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Top 5 tips: Attracting millennial donors to your mission

By Ben Gerig, communication director

Millennial donors—adults between the ages of 20-35—aren’t as enigmatic as many development directors think. In fact, several studies indicate that we are a magnanimous lot—happy to be respectfully courted by nonprofits with a clear mission. Research shows an upward trajectory in millenials’ giving habits, making this the right time for nonprofits to engage this generation more effectively; following are five tips to help your organization do just that.

1. Invite a millennial to join your board, already!

Select a promising millennial who has the right attributes and has already contributed time, money and/or ideas to your nonprofit. Placing a young adult on your board helps increase your credibility with this demographic and indicates that you value millennials’ drive for professional development and are interested in actualizing our intrinsic leadership gifts.

A millennial board member will provide real-time, nuanced insights about how to better cultivate relationships with his or her peers. Lower the age barrier to entry for board members, and watch this person bridge generational communication gaps between staff, board members and your younger constituencies.

2. Go “old school” to tap millennial giving

This is especially true if your organization has yet to adopt online giving tools. The overriding message here: millennials hold tightly to time-honored values, most notably, trust. And what better way to cultivate this than by going old school? If you can effectively communicate this way, try sending millennials a personal donation request letter!

Our generation numbers more than 90 million, and a huge percentage of us are ready and willing to give to organizations who actively seek out (and will appreciate) our support. In a 2010 study of nearly 3,000 millennials, “93 percent gave financially to nonprofit organizations.” We are ripe for the picking, and we enjoy donating even when approached outside of the digital bubble.

3. Maintain a “mothership” website

While this may be a no-brainer, I’ve personally volunteered for nonprofits that are too distracted by the ever-evolving social media landscape to infuse enough professionalism and functionality into the most effective organizational marketing tool—their website!

According to Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, nonprofit websites should provide users

• a unique, purposeful and concise mission,

• easy to use navigation,

• a clear call to action, and

• photos that help them show—not just tell—what they do.

Strategically choose two social media tools (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blog, etc.) and use them to drive traffic to your website. Don’t overextend yourself in untargeted digital marketing forays; simply identify the channels that your communication team can implement, regularly maintain/monitor and then deploy them with a clear purpose in mind (i.e. increasing millennial interaction with your mission).

4. Celebrate online gifts par excellence!

Millennials who are committed to an organization’s cause will find a way to give; however, we tend to prefer donating online. According to the literature, entry level givers are more likely to offer gifts of $100 or less, but by acknowledging them in a more personalized fashion, you will respectfully motivate them to shimmy toward the upper end of millennial giving—$500 and above—and hopefully empower a connection for life.

By honoring their online gifts in the same ways you would thank upper echelon supporters (through personal letters, calls, appreciation events, visits, etc.), nonprofits can build more sustainable, long-term relationships with millennials as their income potential—and desire to give back—continues to rise.

5. Where is our dinero going?

Detail specifically how our gifts will help your nonprofit achieve its goals. Did you feed 522 extra people last Saturday? Send 12 more under-served youth on a wilderness trip in July? Teach 34 additional people sustainable farming techniques this year? Tell us about it and break it down—because we love transparency when following our dollars.

Millennials are more willing to give to new nonprofits if they speak to our hearts and inspire us in the moment. However, one of our biggest pet peeves is when organizations don’t describe how our contributions will directly benefit their mission.


In my survey of ten millennial donors (friends, colleagues, former classmates), 100 percent of the respondents were active nonprofit donors—typically supporting three to five different organizations, including human services, faith-based, and arts and culture nonprofits. Here are my most quotable findings:

  • “As a small donor, I often do not feel I get the recognition larger donors get. However, as a proportion of my disposable income, I probably donate more than these larger donors. As my income grows, so too (theoretically) will my donations. Organizations should really work to cultivate and welcome small donors as potential large donors in the future.”
  • “I pay the electric company extra each month to help heat the homes of people who can’t pay. I donate a percentage of each paycheck (biweekly) to the United Way. I contribute to nonprofits in the area by paying an annual membership fee that supports summer camps/children’s activities. Sometimes I volunteer at local food banks, etc. I prefer to donate my time rather than my money whenever possible because I like to participate in the process, but I also understand that these places need money to operate (plus with a full-time job I don’t have as much free time to offer). Overall, it’s important to think of others and to offer the time and money we can to support missions that aim to improve lives and communities and environments.”
  • “I am a huge fan of regular charitable giving. It is a way of giving back, and it reminds me that the purchasable things that I would like to have for myself really are secondary to my desire to make a positive contribution to the things that really matter in my community and my world. In this way, charitable giving helps me to reaffirm the kind of person I want to be.”


