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Selecting the best software for your development needs

For the last 15 years, Peter Graber has helped to lead the fundraising work of Mennonite Mission Network and its predecessors. Mission Network works from the Mennonite Church USA offices in Elkhart, Ind. and Newton, Kan. Prior to that role, Graber spent 10 years as a computer consultant and programmer. Given his expertise in both fields, we asked him to share what he considers the most important functions of fundraising software.

If you manage a nonprofit, someone has certainly tried to sell you one kind of fundraising software or another. As the capabilities of computer hardware have expanded, as the “web” has become ubiquitous, and smart phones nearly so, fundraising software continues to adapt and offer new capabilities. With so many choices–and each with a price tag—it takes some careful consideration to determine how you want to use fundraising software in your organization.

The primary task of fundraising is to build a relationship of trust and appreciation between the organization and its supporters. And the gold standard for accomplishing this task is personal one to one interaction. Since that is only possible for a limited number of people, we engage in many other relational strategies to maximize the connection between supporter and organization. The strategies you use will depend on many factors including the size of your organization, the nature of its work, the size, demographics and geography of your supporter base and the participation of volunteers in your organization. Fundraising software can be used to enhance your productivity and increase the level of personalization you can provide in almost any situation.


At a minimum, fundraising software provides a place to store information about each donor in a way that it can be easily retrieved. Much of the time you will be working with this information in an office environment, but because development work happens at all hours of the day, sometimes across a large area, you will need access to your donor information from remote locations. As mobile devices become more capable, remote access is becoming even more robust. There is a cost, but when you are on the road half of the time, it is important that you are able to stay well connected.

While development principles remain constant across organizations, each organization is unique and often requires keeping track of special bits of information about donors that other organizations would not need. The more customizable the software, the more likely you will be able to use it effectively for these unique purposes. It is also important to consider what kind of security systems are required. Often, almost everyone in the organization needs access to the “name and address” information, but only a few need to see gifts, and fewer still, personal information.


Because you want to personalize your relationship with each donor, especially major donors, it is important that your fundraising software allows you to develop a broad and deep profile of donors through recording notes of personal visits, information about relationships, education, employment, etc. This information will be especially useful at times of staff transition when new staff members must learn to know donors quickly.

Contact records

Keeping good records of each phone call, letter, or personal visit will provide valuable information for your own reference on future contacts or for other staff members when you are gone. Contact records can remind you of the names of your donor’s children and what you talked about a year ago. They are also an excellent way to track development office productivity. Only a very limited number of people should have access to these records and they should not contain information shared by the donor in confidence.

Contact planning

One of the most important questions development people ask themselves is, “Who should I visit or call?” Out of the pool of possibilities, which contacts are most likely to result in increased funding for my organization? The answer to this question is a complex mix of factors including:

• the timing of the last contact,

• the history of giving,

• the size of gift,

• the potential for increased giving,

• the presence of a planned gift,

• etc.

A very good use of donor software is the ability to view this information on a range of donors in a way that the most important potential contacts are apparent. At my organization, we select donors that meet a set of criteria and export a large set of information to a spread sheet. Logic within that spreadsheet then categorizes donors based on the information supplied. In addition to automatically highlighting key contacts, it allows the user to look more closely at the donor’s attributes and history to make a judgment about the need for a contact.

Recording and receipting gifts

Another major purpose of fundraising software is to record gifts. Of course the finance office can easily record the date and amount of gifts, but for effective tracking, much more needs to be included. You will need to be able to track memorial or “in honor of” gifts, gift designations, pledges, recurring gifts, matching gifts, on-line gifts, estate gifts and gifts of stock or other assets. None of this is simple and all of it requires the participation of finance staff as well as development staff.

Whatever system you use, it must be capable of receiving and receipting a gift within 48 hours so that a timely acknowledgement can be sent to the donor. If practical, I recommend that the receipting be done by development staff who is more in touch with donor communication issues than the finance staff. Finance staff often records the gifts and makes the bank deposits and the development staff uses these records to produce the receipts and other acknowledgments.


You will often want to communicate with your donors as a group rather than individually. Good use of software will allow you to do a mass mailing (electronic or paper) in as personal a way as possible. It will allow you to:

• select and combine groups based on a variety of characteristics,

• format names as donors have requested,

• mark records as to who has received what mailings and

• include personal information such as recent giving.


Once you have collected a significant amount of information in your database, you will have many options for reviewing this information. Most systems come with 100 or more standard reports and you can usually customize many more. One of the most difficult decisions will be to decide what information you want to track on a regular basis and how often you want to review the reports. While many different reports are interesting, not as many are actually useful. You should ask yourself what will actually make a difference in your decision making and when is that information needed?

