Renee Herrell's Blog

The Nonprofit Guru Is In

What we can all learn from a 9-year-old fundraiser November 7, 2012

Filed under: Direct Mail — reneeherrell @ 8:00 pm
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Last week, I received this note in the mail.

  • It came in a simple hand-addressed envelope.
  • No bells or whistles or creative messaging on the outside to get me to open the envelope.
  • The letter was handwritten on a lined piece of paper and only a few sentences long.

And it is the most compelling fundraising letter I have received to date. No joke.



  • It is personalized to me. Not only is my first name used, the whole letter is handwritten.
  • The message is simple and compelling.
  • While I don’t have a connection to the school directly, I do adore the sender of this letter and want to support her efforts for this cause.
  • The ‘ask’ is clear and she has made it easy for me to donate through her step by step directions.
  • There’s a hand drawn picture. The sender took the time to personalize the letter to me.

What Chai has taught us about fundraising letters:

1. Make the message simple and direct.
2. Personalize it to the reader (handwritten, first name, picture)
3. Make it easy to donate.

Not surprisingly, this is not Chai’s first fundraiser. Check her out:



AFP Advancing Philanthropy: How Does Your Board Evaluate Its Own Fundraising Success November 5, 2012

Filed under: AFP,AFP Advancing Philanthropy,Board — reneeherrell @ 9:15 am


For the PDF version, click here: So How Does Your Board Evaluate Its Own Fundraising Success – AP SepOct 2012


Union Tribune Article: Passion Key for Fundraising Careers October 30, 2012

Filed under: Nonprofit Education — reneeherrell @ 8:00 pm

There was a wonderful article in the Union Tribune about me by Henry DeVries. Check it out below or here.


Many fundraisers feel that having an inadequate number of staff members who know how to garner donations is a key internal challenge holding their non-profit organization back from making more impact, according to a national survey of fundraisers.

A 2012 Web poll from the Association of Fundraising Professionals described the challenges of raising money in a down economy.

Along with inadequate staffing, another top concern among respondents was that their board members do not have sufficient understanding of or involvement in the fundraising process. Many fundraisers view board support as critical to their efforts of outreach and relationship-building with donors as they work to clearly articulate the organization’s strategic vision connecting donations with community impact.

“It’s tough out there,” admits fundraising consultant, Renee Herrell.  “Many nonprofits have lost significant amounts of funding as large, single sources of funding were suddenly gone.  But it’s not always a bad thing.  Nonprofits will now have to work hard to stay in touch with their individual donors.  They’ll be forced to develop even more transparency than they’ve ever had before.  But, despite economics, those with wealth are still philanthropic and if you can connect with them, there will be funding.”

Herrell believes returning to school for her certificate in Fundraising and Development was a turning point in her career.

“The education helps a lot,” says Herrell, a former UC San Diego Extension student-turned faculty member. “Fundraising and development classes weren’t offered until the 1990’s. Previously, the knowledge of how nonprofits acquired their funding was typically obtained through on-the-job experience.”

This career path made attending UC San Diego Extension for a Certificate in Fundraising and Development a no-brainer for Herrell. After UC San Diego, Herrell went on to get a master’s in nonprofit management and leadership from the University of San Diego in 2006 and became a Certified Fund Raising Executive in 2008. 

Despite her continuing education, the road to fundraising success has not always been easy.  Herrell had what she calls a “bittersweet moment” at the end of 2008 when she was forced to close the nonprofit she established in 2003, the San Diego Women Film Foundation – a nonprofit established to promote women making film through an annual film festival and educate young women in the technical skills of filmmaking through after school programs.  “It was a great learning experience to start something that I was passionate about, serve in it and then ultimately close it.  Sometimes no matter what you do, it’s just time.” 

Herrell also offers nonprofits expertise through her company, RCH Consulting, Inc.  She’s helped numerous nonprofits with their donor development, fundraising initiatives, feasibility studies, capital campaigns and strategic planning. 