Works cited:



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Former clients respond: How are you intentionally nurturing donors under 40?

We asked a dozen advancement officers to respond to the question, “How is your organization intentionally nurturing relationships with donors 40 years old or younger?” Their replies revealed an impressive understanding of the needs and desires of this age group, coupled with creativity in their various approaches.

Photo courtesy of Hinkletown Mennonite School

Ruth Leaman, Hinkletown Mennonite School (Ephrata, PA): “We sponsor a business networking breakfast. About 80 local business owners attended, many of them young. The event provides connections for the school with business owners that we would otherwise not have opportunity to connect with, provides a professional presentation of the school and creates collaboration within our community. This is an entry point event for new potential donors and we have had good results in moving new business owners into support for HMS within 6-12 months of our last breakfast, including two new friends who became major donors to our capital campaign.

As a follow-up to the breakfast we have developed a mini-course on entrepreneurship, in which we take groups of students to visit some of these businesses. Students benefit from learning outside of their regular curriculum and business owners are happy to share their knowledge.”

Aaron Adelsberger, Adriel (West Liberty, OH): “We have been moving away from blanket requests for our annual fund, and doing much more in the way of purpose driven requests. This is specifically to attract and engage a younger generation of donors. Rather than just writing us a check and saying, “I hope you put it to good use,” we find that younger donors like knowing that they were a part of purchasing a new piece of equipment, or that they were a part of funding a specific program, and are more likely to respond to that request and to be engaged in a meaningful way.”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Academy

Vernetta Waltner, Freeman Academy (Freeman, SD): “We have hosted a dinner with a special program and provided child care for our local young donors, aged 20-35. One year I hosted an evening that included a supper and time to play volleyball or basketball for alumni who were getting ready to leave for college. Our annual holiday alumni fellowship includes basketball games and a time to visit with those of all ages who are in the community for Christmas. As I plan visits to specific cities or states, I try to meet with young alumni over coffee or a meal. Sometimes that is a group of college students and other times it is young couples.”

Photo courtesy of Christopher Dock High School

Susan Gingerich, Christopher Dock High School (Lansdale, PA): “At the senior breakfast I place a card with a penny on it at each senior’s place, encouraging them to make their first donation before they graduate by turning in the card with a $5 bill attached. I promote the Golden Anniversary endowment gift at each class reunion. This concept is to set up a class endowment with the school so that by the time the class has its 50th anniversary, it will have donated $50,000 to their class’s endowment. We provide food and space for a one-year reunion of graduates. We encourage and assist with five-year (interval) reunions for all classes each year.”

Bruce Drayer, Gateway Woods (Leo, IN): “During the summer, we have many young people spend a week or more with us. They work on our campus and interact with the residents during the day. In the evenings, there will be volunteer events to encourage fellowship. Also, every other Monday we play sports with our residents and young people in our church. These events drive participation and passion. We also keep an updated Facebook page and Twitter account. Many of our former volunteers and friends regularly check these accounts.”

Larry L. Swartzendruber, Iowa Mennonite School (Kalona, IA): “We’re using things like Facebook and other social media more. Since the under-40 crowd is increasingly mobile and more tech-savvy, we’ve also made it easier to make online donations by accepting credit cards, automatic withdrawals/deposits, etc. I continue to believe that personal relationships and one-on-one conversations are the best way to engage donors of all ages, but it requires establishing that relationship to know what method of contact and interaction is best. That applies to each and every donor.”


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Capital campaign achieves more than monetary goal

For Good Shepherd Home of Fostoria, OH, the word “groundbreaking” refers not only to an upcoming event for a state-of-the-art therapy facility; it also describes the journey the continuing care retirement community has been on over the last three years—a journey to build a development program from square one.

Already Good Shepherd Home (GSH) has exceeded its campaign goal, though it won’t enter the public phase of its “Therapy for All” campaign until the groundbreaking ceremony planned for April. This is the first capital campaign undertaken by the home in over 40 years and the first of its kind for CEO Chris Widman, who came to Fostoria 14 years ago.

