All posts by vmjones

Evolution or Extinction? The ABCs of Nonprofit Survival



“Val, do you think online giving will ever take off?”

“I don’t know, Lawrence, did the telephone catch on?”

Decades ago, I was chatting with a foundation president and, I’ll admit, being a bit of a wise guy. My point was that fundraising is constantly changing. If you don’t evolve along with your donors, they’ll leave you behind.

The threat of nonprofit extinction is serious. By the end of 2021, 10-30% of nonprofits will merge or close, according to experts cited in the Washington Post and Deloitte. We don’t know if this crisis is like a blizzard that will pass or the onset of an Ice Age.

Amidst 2020’s chaotic uncertainty, simplicity is your best path forward.

Consider the ABCs of nonprofit survival that have already worked in 2020:

ACT. Two big risks we face are re-acting without checking our facts or not acting at all.

Can’t meet with donors in person? Dive into a long-deferred project. While cleaning up his database, one colleague discovered many previously neglected major donors. Recruit new allies and board members. Trustees with ADHD (like me!) may excel in a crisis. Each new board member added increases board giving.

One nonprofit reacted to the social justice uprising by freezing all hires. They assumed they needed a more diverse pool of candidates. The statistics showed they’d built a laudably diverse workforce, but they hired more men than women. That was the inequity that needed addressing.

Be strategically proactive. Communicate with your board, donors, volunteers and staff regularly. Capture meaningful stories and engage your constituents in ways that bolster your cause. Here’s a checklist that will make it easy to do so.

BRAVE this new world.

If there was ever a time to be bold, to try something new, this is it!

For years, a garden talked about pre-registration for their plant sale fundraiser. This spring, they did it. Supporters reserved their items online and picked them up at the drive-through plant sale. Not only did the garden raise more money without the expense of unsold inventory, it was so successful they offered a second round.

What’s in your back-burner pocket?

Give your nonprofit team specific, easy tasks at which they’ll succeed. A series of little wins can build confidence and momentum.

It’s easier to be brave when you play to your fundraising strengths. Introverts ask differently from extraverts, concrete thinkers from visionaries. To discover your asking personality, (or that of a colleague or board member) send your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to email hidden; JavaScript is required. I’ll send you a free, in-depth profile that will describe your asking strengths, including who and how you’ll best ask. If you don’t know your MBTI/Jungian personality, take the Myers Briggs’ test or try Psych Central’s free quiz.

CLARIFY your message.

We’re assaulted with a cacophony of messages. As the number of communications go up, our attention span goes down. To be heard, your message must be simple, specific and relevant.

Simple. What do you think I meant to convey with these images?

In both cases, it was “raindrop.” Looking at the picture on the left, you may have thought windshield, window, or raindrops. The image on the right is clearer. Use the simplest words/images possible to reach your constituents.

Specific: Your descriptions of your nonprofit’s vague, possibly insurmountable challenges may overwhelm donors. Make each request specific and actionable. For example, “Please give $X for a community intern,” or “Give $Y so we can test the water.”

Relevant: When asking for support, make your appeal relevant. Because if it isn’t, others’ will be. Alcoholism has plagued us for millennia. Why give now? An addiction recovery nonprofit could stress the fact that a bar is one of the most dangerous places to be in a pandemic.

Focus on the simple things to help your nonprofit survive, Act, Brave, and Clarify.

After all, nonprofits are constantly evolving. I took my first fundraising job in 1983 to work on something called a “computer.” We’ve learned to reach constituents via email, websites, texts and social media. Now, we’re creating innovative techniques to videoconference. In future, other media will expand our communications toolkit.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a nonprofit person, a donor, volunteer, member of staff or board. As such, you’re already supporting your cause through these turbulent times. In my admiration for what you’ve done, I echo The Tempest’s Miranda, when she exclaims,

“O brave new world that has such people in it!”

