will make a difference.

Read more about AAI’s communications services, including written communications plans, here. If you would like objective (and, for a limited time, free!) feedback on how effectively your organization’s publications are currently supporting advancement , contact AAI associates Sherilyn Ortman or Dan Hess.


Posted on

10 tips for writing a catchy story

1. Build your story around a person or people.

2. Let your story tell one big thing.

3. However, you need related facts, dates, numbers.

4. Get a high-quality photo. If you don’t have one, hire a professional to take pictures for you.

5. Think of your story as the caption to the great photo.

6. Use short paragraphs.

7. Begin sentences with strong and specific nouns (not “There are…” or “The reason is because” but rather “AAI was able, on the basis of extensive research, to create a kind of balance sheet that showed what respondents considered assets and deficits”).

8. Put action into your account by using strong acting verbs (traveled, built, painted, ran, etc.). Rebuild sentences that are over-reliant on these verbs: is, are, was, were, has, have, had. They don’t act.

9. Bring in quotes — just the way people talk.

10. Ask a trusted colleague to proofread what you wrote.

Posted on

The Marsh Foundation case study

AAI’s work with The Marsh Foundation, a child and family services agency in Van Wert, OH, may be understood best as a three-step process. The original contract called for AAI to conduct an organizational audit with surveillance of internal processes and relationships, the internal communication system, institutional morale, external communication, public relations and marketing.

AAI Principal Becky Drumm became acquainted with Kim Mullins, an executive director at The Marsh Foundation, through her work with the nationally regarded Teaching-Family Association (TFA). This association has provided a widely used model for the care and treatment of emotionally disturbed adolescents.

Becky collaborated with Associate Dan Hess; the pair first conducted the audit through questionnaires, interviews, study of all publications and website, and first-hand observation.

Communication audits are one of Dan’s specialties. He says, “The audit provides a most useful management tool for the executive who depends not only on her own eyes and ears, but also on outside, objective perspectives.”

While AAI found extremely high regard for The Marsh Foundation and noted the effectiveness of its program, it made two major suggestions — to create a new staff position in public relations and marketing and to update the organization’s website and literature.

Step two began, then, when Marsh’s trustees and executives accepted both recommendations. Becky began to guide the agency in setting up an office in public relations and marketing. Because the Foundation was established by an estate fund in 1922, it does not engage in systematic fundraising. Further, because it was a local agency, communication with the public has been largely personal. However, the systems for child and family services today reach county and statewide, requiring a variety of means for keeping in contact.

Becky helped the agency as it prepared a job description for a public relations and marketing specialist, released the call for applications, reviewed about 50 applications, and interviewed applicants. Eventually The Marsh Foundation hired Dawn Berryman whose personality, training and previous experience in public communication commended her.

Meanwhile, step three was taken by Dan. His task was to help Marsh update its print and electronic materials. He called together the executives and key staff members and showed them the complete package of communication products that an agency such as Marsh could reasonably use in its external communication. The group determined which items from that larger package suited Marsh’s mission, strategies and budget.

Their response:

a. create a new logo

b. review the foundation’s slogan

c. update the stationery

d. update the business cards

e. create a 12-page viewbook

f. create a brochure template

g. create a reports template

h. update the portable exhibit

i. create notecards

j. update the website

k. write a manual of usage

Dan then gathered a team of independent contractors with proven success in their specialties. Justin Wiard, an Indiana photographer, spent a day on the Marsh campus taking individual, group, activities and campus shots, all of which became an immediate resource in the making of the new products. Alison Sties (Sties Design) was brought in for graphic design. Dawn selected Matthew Sawmiller (MS Design) for web design. Dan and Dawn collaborated in the writing.

Alison, upon asking many questions about the foundation’s mission, history, program, culture, strategies and sense of itself, created three tentative logo styles. After learning which of the three the Marsh executives and staff preferred, she made versions of that selected design which Marsh again studied. By the fourth exchange, the shape and colors were finalized. A similar process of creation / response led to the selection of a slogan: “Serving children and families since 1922.”

AAI created and Marsh responded until each final product pleased Marsh. All of the print projects were completed in about nine months. The finished website can be viewed at

Kim Mullins later wrote to Dan, “The Marsh Foundation has learned so much about the field of communications from you, Becky and Dawn. It was a neglected area at Marsh until we got involved with you and Becky. We are very pleased with outcome our work together. Thanks so much.”