In the past, Widman explains, projects have been financed largely through tax-exempt bonds or operational revenue. But those projects have also yielded positive Pro Forma statements, a financial document used to demonstrate a projected return on investment. “As we evaluated the [current] project,” he allows, “we identified that, for as much good as it would do, it would not enhance our revenue.”

So leaders asked themselves, how can we fund a project that won’t pay for itself? Obviously, a capital campaign was one alternative. But GSH had no official development program in place and no staff person devoted to development. Widman points to some individual donations, and an occasional will, but says such gifts were sporadic. “If you will, they happened by chance.”

Once the home decided to pursue a capital campaign, Widman talked to Rick Stiffney, director of Mennonite Health Services Alliance, with which GSH is affiliated. “I asked Rick who he knew that offered consulting services,” Widman recalls. Stiffney pointed him in the direction of Advancement Associates (AAI).

AAI Associate Becky Drumm began working with Good Shepherd in early 2011. After a feasibility study, the board settled on a campaign goal of $650,000 and Widman began assembling a campaign cabinet, a group that proved valuable in generating a list of prospective donors for this organization that currently had no such database.

The result has been positive. “I’m very pleased with the generosity of the people we’ve approached,” says Widman, who has been involved in the majority of donor visits. In fact, as of last month, GSH has raised over $750,000 in gifts and pledges.

Widman believes this may be due to several things. First, many donors have had family members directly served by the organization. Second, donors are eager to partner with an organization that is committed to its mission and does it well. And third, both Good Shepherd and its individual staff members are very involved, and therefore well-known, within the community.

His own community involvement has also opened the door for several grants. Widman serves on the board of one local foundation and is acquainted with members on advisory boards of some others. That is not to say these gifts have come without effort: “Even though we just recently got the grant, I’ve been talking to one foundation rep for two years about what we wanted to do and how we should approach them.”

The success of the campaign thus far means that GSH can enhance its original building plans to offer the community even more. “We’re including lots of things that are not typically included in a long-term care facility. This new facility will set us apart from other long-term care providers in the region.”

Once completed, the new therapy center will offer a therapy gym; an aquatic center; a designated area for occupational therapy with a training kitchen, bedroom and bathroom; a speech therapy office; treatment areas; and driving and car transfer simulation devices.

Therapy services will be available not only to the 200 on-campus residents, but also on an outpatient basis to persons from the broader community.

That expanded service is one opportunity Widman sees the current capital campaign offering Good Shepherd in the future. “When people need us, they know that they’ll get great service and that we’ll have great facilities.” He also values the way the campaign promises to enhance people’s awareness that GSH is a non-profit that can benefit from gifts.

Sharing Good Shepherd’s story during donor visits has stretched the CEO, who says the experience has been “interesting,” and one with which he is growing comfortable. “On a personal level, I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for support, and to share how we are important to the community.”

For other organizations considering their first major capital campaign, Widman emphasizes the importance of conducting a feasibility study. “I had participated in one prior capital campaign, but that was for my church so everyone involved understood what the funds would be used for and who they would come from.” In Good Shepherd’s case, the amount originally tested in the study seemed to not have adequate stakeholder support and an endowment component for a chaplaincy program was removed from the campaign.

And he recommends hiring a professional to guide the process. “Becky has been fantastic!” And Drumm is quick to commend Widman for his larger vision. “For Chris, this wasn’t just about raising money for the project at hand. He saw the campaign as an opportunity to identify invested stakeholders, and now he wants to maintain them as part of an ongoing development effort.”

Though undertaking such a large fundraising effort with no development systems in place certainly hasn’t been easy, Widman is happy with how the campaign has progressed and believes the positive experience will bolster the retirement community’s confidence in the future. “When we want to do another campaign, we’ll look back and say, ‘See? We did it before; we can do it again.’”

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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.

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What’s in a word?

In our consulting work, we often hear certain words defined differently and used interchangeably:

• Do you use mission or vision when referencing the raison d’être of your organization?

• In creating your strategic plan, do objectives support goals, or is it the other way around?

• And what about advancement and development? Is each synonymous with fundraising, or are there important differences?