Action tracking

Most fundraising software now has action tracking as an option. This lets you make a note about what needs to happen next with each donor, usually as part of recording the contact. That note can then be stored and you will be reminded at the time you have selected for that next step to be initiated. You are also able to look ahead and see how many calls, visits, and other follow up steps you have scheduled for yourself in the next week, month, etc. If the software is well integrated, the planned action can easily be turned into a contact report when it is completed.

Other uses

In addition to these primary uses of development software, there are many additional uses that may apply to your development environment.

• Events – If you plan donor events, there is software to help with invitations, registration, nametags, etc.

• If you use volunteers, there is software that helps you to manage volunteers by recording their skills and availability, hours worked, leadership tasks, etc.

• Donor research – Many companies now provide donor research, giving you information about people’s interests, past giving and capacity. Some of these are separate services and some are integrated into donor software packages.

• Planned giving – Encouraging planned giving is one of the most important tasks of development staff. Planned giving software allows you to produce illustrations specific to the people you are visiting. It is not a substitute for understanding planned giving, but an excellent tool that has proven effective in moving people towards planned giving decisions.


Once you have fundraising software installed, it is important that you make good decisions about how to use it. Without a good training program, you are likely to never really use your investment to its full potential. Training will allow you to explore the ways you can search and sort and manipulate information. It is then up to you to choose how to use the software to best enhance your relationships. Some of us are tempted to get lost in all the nifty things we can do and lose focus on our primary objective, building relationships. Training doesn’t end when the software is installed. Users need regular training to keep expanding their knowledge and proficiency. New users need hands-on training so they can become productive as quickly as possible.

In conclusion

Using fundraising software well is a complex undertaking. I have a few rules that help me deal with this complexity:

• Start with the most important functions and add more as you go.

• Remember that people are the most important resource and have no patience for software that wastes their time or fails to provide them with good information arranged in a usable way.

• Don’t scrimp on training. It does not save money in the long run.

• Insist on great training by people who know the business, not just the software, and who are good teachers, not just good salespeople.

• Keep reevaluating how you are using the software, that the information you record is truly useful and that you are actually using it to inform your work.

• The cost of software is not necessarily an indication of its quality.

Those of us old enough to remember the days before computers realize that while it would be more difficult to do development without our computer systems, it could still be done, and done well. Fundraising software should not require you to compromise good practices in order to fit into the requirements of the software; rather, it should enable you to engage in good development practices in an efficient manner.


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The other donor pyramid

If development officers close their eyes real tight, they can visualize something known as the donor pyramid, a well-known tool of the fundraising trade. Here’s the usual version of the pyramid:

The donor pyramid illustrates some important development concepts. For example:

• Many names need to be in our prospective donor list.

• By building relationships, we encourage donors to move up to the next level of the pyramid.

• Larger gifts are given by smaller groups of donors.

• Most gifts come from current donors we already know.

• At the very top of the pyramid are bequests and other planned gifts – mega-gifts offered by long-time donors who have enjoyed close ties with our organization.

• An effective development program will employ effective strategies to invite gifts from donors from all levels of the pyramid.

Notice that the typical donor pyramid is built according to numbers of donors and gifts, which decrease in size in moving toward the top of the pyramid. For example, fewer prospects will become first-time donors, and only some regular major donors will become lead donors. But here’s another way to construct the pyramid – by dollars contributed:

This upside-down rendering is a dramatic reminder of an essential understanding in development: The largest potential sources of charitable dollars for many nonprofit organizations are bequests and planned gifts – offered by a relatively small number of donors who have been friends and supporters over many years. Too many nonprofit organizations do not recognize this fact or act on it. As Ken Burnett puts it, “. . . [bequests and planned gifts are] the ultimate pinnacle of relationship fundraising, the collection of a just reward for a lifetime of carefully developing and maintaining the right kind of relationship with the right kind of people.” (Source: Relationship Fundraising, Jossey-Bass, 2002)

Does this picture reflect your organization? How do you encourage your donors to consider planned gifts? What results have you enjoyed? What is the potential for such gifts in the future?

If you want to bolster your planned giving program, the place to start is by identifying prospective donors of such gifts. As the donor pyramids depict, these friends are most often already in your database and have been giving to your organization for a long time. Here are some specific ideas to find your best prospects.

1. Consider the traditional characteristics of planned gift donors and comb your database for friends with these attributes:

• Older (someone retired or near retirement)

• Single

• No direct heirs

• Often female

• Record of previous gifts or other involvement with your organization

• Have appreciated property

2. Create a profile of donors who have made planned gifts to your organization:

• List donor name, size of gift, type of gift, and use of gift.

