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!

Small organizations / big gifts

SMALL ORGANIZATION/BIG GIFT.  It does happen.  If it has happened to you, please share here – and check out the Jump Start Contest at

money_falling_from_skyOn November 15 in 2002, at Poetry Magazine’s 90th anniversary dinner celebration, Ruth Lilly’s $100 million pledge was announced.  The Poetry Foundation pre-Lilly was a modest magazine publisher with a staff of four and $1.3 million budget.

If it does your heart good in this sober financial climate to imagine a gift of 77 times your operating budget, enjoy a blissful moment of dreaming about your own Miracle Gift Day.

If you know who that person is, make a goal of spending an hour with him or her in the next six weeks without asking for a gift.  Talk about your dreams for the organization in 5-10 years.  Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  And ask if you can come back for another conversation in six months as your plans crystallize.

Sometimes, good things happen to good people. If your organization has benefited from big gifts, please share the story.  And be sure to enter the Jump Start Contest, Prizes include a $2,500 cash prize, recognition in the fund raising press, and free board training. Details at

How can a fund raiser talk less and listen more?

There is a wall that divides good fund raisers from bad. It is the wall of our own voices.  More times than I care to remember, I have sat in the living room or office of a donor, hauling newsletters and annual reports out of my briefcase, talking about programs, accomplishments, plans.  Blah, blah, blah.  I am waiting for a signal from the person across the desk to show some interest, and he or she is waiting for me to stop talking.

listenOn the other side of the wall is an actual conversation.  Give and take.  Back and forth.  Of course, most donors want to learn more about programs and accomplishments and plans.  But there is a very personal and specific reason that the donor selected your organization to support, a very personal and specific reason that the donor invited you into his or her space.  If you can stop talking about programs long enough to find out what that motivation is, you will have crossed the sound barrier.  Asking the right questions is the key.

How do you get across that wall and invite the donor to speak?

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.

If you are not the prototypical Leader…

As a culture, Americans cultivate a mystique about leadership. The Leader is a The Leaderrecognizable type.  The square jawed guy in the corner office works tirelessly, makes correct split-second decisions, and inspires the enthusiasm of his followers.  I know that when I compare myself to him, I am slow-tongued, prone to second-guessing, and sometimes rumple-suited.  But maybe we can get more mileage out of honoring our limitations than trying to live up the Leadership Mystique.

The fund raising profession is crippled by that Leadership mystique.  Lots of people believe that succeeding in fund raising requires nerves of steel, flat abs, and straight, white teeth.  The truth is, good manners and a little ambition will get you far.

If you find that The Prototypical Leader’s Textbook for Fund Raising don’t help you so much, here are some alternative ideas.

  • The Leader is self-reliant.  As my mentor Andrea Kihlstedt is fond of saying, “every organization is perfectly configured to be itself.”  That means change is hard.  If you want to be an instrument of organizational transformation, find allies.
  • The Leader is never insecure.  Pay attention to your insecurity.  Once you recognize that your nerves are made of some material more like pliable than steel, you can tune them to signal when something is off kilter in your relationships with your donors.
  • The Leader is unerringly persuasive.  Your donor has assigned your organization to a certain groove in her brain, and that determines her decision to give $X instead of ten times $X.  Your job, as a fund raiser, is to try to move the organization into a different brain-groove.  This is nervous-making.  You can face this nervousness by asking permission to discuss her priorities with her, by acknowledging that you are going out on a limb, or by any one of dozens of other ways of humanizing the encounter.  Once you admit you are not The Leader, all kinds of possibilities open themselves.

Anyone else out there find the Leadership Mystique unhelpful?  How do you deal with it?



What’s the best way to engage donors?

Cultivation.  It’s a word that fund raisers toss around as if everyone knows what it means.  But cultivation is different in every organization.  Before you ask someone for a large contribution you want her to feel how great and critical your work is.  Here are a few examples of exquisite ways different organizations have done that.

sproutAn international development organization has staff from all over the world come to the US for a week of donor visits.  Visits with foundation officers, one on one conversations with major donors and prospects, and house parties organized by board members, are all crowded onto the schedule.  It’s a logistical nightmare, but it is a very effective way of making a faraway program feel real.  They call it “BlitzCraig” because Craig is the staff member who organizes it.

A charter school for girls has a day every year called “Cool women, hot jobs” when they invite women entrepreneurs and professionals to come talk to their classes.  Many of the visitors are impressed enough by the students that at the end of the day, sign up to provide internships for the students in their offices.  And many write checks on the spot.

A neighborhood performance center has a board member who keeps a list of 10 prospective supporters.  “Every time I decide to go to an event at the center,” she told me, “I call them all and leave messages asking if they want to come with me.”  Simple, right?

What are the best examples of donor cultivation you have seen?