While Webster might disagree, we think there is more than one answer to the first two examples, at least when they are used to describe how many human service organizations strive for strength, health and effectiveness. Whatever the definitions, we believe it is important that such words are used consistently across the organization to promote common understandings among decision makers and active support among stakeholders.

In providing consulting services for church-related nonprofit organizations, however, we have found there are important distinctions to be made between advancement, development, and fundraising. The latter two may be interchangeable terms; advancement, however, is a different matter.

Articulating the differences and relationships among these words, and considering them carefully as you build strategies to interact with your stakeholders can make a dramatic difference in garnering necessary support for your organization.

To “advance” means to “move ahead.” To accomplish that result, an organization must develop genuine relationships with a sufficient number and the right sorts of stakeholders. When that has been successfully done, these friends will offer support in five specific ways:

• Giving their time as board members or volunteers at the quilt auction.

Praying regularly for your organization and the vital work it does.

Participating in estate planning seminars and special events.

Advocating for your organization within their church, work and social circles.

• And, yes, making generous, regular financial contributions when invited.

We believe that each form of support is essential for your organization’s overall well being and that none is more important than another. We also contend that, for maximum effectiveness, you must build an advancement program that actively invites your stakeholders to offer support in all five ways–not just money–and that you must truly recognize and value each of these gifts.

Having suggested that fundraising (development) is just one component of the broader advancement effort, we understand that the need for more financial contributions is often the driving force behind an organization’s desire to build relationships with stakeholders and, therefore, the focus for much of our work. Even if that is the case, however, an adequate understanding and application of the advancement concept are essential to securing fundraising success. Here are some examples to illustrate the point.

1. When soliciting financial gifts, invite donors to support you in the four other ways described. They will welcome the opportunity and become even more invested in your organization.

2. To create the best list of potential new donors, first identify those friends who are already giving their time or praying for your organization.

3. It goes without saying, don’t visit donors only when inviting a financial contribution! Think of other opportunities to create strong relationships.

4. Give careful thought to what it takes to build genuine relationships with stakeholders–regular communication, honesty and openness, promptness, genuine interest, and more–and be certain your advancement activities reflect those attributes.

5. If you list contributing stakeholders in an annual report, be sure to include among names of “friends” all those who supported your organization, not just those who gave money.

Our name is Advancement Associates for a reason. Likewise, we believe that building an advancement program—not just a development program—will make a “defining” difference for your organization too!


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For love of neighbor–Lutheran Services in America

For more than a century, Lutheran social ministry organizations in the United States have existed out of an intention to recognize God’s love for humanity, and to respond to that love through service to one’s neighbor. For Lutherans, these “neighbors” have included persons with addictions; those in need of affordable housing; veterans; immigrants and refugees; the aged; the disabled; children and families; and more.

Today more than 300 social ministry organizations are united under Lutheran Services in America (LSA), which officially began in 1997 as an alliance of the two largest bodies within the Lutheran denomination: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). So, while many of its members are more than 100 years old, the organization itself is relatively young.

LSA exists to be what Bob York calls a connector. “The single most important thing we do is find ways to bring folks together.” As Senior Director of Leadership Development and Member Engagement, it is York’s job to understand what LSA’s various members do and what they need to help them do it better.

In addition to an annual conference, LSA sponsors several other resourcing events, including a CEO Academy, a Leadership Academy for junior organizational leaders, and an executive retreat.

Half the benefit of events like these, York claims, is to provide places for people to share their commitment to faith; make their own good ideas available to others; and be reassured that others are facing similar issues.

The last point might seem surprising given the diversity of LSA’s members, which range in age from one to over 200 years old, and in size from “basically a one-person shop” to those who employ literally thousands.

But almost all LSA organizations rely on gifts—monetary and non-monetary alike. “You don’t operate for 100-150 years unless you have some genuine support,” asserts York, who goes on to articulate several ways various donors help to further the mission of a social ministry organization.

Volunteer labor and in-kind donations allow an organization to support projects it couldn’t otherwise achieve. Private donations can be used to invest in new programs or advocate for a cause that government funding might not support, like an enhanced chaplaincy or spiritual care program. Each year, new LSA members spring up when former organizations merge or multiple congregations cooperate to form a new entity. These new groups, York claims, are not typically rich in cash, but they can be rich in what they do within their community (i.e. tutoring volunteers, taking in food donations, or helping people find jobs).

