Tag Archives: nonprofit fundraising

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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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. https://www.canva.com/templates/

☐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.” https://voicebot.ai/2018/12/03/alexa-owners-can-donate-items-to-charity-directly-for-the-first-time/

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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 https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/what-happens-to-charitable-giving-when-the-economy-falters/

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: http://vmja.com/covid-19-blog-1-engage-staff-and-supporters/

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: https://www.evite.com/covid19

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 (www.causevid.com/DonorPerfect) but can cost $299/month.

Others integrate with Outlook, Trello, Google. Bonjoro, (www.bonjoro.com/ 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: http://vmja.com/c-19-blog-2-activate-your-board-deeper-dive/

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 www.Staples.com 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, www.VolunteerMatch.org has posted close to 750,000 virtual volunteer opportunities. You’ll find great suggestions in their article on managing virtual volunteers.

Resource: https://blogs.volunteermatch.org/engagingvolunteers/2020/03/26/how-to-tap-into-the-power-of-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: https://doublethedonation.com/ 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:

https://fundly.com is a popular fundraising platform that doesn’t charge fees.
https://fundrazr.com/pages/nonprofits 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 https://www.donorperfect.com/nonprofit-technology-blog/fundraising-software/your-nonprofit-crowdfunding-campaign-kit-with-templates/

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.

Resources: https://blog.techsoup.org/posts/how-to-build-and-sustain-a-successful-monthly-giving-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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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 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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The Snake’s Story: 3 Ways Your Volunteers Can Recruit More Donors

Take Away: Personal, sensory experience of your mission spurs authentic storytelling

Despite good intentions, the Zoo’s corporate fundraising committee wasn’t making much progress. The committee met monthly, but hadn’t gotten many gifts. A class I had taken in animal handling gave me an idea. At our next meeting, I greeted the committee as usual; I distributed agendas, and excused myself… to return draped in a five-foot long python named Lulu.

I learned one thing fast:

Some people don’t like snakes.

Chairs tumbled. Executives flew across the room. Once things calmed down, I showed them how to stroke the back of the snake’s head, how she was dry, not slimy, and had heat sensors that enabled her to hunt in the dark. I told them how her species was threatened by habitat-destruction and trade in exotic pets. I also told them what the Zoo was doing to protect snakes like Lulu and her ecosystem.

Could they have learned that info from our website? Absolutely. But in our hi-tech world, touching a python (versus reading about it online,) is pretty cool. The committee left with a great story and a new assignment: to bring five people to a behind-the-scenes tour that showcased Lulu. On each visit, the committee members relayed their experience with infectious enthusiasm, reinforcing their own commitment to the Zoo, and engaging others to do the same.

Volunteers speak best from personal experience. Let these examples get your creative juices flowing:

1. Katie Pastuzek of Outward Bound got her Mayor and major donors to rappel down a skyscraper, dramatizing the confidence and self-reliance youth gain from her program.

2. The crumbling ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site draws 100,000+ visitors to their haunted “house” each fall. Actors play ghouls, complete with make-up, costume, and specific characters. Several donors get to become one of those ghouls for a night.

3. One year, Friends of the American Philosophical Society got to hold one of Lewis and Clark’s expedition journals in their own hands. The journal was opened to a personal account of the men’s arrival in the Pacific Northwest.

“May you live all the days of your life.” Jonathan Swift


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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Teaching your Board to Ask; Don’t Put your Toddler on a Harley

Take-away: For practice and confidence, ask donors for gifts before asking prospects.

toddler on harley_originalImage by CindysArt, cindysart.deviantart.com via www.pinterest.com.

Asking a new board member to solicit non-donors is like teaching a kid to ride a bike by putting her on a Harley. Not a good idea. Yet that’s just about what we do in fundraising. We tell new board members, “You don’t have to ask our donors; they’re already giving! We need you to bring in fresh blood, new donors.”
Subtext: “Get strangers to give us money.”

You’re afraid it will be awkward, because your friends and associates don’t yet know/care about your nonprofit. Or that it will be uncomfortable, because they may feel you’re using them. Worse, even if they do give when you ask them this time, unless you get them involved in the interim, they probably won’t give next year. So you’ll be back where you started. Except you may feel tongue-tied with some friends, family and colleagues.

Are you squirming yet?

The Golden Ask method of fundraising does just the opposite. I begin by assigning board members to solicit those who are already giving and almost certain to say “Yes!” Sometimes I even have board members solicit each other. This is great practice, because they know they’ll be asking their partner in turn, and become proactively generous as a result. I then assign novice solicitors to ask 2-3 current donors, one after another. After several successful visits, they are thrilled with getting big gifts. These board members are convinced they’re darned good fundraisers. And you know what? They’re right!

Asking donors before you ask prospects has several additional advantages.

1. Donors are your best prospects. It’s easier to get current donors to renew, perhaps even increase, their gift than it is to get someone who’s never contributed to give for the first time. So you raise more money asking donors than you do asking prospects.

2. They deserve it. Taking time to meet with your donors tells them they’re important to you. Remember, there’s no rule saying that because Ms. X has given you $100/year for the last ten years she’s got to do it again. Don’t make the mistake of losing her by taking her for granted.

3. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll learn about your donors’ backgrounds and what drew them to your cause. They may share happy news… congratulate them! They may share bad news or challenging situations, including financial ones. Empathize. Assure them they’re valued partners, not just ATMs. Hold onto these people and you may find they become tremendous champions.
Give your board some fundraising training wheels before they have to make the more difficult asks. It doesn’t mean they won’t bring new donors into the fold later. They’ll just be much better at it when they do.

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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