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-Valerie M. Jones, CFRE

For You:


Natural Lands

Vice President of Conservation Services

City of Philadelphia

Community Engagement Director

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Director of Human Resources


Support for Strategic Alliances for Organizational Sustainability

Nonprofit Repositioning Fund

Support for New Creative Work in its Earliest Stages

National Performance Network Fall 2020 Creation Fund

Support for Education and Job Training Programs

Brook J. Lenfest Foundation

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Money, Jobs, Action: What Your Nonprofit Can Do to Support Racial Justice




In 1995, Freedom Theatre’s renown artistic director Walter Dallas chose me to lead his development team. I was one of the few white employees. I knew a lot about fundraising but not much about race relations. My Freedom colleagues taught me some important truths, kickstarting my ongoing education.

The one thing they didn’t have to teach me was that Black lives matter.

Freedom was founded in the 1960’s to present theatre rooted in the African American tradition. At that time there were no Black actors in commercials. They rarely appeared on stage, TV or in films except in menial or comic roles. Freedom helped create the professional performing opportunities that we take for granted today. That’s progress.

Off-stage, the violence of racism persists, as George Floyd’s killing highlighted… again. The world is watching to see how our leaders, including our nonprofit leaders will react.

Nonprofit leadership begins with the board of directors. In 1994, BoardSource’s Leading With Intent report, found 86% of our nonprofit board members were white. In 2017, they found 84% are white. That’s only a 2% improvement in 23 years! Even another respected source, the Fundraising Effectiveness Report, found that more diverse boards make better decisions and that the nonprofits they lead are more resilient.

Almost all of us are connected to nonprofits, as donors, staff or on boards.


Step One: Money

Am I insisting that my organization makes investments that align with its mission?

Your environmental nonprofit wouldn’t invest its endowment in coal plants. Its investments align with its mission. Similarly, if your nonprofit takes an anti-racist position, insist it invests its endowment in companies with diverse leadership. This is harder than it sounds. There are no uniform metrics for corporate diversity, and some don’t report it at all. Still, if your endowment is invested in publicly traded companies, your nonprofit is a shareholder and shareholders have rights. Primary among these rights is the right to vote, including for board members, and to inspect corporate records! Check out for more information.

Step Two: Jobs

Am I posting job ads on platforms for Black job seekers?

Ensure your recruiting strategies match your anti-racist position. If you post positions on mainstream platforms, you’ll likely get mainstream candidates. Try posting on sites like and Seek potential Black board members in professional associations, such as the Barristers Association for Black lawyers in Philadelphia or the National Black MBA Association‘s local chapter.

Step Three: Action

Do I listen to and reflect the wisdom of our Black constituents and do I include them in our materials and planning?

Who do you feature? What testimonials does your nonprofit share? If your planned giving brochure features only white donors, you can’t expect Blacks to include your nonprofit in their wills! Consult colleagues and constituents of color before launching new initiatives or fundraising campaigns. By listening to them, you’ll improve your project, serve everyone better and (possibly) avoid awkward and expensive mistakes.


For your nonprofit:

If you want a more robust nonprofit, diversify your staff. If you want to keep abreast in a fast-changing society, recruit trustees with varied backgrounds and run your ideas past constituents of color. If you want to strike a blow for racial justice, put your endowment money where your mouth is.

For you:

A friend once said, “Val, you have white privilege. You can choose whether you deal with racism. Every morning, I wake up Black. I don’t have a choice.” Have those uncomfortable conversations. Read, learn and work to free yourself of racial bias.

My mentor, Walter Dallas, died in May. Missing him, I took out my old Freedom Theatre sweatshirt. It’s a bit threadbare, but you can still see the embroidered “Val,” followed by the saying, “Freedom Begins With Me.”

Thanks, Walter. I’m working on it.

-Valerie M. Jones, CFRE


African American Museum of Philadelphia

Grants and Development Manager

Bread and Roses Community Fund

Development Manager

Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble

Managing Director


Support for Vital Community Organizing During COVID-19

Bread & Roses Community Fund: Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing

Funding for Creative, Community-Centered Media for Social Change and Justice

Independence Public Media Foundation: Community Voices Fund

Emergency Gap Relief Fund for Philly’s Black Working Artists

Village Arts Gap Fund


Urban League of Philadelphia

African American Museum in Philadelphia

Mill Creek Urban Farm in West Philadelphia

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Q & A Vlog Series: What Makes an Effective Leader?