An organization’s CEO is almost always involved in development. Those LSA ministries with development officers on staff share their ideas to help shape other organizations with less sophisticated fundraising efforts in place. Resourcing events like those mentioned feature strong speakers and presenters like AAI’s own Becky Drumm, whose presentation last year on “Growing Your Own Development Officer” (based on this article) provided relevant and timely advice, York believes, especially for many smaller organizations in attendance. Rich Gerig of AAI will present a session on “The CEO’s Role in Fundraising” at the February CEO Academy.

York also works with consulting services, which affords him the chance to connect members with services they may need, whether in times of fortune (i.e. when an organization wants to grow) or misfortune (i.e. when facing a shortage of funds). In addition to the expertise York and other internal staff can offer, LSA has named several additional preferred business providers; AAI is one.

That relationship takes on flesh through LUMEN Resources, a connection forged between Lutheran Services in America (“LU”) and its Mennonite counterpart (“MEN”), Mennonite Health Services Alliance. The idea originated with a friendship between CEOs of the two organizations, who led a small group of staff in some joint consulting projects and discovered they had much in common.

LUMEN visionaries contemplated how their two relatively small organizations could have larger impact if they combined forces. Since collaborating, the number of consulting and training projects has slowly grown. A recent venture was a joint presentation at the 2012 LeadingAge annual meeting in Denver, which has already yielded several new consulting opportunities.

Bob York believes there will be continued opportunity in the future, as social ministry organizations wrestle with how to best adapt development efforts in a changing world. LSA organizations, he says, are wondering what kind of investments they should make in technology and new media. “One third of Americans no longer have a land line. And everyone screens calls so it’s very difficult to even deliver a thank-you message directly.” Mail, he says, is much the same; who knows if it even gets looked at? “I see a lot of interest in the questions, ‘Is there a new donor profile?’ and ‘How do we best reach people?’”

York further points to the online availability of Form 990s and websites like, where he expects all charities will one day be rated. “I think sites like these will apply statistics—perhaps mindlessly—to any charity.” For instance, York speculates, a prospective donor might see that an organization’s operating costs are higher than average and, “because she might not be as familiar with our organizations as past donors have been (because technology allows her to get her information differently than past donors did) she may not look beyond that statistic when making her giving decisions.”

Service models are also changing. For example, within the last decade, continuing care retirement communities throughout the United States have seen a dramatic increase in the number of persons benefiting from home health services. At the same time, more and more residents are outliving their financial resources, requiring CCRCs to find ways to fund benevolent care. “Our [senior care] organizations are experienced with capital campaigns,” York says,” but what kind of campaign supports in-home services or benevolent care? These are models we are not used to.”

In the meantime, he continues to tout the importance of connections, both between organizations and between them and their donors. One similarity he sees among the many varied organizations with which he works is the incredible benefit that development efforts provide. “That gives [organizations] an opportunity to allow other people to join them in ministry, and that is valuable apart from any monetary contribution they may make. Pats on the back, prayers, and other forms of support are awfully important for sustaining any faith-based social ministry organization.”

And he identifies one more contribution loyal donors can offer: perspective. “The good news is that the people who run our organizations are working hard at it every day, and know every jot and tittle of the organization. That’s also the bad news. Your most public supporters can offer you a broader perspective of your history, how people view you, and what your future is.”

For all these reasons, social ministry is better served when strong connections are forged–and why the formation of LUMEN also makes a lot of sense to York. Smiling, he names another similarity between the Lutherans and the Mennonites. “We both relate to a few different church bodies who don’t always agree on things,” he concedes. “Many of our local congregations, [while diverse], see the same community need and share an instinct to respond to it. While our church bodies might at times differ theologically, this serving of neighbors is something they can agree on and provides a wonderful basis for cooperation.”

That cooperative spirit extends to donors as well. “Our many organizations offer donors a chance to use their resources to truly make a difference in the world. It seems kind of self-serving to say, ‘We’ll help you out by spending your money’ but, in a way, they can join in a mission that is really valuable and that it would be harder for them to do on their own.”


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Educating staff members as stakeholders

“Every employee is in fundraising by providing good customer service to residents, families and visitors.” So said one perceptive retirement community CEO when asked for his perspectives about development. Indeed, a competent, caring and committed staff is one direct indicator that an organization is successfully achieving its mission and is worthy of constituent support.