“If you believe wholeheartedly in your cause as a fundraiser, that authentic passion shows through to your donors,” advises Herrell. “Add to that passion, the skills and tools learned through UC San Diego’s Certificate in Fundraising and Development, you will be very successful in the nonprofit sector.


If the Shoe Fits: The Changing Face of Corporate Philanthropy October 24, 2012

Filed under: Corporate Philanthropy — reneeherrell @ 7:12 pm

When the economy began to turn for the worse, nonprofits saw their corporate partners pull back on their giving. While, corporations don’t give for the “tax-deduction”, they enjoy the community visibility can receive for their donation often in the form of an event sponsorship. The corporations association with doing good work in the community can also provide goodwill in the form of customers.

Recently, we have seen that corporations are including a philanthropy component in their business model by actively supporting their chosen nonprofits. Can an active role in the philanthropic world ultimately do good and attract more customers for these businesses?

One of the leaders, TOMS Shoes has a “one for one” philosophy. For every one pair of shoes purchased by a customer, TOMS Shoes will donate one pair of shoes to a child in need. Same with their newly launched eyewear line: “With every pair of eyewear purchased, TOMS will help give sight to a person in need.”

Instead of becoming experts in delivering nonprofit direct services, TOMS Shoes partners up with humanitarian organizations worldwide that provide new TOMS Shoes to children along with their own health, education and community development programs. TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie “We’re here to do more than to give. We’re here to learn about the needs of these communities; to listen and to act.”

While other wineries like FlipFlop Wines donate a portion of the proceeds to one charity: Soles4Souls, ( the international shoe charity dedicated to providing footwear to those in need. Their goal is to provide one-pair of flip-flop sandals for each bottle of wine purchased last year up to 100,000 pairs for the first 100,000 bottles sold. Melanie Amezaga, Brand Manager for flipflop says “Partnering with Souls4Soles was a natural fit and is as simple as allowing those who enjoy a good bottle of wine to also make a personal difference in the lives of countless others.”

Since 2005, Soles4Souls has delivered over 16 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes. The shoes have been distributed to people in over 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. “The reality of life for many individuals in developing nations is that having a pair of shoes is a rarity. It is not uncommon for children to grow up in these areas without ever having had a pair of shoes at all.”


Pinot Noir Philanthropy? Wineries “Doing Good” With Profits. October 10, 2012

Filed under: Corporate Philanthropy — reneeherrell @ 8:59 am

“Fans of our wine buy and drink our wine because they love it. The philanthropic component is a bonus to them.”

-Kat McDonald, Art+Farm Wine, Napa, CA




In recent years, winery philanthropy has increased by making donations to designated charities through their sale of wine. Interesting concept. In most cases, a certain percentage of each bottle sold goes to a charity like in the case of ONEHOPE Winery (, a wine made in partnership with Winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr. in Napa Valley, who gives 50% of profits from each bottle sold. Their mission is two-fold: to create high-quality wines that will raise awareness and give back to noteworthy causes year around. In 5 years, they have donated over $750,000. ONEHOPE pairs their wines  - not with food – but with specific causes. Their California Sparkling Wine will help stop childhood hunger; Sauvignon Blanc: Environment, Gold Medal Long Beach Grand Cru
Chardonnay: Breast Cancer, Gold medal OC Wine Competition
Cabernet: Autism, Gold medal OC Wine Competition
Merlot: AIDS, Gold Medal Long Beach Grand Cru
Zinfandel: Our Troops, Silver Medal National Tasters Guild.




Napa-based and environmentally conscious, Art + Farm (, maker of famed the Girls in the Vineyard wine, allows the customer to designate the charity with their purchase of wine. Since 2008, they have made over $100,000 in donations to over 110 of charities all over the US with an average donation of $2 on an $18 bottle of wine. They opted to let the wine consumer choose the charity because Kat McDonald, owner and winemaker, felt there are “so many good causes doing amazing things. We have our favorites: our children’s schools, educational foundations-but it seemed presumptuous for us to choose. It means a lot of work on our part. We write tons of checks! But it gives us a thrill each time.” They also learn about new charities that they have gone on to support in other ways through donating wine and volunteering their time.