• Review circumstances of the gift: Was it directly solicited? What factors may have influenced the gift? What previous connections did the donor have with your organization? Where do/did the donors live?

What does this profile suggest for potential donors? They will likely resemble previous donors in many ways.

3. Keeping appropriate confidence, invite current planned gift donors and other close friends of your organization to identify friends and relatives who might be candidates for such gifts.

4. In newsletters and other communication to your mailing list, include interesting features about individual donors and the stories behind their planned gifts. And add check-off boxes on return envelopes that allow readers to register potential interest in making planned gifts.

5. Offer convenient seminars related to planned giving, presented by representatives of local foundations and trust departments. Make special attempts to encourage attendance of your strong prospects for such gifts.

6. Create and maintain an up-to-date list of your current and prospective planned gift donors. Make personal visits with each prospect at least once a year. As possible and comfortable, ask directly about potential interest in considering a planned gift.

Close your eyes again and visualize the donor pyramid. Do you still only see the traditional one – built on numbers of gifts and donors? Look again, more carefully. Can you also see the one constructed with dollars? It’s worth a look.

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Fundraiser stands the test of time

In his various associations with faith-based nonprofits, AAI Principal Rich Gerig gets to hear firsthand about the ups and downs of all things development, including special events. While such events represent the initial foray into fundraising for many nonprofit organizations, a number of factors call into question their long term viability:

• Fundraising events require a substantial amount of staff time and energy, and rely upon the active involvement of volunteers.

• Attracting adequate numbers of pancake eaters and quilt buyers is a growing annual challenge.

• Depending upon how they are measured, events often offer a poor return for investment when compared to other fundraising approaches.

It is not surprising, then, that some statistics place the average lifespan of a fundraising event at just seven years.

Despite these figures and trends, one Arizona retirement community has had a different experience. Next month, campus will be abuzz as Glencroft (Glendale) holds its 40th Quilt Festival & Auction.

Event Chairman Barb Lenards and Kandy Wagenbach, who serves as vice president of development and officer of Glencroft’s Friendship Foundation, took some time to share with AAI why they feel the auction continues to be worth the effort. In learning about Glencroft’s long standing festival and auction, readers should take careful note of the goals and strategies at play, including key opportunities for both fundraising and “friend raising.”

AAI: Give us some of the history of the Quilt Festival & Auction. How did it get started?

Glencroft: The auction was started by Merle Graber, who owned and operated a trailer factory in Phoenix. Over the past 40 years, it has grown in scope and attendance. In 1989 Glencroft began holding the sale in a huge tent as well as surrounding buildings. The event has always benefited the Glencroft community and residing seniors through the organization’s Friendship Foundation.

AAI: What are the goals of the event?

Glencroft: This year our monetary goal is to net $130,000. A second goal is to maintain the sense of homecoming for those who attend, many of whom visit Glencroft each year only for this event. For us it is a time of community coming together as well as a fundraiser.

AAI: How is the event organized? What stakeholder groups are involved? When does the planning start?

Glencroft: The event operates at the discretion of Friendship Foundation. An Auction Team provides leadership for the various booths, attractions and areas needed to operate the event. This year’s team has 22 members.

Larger donors are invited to donate according to designated giving levels to help underwrite the costs. In addition, more than 100 businesses give smaller gifts that we use for a silent auction. We also depend heavily on our board members to supply financial support and gifts for the auction. We have quilt sponsors who underwrite the cost of the quilts. In total, close to 500 stakeholders are directly involved.

Planning for the next year begins within a month after the event with a trip to Indiana to purchase quilt tops. Furniture and items for the many booths at the event are collected all year long, washed, priced and stored for the big day.

AAI: Share some highlights for those involved.

Glencroft: The highlight for those planning the event this year is a quilt collection with patterns that were introduced 100 years ago in celebration of Arizona’s 100th birthday.

The highlight of the event for our guests is certainly the live auction on Saturday, but festival-goers also enjoy the many chances throughout the weekend to gather for meals, entertainment, our silent auction and the different booths.

AAI: How are the proceeds used?

Glencroft: Recent past projects have included a chapel in Providence Place (our care center) and the development of Sarah’s Place, a memory care facility currently under construction. The board of trustees decides each year how the funds will be used.

AAI: What are your thoughts about the return for investment of this event? Do you attempt to measure those? How do you calculate?

Glencroft: If you took all of the volunteer hours donated and the upfront costs on any fundraiser you will always lose money – even the high profile ones that raise millions of dollars.

But how does one measure the benefits that don’t show in your bottom line?

• How do you know when you get a $100,000 planned gift, that the seed was not planted during a special event?

• Does a new resident move to your facility or become involved with your agency because of the involvement and connection they made through an activity you offered?

