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Light the Spark – How Board Members Can Carry The Flame

Written by Amy Quinn on . Posted in Fundraising, Leadership, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Insights


Spark - AmyA key role of nonprofit leaders and board Chairs is to help volunteers uncover and amplify their stories.  As discussed in my previous blog, “Can Your Board Talk About Your Cause?” every board member has a story to share and once a comfort level exists with talking about personal connections to a cause, fundraising becomes easier and manifests successful results.

 How might we enable storytelling?

 Here are five “Once Upon a Time” tactics for equipping board members with memorable and genuine pitches. Try these suggestions at your next board meeting.

  1. Find your “rallying cry. ”Why are we involved with XYZ nonprofit? Why does the XYZ cause matter to us? There are only correct answers to this question. Each person has reasons for being involved that are personal.  At your next meeting allow five to ten minutes of writing time for individuals to answer these questions for themselves.

  2. Build in story-time. At some point in every meeting, provide a chance for board members to talk about why they care about the cause. This is especially important for new board members who need practice talking about your nonprofit. Break into small groups, pair up, or go around the table and let the sharing begin.

  3. Tell all. Executive Directors and Board Chairs are the most important storytellers.  They are constantly seeing and feeling the impact of the organization’s work.  Therefore, add an “Impact” section to the agenda. Ask a leader to talk about recent outcomes that demonstrate how the nonprofit is advancing its mission. This story should be easy to repeat so that board members can share it with their own networks.

  4. Add in some creative elements. Not every story is easy to tell or provides a natural and empathetic connection. And, admittedly, some people feel like they don’t have a story to tell. When this is the situation, Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story suggests we identify first what your audience of potential donors, do care about and then connect your ideas in through this back door. Or sometimes, qualitative data can be used to create emotional content. See his story elements checklist for more inspiration.

  5. Listen. Procuring funds is often not about your story but a potential donor’s story.  During events, encourage staff and board members to listen closely to what guests are saying. Ask attendees about why they are attending an event and or how they heard about XYZ nonprofit. Pay attention to new ideas and connections that might help formulate new stories about your cause.

Although it’s perhaps somewhat of a rarity to find a volunteer who enjoys asking for money, uncovering that individual’s own passion for a cause will increase confidence and comfort when it becomes their turn to ask for money. Of course, before a board member asks others for money, they need to have already made a donation themselves. Although we can’t dismiss the importance of understanding goals, programs and outcomes for consistent messaging, sharing one’s genuine passion will ultimately be the spark for igniting donations.


Make It Easy, Peer-to-Peer Fundraising, That is

Written by Amy Quinn on . Posted in Fundraising, Goodwill, Non-Profit, Volunteering


This blog isn’t about making Friday night “Easier” after breaking up with your girlfriend (Rascal Flatts anyone?). Nor is it about eating two eggs “over easy” at your favorite Saturday morning diner. And, no, unfortunately we’re not taking a flight on Easy Jet in Europe (“making travel easy and affordable”).

 Easy ButtonEasy infers not difficult, “free from pain”, “requiring little thought or effort.” At a recent school auction meeting, I was reminded by a committee chair to make volunteering seamless, almost effortless, for the volunteers. This meant mapping out a plan with “how to” and the best tools for helping volunteers maximize their efforts. Straightforward volunteering is about enabling volunteers to push the EASY button when their work is done. 

Since success in peer-to-peer events relies on “Making it Easy” for your fundraising volunteers, what are the keys for making their experience like walking down Easy Street? 

1.Much of the satisfaction from volunteering comes from how well organized and thought out a project is initially designed. First, determine campaign goals for your enthusiastic volunteers. Well-defined objectives lead to succinct key messages that team members can easily share.

2.  What are your key campaign messages, the slogan or rallying cry of your effort?  Help individual team members describe their personal connection to the cause and why the rallying cry matters to them. This will make sharing their stories easier.

3.  Provide tools. Volunteers should have resources at their fingertips including such things as:

  • A “how to” plan outlining simple steps

  • An email solicitation template with compelling video and a link for donations (linking to their personal fundraising page)

  • Personal fundraising page

  • Photos that tell the story

  • Facts and figures to use in social media posts, in a cut and paste format

  • A Kick-off meeting

  • A Kick-off  turn-key event, either as a community, with other team members, or hosted individually.

  • A defined thank you process

    • How will the thank you occur?  Will the nonprofit send a formal thank you? What happens after an online donation is made? Consider providing some postcards/notecards for your volunteers to write a hand-written note as well as text to cut and paste for online thank you messages. Encourage social media posting every time a donation occurs.

