All posts by vmjones

Show up ready for “Yes!”

Take-away: Do a self-scan before asking, and get happy so you show up anticipating a “Yes!” not bracing yourself for “No.”


You’re about to ask for a major gift. Your donor’s been thanked for their past giving and kept involved. You know about their family, their interests and their philanthropy. You have a project they’ll love at a cost they can afford. It’s time to ask, right?

Wrong. You’ve left the most important thing of all off your checklist.

Your state of mind. How are you feeling? If you’re tired or discouraged, you may sabotage your efforts. “They’ll hate this idea,” your inner voice whispers. “It’s too much money. I wish I didn’t have to do this. I look awful in this suit.” Don’t ignore your downhearted-self. Be kind to it.

Stop. Get happy. Then show up as the person ready to hear “Yes!” not the one expecting a “No.”

“How am I supposed to get happy?” you ask, and “Are happy people more successful askers?”

Yes, and yes.

Shawn Achor, author of New York Times Bestseller, The Happiness Advantage and one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers has demonstrated there’s a science to happiness, that it improves achievement in work and in life. His research identifies the following simple, free and proven ways to get happy:

1. Count your blessings-Write down one thing that happened in the last 24 hours for which you’re grateful. Do it every day. The 24-hour rule forces you to reflect on something new each time.

2. Journal meaning: It’s hard to be happy if you find your life meaningless. Start seeking meaning, and you’ll find it… in a cloud that reminds you of childhood, in the smell of new-mown grass, in your partner’s glance when you share a joke. We too often miss these moments. Write down one such experience every day, and you’ll become a happier person.

3. Perform a kindness with no expectation of return: I mentor younger colleagues, pick up trash when I take a walk and let stressed drivers precede me. If you start looking, you’ll discover opportunities to commit random acts of kindness. I find secret virtue yields an exquisite kind of happiness.

4. Meditate: If you are trained in meditation, do so regularly, and before you ask. If you don’t know how, just sit in a quiet space and watch your breath go in and out for two minutes. You can calm yourself when anxious. Meditate regularly and you’ll be happier, gain a sense of perspective and become more resilient.

5. FAB 15: Take a walk or exercise any way you like for 15 minutes. Take a walk in the fresh air, under a starry sky or on a city street full of fascinating people will make you happier. Working out seriously is best, but you don’t need to suit up or go to the gym. Just take a walk.

You may develop your own happiness rituals. I look at pictures of my children before tackling grant proposals and envision individual donors saying “Yes!” in twenty different ways. Whatever you do, stop and take a minute to see how you’re doing before asking.

Check out Shawn’s TED Talk,, and get happy!

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Ask donors who will say yes: The top 15 reasons why people give

Take-away: Ask those close to you before reaching out to big name funders with no connection.



You wouldn’t ask Bill Gates to cover your hospital bill…would you? If you needed financial help, you’d ask a family member or a close friend first. Charity begins at home. The same principle applies to fundraising. It’s the people around you, those already engaged or invested in your nonprofit who will give. Finding support for your organization should start from the center out, from those who know you best, to those who know you least.

Yet too often, we dream of a sugar daddy, a miraculous cure-all for our organization’s financial woes. “One big check from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could solve all of our problems,” we muse. Volunteer board members see a name in the Wall Street Journal or on TV and think these celebrities are the answer to all of their nonprofit’s challenges.

However, soliciting support from big name funders with no connection is more likely to burn your staff out than to fill your coffers. Instead, deepen your relationships with donors who already know you. If you apply to a national foundation, it’s not unusual for them to vet your nonprofit through local funders. If your hometown foundations aren’t supporting you, it raises red flags for national funders. Conversely, if local funders say your organization is the best thing since sliced bread, national funders will be more interested in reading your proposal.

Whether you’re asking individuals, foundations, or corporations, get to know those in your community who care the most. Build your home-base. Strong community engagement will increase your influence and visibility, helping larger institutions to see your worth and increasing the likelihood that they will support you.

Why Individuals Give

What about individuals? The #1 reason people give is because someone they know asks them, and they want to help that person. If you start by asking those you know, you may find the list is so long, you never get around to asking strangers! Here’s why people give, with the reasons ranked from most to least compelling:

  1. Someone I know asked me to give, and I wanted to help them.
  2. I felt emotionally moved by someone’s story.
  3. I want to feel I can help, rather than feeling powerless in the face of need (especially in the case of disasters).
  4. I want to feel I’m changing someone’s life.
  5. I feel a sense of closeness to a community or group.
  6. I need a tax deduction.
  7. I want to memorialize someone (i.e., who died of a disease or a beloved parent).
  8. I was raised to give to charity- it’s tradition in my family.
  9. I want to be “hip”. Supporting this charity is in style (i.e., colored wrist bands).
  10. It makes me feel connected to other people and builds my social network.
  11. I want to have a good image for myself/my company.
  12. I want to leave a legacy that perpetuates myself, my ideals, or my cause.
  13. I feel fortunate (or guilty) and want to give something back to others.
  14. I give for religious reasons- God wants me to share my affluence.
  15. I want to be seen as a leader/role model.

Ask for gifts that satisfy donors’ desires. Some folks are motivated by just one or two reasons, others by many. Notice that a tax deduction is only sixth on the list. Most people give from the goodness of their hearts.

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Are you a fundraising criminal?

Take-away: Be sure that you are registered to fundraise before you start!

In the last 24 hours, several folks have approached me who thought they could ask for money in Pennsylvania, but couldn’t. Why? They’re not registered with the PA Bureau of Charitable Organizations. How do I know? Because it’s public. Anyone, including donors and foundations, can look them up.

Go ahead. See if you’re registered.

(Note: there’s 1 button to search Charities, another for Solicitors/Fundraising Counsel)

If you’re not registered, you should be, because the consequences can be severe. Counsel can incur steep financial fines. Nonprofits can be fined, publicly listed as violators and even forced to “cease and desist” from fundraising in Pennsylvania. Who are the 700+ violators? Here:
Some violations occurred as far back as 1996…more than 20 years ago! Once you’re on this list, you’re on it forever. You do not want to be on this list. And it’s not just Pennsylvania. If you’re asking residents in 10 states for gifts, you have to register in all 10 states, if their law requires it.

To add to the fun, PA indicates “purely charitable organizations” and some other categories are exempt, but doesn’t list those categories or explain what the phrase means.

But there is hope. Every year, in June, Giving USA announces the latest fundraising trends, and releases their guide to state registration requirements. Because, of course, the rules are different in every state and they change over time. Last time I checked, Delaware didn’t require registration, but they may now. Also, there are companies that will handle the multiple state registration process for you such as Affinity Fundraising Registration:

Here are the examples I encountered. If any of them sound familiar, check your status:

  • A small nonprofit thinks they’re ok because they have a 501 c 3 letter from the IRS (Wrong).
  • A big consulting firm thinks it can do business with PA clients without registering (Wrong).
  • A development consultant contracted for work without registering it. (Wrong! Not only must both the nonprofit and the consultant be registered annually, each contract must be approved and registered with the state before work commences.)
  • Most free-lance grant writers think they don’t have to register at all. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Don’t let yourself be permanently inscribed on the state’s “naughty” list. Get yourself registered, and make sure you’re registered annually. These regulations exist to protect nonprofits and the public from scam artists and fake nonprofits. Registration protects all of us and increases the public’s confidence that we are, in fact, worthy of support.

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