Q: What is Val Jones’ definition of an effective leader? Do you have any real-world examples?

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C-19 Blog #4 – Social Media Fundraising-When You Have No Time




☐Have I focused my strategy on the social media platforms where I’ll have the most impact?

Example: If you have a robust Facebook following, develop a C-19 strategy that works for that, rather than for a Twitter platform where you have a negligible presence.

☐Have I developed a mission-related theme? Pick an aspect of your mission, a message that will resonate now, and post-Covid. You can anchor both your activities and appeals around this theme.

Tip: Post one explicit funding request for each 3-4 campaign posts.

☐Have I developed an engaging #hashtag that will work now and when we re-emerge?

Example: #BGResilience – Bartram’s Garden’s hashtag theme acknowledges their current struggle while projecting a positive, post-pandemic future.

☐Are we set up to track metrics, so we’ll know what works, what doesn’t, and can adapt accordingly? Setting this up at the beginning will save time later. Establishing goals and tracking can be a great project for a media-savvy student or volunteer.


☐Am I using time-saving tools to layout the images, graphics and videos for my campaign?

Tip: Canva is a great tool to jumpstart your assembling branded, beautiful prints for sharing. While there are pricing plans available, basic templates are free.

☐Am I maximizing presence on image-driven platforms by leveraging what I already have? Choose an aesthetic that matches your Instagram color palette, story icons and layout with your other brand communications, such as your logo, website and/or newsletter. It will help you fold fundraising and non-fundraising posts together on Instagram so your profile feed seems like one continuous piece of art, an attractive whole.

Tip: Enliven your Instagram posts with gifs and boomerangs.

☐Am I maximizing presence on text-driven platforms by leveraging what I already have? Post campaign-related articles and blogs on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Plunder your archives for graphics, pictures and videos to enliven the text.

Tip: Post testimonial messages related to your campaign accompanied by your hashtag.

☐Am I maximizing my video content with vlogs, pictures and webinars I already have? You can also add current video and images to encourage supporters to donate to your campaign.

Examples: You can share a vlog or webinar on Instagram IGTV and FacebookTV. You can share brief (<=10 seconds) videos and pictures on your Instagram and Facebook stories.


☐Have I tied my campaign to hashtags with similar goals and broad audiences?

Example: The Mutter Museum tags itself with the City of Philadelphia’s #PhillyFromHome hashtag. This ensures the virtual tours of their museum appear to viewers scrolling through posts mentioning the #PhillyFromHome hashtag.

☐Have I made it easy for friends and colleagues to spread the word both personally and professionally? Don’t limit campaign posts to your nonprofit’s organizational profiles. Ask your staff, board and volunteers to post/re-post campaign messages on their own individual profiles.

Tips: Schedule a video conference with your nonprofit’s staff and close supporters, (board etc.). In the meeting, explain that you’d like them to promote your campaign on their individual LinkedIn profiles. Ask for volunteer social media ambassadors.

To encourage ongoing participation, have your social media manager (or a volunteer) monitor, thank and engage with team members who share your campaign posts.


☐This is the perfect opportunity to boost social media literacy of the entire staff, which makes it easier to enlist their help in spreading our fundraising messages in future.

☐What can I learn from this crisis that can improve our future fundraising on social media?

Examples: Build a strong, categorized, accessible, archive of interactive pictures/video makes it easier to communicate with constituents when activities are cancelled/go virtual.

Developing capacity to receive voice activated donations, such as “Alexa, donate $50 to EducationWorks in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.”

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C-19 Blog #3 – Individual Donor Fundraising-Start Easy Checklist


Speed, volume, simplicity and urgency matter.

The sooner you ask donors, the more they can give. Philanthropic capacity and responsiveness tend to decline as a crisis wears on

People are getting swamped with C-19 communications. Your open rates may be down 20% to 30% and require more frequent contact to reach your donors. Their patience may be limited, so keep your message simple. Don’t mess around. Get to the point. Urgency matters. If you can’t answer the questions, Why give to you? Why now? others can.

