Category: How tos

Return On Investment – A new age of business-mindedness dawns for nonprofit enterprises

Suddenly it seems like everyone’s talking about it. Or maybe “finally” is better than suddenly. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has gotten weighty on the subject. On June 7, it featured a scathing article by Amanda Pearce, CFRE, under the headline, “Nonprofit is a Tax Status, NOT a Business Model.” Even US charity watchdogs have admitted they got it wrong. In case no one at… Read more »

Scarcity or Abundance? An Experiment in Collaborative Fundraising

Many of the principles of fundraising I learned early on really are true: listen to prospective donors to connect them to your cause; build relationships to move supporters to the next level of giving; and thank donors more often than you ask for money. These do result in better fundraising outcomes. But based on my recent experience, I’m wondering if the scarcity-based approach of holding your funding sources under lock and key could use an upgrade.

Surviving Vision Block – How to Turn Your Crushing Experiences into Wins

I was pinned under a 200 pound guy, and he had scissors. The volunteer assignment was simple: help a young man with developmental disabilities to learn a new skill, one-on-one.  We were working on learning scissor use.   How did I end up flailing on the floor needing assistance?     I had a clear goal for my college volunteering experience: Explore different ways to help people reach excellence.  … Read more »

My Top Eleven and Three-Quarters Bits of Advice for Winning at Donor Communications… part one in a two-part series

1. Why Eleven and Three-Quarters? Be a little less predictable. “10 Top Tips” is predictable. “11 Top Tips” is a little less predictable, but still pretty obvious. I ripped this idea off, as most of you immediately recognized, from Harry Potter’s Track Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross Station. Steal well. And often. But don’t steal from failures. Which means you’ll have to learn… Read more »

Why Collaborations Fail What lies under the word, “uncollaborative”? Usually, it’s an unaddressed power imbalance

A few weeks ago, the board chair of a great social enterprise called me in distress. A collaboration he had nurtured was in disarray. He’d gotten ahold of an email that called the executive director and staff at his organization “uncollaborative.” He and I tried to figure out what was going on. We talked through the history of the collaboration and ultimately spotted what we… Read more »

The Best Route to Approaching Donors: Hand-Head-Heart

As someone who began her career as a fund raiser and migrated to become a funder as head of a large corporate foundation, I have a somewhat unique vantage point on the struggle many nonprofits endure when engaging funders and major donors to support their cause. In speaking with executive and development officers who are charged with fundraising, I find it most helpful to… Read more »

Successfully transitioning to new leadership roles

In Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths (Bloomsbury Publishing, June 2017),1McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Mary Meaney address the ten basic issues facing leaders: attracting and retaining talent, developing current talent, managing performance, creating leadership teams, making decisions, reorganizing to capture value quickly, reducing long-term overhead costs, making culture a competitive advantage, leading transformational change, and transitioning to new leadership roles. “Attracting and retaining… Read more »

Why profitable fundraising communications are the work of specialists, not generalists … and why a standard-issue, untrained university marcomms department will almost certainly fail to deliver strong results when given a fundraising assignment which depends on an effective call to action

This just in: A fundraising copywriter at a prestigious university now faces a change in her chain of command. The university’s new brooms don’t see why fundraising should have its own dedicated writer. In an org. chart maneuver that absolutely makes sense on paper, they want her to go back into the pool, to work inside the marketing communications group (a.k.a., marcomms). She asked… Read more »

U.S. News and Aetna Foundation Release Inaugural Healthiest Communities Rankings – and Texas isn’t on it. Texas is ranked #38 out of 50 states. Texas has poor access to decent healthcare that’s low quality in the first place.

U.S. News & World Report, the global authority in rankings and civic journalism, in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna, today announced the inaugural Healthiest Communities rankings. The new report evaluated nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 10 categories, from education and population health to infrastructure and economy. In addition to assessing which communities offer their citizens the greatest opportunity to live a productive, healthy life, the rankings offer insight into the best approaches for improving public health that can be shared and implemented across the country.

At this latest fundraising conference, I at last began to wonder . . . 
”What is abuse?”


Witness one form of abuse unique to fundraising . . . You get the training. You learn, say, how and why donor-centered communications raise lots more money. But your boss doesn’t like the way donor-centered communications sound … so your boss says no.

Why? Because your boss doesn’t know any better. Because your boss trusts her own uninformed hunches, instincts, opinions more than she or he trusts you and the training you’ve just received. 

And you need the job . . .

Donor-centricity hardball: “Show me the money.”

In Reciprocity We Trust Newbies, skeptics, the timid (and Ian) DO worry: “So, Tom, where’s the irrefutable research that switching to ‘donor-centered’ communications will raise more money for our org. than the comms crap we now send out?” Mike wrote me a couple of weeks ago…. I’m an avid follower of your newsletters and webinars, so first a little bit of flattery. Thank you… Read more »

In Reciprocity We Trust

The headline of this article mentions “reciprocity.” That’s a concept researched by persuasion expert Dr. Robert Cialdini. Basically, reciprocity goes like this: when I give you something, I expect something back (subliminally). So…when I make a gift to your charity, what do you give me back? Thanks is merely transactional. Flattery is far more penetrating. Tell me I’m a wonderful person. Over and over and over. I’ll actually pay you for that.

Using Story to Change Systems

Humans have always used stories to make sense out of our chaotic world. When our ancestors had to kill animals they felt were kindred spirits to survive, they created myths to help them come to terms with it. When they invented agriculture, they created myths that glorified graft and highlighted the seasonal nature of existence. When they began to settle, humans created myths imbuing cities with transcendence. As Yuval Noah Harari describes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, story went on to play a vital role in building all subsequent civilizations.