  • Coaching and tips on using social media to spread the word

Remember that no matter the reasons for involvement, volunteers are working for free, taking treasured time and applying their hearts and skills to your cause. The bottom line for helping your peer-to-peer team members: provide an EASY experience with lots of fun, a strong emotional connection to the cause and tools to help raise the money.

Here are some simple resources for an accessible, clear, effortless, smooth, straightforward, uncomplicated and EASY volunteer experience!

  1. A “How To” plan:

     “The 7 Habits of Effective Personal Fundraisers” by Rob Wu of CauseVox

  2. Peer to Peer Fundraising Made Easy: A Step-By-Step Workbook” by Idealware, Nov. 2013

  3. Sample Email template from Wish of a Lifetime foundation and their recent campaign for delivering roses to lonely Seniors.

thank you card

 4. Personal Fundraising Page can often be created through the nonprofit’s Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system.  If not, there are a host of peer-to-peer platforms that offer personal fundraising pages (fees may apply). Check out “Peer-to-Peer Fundraising in the Real World”.


Appreciation Breeds Loyalty

Written by Amy Quinn on . Posted in Fundraising, Goodwill


Royalty Amy PicWhen my husband and I checked in to our hotel room last Friday, we discovered an appealing cheese plate and hand-written thank-you note to welcome us back to the property for yet another ski season. The note from our reservation agent reflected our own excitement about kicking-off the ski season. She wished us many happy powder days and, of course, a good stay at the hotel. Bellmen and the concierge staff also offered us a warm welcome greeting us by name. I thought repeatedly about how I needed to learn their names too!

This hotel is not the Ritz Carlton and we’re not “big spenders”. Rather we’re repeat guests, who indulge in a few hotel stays during each ski season. Put together, all this attention makes us feel valued as customers. Booking rooms for next year seems probable already.

Do your donors feel this type of appreciation?

I can’t help but draw a parallel with nonprofits cultivating long-term supporters and our recent hotel experience. How do nonprofits greet repeat donors and keep them feeling valued? 

Here are some tips I gleaned from our sense of loyalty for the Vail Cascade Resort.


The hotel staff knows us by name and gladly engages us in conversation, whether to learn about the ski conditions or if we need help with a dinner reservation. By the end of the ski season we will know each other even better. How often do nonprofits interact with their donors?  When do conversations actually occur?

Tip: Create a quarterly action to “check-in” and connect with repeat donors.

Who are your loyal donors? 

Most nonprofits are well aware of their Major Donors and have routines in place to cater to these important supporters. But, what about those repeat “Steady Eddie” donors who make consistent donations year after year? Does your organization know these people and how they wish to be recognized? Repeat donors represent a pipeline of consistent revenue and potential.

Tip: Study your database of annual donors to identify patterns. Learn how repeat donors have become linked to your nonprofit and use this connection to design logical outreach.

What’s the big deal?

Some nonprofits make no distinction between a repeat donation and an annual gift. Yet a repeat gift is a huge benchmark not to go unnoticed. Make a big deal of the second gift (and then the third, fourth, fifth, etc.)

Tip: Create a “tickler” file in your Constituent Relationship Management database for second-time and repeat donors for certain actions to occur. Perhaps for second-time donors, an additional letter is sent from the Executive Director or Board Chair.  For the third and fourth gift, send out an additional post card with an amazing photograph. For a fifth donation, send a link to a brief thank-you video from the ED or staff or invite them to your offices for a VIP tour.

Frankly first time donors also need extra attention so as to feel motivated to make a repeat donation. Create an extra–special “Welcome” package inviting them to enjoy a special relationship with your nonprofit. Make sure to check in with these first-time donors again during the year about their interests and share progress on your nonprofit’s mission advancement, before a second solicitation is sent.

Cultivation events

Admittedly with a huge donor-base it’s difficult to reach everyone. Here’s when a series of well-organized “turn-key” gatherings can help. There’s nothing like in-person contact! 

Tip: Create simple personal events to share news and celebrate your work.  Maximize events already in place with clear communication upfront and strong follow-up. After the gathering, reach out to those you met as well as others you didn’t have time to connect with. Call them, write a note, or send an email, whichever mode of communication fits best with their preferences.

IAmy salt and peppahn 2014 it’s time to add sincere sugar and spice to repeat donor relationships.  Offer a platter of specific ways to connect with loyal donors.  Spend the year learning who exists behind first and second introductions. Appreciate and sincerely grow your relationships. Make it real.


Employee Engagement and Creating A Loyal Corporate Client

Written by Amy Quinn on . Posted in Fundraising, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Insights, Volunteering


According to the Giving USA 2013 Highlights, corporate philanthropy totaled $18.15 billion in 2012. As compared to individual giving and bequests, which totaled $252.34 billion, corporate donations only represent 6 percent of the total given during 2012 ($316.23 billion).

