The Nonprofit Guru

Membership Engagement: Effectively Involving Individuals with Your Nonprofit November 24, 2014

Filed under: membership — reneeherrell @ 10:00 am

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For my full article, click here:


Huffington Post Article: Billion Dollar Blow Out November 12, 2014

Filed under: Huffington Post,Major Gifts,Nonprofit Education — reneeherrell @ 3:45 pm

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For the full article read below of click here to Huffington Post.

If you had a billion dollars, would you give it all away?


Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates did it and then asked others to do it.


Mark Zuckerberg has  to do it.


And one of San Diego’s leading philanthropists, T. Denny Sanford, has already donated a billion dollars and pledged to give even more.


In total, 127 of the world’s wealthiest individuals and families have signed the infamous giving pledge to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.


Sanford’s philanthropic philosophy is to “aspire to inspire before you expire.” In fact, Mr. Sanford plans to give away all of his money to charities before he passes.


Sanford’s latest aspirations led him to team up with National University Chancellor Michael Cunningham, a man who Sanford respects for “his vigor, vitality and direction.” Together they created the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy.


Sanford’s $1 million gift to National University, California’s second-largest private, nonprofit university, comes with a vision: to not only positively influence nonprofits but the leaders that serve these causes. According to Sanford, “there are great schools for philanthropic organization management and administration but we didn’t see a school in the market that would specifically support nonprofit fundraisers.”


As you can imagine, fundraisers approach Mr. Sanford quite often asking him to support their causes. He probably knows fundraising pitches better than most fundraising staff members. And because of this, he wants to help fundraisers hone their craft in order to better engage philanthropists – like himself – to support very important causes. Through the Center, “nonprofit’s frontline people will be taught how to properly and professionally present the cause that they represent to donors and the community.”


“There are so many great causes that go unfunded or are poorly funded. I really think this system and methodology at National University will be very, very effective in educating nonprofit fundraising leaders.”


Sanford has sage advice for nonprofit professionals. Keep the fundraising pitch focused on the cause and make it as simple to understand as possible. The ‘Sanford rule’ – as he calls it – is that you must be able to tell your charity’s story in a way that your grandmother would understand it in no more than a 10-story elevator ride.


“Oh, and sign up to take workshops and classes at the Sanford Philanthropy Center at National University.”


There will be no shortage of students for National University’s new nonprofit education offerings with 1.4 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States that represent the 3rd largest workforce among U.S. industries (behind retail and manufacturing) and reported 1.6 trillion in revenues (National Center for Charitable Statistics).


It is Sanford’s intent to take this program to other educational institutions throughout the United States because not every nonprofit leader can come to San Diego.


Sanford says that the education offerings will “not be out of a book, they are going to be hands-on.” The Center’s mission is to effect positive change through the development of nonprofit leaders and teachers through the offering of inspirational and impactful programs that meet 21st century global needs.


The Sanford Education Center officially opened its doors in La Jolla, CA on September 18th. The state-of-the-art-facilities include a lecture hall space, capacity for 150-plus people and integrated video technology where many of the workshops, seminars and classes in the Master of Arts in Cause Leadership will be held.


“In one way shape or form, all nonprofit employees are in the business of raising money. There are no schools nationwide that do a significant job for the people who are on the frontline of nonprofits meeting with donors – until now.”



The A-ha Moment of Raising Major Gifts November 1, 2014

Filed under: Major Gifts — reneeherrell @ 10:00 am

A year ago, I started working with a new client who wanted to dramatically increase their major gifts program – a program that had existed in result of mostly unsolicited donations. We spent 3 to 6 months poring through donor lists, noticing giving patterns, identifying relationship managers, creating individual cultivation strategies and solicitation amounts for each donor.


Time passed and no solicitations were made.


As we were coming up on our deadline for raising major gifts, the CEO of the nonprofit told me that she was disappointed that we were not making our major gifts goal.


This was a tough conversation for a consultant to have. We had clearly outlined the strategy for soliciting each donor including how, how much, when and why. But the CEO had not set the appointments and made the solicitations. I was at a loss on how to approach this conversation.


The good news is that our tough conversation turned into an “a-ha moment” for my CEO client. She admitted that she felt she didn’t have the confidence to ask for a major gift and more importantly – if she asked for a major gift from these individuals she had had a relationship with for years and years, she would ruin the relationship.




The good news is that fundraising is all about relationships! And this CEO has incredible relationships because of her ability to create meaningful relationships with individuals.


As a fundraiser, it is your job to give individuals the opportunity to donate to the organization you represent. Once you have cultivated a meaningful relationship with your potential donor, it is time to “pop the question” or make the solicitation. The solicitation is fueled by the relationship that you have cultivated between the potential donor and the organization.


