Withisms from Lori

Boldness, clarity and wisdom for fundraising professionals making a difference.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

3 Top Tips for Identifying Potential Major Donors

Guest Post by Amy Eisenstein

This week I'm honored to share this guest post by my friend and colleague Amy Eisenstein, a fabulous fundraising consultant and author.

One of the major quandaries my small-shop clients bring to me is that they don't know how to identify whom they should be asking for major gifts. Generally (though not always!) these shops have minimal staff, and both the executive director and the person in charge of fundraising (if they have one!) already feel overwhelmed between mailings, grant writing, and fundraising events.

When it comes to determining major gift prospects, they feel lost. “What if we don't have any connections with the wealthier people in our community?,” they ask me.

The question of how to identify potential major donors quickly and efficiently is one of the topics I cover in my new book, Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops: How to Leverage Your Annual Fund in Only Five Hours per Week. If you're working on this issue right now, though, and need some quick advice, here are my three top tips for identifying people who are the most likely to be both willing and able to make major gifts to your organization.

1. Look in Your Database
First, run a report to find your largest donors. That’s the obvious part. Be sure to query cumulative giving. In other words, do not simply pull records by individual gifts, because if you’re only looking for one time gifts of $1,000 or more, you might miss a donor who gives well over $1,000 each year, but in smaller increments throughout the year. Second, run a list of your most loyal donors – measured in frequency of giving. This means donors who have given repeatedly over many years. The big difference between these two lists is that it doesn’t matter how much loyal donors are give – it could be as little as $10 per year. Review these lists with your board and staff member and pull out your top twenty prospective donors, based on what you know about them in terms of their capacity to give in the future and their interest in your organization.

2. Use Existing Networks
If your organization does have any donor history to draw from, it's time to bring your board and staff together for a brainstorming meeting. You are probably not ready for major gifts quite yet, but it’s time to friend-raise for the organization, which is a precursor to major gifts fundraising. Ask board and staff members to identify approximately five people from their current networks who have some capacity to give (don’t think major gifts at this point) and the potential to be interested in your organization. Start out by inviting them on a tour, to an event, or to volunteer.

3. Use the Internet
Once you've identified your top twenty prospects (through steps 1 and 2), turn to the Internet to learn a bit more about them. Between Google, LinkedIn and sites like Zillow and Salary.com, you'll be able to get a solid idea of your prospects' net worth and personal and professional interests – all from public information, much of which they themselves have provided. Having this information on hand ahead of time will prevent you from asking at the wrong time, or for asking for either too much or too little. This research will also help you refine your list of top contacts and allow you to use your limited time where it has the most chance of paying off for your organization.

Major gift fundraising is not easy – but it is simple, and not just when it comes time to identify your major gift prospects. If your organization hasn't started a major gift program yet you're leaving money on the table. I urge you to get started soon!

Let me know how you identify major gifts prospects at your organization. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is an author, speaker, coach and fundraising consultant who’s dedicated to making nonprofit development simple for you and your board. Her books include 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks, Raising More with Less, and her latest book, Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops.

Get copies of Amy's free eBooks here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What If Leadership Doesn’t WANT to Talk About Our Money Story?

Part II of Answering Your Money Story Questions

Last week I answered some terrific questions about sharing your money story or as I like to refer to it: Your Funding Gap.

There were so many thought-provoking questions I’ll answer a few more this week:
Q1. If leadership is not ok with sharing funding gap, do you have any tips for getting them excited about the idea?
Q2. Would telling the funding gap potentially limit the 'give' from your donors?

A1&2. I find it is a common occurrence that new concepts are met with fear, uncertainty and push-back. Talking about money in a way that is much more transparent than you’ve ever done before, well, that’s one of the more challenging things for an organization to take on.

Here’s a list of my 5 tips for how to start sharing your “Money Story” regularly:

  1. Tell the truth. You have an amount of funding you seek from contributions every year. Talk about. it Invite supporters to ask you about it. All year long.
  2. Break your funding gap or fundraising goals into “mini-campaigns” throughout the year. Get your leadership and your donors excited to help you reach smaller goals much earlier in the year.
  3. If there has been a change in your funding streams, e.g. you lost a large contract or grant, you have even more reason to share your “funding gap” update regularly.