• Our campus and our residents take on a new life as the auction approaches and residents know that family and grandchildren will soon arrive. What is that worth?

• What price can you put on our winter visitors who arrive three months before the auction to help and to be part of a bigger cause than just raising money?

• How do you evaluate something as priceless as the closeness of a group of 30 women who quilt together day after day?

Having been in fundraising for 35 years, I’ve had people ask, “Why do we do these fundraisers that cost so much money and take so much energy and time?” We tell ourselves we could just go out and ask for planned gifts and make much more money with much less expense and effort. But I think that is a false conclusion; to me large donations come because of the courtship we do with our donors through special events, which prepares them to say yes to the marriage of a planned gift. So, it is necessary to do special events, but also to then offer our donors that next level of commitment.

AAI: What are the opportunities and obstacles faced when considering events as part of a fundraising program? What would you say to another CCRC development director who is trying to evaluate the value of current fundraising events or thinking of starting some for the first time?

Glencroft: The obstacles of an event are always the same: the time and expense of preparing for the event. The opportunities are to bring like-minded people together to champion a common cause and to build a sense of loyalty and commitment to the organization.

My advice to another development director would be to find that event that embraces your organization’s mission, speaks to the heart of its stakeholders and brings community together. Follow up on this event with more personal relationship building with donors, which will help them move up the ladder from just a participant in a special event to making a more permanent commitment that will support your organization.

AAI: What other comments would you like to make about fundraising events?

Glencroft: When planning and holding fundraising events, involve those stakeholders who will give you honest input as well as financial and volunteer support, and who have a clear vision of your organization’s mission.

Fundraising events—even those that seem like a perfect fit for your organization—need to be redefined over time. With all of our events we evaluate what we can do better to produce the best results. If you have an event that has run its course, let it go and create something that will give new life to all of your fundraising efforts.


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Engaging women in your mission

Women have long served nonprofit organizations as volunteers. In the past 30 years, however, women’s philanthropy has emerged as a distinct movement to improve local, national and global communities. Today as women make strides in business, government and the nonprofit sector, they add treasure to time and talent in the list of contributions they offer.

A recent study published by Bank of America Merrill Lynch concludes that, “The power and influence of women in philanthropy may mean that some charitable organizations will need to adapt their messaging and strategies to appeal to women’s distinct charitable giving behaviors and motivations.”

This was the topic of a fall workshop presented at the Mennonite Foundation Development Conference by AAI Associate Becky Drumm. Drumm, who is well-acquainted with the current culture of women’s philanthropy says, “So much of what is stated [in the Merrill Lynch study] supports everything that I have found in both my working with women donors as a development officer and now when I talk with women philanthropists.”

She has noted that, all too often, development officers view women who become engaged by volunteering for a nonprofit as only that–volunteers. “When I suggest calling on these women, many development officers haven’t thought about it! They appreciate the work they do on behalf of the organization, but don’t see them as potential donors.”

For development officers wishing to better engage women in their organization, Drumm highly recommends The Transformative Power of Women’s Philanthropy by Martha A. Taylor and Sondra Shaw-Hardy (Jossey-Bass).

Through their efforts, the authors advise development officers to appeal to each of what they call “The Six Cs” of women’s motivations for giving:

1. Create – Women want to create new solutions to problems. Women like to be entrepreneurial with their philanthropy.

2. Change – Women give to make a difference. Women are less interested in providing unrestricted support to preserve the status quo of an organization or institution.

3. Connect – Women prefer to see the human face their gift affects. Women want to build a partnership with people connected with the projects they fund.

4. Commit – Women commit to organizations and institutions whose vision they share. Women often give to the organizations for which they have volunteered.

5. Collaborate – Women prefer to work with others as part of a larger effort. Women seek to avoid duplication, competition, and waste.

6. Celebrate – Women seek to celebrate their accomplishments, have fun together, and enjoy the deeper meaning and satisfaction of their philanthropy.

Here are several practical tips to help you build relationships with female stakeholders and engage them in your mission:

1. Highlight women in leadership positions or as individual major donors in your publications.

2. Understand women’s desire to help their children learn how to give. Invite women to involve their families in your events.

3. Identify new prospects for your organization by reviewing women’s donor records. Especially consider hidden prospects. For example, single women typically give more than married couples and single men when income and education are the same.

4. Create an advisory committee of women donors to review different women’s programs, ranging from women’s leadership councils to giving circles. Which model do they think will work best for your organization?

5. Understand how women think and communicate. Use gender-sensitive communication techniques when talking to women donors, especially during a gift discussion.

6. Connect women’s values to your programs by demonstrating how their gift will make a difference in one life or many lives.

