It’s a new year, and the Jump Start Growth Blog is being repurposed.  Instead of philosophical/inspirational musings about fundraising, 2014 blog posts will contain short, practical suggestions that (I hope) you can implement right away to make your relationships with your donors more vibrant.  And my resolution is to deliver them to you, dear reader, every Thursday.

Speaking of resolutions, are there donors or prospects that you have been meaning to reach out to, but simply have not made the time?  Have you been hesitating because you don’t know enough about the individual to feel comfortable picking up the phone?  Here are three questions to help get over that hurdle:

  • Does the prospect have the capacity to make a significant gift if he or she gets excited about our work?  (You have to determine what constitutes “significant”) for your organization.
  • Does the prospect have a likely interest in your organization’s work?
  • Is there someone in your circle who is in the prospect’s circle and can make an introduction? 

If the answer to the third question is no, ask around a little bit, and if you still come up with nothing, reach out yourself.  The only thing worse than a cold call is no contact at all.

Let me know if you have questions about how to strengthen connections with your donors.  And happy new year!

Thoreau and fund raising

Henry_David_ThoreauCast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.  – Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience.

If democracy requires the whole influence of citizens – and it has never needed it more than it does today — a non profit organization requires the whole engagement of its supporters.

What does whole engagement mean?  Of course there is the usual checklist of ways a donor could help an organization: giving money, introducing her friends, soliciting corporate gifts from her employer, adding the organization to her estate plans, volunteering, and so forth.

But in a donor-centric universe – have you noticed that is where we live? – whole engagement means that she is giving what she is able and willing to give at this time, when asked appropriately.

How do you know whether you are inviting the whole engagement of your donors?  Here is a simple test.  If, when you are talking to your donors, do you listen in order to respond, or do you listen to your donors in order to understand?    

Each of your supporters is, to quote Thoreau again, a majority of one, worthy of your inquisitive attention.

Fund raising and witness

Carolyn Forché 2 NBCC 2011 Shankbone

Carolyn Forché 2 NBCC 2011 Shankbone (Photo credit: david_shankbone)

April is the month of Carolyn Forche’s birthday.  She is a poet who had a big impact on me in my youth.  She was teaching at UC San Diego in 1980 when she was visited by 3 men from El Salvador.  “We need you to come to El Salvador and write about the violence you see there,” they said.

“But I am not a reporter,” she countered.

“We have reporters.  We need a poet,” they answered.  She accepted the invitation.  The book that resulted from her visit, The Country Between Us, published in 1981, is a powerful testimony that played a role in America’s growing awareness of its covert support for the repressive regime.  She describes her writing as “the poetry of witness.”

When faced with the crises of the day, it is easy to get discouraged.  It is easy to say, “I am only a fund raiser,” just as Carolyn Forche said, “I am only a poet.”

But we are also witnesses.  Forche’s audience was the readers of poetry.  Our audience is the supporters of the organization where we work.  Whether you work in the arts, spirituality, education, social change, or service, you travel to a place where your donors cannot go, and bring back stories.  Don’t forget how important that is.

Announcing the Jump Start Contest for SMALL organizations that receive BIG gifts

Conventional wisdom holds that only big organizations can secure significant gifts from individual donors.  But that conventional wisdom is wrong – I have seen it over and over: small, smart organizations securing gifts of five or six or seven figures.  Let’s collect those stories about organizations with a budget of less than $2.5 million who does things right.  Tell your story, get some publicity in fund raising publications, board training, and a cash prize of $2,500.  The deadline is May 15th.

Five judges, all development professionals in small organizations, will choose the winner based on:

  • The size of the top 10 gifts
  • The growth of the top 10 gifts over the past three years
  • Creative and effective engagement of board members in fund raising
  • Creative and effective cultivation strategies
The top 5 entries will receive a board training workshop and publicity in fund raising publications.  The top winner will also get $2,500.  Apply by May 15th at

Please spread the word about the Jump Start Contest.  Thank you.