Let’s get back to my client story because it has a good ending. Once we identified the “road block” that was standing in the way of my CEO asking for major gifts, we were able to talk through it. She shared that she felt she lacked confidence to ask. I shared how her relationships with these individuals is what fuels major gift asks and that her asking for a donation was honoring the relationship she had developed between the individual and the organization. Plus these individuals have capacity and an inclination to give. I argued that they would be insulted if she did not ask.


In the end, the CEO made some pretty big asks and received some pretty big checks. In one meeting, she made her thoughtful solicitation and the donor admitted that they had only planned to give $1,000 (a tiny amount compared to her ask). The wife immediately wrote another $1,000 check to the organization – which means my CEO left with twice as much as the couple intended to give. And the couple agreed to consider the larger solicitation as they were interested in the projects it would fund.


I recently spoke with Chris Weil of The Weil Family Foundation and he shared with me some indicators that an organization is ready to start soliciting major gifts.


  1. The organization has a track record of successfully executing on its stated mission.
  2. The organization has a hard won and loyal group of supporters.
  3. The organization has demonstrated financial responsibility.
  4. The organization has a loyal, hardworking, and enthusiastic board of directors.
  5. The organization can make the case.


I would add one more:

  1. The confidence to make the solicitation. This can be learned and developed in any CEO or Development Officer.


For a the full list of indicators and descriptions – especially in light of a capital campaign and new initiative or program, please read Weil NPO_Expansion_Indicators.


Social Media and Fundraising October 23, 2014

Filed under: Direct Mail,Social Media — reneeherrell @ 9:00 am

Tweet Fundraising

While online giving constitutes only 10% of total philanthropic giving, the average online gift is $146 vs. the average direct mail gift is $38. This build a pretty strong case for your organization to conduct fundraising online. While social media is a wonderful way to help promote fundraising campaigns – it is the messenger, not the message. Read on to learn more about how to strategically utilize social media to support your online fundraising.

Fun Facts about social media and fundraising

  • Social media augments, but does not replace traditional fundraising techniques
  • Social media is a tool to spread your organization’s fundraising message; it won’t create the message
  • Giving drivers for fundraising are still the same (e. still need to send out a year end appeal). Social media spreads the word about the year-end appeal to current and potential supporters
  • Social media is a two-way relationship between the organization and its followers. The organization must engage followers in a meaningful way first, before asking them to support the organization
  • A mature social media following and engagement takes time to build
  • Utilize The organization’s social media followers to spread the word about the organization and its fundraising appeal
  • Since we often/naturally trust our friends over media reporting, utilize the organization’s friends (e. Action Team, Superintendents, education advocates, etc.) to gain support of the organization’s social media through their social media followers
  • Ask a donor to make a $1 donation for each new “like” that the organization gains on Facebook, follower on twitter or new email subscriber
  • Organizations can buy likes on Facebook through an ad function that allows for highly targeted marketing to specific zip codes, demographics, people who would have an affinity towards your cause and any other desired criteria

The “do’s and don’ts” of social media and fundraising

  • Always post a photo with any social media post
  • Successful online fundraising campaigns are visually stunning and engaging
  • Do not conduct a competition on Facebook (e. the first 10 people to make a donation, will receive…); it doesn’t work.
  • Social media is a popularity contest; be outwardly verbal but not desperate; not surprisingly, desperation will not make you popular
  • Never post on social media platforms in the first person; social media outlets are the “voice” of the organization, not a person (even though a person is actually typing the posts)
  • Target the majority of fundraising promotions and efforts through Facebook as it has tools most conducive for this and people are more accustomed to respond to Facebook fundraising pitches
  • Do not use to twitter to make the fundraising pitch; use it for news and updates

The Fundraising Easy Button October 1, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeherrell @ 9:30 am


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If fundraising had an “easy” button, it would be the program wish list (pictured above). As fundraisers we hope that every person we meet is philanthropic and wants to donate because it makes them feel good. Yet, there are a lot of individuals who are more transactional and less philanthropic. The program wish list is for these folks!


My client Employment & Community Options created a foam poster board of their program wish list that offers different opportunities to donate at different amounts and for different items needed – each advertised on a post it.



Often donors like to know where their money is going directly – and each post-it offers this information to the donor. There is a range of donation amounts to meet any donor’s pocketbook. The donor can take the post-it directly to the check-out table and make their donation.


Very simple. Very effective. Some would say… easy.



While the program wish list looks pretty sitting on an easel, it is much more effective to take the foam board off the easel for a spin around the room. At one event, one of the guests decided to make it his mission to “sell” every post it on the board. He was completely successful for many reasons:

1) He gave first.