7. Visit as many women as you do men.

8. Ask women for major gifts. Be sensitive to generational differences. Remember that planned gifts are still a preferred major gift for many women.

9. Properly steward and recognize a woman’s gift. Many women still want to remain anonymous. Encourage women to be public with their giving to inspire others.

10. Involve women when planning for and conducting capital campaigns, as both volunteer leaders and prospective major donors in your feasibility study.

11. Make sure you have women serving as staff and board members; women donors look to see what roles women currently hold in an organization.

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Pleasantview enters a new chapter

“Now I have a question for you,” laughed CEO David Heusinkveld as our interview drew to a close. “Why are you talking to me?”

After a six-year tenure at MDC Goldenrod, a Goshen, IN organization serving persons with disabilities, Heusinkveld is approaching the end of his first year at Pleasantview Home in Kalona, IA. And under his leadership, this continuing care retirement community seems to be navigating to calmer waters after a recent tumultuous chapter in its history.

Shortly before Heusinkveld arrived in Kalona, Pleasantview was dealing with two major challenges. First was an inactive development program. Most fundraising was coming from a benefit sale that pre-dated the home itself, from memorial gifts, and from gifts by about 10 area congregations—the same 10 that had started the organization in 1958.

Missing from the equation were gifts from real live individuals! That income stream, says Heusinkveld, had fallen prey to a development approach that relied largely on letter writing. “There was no relationship. In fact, many people didn’t know who the development officer was or realize the position was eliminated in January of 2010.”

But to make matters worse, public perception of the home had plummeted due to some extremely unpopular administrative decisions and subsequent administrative upheaval. A transitional executive was hired to begin a “rebuilding” process. Upon arriving seven months later, David’s first question was, “How does the community feel about us? Can we even think about starting development again?”

From talking to staff and residents, leaders at Pleasantview got the sense that relationships with the community were very much improved. But they needed to be sure. “The board of directors and I decided we needed someone neutral with whom community members could really be honest, and someone with enough experience to pick up on the parts of those conversations that would give us the information we needed.”

For that, Heusinkveld turned to AAI Associate Becky Drumm, whom he had met during his days in Goshen. In March 2011, Drumm was hired to conduct a development audit.

“We saw the development audit as dovetailing with some other goals. We knew that the development program we’d had before wasn’t working. As an organization, we were asking not only, ‘Are we ready for fundraising,’ but, ‘If we want to do development in a more organized way, what should be the first steps? What approach would the community be receptive to?’”

The audit confirmed that Pleasantview stakeholders believed the home was moving in a positive direction, and gave its leaders reason to believe that income from charitable giving could be dramatically increased.

David knows that, as CEO, he needs to be Pleasantview’s primary development agent, but he and the board have found support in a fortuitous place: his administrative assistant, Julie Gingerich.

“Julie seemed tailor-made for this position. She’s a very warm individual, she’s highly thought of in the community, and she’s a very strong advocate for the home. [Since the former development director left], if someone sent a gift, Julie would dash off a thank-you letter. She was sort of keeping the development work active at a low level without even realizing it, which indicated to us that she had good instincts for this.”

Moving Julie into development has posed personal and professional challenges for her, but David continues to do what he can to make the shift work.

To give Julie more time to devote to development she has been relieved of some tasks and will eventually be relieved of more. Becky Drumm continues to work with Pleasantview, coaching Julie on how to do development in a formal way and building her confidence.

Though a strong and vibrant development program may be a few years down the road, and a capital campaign will likely be considered to renovate aging facilities, Pleasantview’s immediate goals include simply generating annual income from contributions. In that process, Heusinkveld and the board hope to help donors see themselves as “really becoming part of what we do at Pleasantview, not just giving a donation.”

They also want to encourage constituents to think of other ways they can join in Pleasantview’s mission; the home’s already-strong volunteer program is one such possibility.

Why interview you, David? Because you—with the board’s support—have identified the challenges and are taking the steps to meet them. Because you are putting a person in place who has great potential to be an effective development officer. And because you are investing the resources needed to build an advancement program that will help strengthen Pleasantview Home’s mission and program for future years. Keep up the good work.

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A homegrown development officer

Five years ago Vernetta Waltner wasn’t looking for a job change. She was finishing her 14th year as English teacher at Freeman Academy, a school for grades 5-12 located in southeastern South Dakota.

In the back of her mind she realized that, since their daughters had both graduated, she and her husband no longer needed her fulltime income. And she had never planned to teach until retirement. But what she would actually do instead, she didn’t know. And her own quiet restlessness certainly didn’t prepare her for the question her administrator would pose when he called her into his office in the spring of 2006.

When she arrived she was surprised to see both the president and a board member, who provided her with some background: Freeman Academy had been working with Advancement Associates (AAI) for three years on a capital campaign, and enrollment and market research projects. In the course of conversation, AAI recommended hiring a development director.