Retention. If you represent a nonprofit that’s not on the frontline fight against COVID-19, such as arts, cultural and environmental causes, donor retention is particularly important. Keep the donors you have. Thank them, engage them and then ask for their support.


Have we thanked our major donors? And have we done so with personal, thoughtful calls in addition to snail mail thank you notes and e-mails?

Example: See VMJA blog on how your board can thank donors with one-page plan:

Have we thanked in our unique voice? What can we do that others aren’t doing? What will make us stand out from all the other nonprofits?

Tip: Evite is offering its premium greeting cards for free (up to 750). You can tailor with your own images/message to all, or send personalized ones to individuals:

Have we varied the ways we thank? You might send video thank yous to donors as a group, or individualize, such as by leaving a thank you video message to donors you can’t reach by phone.

Video Messaging Resources:
Some integrate with your database ( but can cost $299/month.

Others integrate with Outlook, Trello, Google. Bonjoro, ( is free to $79/month.


Have we engaged our major donors in our plans? Have I articulated the non-financial ways they can help, such as advocacy, in-kind services, amplifying our social media messages?

Example: See VMJA blog on how to engage donors in your C-19 plan and invite them to help:

Have we found concrete ways to engage them in their homes? Get creative.

Examples: Mail small boxes of colored chalk to your donors, along with instructions

• Advocacy nonprofit: ask them to create sidewalk art advocacy messages in chalk, photograph their creations, then post these images on their social media.
• Zoo: Invite each family member to make draw their favorite animal on driveway or sidewalk, then send to you for posting or as part of a competition.

Resource: Staples is delivering any size order of chalk for free.

Have we invited donors to volunteer? Create one list of tasks they could do remotely, and another of COVID-safe volunteer opportunities. This may deepen their connection to your mission. If you’re stuck for ideas, has posted close to 750,000 virtual volunteer opportunities. You’ll find great suggestions in their article on managing virtual volunteers.



Have we leveraged gifts that don’t cost them anything? Reminding them of Amazon Smile is obvious. You can also update your “wish list” of pro-bono services and in-kind donations if you’re equipped to receive them. And don’t overlook corporate matching gifts. You’ll want to collect all you can from this source before matching companies decide to suspend these programs. You may consider integrating a matching gift lookup service into your donate page, even if only for a brief period.

Resource: offers a free 14-day trial.

Have we invited donors to fundraise for us? You already know about Facebook fundraisers, but if you’ve not tried crowdfunding before, this may be the time. Ask for something specific, immediate and compelling, as colleges have appealed for funds to house stranded foreign students. Here are some popular options:

Resources: is a popular fundraising platform that doesn’t charge fees. is a nonprofit. It’s free to your nonprofit when you choose to have transaction fees paid by your supporters. It integrates with Facebook and other social media.
• I’m not partial to any one fundraising software, but here’s a free starter kit with templates from Donor Perfect

Have we asked donors to give in small increments? Many donors want to help but hesitate before making big gifts. Tell them you understand, and that you will need their help to sustain your cause in the months ahead. If appropriate, suggest they participate in your recurring gifts or monthly giving program. You may be surprised to learn that 21% of Baby Boomers participate in such programs. Here’s help if you’re not sure how to structure a recurring gift program.



Have we changed the way we engage your donors? If you’ve been meaning to vary and invigorate donor communications, this is the time. And the easy, gentle ways suggested above will show them you empathize with their situation and that you’re all on the same side.

Have we fully tapped into our volunteers’ potential? We often ask volunteers to give but may neglect to ask donors to volunteer. Studies show that donors can do much more for you than give:
• Write thank-you notes
• Contribute to newsletter, email, and other designs
• Host online auctions
• Encourage them to be one of your nonprofit storytellers to engage donors

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C-19 Blog #2 – Activate Your Board-Deeper Dive


Example: Board governance and engagement plan for next 3-9 months.


Have I checked to see if our by-laws discuss emergency governance? Many do. If not, your state’s Nonprofit Corporate Law may contain a limited provision authorizing boards to enact emergency by-laws.