Kat explains that making philanthropy a key part of their business plan was easy: “From case one we had a philanthropic component. As a business and a family we are part of a bigger community and with that comes an obligation to that community. It was also a natural outgrowth of who we are as people and business owners. Our winery partnership started with a conversation about making wine as a fundraiser for our children’s school. We wanted a philanthropic component that was sustainable and could make a difference.”




High school sweethearts, Kerith and Brian, fell in love with Napa (apparently in the town’s Mental Institution park) and started Bruliam Winery (www. as a fun project with 25 cases of wine… that has quickly grown into something much more serious with 400 cases of wine this year. Even more impressive, is that they have a mandate to donate 100% of their profits to charity. Yep, 100%!!


“We don’t aim to make money with Bruliam Wines,

we try to break even on our direct operating costs

(buying fruit, barrels, custom crush fees, etc.)

 and then give the rest away.”


Due to their previous professional success, Kerith and Brian pay for much of the expenses out of pocket and Kerith does not draw a salary. “It’s all a labor of love so we’re happy to do the work for the rewards we’ve already been given and the non-economic rewards that come to us from this endeavor (lasting friendships, professional and personal growth, and the opportunity to raise our kids with an appreciation for hard work and giving back).”


Bruliam asks their supporters to decide where the money goes (usually in tranches of $250-$1000). To date, they’ve donated to about 40 different charities  recommended by our supporters for a total of approximately $20,000. The generosity doesn’t stop there. Brian reports “in the years where we didn’t have any profits, we dipped into our marketing budget and spent that on charitable donations instead.” Yep, generous!


They see their philanthropy “as a way to explore a shared passion, to teach our kids about philanthropy and following your dreams, and to give back to our communities.”




In the case of Kalyra Winery (, they dedicated their aptly named NV SCHOOL HOUSE RED to exclusively to benefit their children’s school, Ballard School.

“Kalyra has always tried to be tied into the community in different ways. 

Most of the philanthropic choices stem from things that are near and dear to our hearts (cycling, children’s education, etc.).  Making a special wine for a fundraising cause is a natural fit for a winery.”


There are a number of “winemaker” families in the Santa Ynez area who have kids at Ballard School. Kathy Brown, owner of Kalyra with her husband Mike, said: “We were just sitting around brainstorming and my husband Mike just threw out the idea of asking all the ‘wine’ families if they would be willing to donate a bit of bulk wine to make a wine to benefit the school.” Not surprisingly, the winemakers all agreed to chip in with Mike doing the legwork of blending, bottling and labeling the wine. Since the release of this vintage, they have raised $6,000 for the School.


Their next project? Arts Outreach, a non-profit in the Santa Ynez Valley that brings art to the schools and elderly.  Arts Outreach holds an annual fundraiser called Real Men Cook and Kalyra will be selling the “Arts Outreach Red” at that event as well as at the tasting room. Five other wineries have donated bulk wine to make the blend and we are doing the blending and bottling.  As funding has been cut and/or eliminated in the public schools we feel a huge obligation to help organizations that are trying to bring these important parts of education to our children.  Kathy and Mike have a vested interest: “We want our kids to have art in school – so we feel very strongly about helping in any way we can.”



Capital Campaigns: When the Going Gets Tough September 18, 2012

Filed under: Board,Capital Campaign — reneeherrell @ 9:00 am

The launch of a capital campaign is exciting and filled with hope. Six- and seven-figure dollar gifts are being solicited pushing you quickly towards your financial goal. Like my clients, I am inspired during this time and caught up with the fever of success.

At a certain point, the large donations have all been solicited and the campaign isn’t operating at the same fever pitch. At this time, the goal may be continuing to increase but at a much slower pace. This is where I am often brought in as a consultant to be the “clean up hitter” on the team.