The school had been without a formal development department since the 1980s, when Freeman Junior College closed and development responsibilities were absorbed by the president. In AAI’s opinion, Freeman Academy was a prime candidate for “growing” a development officer from within. In such cases, several key stakeholders suggest names based on a list of qualities necessary for success. AAI’s standard list looks like this:

1. A person who knows the organization and believes in its mission.

2. A relationship builder, who enjoys, respects and understands people, can motivate others, and has a good sense of humor.

3. A communicator, who has verbal, written and listening skills.

4. An organizer, who keeps accurate records, makes timely calls, and does thorough follow up.

5. A motivated self-starter, who works with persistence, optimism and creativity.

6. One who can maintain good working relationships with CEO, board and staff.

7. A generous donor to the organization.

8. A person who understands the “principles” of fundraising and adheres to high ethical standards.

9. One who is comfortable asking for money.

10. Someone who is open to learning and applying marketing concepts and strategies.

11. One who can use technology tools in support of the development program.

12. A flexible worker who is willing to travel and maintain irregular hours.

13. One who is committed to continuing education and willing to ask others for guidance and ideas.

14. A well-balanced person who has a life outside work and a means to maintain health and energy.

As Freeman Academy supporters brainstormed individuals who fit the criteria, Vernetta’s name rose to the top.

“It’s a little overwhelming to know that you’ve been chosen,” says Waltner, but even as her head reeled with the thought, she had to admit that she possessed several of the desired traits. As the third of four generations of her family to attend the institution, she certainly knew Freeman Academy and appreciated its mission. As a teacher, coach and athletic director, she was a natural communicator and organizer. As former manager of the “secretarial bureau” (predecessor of the business office), she had experience keeping meticulous records and dealing with finances. She understood the necessity of good relationships with staff and constituents. The fact that her own daughters were now married made her more available to travel and maintain irregular hours. And she liked to try new things.

Her first training session—a multi-day seminar in Omaha, NE—affirmed that she was qualified. “As the presenters described some of the things we’d need to do, I was saying to myself, ‘I can do that’ or ‘I’ve done that before.’” But, she says, going to a seminar doesn’t help one set up a daily schedule or identify the monthly and yearly goals one hopes to achieve.

For those details, Vernetta has found a supportive network in the development officers from other Mennonite Schools Council (MSC) member schools. She values meeting regularly with that group and emails them whenever she has a question. She says the group often has its own workshop in conjunction with the Mennonite Foundation Development Conference, scheduled to meet in Lancaster, PA this fall.

And as easily as Waltner fit several items on AAI’s list, others didn’t come as naturally. “I’m not really comfortable asking people for money,” she confides, recalling the days when, as a student at Freeman Academy, she was required to make donor visits to solicit funds. She believes that practice has, for good or bad, left people with assumptions about how she does her work today. “Just because I call someone doesn’t mean I’m looking for them to write a check when I stop by. But even when prefaced with, ‘This is not a financial visit,’ people still want to write a check.”

And Waltner does not claim to have expertise in financial planning. “That one really scared me. I can listen to the lingo for about 10 minutes before my eyes glaze over.” She is grateful for Mennonite Foundation and regularly directs would-be donors to the Foundation representatives in their area.

Staying in touch with various constituents is a constant balancing act. By now, Waltner keenly feels her lack of direct interaction with students. “[This past school year] was the first that I hadn’t had the graduates in class, but I still was involved in their lives because of older siblings. Now that I’ve been out of teaching for four years, I worry that I’m not spending enough time with current students—and even staff—to pay off in the future.”

Another challenge is trying to define which “hat” she’s wearing at any given time. In more than one case, Waltner fills roles that, while not technically part of her job description, provide opportunities to build key relationships.

For example, she currently chairs the Schmeckfest meal committee of the Freeman Academy Auxiliary. This “tasting festival” is the school’s chief fundraiser and serves as a homecoming for many alumni.

More recently, Vernetta served as chairperson of the auxiliary’s social committee, which provides catering services for numerous community events—annual company meetings, tourist groups and wedding receptions, to name a few. “The time I spend in the kitchen with all those different people in the community is huge, because I would never see them otherwise.”

Waltner is also a member of the Freeman Community Development Corporation, as were the Academy’s two previous administrators. She believes this association has given the school very good rapport with the broader community, which is especially important in a small town that has seen its share of tension between its public and private schools.

Given commitments like these, the 70% devoted to Waltner’s “official” job seems just about right. When away from her desk, she enjoys her grandchildren and spending time in nature.