Have I checked our by-laws regarding board meetings, quorums, etc.? Your governance committee chair may can do this. Consider updating if needed.

Example: If your by-laws require a minimum number of board members must be present in person, change it to include remote or digital participation.

Note: Thanks to Laura Solomon, Esq.

Should we continue to recruit/onboard new board members? If you can do it well remotely and can adapt your board orientation materials to the situation.

• BoardSource’s free orientation checklist
• Particularly important to appoint a board mentor or buddy for incoming board members.


Which board materials have we not had time to develop in the past? And is there someone with the bandwidth to tackle them now? Orientation packet? Board committee member job descriptions? This is an appropriate job for a member of the governance committee, but any intelligent board member or volunteer can do the legwork to consult sources and collect samples.

• Blue Avocado has great articles, samples and a sense of humor.

What board resources are free that usually cost money? Pre-C-19, BoardSource restricted many resources to paid members. Some of these are now free, including its Ask the Expert feature.



Have I engaged the board in implementing our C-19 Plan?

Have I included them in our C-19 Communications Plan? Identify ways board members and major donors close to you can help amplify your message.

1. Market research audience: Outline your objectives and six to nine-month plan for your news-blasts, podcasts, social media postings, webinars, etc. Clearly define who you seek to reach, what action you want them to take, brand, theme and messaging. Then facilitate a brainstorming session. Make it clear you welcome additional resources.

Example: A trustee’s company may have an under-employed videographer

2. Content contributors: Consider interviewing your board members and/or donors in your podcast and/or for social media. Those who have subject matter expertise can comment, and those who do not can discuss why they care, their concerns for your nonprofit during C-19 and hopes for the future. When interviewing, provide question in advance and ensure participants have an opportunity to review content before posting publicly.

Have I included board and major donors in the discussion?

1. Salon: The age of enlightenment was known for its salons, gatherings where cultural, political, and academic thinkers exchanged exciting new ideas hosted by intellectually and socially astute ladies.
Plan carefully, chose the right board host and mix of participants and your digital salon can replicate the sparkling thought and conversation. Focus on an issue your nonprofit seeks to address and how to do so through C-19.
Make the structure clear in your invitation. You’ll start with introductions. The host will have prompt questions and moderate perhaps with staff helping with management. Be clear on when the salon will begin and end.
Afterwards, brainstorm next steps with your host. The intimacy of such meetings and mixing with interesting experts can make for satisfying board and major donor engagement.

Example: A prison reform cause could address activism options during C-19.

2. Discussion Group: For a more down-home version, plan a discussion group with meetings including a brief presentation by an interesting expert introduced and moderated by your hosting board member.

Example: Historical Society invites participants to learn about colonial era pandemics from an expert and compare to current pandemic.


How might updating our by-laws align us more closely with our mission?

Example: Remote board meetings may decrease your nonprofit’s carbon footprint.

How might crisis management strengthen our board? Going through a fire together can be a powerful bonding experience for your board. It may also show you who you can count on when the chips are down.

How can I engage new prospects, as well as board and major donors, via issue-specific meetings hosted by trustees?

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C-19 Blog #1- Activate everyone! Board, Staff and Volunteers


If you ever needed your board, you need them now. Keep them engaged virtually.


☐ Have I created a one-page, easily update-able plan? Not my in-depth version, but a simple document. It states:

– What our nonprofit is doing during the crisis,
– How we’re handling our money, staff, and programs,
– The things we need help with,
– What we plan to do next.

Sample: VMJA can provide a sample plan.

Once I’ve created the plan, have I shared it with the board?
☐ In sharing it with the board, did I solicit their ideas? What resources, connections, help can they suggest?
☐ Have I asked them each to do one specific thing to advance the plan?

Example: A real estate attorney can help negotiate reduced rent. One VMJA client got an 80% cut on their rental costs for the next 12 months!

☐ Have I asked them to give if they haven’t yet or to make an extra gift? Or to make monthly pledges for the next six months to a year, to get us through these tough times?

Resource: If you need help setting up a monthly giving plan


If I still have front line workers, have I asked the board to call staff to thank them? Staff will appreciate it and board will hear great stories of how my nonprofit is working through the crisis.
☐ Have I asked my board to thank donors?