    How will your community KNOW to give more or regularly if they are not “in the know” about your funding situation.
  4. The WAY you share this message with your leadership and your supporters makes a difference. It’s a positive message about how much you’ve raised so far. It is not a message about how “badly” you are doing.
  5. You are simply sharing “what is missing” so that others can see how to support you. Your donors are giving to other organizations throughout the year.

    Why wouldn’t you want to invite & inspire supporters to give to you on a monthly or multi-year basis by showing them how to increase their own impact with a larger gift?

Watching CEOs, board presidents, finance committee, and fund development staff embrace sharing their money story is one of the most rewarding parts of my work.

When it’s done thoughtfully and well I’ve seen $100 dollar contributions turn into $1000 dollar contributions. I’ve watched occasional donors turn into monthly or multi-year donors, pledging many more thousands then they ever imagined.

The results I’ve observed in hundreds of organizations: The more you talk about your impact (people stories) combined with your money story (funding gap) the MORE money your organization will actually raise.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Answering Your “Money Story” Questions

During my first Live Stream workshop on Advanced Storytelling we had hundreds attend from around the world…thank you! And a special thank you for dealing with the technical difficulties. We learned a LOT about how to make this a smooth experience for you next time.

There were many great questions asked during the live stream. I'm inspired by your passion to be the best fundraisers you can be. Since you asked such great questions, I'll be answering them today and through the coming weeks. Today I'll start with defining and sharing your “money story.”

Your money story or your “funding gap” is: What you project in expenses for the year, minus what you have received to date from individual contributions, corporations, foundations, United Way, ticket sales, fees, government, and other known sources.

Q1. Does "funding gap" sound like jargon to the average listener or reader?
A1. Yes! Great that you are asking this. You want to define this term for people when you use the words 'funding gap.' Let them know you will now be sharing your “money story” more regularly. And then take just a moment to define it in your own words. One example: It’s the difference in funding from where we are now to where we must end the year.

Q2. Does the funding gap translate to an "aspirational" budget: meaning that the year is planned around money we hope to earn, rather than money we already have?
A2. Your gap is what you must raise to meet all of your expenses AND any other plans for the year. What it takes to get from where you are TODAY in your outside funding support, to where you MUST BE to end the year in the black. So, in some organizations this might feel like an aspirational goal if you’ve added some new programming or a new position into the mix.

Many organizations make changes to the budget throughout the year to balance their budget so they feel like they DON’T have a funding gap to talk about. The reality is you always have a gap in what you must raise until you have reached all your fundraising goals for the year; which for many organizations is in the final weeks of the calendar or fiscal year. 

So, if you have an appeal that has not been mailed yet, a fundraising event not yet held...while you may have budgeted for those to raise something...the amount you expect to raise is a part of your "funding gap" or money story. The more you can show the community that there is more to do WHILE you keep them emotionally connected to your people stories...the faster you can raise the dollars required to close your "gap."

Q3. If I'm raising money for scholarships, we would give out as much as is raised. . . how do you know the funding gap then?
A3. Ah yes. This is where the sense of urgency tends to drop off the radar. I believe and coach organizations to always set an annual goal for funds to be raised, even if you are in an education foundation setting where you give away what you raise.

The questions I would ask you:
How many scholarship applications do you receive each year?
What percentage are you able to fund?
What % of scholarships is your board, staff and foundation leadership willing to commit to funding?

Once you have the answers to those questions you can now figure out your “funding gap” or money story. It will now be a story that has urgency and specific impact. To be most effective, combine your money story with a story of a real person who will get a scholarship or someone you won’t be able to provide a scholarship for due to lack of resources.

Click here to view the full Advanced Storytelling Live Stream workshop (with technical issues removed!) for just a few more days, and watch for Part II of Your Money Story Questions Answered next week.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Be the organization that raises 720% OVER budget this year

TODAY I’m going to share what I believe is the most powerful thing you can do to raise more money. And I’ll do it “live” from the comfort of your office or home computer screen!

At 11 am CST/Noon EST I’m delivering a Free Live Stream training: Advanced Storytelling: Blending Your Money and People Stories for Greater Impact. Tune in at 11 am CST to learn my advanced storytelling techniques!