Based on my experience, here are some ideas for pushing forward during a capital campaign:

1. Make new friends.

Once you have solicited your inner circle of donors, you are going to need to cultivate additional donors by expanding to your outer circles. Ask you current donors to host small receptions in their homes with their group of friends and neighbors. This exposes your organization to potential donors they would have never had the chance to meet. Additionally, ask you inner circle to bring their friends out for a tour of your facility or join you at lunch to learn more about the capital project.


2. Look to different sources of funding.

As you near the end of your campaign, private foundations are often interested in helping through grants for specific projects within the campaign. The Kresge Foundation was infamous for its matching challenge portion of its grant making. When I worked with both the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest County and The ARC of San Diego, they successfully applied and received funds from the Kresge Foundation. This match funding, gave both organizations an opportunity to solicit donors to give to the match. When donors know their money can be matched 1:1, they are more likely to give. (Note: Unfortunately, Kresge doesn’t make capital grants any longer.)

3. Re-visit your donor list (again).

Often names on a donor list get pushed down to the bottom because we are unsure of their capacity to give or how to engage them as potential donors. So, do your homework either through free online resources or software like Wealth Engine to determine each individual’s capacity to give. Once you have an idea of who could make a significant gift, prioritize those who have the closest relationship to your organization. Next, determine what cultivation each individual needs in order to be solicited. Let no individual go untouched. Reach out to everyone, but in priority order starting with those individuals who have the best relationship with your organization, followed by propensity to give.

4. Ask your inner circle to give again.

Re-soliciting campaign donors who have already given is a harrowing thought. Many fundraisers worry if they will offend their current donors and ultimately jeopardize a current pledge. Let me share two successful stories of a re-solicitation in a campaign.

At the Colorado Rocky Mountain Schools “Forging the Future: Preserving the Past,” one of the Board (and capital campaign committee) members was eager to see the next phase of the campaign completed and knew that her increased pledge could make it happen. She generously offered to double her half million donation for a total of one million. She then went and asked two other Board members to join her by giving again.

On the homestretch to raising the last one million of a $17 million campaign for on the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest County’s “Campaign for Kids”, we solicited the Board to make an additional donation to the campaign by adding one more year to their pledge payment. If they had committed $50,000 over five years, we asked for $10,000, adding one more payment onto their pledge. In the end, we were able to raise an additional $250,000 towards the campaign.

Above all, stay positive. Jim Lord, author of The Raising of Money, says, “For people to work effectively within our structure, we also want to create a positive climate – a climate of optimism, enthusiasm and confidence. Good things rarely happen in a bad atmosphere.”


The Raising of Money September 12, 2012

Filed under: Board,Capital Campaign — reneeherrell @ 8:18 pm

Recently, I read The Raising of Money by Jim Lord to prep for a Board meeting client training. Although the book is extremely short and an easy read, I went ahead and made a Book Summary (below) as a cheat sheet just in case any of the Board members did not get a chance to speed read the book.


  • The Volunteer is Still the Key: Philanthropy is at its core voluntarism. The sheer presence of a volunteer – one who shows evidence of having invested themselves in the cause – makes the most compelling and persuasive statement. This exemplary commitment serves to encourage by example, rather than advice. (p. xxvii)
  • And Our Own Quest:  You have the great honor of giving people a way to make a difference of heroic proportions. People already want to give. It’s up to us to allow them. (p. xxix)