“My first year I was very good about spending one lunch hour each week with God, often in the [campus] arboretum reading scripture or,” she laughs, “just spending a whole lot of time in prayer! Sometimes I feel like what I’m doing might not show that much now, but I consider that I’m building for the future. And while I do what I can, in the end there has to be a Higher Being guiding my efforts.”



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Making the case

Any organization that has undertaken a capital campaign is familiar with the process of developing a case statement. Typically this statement includes a look at the organization’s history, mission, current needs and goals. The case is tested with constituents in a feasibility study and, assuming it is well received, it then provides guidance and focus for the campaign as it proceeds.

AAI believes there is merit in developing a case statement even apart from a capital campaign. Doing so can help focus annual fundraising strategies, whether they be fund letters or personal asks of major donors.

What is it?

Simply put, a case refers to the reasons an organization both needs and merits contributed support. This case is presented through a case statement—an outline of the organization’s programs, current needs and plans.

How do I develop it?

In order to draft a useful case statement an organization must possess a great deal of self-understanding.

• What cause(s) and interests do we serve?

• What effect does our work have?

• Why should people get involved with our work?

• Why should people give us money?

Questions like these force an organization to move beyond flowery speech and warm fuzzy feelings to the heart of its mission. In relation to a capital campaign, one consultant has said, “Donors will not be impressed by your proposed capital improvements unless you can demonstrate that your clients will benefit.” In more general terms, constituents will not be compelled to continue supporting you unless you can demonstrate that you continue to provide services worth supporting.

This dynamic is a sign of how much your supporters trust your organization. According to one online source, 82 percent of donors polled say trust in a charity influences their support. Eighty percent are influenced by witnessing a charity’s local impact. AAI Principal Rich Gerig lists several more donor motivations in What Motivates Donors?

This is not to say that one somehow manipulates the case statement to appeal to these motivations. Quite the opposite—the statement should reflect an organization’s integrity by being based on an honest look at its performance and impact. The case should speak for itself.

A case statement can be written by an individual (i.e. by the development officer) or by a larger group that includes board, staff, donors, etc. While the second scenario implies greater input from a variety of people, it also assumes a longer process.

How do I use it?

Once written, the case statement guides all development-related activities. Its language permeates print materials (fund letters, annual report, newsletters, promotional materials); it serves as a starting point for grant applications; main talking points are reiterated by the CEO in various settings, including solicitation visits; the statement should also be familiar to any others—board, staff or alumni, for example—who are involved with development or who simply wish to be your advocates.

How often do I revise it?

AAI recommends that a case statement be prepared every year. That doesn’t mean an entirely new statement must be written; rather, the one used in the previous year should be carefully reviewed and edited as appropriate for the coming year. Completing this exercise annually helps the development function keep its focus on those fundraising priorities of most interest to donors.

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“Developing” a bigger picture

Fundamental to photography is the art of composition, the way individual objects within a defined space combine to form a portrait. The more elements one is expected to work with, the more complex the task.

And what if the number of elements in the figurative viewfinder suddenly doubles, creating a virtual collage of colors, textures and patterns? Successfully merging the various fragments into one cohesive image is precisely the task at hand for Living Branches, a system of retirement living communities in southeastern Pennsylvania.

In June 2008, when Souderton Mennonite Homes (Souderton), Dock Woods Community (Lansdale) and Dock Meadows (Hatfield) officially became Living Branches, CEO Edward Brubaker had plenty of operational wrinkles to iron out, including approaches to fundraising. While the intent was always to merge the development functions of the three campuses, Brubaker took comfort in that fact that each department was, for the time being, working well on its own.

Nearly three years later, development discussions are picking up steam. The landscape looks different now: one development officer has retired, a second has moved into marketing, and the first-ever Director of Fund Development for the new entity has recently been hired.

Some details to be worked out are small. For example, this summer administrative staff will align software packages and merge donor databases. Decisions regarding special fundraising events also need to be made. Which should remain as they are? Which does it make sense to combine? Which could be eliminated?

Then there is another level of challenge: crafting an overall development philosophy that accommodates the emotional connections donors may have to one campus or another while, at the same time, encouraging people to see what Brubaker calls the “bigger picture” of Living Branches.

One doesn’t need to visit with the CEO long to detect a genuine caring and sensitivity for constituents that goes beyond far beyond business savvy.

“We recognize that donors have an emotional connection to the organizations they support. In bringing these organizations together, we don’t want to minimize the importance of those connections for the sake of easier administration,” Brubaker explains. “At the same time, Living Branches wants to invite our friends to connect to the entire organization.”

One development priority for Living Branches is charitable giving for benevolent care, funds through which the retirement community supports current residents who have exhausted their financial resources.