Here’s another useful way for a fundraising officer to think of fellow employees: as “key stakeholders.”

“Stakeholders” are groups of people whose lives are affected by the fact that your organization exists. Some stakeholders are external: community leaders, vendors and suppliers, churches. Others are internal: residents and students, board members, volunteers. An effective fundraiser identifies the organization’s key stakeholders and then actively invites their advocacy, including charitable gifts.

Mennonite Home CommunitiesThough too often overlooked by development persons, staff members are among the key stakeholders of nonprofit, church-related organizations and can play special role in advancement efforts—but don’t assume their automatic understanding and support. As dedicated employees, some may feel that going the extra mile in their work assignments is an adequate gift. Others point to the lower-than-average pay they receive as their contribution.

While recognizing these as significant gifts indeed, the development officer should also seek to educate and cultivate positive relationships with staff colleagues, and then solicit their involvement in other specific development-related activities.

1. Share good news about your organization as it occurs. Does a recent survey reveal parent satisfaction with the quality of education provided by your school? Has a large grant been awarded from a well-known foundation? Be sure to let staff members know of these endorsements.

2. Look for opportunities to introduce your advancement plan and to explain important fundraising concepts and best practices. Let staff know how they can support your efforts, such as referring the names of prospective donors and thanking volunteers.

3. Invite staff members to help you prepare the annual “case for support.” Thinking deliberately about why the organization deserves the support of other stakeholders will help staff reflect on the appropriateness of their own advocacy.

4. Introduce staff members to other key stakeholders. When prospective donors visit your retirement community, invite staff colleagues—your organization’s most valued asset— to share their enthusiasm for their work and commitment to serving residents.

5. Ask each staff member to make annual financial gifts. Make it easy and enjoyable for them to do so through payroll deductions, special fundraising events, and challenge grants. Becoming donors themselves will convince staff that your organization is worthy of support—their own and that of many others.

When reviewing grant proposals, many foundations request information about employee involvement in fundraising activities. Some donors do the same in considering requests for large gifts. This is appropriate because employee support is an important indicator of a healthy organization with a compelling mission. What message are your co-workers sending?


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CEOs discuss development

Edith Yoder
It’s difficult to narrow down the single most important development role of a CEO, since the work of development is, by its’ very nature, so multi-faceted. I have found that being open — visionary, invitational and transparent — in relationships with board, staff and donors is key to development. This approach provides space for dreaming, achieving and celebrating the mission, while acknowledging the difficulties, barriers and learnings as we work to achieve our goals. We all want to be a part of a mission that transforms lives and yet I believe that our donors also want to hear from me in authentic ways about the real-life nature of our work.                                       –Edith Yoder              Bridge of Hope National

We asked several CEOs to reply to this question: “What is the single most important role you, as a CEO, play in development?” While the most popular answer was “to be able to articulate the vision and mission of the organization,” respondents offered these additional thoughts:

• To listen to the dreams of potential donors.

• To maintain a strong relationship with the chief development officer.

• To make the “ask.”

• To build relationships with the community by sharing the organization’s story.

• To be able to intelligently talk about the day-to-day operational successes and challenges, how the organization demonstrates good stewardship, is achieving positive outcomes for its clients, is exercising best governance practices, and is making a difference.

• To be involved in establishing direction for the development program.

• To ensure that supporters have confidence in leaders’ competence and integrity so that they have reasons to invest in the organization’s work.

• To create relationships of trust with constituents in the community and at a distance.

• To be a person of integrity and character, and to be accessible.


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A three-legged stool

Neil Rowe Miller

Nine years ago, Neil Rowe Miller came to World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WHRI) and found out there was a development officer on staff. “Great,” he thought, “I can just focus on developing the organization and won’t have to be out knocking on doors.” He soon learned it wasn’t that easy–that people want to talk to the executive director. By now, WHRI has actually reconfigured its staff to not include a separate development officer. Neil was one of the respondents in an informal AAI survey of CEOs, and had this to say about his role in development.

“Unless a stool has at least three legs, it doesn’t stand. That’s how I feel about my role in development too. Here are three ways I contribute to development as a CEO.

1. By helping the organization to implement excellence in programming. That might not be something you think of as “development,” but if you have a product you believe in, it’s easy to get others involved.