Why the Big Difference in Contributions

Between Individuals and Corporate Giving? 

Development professionals cater to corporate goals with sometimes only a blurry focus on the employees involved within the organization. Perhaps it’s possible to engender more loyalty toward corporate philanthropic goals through the very same people that are giving their time and money? The answer is “yes” and therefore, to grow corporate philanthropy we should increase individual outreach concurrent with corporate social mission.  

amy's clockHere’s how we might embrace both the individual and the company in corporate giving campaigns.

A two-prong goal: alignment of corporate social mission and individual benefits

Ideally the best corporate philanthropic program is one aligned with a company’s social mission. In other words, there is a logical reason that the company has chosen a specific nonprofit.  Consider Home Depot’s commitment in 2012 of $80 million over five years, for housing, on behalf of veterans. Ms. Banaszynski, who oversees the program for Volunteers of America explains: “This (Home Depot’s focus) seems like a deep company-wide commitment, not just a philanthropic gift… the hearts and souls of their associates have become involved.” Further, Home Depot estimates that at least 35,000 of its employees are veterans. The first goal of every corporate philanthropic program is to find the synergy between company and the cause.

 But, let’s set a concurrent goal focused on individuals, the people participating in the campaign. As mentioned in a previous  blog, a recent study by True Impact of 28,000 employee volunteers, 87 percent reported feeling extremely satisfied and 94 percent believed that their volunteerism was a ‘core component or positive influence on job satisfaction.”

This second, concurrent goal defines the benefits of employee involvement in giving programs.  How will employees benefit by donating and or participating in a corporate campaign? 

In Home Depot’s efforts employees “don’t sit there and eat doughnuts and drink coffee, rather, they show up at 7 in the morning and go all day”, feeling very satisfied and enthusiastic about the difference they can make. In addition, Home Depot employees who have also been veterans are able to demonstrate to the clients that’s it possible to “make it” in a traditional workplace environment. Who wouldn’t benefit from Home Depot’s campaign?

Never have too much cache

When planning how to engage employees, there can never be too much recognition, education and celebration: 

  • Consider how to make your campaign materials stand out and feel personal to the employee.

  • Use videos and strong visuals to communicate messages.

  • Celebrate corporate leaders who are leading the charge — just like any other peer-to-peer event.

  • Set up contests, morning treats, evening “wind-down” events —whatever makes sense for the culture and corporate environment.

  • Make sure there’s a clear plan for thanking each donor and, if possible, hand-write notes.


Junior Achievement reported last year that it spent “$5 million over the past seven years documenting the effectiveness of its programs – something that companies are increasingly looking for,” according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy article, “With Cash Giving Flat, Companies Offer Other Aid.”  Make plans to follow up with employees on how their donations made an impact. Hopefully it’s not necessary to spend millions. Rather chose a few key metrics to demonstrate success.

Cultivation events

Cultivation events offer the chance for individuals to become familiar with your nonprofit.  Create “Lunch & Learns”, “Coffee Chats”, “Pep Rallies” with a fun hook, a clear presentation about who you are and why your cause should matter. Offer some prizes and yummy snacks for extra incentive. Provide additional volunteer opportunities and survey attendees at the end of the event to gauge interest. Make sure the presentation is well orchestrated, to the point and leaves time for Q & A. An event is only as good as the follow-up so reach out afterwards to employees who expressed interest.

What else besides the check?

Junior Achievement of Colorado proposes that its corporate volunteers can “unlock youth’s potential.” In other words, it’s not just money that makes a difference but they, the employees, who can make an impact through volunteering! 

Sometimes there’s a logical way to involve employees in a cause.  For example CWEE, the Center for Work Education and Employment, offers a myriad of ways for involvement:

1.  Attend our Professional Connections Networking Event…

2.  Host a Tour for Participants at Your Company…

3.  Assist participants in Informational Interviews…

4.  Volunteer to be a Mock Interviewer…

5.  Become a Guest speaker about your organization or industry…

6.  List a current Job Opening with us…

7.  Host a Hiring Event.

When there is not a logical fit, capacity-building projects are another way to involve employees. The key, as described by Alexander Shermansong, principal at Civic Consulting Alliance, is to be an outstanding “matchmaker”. In other words, outline the project and its components and define what type of help is needed. Here’s more information on how to be the right matchmaker.

Just as we value individuals and their impact on philanthropy, we need to remember that concurrent with a company’s social mission are the benefits for employees when participating in a campaign.  While employee-giving campaigns continue to raise funds, it’s worth cultivating stronger ties with the individual employees through events, capacity building and volunteering opportunities. Just like individual solicitations for an annual fund, we want to create long-standing relationships and loyalty with the employee. In the end, as always, it’s about the relationships we create. Relationships will sustain and grow corporate philanthropy.