Prior to the merger, each organization had a fund dedicated to this purpose—the Agape Fund at Souderton and the Sharing Fund at Dock Woods/Meadows. Brubaker recognizes that, at least for the foreseeable future, some people will have a strong affinity to a particular campus. Living Branches plans to maintain each fund as a way to honor those sentiments.

Similarly, each year Living Branches receives memorial gifts that families want to designate to either Souderton or Dock Woods. “We want to show appreciation for the gifts we receive by allowing donors to connect with us in ways that are meaningful to them,” says Brubaker, “but we don’t want [giving to individual campuses] to be our main focus in the future.”

For this reason, a development task force is proposing creation of a third benevolent care fund to be used across the broader organization—the Living Branches Fund. “Many donors don’t care where their money goes as long as it is for benevolent care,” says Brubaker. “Building the Living Branches Fund, and thereby letting the organization designate how the money is used, is one way to help people see a bigger picture.”

Living Branches operates as a charitable 501(c)3 organization; that is one indicator of its commitment to those residents who, through no fault of their own, have outlived their resources. “If we didn’t offer benevolent care, we wouldn’t have a reason to do fundraising,” states Brubaker. “We would be just like any other business.”

And speaking of business, another intriguing question for the Living Branches development team is how to communicate a new identity to vendors and local businesses who until now have been asked for donations by both the Dock and Souderton communities. Because of the close proximity of the three campuses, there is considerable overlap among corporate donor constituents.

When asked how Living Branches might engage the business community going forward, Brubaker offers this scenario: “Businesses might receive a one-time ask through a personal visit or letter. As opposed to being invited multiple times for multiple events, vendors might be asked to partner with us, for example in our benevolent care ministry, through selected fundraising activities throughout the year.”

Brubaker is adamant about not expecting charitable gifts to help fix a deficit or subsidize those residents who are able to pay the full cost of care on their own, neither of which he considers legitimate objects of charity. “Donors want to give to specific needs rather than see their gifts just going toward operational expenditures.”

Personnel; software; special events; major donors and other friends; businesses and vendors. Exactly how the recently-merged organization pulls together the various compositional elements remains to be seen, and Living Branches has engaged AAI to assist the effort. What is certain is that the resulting image, as in photography, will be brought into focus through careful “development.” In the case of Living Branches, the term is literal, and Brubaker hopes it reveals not just a picture, but rather the bigger picture.

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The spirituality of fund-raising

Advancement Associates extends to the Henri Nouwen Society thanks for allowing us to print excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s thoughtful booklet The Spirituality of Fund-Raising. Visit to order a free copy of The Spirituality of Fund-Raising.

Fund-raising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission. Vision and mission are so central to the life of God’s people that without vision we perish and without mission we lose our way.

Fund-raising is precisely the opposite of begging. We are not saying, Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard. Rather, We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you in this work to which God has called us.

Fund-raising is also always a call to conversion . Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.

By giving people a spiritual vision, we want them to experience that they will in fact benefit by making their resources available to us.

[I]f fund-raising as ministry invites those with money to a new relationship with their wealth, it also calls us to be converted in relation to our needs.

When those with money and those who need money share a mission, we see a central sign of new life in the Spirit of Christ.

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What motivates donors?

In his book, Relationship Fundraising (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2002), Author Ken Burnett describes an approach that centers on the unique and individual connection an organization has with each of its donors. It should be an “overriding consideration,” says AAI Principal Rich Gerig, “to care for and develop that bond.”

According to Gerig, donors—those people who actively support the work of an organization through their sustained financial contributions—should each “know that they are important, valued and considered.”

One of the crucial results of a strong affinity with a donor is that the organization can learn about, respectfully respond to, and sometimes help to shape a donor’s motivations.

So what exactly does motivate donors? From professional reading, his own experiences, and an informal survey of development directors with whom he has worked, Gerig offers, in no significant order, this listing of primary donor motivations:

  1. Tax planning
  2. Ego, self-esteem, status
  3. Quest for immortality
  4. Desire for emotional response
  5. Wish for self-preservation
  6. Vested interests
  7. In memoriam
  8. Gratitude
  9. Identification with the cause
  10. Guilt
  11. Altruism
  12. Religious heritage
  13. Compassion
  14. Answering a voice of authority
  15. Social ambition
  16. Getting value for money
  17. In response to being asked
  18. Feels good
  19. Family history

Gerig notes that several motivations often operate together in spurring a donor’s support. Motivations have changed little over the years and are likely not to change in the future. However, he argues that organizations can contribute significantly to the development of donor motivations. “Appeals for financial support should be consonant with a nonprofit’s mission and values,” Gerig said. “Representatives of church-related organizations can help donors see that Christian faith and the practice of stewardship go hand in hand.”