2. By guiding the overall approach to development. By that, I mean striking the right balance and the right tone for development efforts, including grant writing, donor acquisition and donor relations. For a larger organization, that might not be part of the CEO’s job; in our case, it is.

3. By building relationships with foundation reps and with individual donors. We have basically three income streams, one of which is individual donations. Over my nine years here, the other two sources of income have increased consistently and significantly. For years I scratched my head wondering why our donor income stayed mostly flat. Rich [Gerig] assured me that we had good programs, that we were telling the story, that it would happen. Now, at a time when a lot of organizations have struggled, each of the last two fiscal years our donor income has increased by 10-20%. I ascribe that to two things.

First, finally, working on developing program and telling our story is beginning to pay off. There may have been a lag time for people to figure out they could and should help us to achieve financially what they already believed in philosophically.

Second, a trend that keeps surfacing in my reading is that, if donors are giving to numerous causes, a tough economy will push them to make some decisions. Rather than cutting back on their giving across the board, they’ll keep supporting those they feel are most critical and drop the ones they feel are more marginal. We have worked hard at raising people’s respect for and support of what we do so that when we go into tough times, having done that ground work, people stick with us. For me that’s been very satisfying because, more than getting dollars, we also get the message from our donors that they support what we’re doing and what we’re about.”


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Components of a good advancement plan

In my former life as a college administrator I had an experience that made me a believer about the importance of formal planning in the advancement office.

To prepare for the new school year, our advancement team invested two full days in creating a plan that would guide our work. Results from the previous year had been disappointing and we wanted to try some different approaches; that goal required careful planning. Our work wasn’t easy or fun, but it was essential.

Four months later, a senior member of our four-person professional staff suffered a heart attack on Monday afternoon. Then on Friday, another colleague was killed in a tragic car accident. In the space of five days, I had lost half of my staff.

Those of us who were left assembled several days later. Along with our understandable anguish, we knew we had to make some quick adjustments in our strategies and activities. In just a day, we knew exactly what those changes would be. What allowed that was our good advancement plan.

Every advancement office needs a formal plan. Advancement work is never done. Success requires the understanding and support of others. There’s no shortage of “new” ideas and expectations from CEOs and board members. And the resources (time and money) required for implementation are limited. A plan helps on all those scores, and more.

What makes a good advancement plan? Broadly speaking, such a plan gives staff members a clear blueprint for their work; helps hold people accountable; collects important information in a usable format; and educates others about the advancement function and its keys to success.

Here are the components of an effective advancement plan:

1. Introduction: A short paragraph will explain the purpose of the advancement plan and how it is organized. This is particularly useful for outside readers, including heads of related departments, the CEO, and board members.

2. Review of previous year: What were the goals for last year’s advancement effort? Were they reached? Why or why not? What results suggest key strategies for your new plan?

3. S-W-O-T analysis: A technique from the business world can help the advancement office, too. What internal “strengths” and external “opportunities” will support achievement of your goals? What “weaknesses” and “threats” may become obstacles to success? Create a specific list of these factors. Pay particular attention to the obstacles that can be changed.

4. Goals, objectives, activities: Now that the preliminary work is done, you are ready to work on the heart of the advancement plan. Relatively few larger goals are supported by more objectives, which are supported by many activities. As much as possible, all goals/objectives/activities should be very specific and quantifiable. Among other advantages, this will clarify roles and responsibilities and allow for helpful measurement of performance.

5. Checks and controls: This section describes how the advancement office will monitor successful implementation of your implementation plan. Among other things, I recommend a thorough mid-year review of the plan. This allows staff to make appropriate adjustments while there is still time for success.

6. Resources: Do you have the budget and time required to fully implement the advancement plan? If not, something has to give: either you find more resources or reduce the scope of the plan. A plan that does not match available resources does not serve and hampers attempts to hold staff members accountable for their work.

7. Database: As an attachment to the advancement plan, I recommend a page of data that highlights results from previous years. For example, how many new donors did you achieve? How many prospective students visited your school? How many people attended fundraising events? Ideally, collect three years of comparable information to help you see significant patterns and trends.

For anyone who wonders whether creating a formal advancement plan is worth the time and effort, rest assured that the process gets easier with practice, and that a good plan serves as a valuable tool to chart an organization’s advancement course—even absent traumatic circumstances like those described above.