Working from the Perspective of the Donor

  • Organizations Have No Needs:  Many organizations believe that the more compelling their needs and the more desperate for funds they appear, the more successful at fund-raising they’ll be. But donors are tired of hearing these please over and over again. In fact, from the viewpoint of the donor, an organization has no needs.  The organization has strengths and capabilities. (p. 3)
  • Seek Investment, Not Charity: Invite your prospective donor to make a wise investment that will produce benefits. Donors are tired of giving handouts to the needy. (p. 4) A new fundraising strategy was adopted, (the organization) presented itself as a community asset that carried the city’s name worldwide. The new strategy was successful. (p. 6)
  • Position Your Cause in People’s Minds: What does the organization do well – or what can it do well – that matters to the community? (p. 8) The institution had identified its distinctive competency –  the major benefit it was in a position to provide better than anyone else. (p. 9)
  • Listen to the Community: It’s essential to listen to the donor community. If we can find out what’s on their minds and where they’re going, we’ll be in a strong position to shape our offering accordingly.
  • Listen to What Each Donor Has to Say: If we listen to (donors) as individual, find out what they want, and make our approach accordingly. (p. 12)
  • Donors Will Tell You What They Want: We never know what a person wants – until we ask. Understanding what people want is vital to the practice of raising money. We’re in conversation with them, rather than assuming that we already know. (p. 16)
  • Make your Case Larger Than the Institution: The effective case for support is like an investment prospectus for a business. It is designed to attract donors – who are, after all, investors. What works best is to present a vision of the future – one that people find attractive, achievable and worth working for. The case demonstrates how the organization can make a special contribution to building that future. (p. 17)


Getting People Involved

  • Go For the Gold:  In enlisting volunteer leadership, it’s best to begin by “going for the gold” – the winners. The best person to lead your program is the one who has a reputation for allowing nothing to fail. (p. 23) What makes for good leadership? Affluence, Influence, Availability and Team spirit. (p. 24)
  • Create Authentic Involvement: The best way to develop that sense of involvement is to invite a person to do something important for us – something they are especially qualified and suited to do. (p. 26) The person will then begin to become an insider. (p. 27) It is the best way to invite someone (who deserves the role) from being an outsider to being an insiderand finally to enable that person to engage and develop ownership in the organization. (p. 28)
  • The Process of Planning is More Important Than the Plan Itself: Use the planning process to get people involved in mapping the organization’s future – especially those who have the power to help bring about that future. (p. 30)
  • Share Your Plans Without Asking for Money: This approach (feasibility study) seeks to cultivate relationships with donors by involving them – the best kind of cultivation. (p.35)
  • Use a Feasibility Study to Build a Strategy: What was remarkable about this experience is that the very process of conducting the feasibility study may have done more for the success of the campaign than did all the information that was obtained, and all the strategy that was built upon it. (p. 38)


Setting the Pace for Giving

  • If You Seek Average Gifts, You Get Below-Average Results: One problem with raising money by the multiplication table – $5,000 times 20 – is that not everyone will participate. Even worse, seeking $5,000 from each donor will, in effect, set a ceiling on what an inspired donor may want to pledge. (p. 44)
  • A Few Will Do the Most: Ninety per cent of the funds will come from about ten per cent of the donors. (p. 45) Experience shows that the best donors for the immediate future are those who have given in the past. (p. 47)
  • The Early Donor Sets the Pace: He who gives early gives twice. (p. 48) It’s the people who give first who set the pattern for those who follow. (p. 49) “My practice,” explained Franklin, “is to go first to those who may be counted upon to be favorable, who know the cause and believe in it, and ask them to give as generously as possible. When they have done so, I go next to those who may be presumed to have a favorable opinion and to be disposed to listening, and secure their adherence.” (p. 49)
  • Trustees Have an Opportunity, Not an Obligation: Whatever example the board sets, the effect will be felt through the enterprise. “As the board goes,” according to the old saying, “so goes the campaign.” (p. 51)
  • Staff Giving Can Lend Credibility: Staff contributions can have a powerful impact on the rest of your donor constituency. (p. 53) Those who see it everyday – do believe in its value and respect its leadership. (p. 54)
  • Make Great Investments Possible: Provide donors flexible payment terms through a subscription period. This will allow them to spread the payments, and the tax benefits, over a period of years. In this way, the donor can often make a large commitment. (p. 56)