Script outline:
1. Are you okay?
2. Thank you so much for your past support.
3. Because you’re an insider, we want you know our plan during the crisis (share the basics of the plan).
4. Do you have any suggestions, resources or ideas that might help?
5. Here are some things we need. Suggest a few things they could do or might be able to secure.

Examples: advocacy, social media fundraising, identifying a videographer, etc.


Have I asked my board to thank volunteers and share the plan and help with what’s needed? Same script as with donors above.

Have I sent my volunteers some love?

– Free digital thank you cards: evite is offering its premium greeting cards for free. You can add your logo and personalize the message to each volunteer or send up to 750 for free.

– Care packages: From your own supplies, or via free/low-cost shipper. Example: seeds packets for an environmental nonprofit, or adult coloring books for a visual arts nonprofit, which is delivering free, any $ level.

Have I enlisted the right kind of help? C-19 Volunteer hubs are being established. Example: but there are long-term sources of volunteers you can tap now:

– Retired & Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP)

– Volunteer Match

– Leadership groups, like sometimes affiliated with chambers of commerce

Have I figured out how to manage virtual volunteers? If not, check out this article:


The phrase, “Never let a crisis go to waste,” is often attributed to Winston Churchill.

☐ How might it change how we think about our mission?

Example: Trade school vs. training the people the world depends on, truckers, food workers, electricians and computer technicians.

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Boost Board Fundraising with LinkedIn

Take-away: Board Members who LinkIn with staff and each other can raise $ without even asking.

“Who do you know?”

Most of us don’t know who we know. Not really. How would you know that your neighbor’s brother works for the Ford Foundation? Or that your tennis partner’s wife handles sponsorship for Wawa? We can’t introduce our nonprofits to connections we don’t know we have.

Actually, you can.

That’s the beauty of LinkedIn. Type in someone’s name or that of a company, and you can see if and how you’re connected. It’s fast, easy, free and available 24/7. Sadly, it doesn’t occur to some board members to LinkIn with each other, much less with senior staff.

Please do it. Please do it now. Because LinkingIn can increase funding in three important ways:

  1. Identify new prospects: I was looking for prospective donors for a small dance company, and finding surprisingly few. So I typed, “dance” into LinkedIn’s Advanced Search keyword field. Several names popped up, including that of a well-heeled lawyer at a nearby firm. As I scrolled through her profile, I saw dance, listed under Causes she cares about. A board member already knew her, but before my LinkedIn search, had no idea she loved dance.
  2. Find connections to identified prospects: Working for a museum, I LinkedIn with their board, senior staff and several docents. The development team had identified a couple who’d never been through our doors. On LinkedIn, I found they were connected to one of our docents. She invited them for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of an exhibit they’d like. They came, were delighted by the exhibit, the museum and her infectious enthusiasm, and plan to come back soon.
  3. Get info to tailor your proposal: We knew the right car dealership to sponsor the zoo, but no one knew the owner. I found I had only one automotive connection on LinkedIn…my mechanic! I called, forlornly hoping he might know someone who knew someone. He laughed and said, “Actually, I dated the owner’s daughter in high school!”  He said she headed the marketing department. Guided by him, I revised our proposal and pitched it to his amused ex-girlfriend.

Never a cold call!

There’s no need to make cold calls. I’ve raised $100+ million building relationships to undiscovered friends. Encourage your board to find their own hidden donors by connecting on social media.

Who knows? Someday a friendly mechanic may help you get a big grant!

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How Do You Fundraise Efficiently

Take-away: Fundraising doesn’t have to be hard – it could even be lazy!

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How Do You Read a Room?

Take-away: Verbal and non-verbal cues will help you gauge donors and get bigger gifts.

Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero talk and training!

You’ll find more fundraising tips and techniques inNonprofit Hero, Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising, available on Amazon, or for free from your local library. And via my blog,TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn pages. Schedule a game-changing board retreat that’ll turn your volunteers into Nonprofit Fundraising Heroes, contact email hidden; JavaScript is required

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