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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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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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Growing benevolent funds becomes primary concern for CCRCs

The Samaritan Fund. The Sharing Fund. The Promise Partners Fund. The Future Care Fund. The Golden Cross Fund. The Home Endowment Fund. The Care Assurance Fund.

These are some of the names continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are using to describe their benevolent care funds. Whatever the name, finding a way to enlarge these funds has become high priority for virtually every retirement organization.

Through their benevolent care programs, retirement communities support residents who have exhausted their financial resources and, through no fault of their own, are unable to pay the full cost of required services. Doing everything possible to provide for such residents directly reflects the missions of many CCRCs, particularly those that are faith-based.

A number of CCRCs established benevolent funds a number of years ago, often with large unsolicited and unanticipated charitable gifts. However, rapidly growing needs of residents have exhausted available resources in many instances. Multiple factors have created this difficult circumstance, including increased life expectancy, fixed or limited incomes, increasing healthcare costs, and inadequate Medicaid funding.

Although one can never precisely predict with certainty, it’s clear that CCRC leaders assume even more need for benevolent care resources in the near future. For example, a recent survey of CCRC financial officers produced these startling facts:

• Eighty-four percent of the retirement communities that participated in a survey had already created a benevolent fund.

• Eighty-seven percent indicated that growing their benevolent funds was a priority.

• Most significantly, 42 percent of the financial officers noted that their benevolent funds must at least double from current values in order to meet financial needs of residents in the anticipated future.

Source: Ziegler financial services, May 2009

CCRCs often establish endowments to provide benevolent care resources for qualified residents. In such arrangements, only the annual interest earned from invested principal is used for recipients of benevolent care monies, thereby preserving the fund for the future. Other types of special funds designated for benevolent care permit use of both principal and interest. This approach offers more flexibility in meeting current needs, but without careful management may soon be depleted.

A variety of income sources underwrite benevolent funds. If available, operational revenue is often tapped. A portion of residents’ entrance fee refunds may be designated. Life insurance benefits of residents qualifying for assistance are sometimes assigned to the benevolent fund. The bulk of the necessary money, however, must come from charitable gifts.

A quick on-line review suggests how CCRCs solicit charitable support for their benevolent funds. One approach is special fundraising events, such as golf outings and benefit dinners. Memorial gifts are often designated. Churches affiliated with nearby retirement communities may collect an annual offering. One CCRC places ornaments on a special, visible Christmas tree to symbolize benevolent fund gifts received during the holiday season.

Eclipsing all of these fundraising activities are gifts from individuals who understand the importance of benevolent care funds and are moved to support them with substantial contributions. For many CCRCs, successfully soliciting more such gifts is the key to building benevolent fund programs for the anticipated future. Advancement Associates, Inc. has helped continuing care retirement communities address this priority and shares these beginning ideas for success.

1. Review previous large gifts made for your benevolent fund. What were the circumstances of such gifts? What motivated donors to support the fund? What do these stories suggest for fundraising strategies?

2. Make a list of the key stakeholder groups most likely to be interested in your benevolent care fund. Among those that come to mind are current residents, families of current and former residents, board and staff members, and members of supporting churches. How are you informing these groups of your benevolent fund and future needs?

3. Create a “case for support” for your benevolent fund. Such a statement presents the purpose for the fund; notes how it reflects the organization’s mission and values; and suggests three or four reasons why constituents should offer their support. These reasons should be repeated in all fundraising activities for the fund.

4. Along with other types of contributions, invite planned gifts and estate gifts for your benevolent fund. Because they reflect financial resources produced over a lifetime, such gifts are particularly appropriate for supporting an endowment. Create criteria for identifying prospects for planned gifts; cultivate positive relationships with them; and invite their support at the right time with personal, individual approaches.

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Mission, vision and strategic planning

Peter Drucker, a leading expert in management theory says that there are two questions that every organization must answer.

1. What is our business?

2. What will our business be?

The first question has to do with mission (i.e. what we do and why); the second, with vision (i.e. the aspiration to grow, improve or advance in some meaningful way).

It is common for an organization to come to AAI and say that they are interested in raising funds. Exactly what the funds are to be raised for is often more obscure. While mission may be clear and there may be a notion of a building or program to be funded, the desired outcome is not clearly linked to a vision of what the organization can accomplish if the new project becomes reality.

Visioning is a critical first step of a strategic planning process, helping an organization revisit whom and how it has served, refine its mission in the context of the current environment and reveal what it hopes to become in the next stage of its existence.

What then is strategic planning? A strategic plan is the road map of actions necessary to move the organization toward its vision.

To illustrate, when planning a vacation, we picture in our minds a particular experience at a specific destination. If it stops there, it is nothing more than wishful thinking. To make it happen, we need a plan that includes goals and action steps: What date will we leave? What route will we take? What vehicle will we need and who will drive? If we work the plan, we’re much more likely to end up having the desired experience at the chosen destination.

A strategic plan may be divided into a series of one-year plans, each of which outlines the steps to be taken that year. Plans will need to be evaluated and adapted to emerging realities in order for an organization to achieve its vision.

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Board role in advancement

What is the board’s role in advancement?

Board members carry an important role in organizational advancement efforts. In an ongoing way, board members should expect to:

• Designate adequate resources for the advancement program, including personnel and budget, and review results annually.

• Consider potential board members who are experienced in fundraising or well-connected to possible funding sources.

• Partner with the CEO and staff to maintain strong, healthy relationships with all key constituencies.

• Host and/or be an enthusiastic presence at special events.

• As appropriate and comfortable, identify prospective donors, personally solicit gifts and thank individual donors.

• Be regular, generous contributors to the organization.

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Professional development opportunities

What professional development opportunities do you suggest for fundraising officers?

The Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University offers a variety of valuable courses. These 1-5 day courses are offered in select cities nationwide and, in some cases, online.

A complete course listing is available online.

Fundraisers should also consider participating in a local chapter of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals or the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning. These monthly meetings offer speakers, updates on laws that affect the fundraising profession, networking with other fundraising professionals and potential mentoring opportunities.

Arranging for mentoring from a professional consultant is an excellent way for new development officers to shorten the learning curve and reach contribution goals. This is especially useful for fundraisers who work alone in a small organization.