Applying the Campaign Principle

  • People Prefer Structure: Human beings work best with goals and deadlines. (p. 61) For people to work effectively within our structure, we also want to create a positive climate – a climate of optimism, enthusiasm and confidence. (p. 62)
  • Take One Step at a Time: “A successful development effort results from a series of steps, take one at a time, each done in correct sequence, according to a plan and schedule.” (p. 63) Each group of prospective donors is visited in sequence, to set the best possible pace for the effort. Prospective donors for six-figure contributions are seen before five-figure donors. (p. 64) Before the person (donor) is invited to invest, they deserve to be informed about the program. And before the volunteer makes the call, they deserve to be informed about the prospective donor. (p. 64)
  • Scheduling Creates Momentum:  One principle to keep in mind is synergy. (p. 65). “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” (p. 65) When three events – for example, three major commitments – happen at the same time, or in rapid succession, they can have a powerful impact on the campaign, far more than if the three events had occurred a couple of weeks apart. The point is that synergy gets people excited. (p. 65)
  • Build a Sense of Campaign: The winners of this world are those who set a goal, set a deadline, and place milestones along the way. (p. 66) The dynamics that come into play during intense campaign activity can be truly exhilarating. (p. 67)
  • Create a Climate of Universality: One reason the concept of a campaign works so well is that everyone in the community can join in: individuals, corporations, foundations, clubs, unions, churches and even (praise be!) governments. (p. 67) Be selective. Enlist people who are known for coming through. Plan for the best in people, not the worst. What you plan for is what you’re likely to get. (p. 68)
  • Winning is Fundamental: Set a dollar goal for your program – and set smaller goals along the way. You want the goal to be high enough to stretch people, and low enough for them to reach. (p. 69)
  • Meetings Keep Things Moving: Meetings are the glue that keeps a development program together. Experience has shown that a person’s effectiveness as a volunteer is directly related to their attendance at meetings (p. 70) Well-run and well-attended meetings provide tangible evidence of an effective organization and a strong development program (p. 71)

Asking for Money

  • People give to people: The volunteer (solicitor) is an investment counselor – not a salesman. (p. 73) People give for people. (p. 75)
  • The Right Person Makes the Difference: When we ask for money, we are friends, not adversaries. We are counselors, not salesman. It’s not a game of predator and prey. We are trying to help the donor do something significant for the community and for society. After all, we’re not asking for anything for ourselves.
  • The One Who Asks First Gives: In business or in philanthropy, a person’s actions are more convincing than their advice. This is the cardinal rule of raising money: A volunteer first makes a personal commitment before asking others. That is a given. (p. 79)
  • See Each Person Face to Face:  If we really believe that people are more important than dollars, then we owe it to our top prospective donors to visit them in person. Besides, seeing people face to face works better than any other method. (p. 80)
  • Ask for a Specific Amount; Ask for Enough: “Whatever you can do” is a recipe for failure. Many volunteers are surprised to learn that prospective donors prefer to be asked for enough: enough to reflect their stature and capacity, and enough to really get the job done. (p. 81)
  • Qualify the Person: A qualified prospective donor is one who has the financial capacity. They would have some rationale for giving to the program – a philosophical rationale, if not active interest or involvement in the organization. And they would have some history of giving – to other organizations, if not to your own. (p. 84)
  • Tenacity Prevails: Let’s face it: Before a commitment can be secured from a person, a volunteer may easily end up calling on the person two, three, or four times. (p. 85) You may spend the first visit or two just providing information, answering questions – being a good investment counselor. (p. 86)
  • Ask for the Order: We can do our research; we can cultivate their interest, involve them. But if we don’t move ahead and invite them, we may have missed our opportunity. (p. 87)

Practicing Stewardship

  • The Donor Deserves Good Stewardship:  Good stewardship means protecting and managing the donor’s investment – so that is produces the best possible return. (p. 71) If donors only hear from us when we’re asking for money, they’ll be less likely to respond. The principles of good stewardship apply to the way we treat volunteers, as well as donors. The people who raise the money deserve our thanks and recognition. We want to stay in touch with them, to keep them involved. (p. 92) Good stewardship is well worth the extra effort it requires. It is the bedrock on which the future of an organization is built. (p. 93)

Kindling the Spirit of Philanthropy

  • The Best Advocate is Both Donor and Volunteer: To inspire the best people to become our best advocates. If you believe in this cause, as I do, will you make as large an investment in it as you can, and will you ask another to do the same?” (p. 97)


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