2) He was also a guest so it was easy for him to make a peer-to-peer ask (as opposed to a staff member asking.

3) Speaking of staff, they all donated via a post-it because they were asked – and could not say no to an enthusiastic volunteer.


To create your very own program wish list, work with your nonprofit program staff to develop a wish list of items they need for their programs. While an iPad may not seem like a “necessity” to most people, it is for your program participant who is non-verbal and the iPad provides a way for him or her to communicate with others. Research the cost of each wish list item and create a post-it for each wish list item. Make sure you have a wish list that offers a range of donation amounts that fit the different size pocket books of your donors. Develop a pretty and creative board to hang your post-its on.


Create a Program Wish List:

  1. Offer a range of donation amounts $25-$1,000
  2. Attach these amounts to items needed
  3. Utilize a volunteer to walk the wish list around the room and ask people to “purchase” a wish list item
  4. Be prepared to take credit cards for the purchase of your wish list item.


Go ahead… hit the “fundraising easy button”.

easy button



“Volun-told”: Shaming your board members into fundraising for your organization September 1, 2014

Filed under: Board — reneeherrell @ 10:13 am

Recently, I attended a committee meeting of a nonprofit because I was interested in getting more involved and helping the organization, but wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to give my passion within the organization and how I wanted to serve.


Although I had to leave the meeting early in order to see a client, I left excited to get more involved. The next morning I received an email that said: “Never Leave a Meeting Early”.


Whoops! That email had to be directed at me.


Unbeknownst to me, I had been elected chair of a specific effort within the organization without being invited to take on this position. I had been “volun-told”.


This is a common occurrence in nonprofits with a devastating result. When a volunteer (key word is volunteer, not employee) is told to do something, they feel obligated to help. Unfortunately, this feeling of obligation can begin to trump the feeling of passion to help the organization. Possibly leading to feelings of shame if they don’t help and then guilt about all the things they don’t or can’t do on behalf of the organization.


According to Donald Miller, feeling joy in your work is a very motivating factor for helping others.


When individuals join a nonprofit board, we ask that they be passionate about the organization as the first reason for joining. Then, we want them to offer their skills and expertise to help the organization. So, we come up with a list of board member roles and responsibilities. Here’s a sample of a Board Member Role and Responsibilities.


The board member agrees to fulfill these responsibilities and joins the board.


As the nonprofiteer, we expect each board member to fulfill every single responsibility in the exact same way at the exact same time. Is this realistic?


Probably not.


However, I know you are saying: Renee, every board member must make a donation and raise money. Even you say it yourself here.


Yes, this is true. But it is going to look different for each board member.


Executive Directors and CEOs of nonprofits tell me: my board doesn’t fundraise.


My response: That is okay.


Only one or two board members will take on the effort of fundraising as their passion and work of the organization. Yes, you want all members to be involved with fundraising – but they will do so at a lesser effort – because they will be fulfilling their passion for the organization in other areas.


Here are my suggestions for effectively engaging volunteers with your organization by making their work joyful.


  1. Offer opportunities for your board members to get involved with your organization and see what sparks their interest or passion. This will be different for each person – because we are all individuals who do not necessarily want to do the same exact thing. If you took your board to an ice cream shop, they wouldn’t all choose vanilla, would they? It would be a combination of different ice cream flavors served in a bowl or on a cone (regular or waffle?) topped with m&ms or gummy bears or fruit – or all three. Not all of your board members are going to choose to help with fundraising. Board members may choose to help with your marketing materials or coach a program director to improve services or open a door in the community to a business that will partner with the organization.


  1. Offer opportunities that are (first) a match to your board member’s skill set and (second) will help with fundraising. This might look like helping with your social media to help get the word out about an upcoming fundraising effort or inviting their friends to attend your upcoming fundraising event or telling their story through a video or letter to encourage others to give. Note: these activities help with fundraising, but are not a direct solicitation and may be more appealing and “do-able” for your board members who are not passionate about fundraising.


  1. Do not shame or guilt your board into fundraising. Have you ever been forced to do something you don’t want to do? We all have because we felt obligated or that it was the right thing to do. And we may do it once. However, if we are asked to do it again the following year, we would probably turn down the invitation. If you want board members to help you year after year, find meaningful ways to engage them with fundraising that match their willingness to serve.


If we start to look at board fundraising as an individualized plan for each board member, we are going to find more success. Because one size really doesn’t fit all.



AmazonSmile: Shop ‘Til You Drop and Feel Good About It August 25, 2014

Filed under: Corporate Philanthropy,Huffington Post — reneeherrell @ 9:00 am

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 8.21.48 PMCheck out my new Huffington Post blog about ‘donor-consumers’.




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