You can find the live stream on my home page or here on Ustream where you can comment and engage with me during the session.

It’s true sharing a powerful story allows your community to share a glimpse into the lives of the people your organizations serves. But, we both know it takes more than a “warm” story to cause people to give, right?

Both the head and heart must be engaged for people to take action.

I’m happy to see that many organizations are sharing client stories these days. Unfortunately, most don’t do what I call, advanced storytelling: effortlessly combining your money and your people stories.

What if I told you that when you combine your “money story” with the amazing stories of the people you serve you would:

  • Raise more money
  • Attract more media attention
  • Gain more community and corporate support
  • And convert your Board members into powerful ambassadors!

And what happens when you have engaged, connected supporters? Magic. One organization who has deeply embraced using my advanced storytelling techniques reported that the first year they raised 720% OVER their budget!

The organization found that the more transparent they were about the true costs to do their work, combined with a story people can’t easily forget, the more willing supporters are to share their time and money.

On today’s advanced storytelling live stream I’ll take viewers through my Advanced Storytelling Message Pyramid so you can easily see how to combine your money story with your people stories.

The framework I use to teach people to share powerful, engaging stories is available to you in my Step-by-Step Storytelling System which has just been updated to include:

  • A fun, new, easy-to-follow infographic guiding you through how to dive into & get the most out of the Storytelling System. Download yours when you click on the image to the left.
  • A new outline for blending your money and people stories.
  • Two new sample stories with the money & people story combined.
  • A new advanced storytelling checklist.

My mission is to help you raise more money.

My vision is that you are able to do that with ease.

Tune in to view the live stream at 11 am CST to learn how to do just that!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits

Over the years I’ve worked at large nonprofits and small nonprofits. I’ve been an executive director and, sometimes, the entire staff. I know first-hand that working for a smaller nonprofit comes with a unique set of challenges and rewards.

It is for exactly this reason, with seven of my friends and fundraising colleagues, we've created The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits. As far as we know, this is the first book of its kind aimed directly at the specific needs of those of you running a nonprofit on a small budget.

In The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits you get the benefit of more than 112 combined years of fundraising expertise. We share our techniques and strategies that have guided us in working with thousands of successful nonprofits.

The book is packed it full of worksheets, exercises, and examples on everything from your nonprofit’s vision and working with your board to grant writing and major gifts fundraising. My chapter? Well it’s about storytelling, of course!

My co-authors:
Sandy Rees will share her wisdom on creating your “big vision” and supporting case for support. She’s also got some great advice about special events to share with you.
Gayle Gifford will share some spot-on advice about board members and fundraising.
Pamela Grow shares her stewardship system for retaining your donors.
Kirsten Bullock will help you think through the “funnel” of how to grow awareness.
Betsy Baker has some all-important tips on winning foundation grants.
Sherry Truhlar, the silent auction expert, has some changes that fine tune your silent auction for greater revenue.
Marc A. Pitman, the Fundraising Coach, will help you and your team with your major gift fundraising.

I am honored to be included in this book alongside the wisdom of my colleagues. We look forward to hearing what coaching advice resonated, how you used the worksheets and told more powerful stories as you work to make our world a better place to live!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blend Your People Stories & Your Money Story to Raise More Money

Free Advanced Storytelling Live Stream Event Will Show You How!

How often do you get invited to something FREE? And something free that teaches you something new? I've got both for you! 

On February 26 at 11 am Central, you are invited to join my free live stream video session on Advanced Storytelling. All you have to do is register to hold your seat.  

As a passionate storyteller, I love to teach people how to connect others to your mission by sharing a fresh client, donor, or volunteer story. It's the real-life examples that bring your mission to life and causes others to take actions to support your important work.

Although I talk about storytelling often, what makes the February 26th Live Stream event unique is that not only will we cover a few storytelling basics, we'll also dig a little deeper and talk about sharing your money story alongside a people story. 

I've got a special guest or two lined up to share their experiences in talking about their people and money stories. And I'll coach at least one story live so you can view how to transform an okay story into something powerful. 

We expect a large crowd, but I will do my best to answer some of your questions throughout the session. And. . . there are some super-secret freebies along with a special offer for those who join us for the Live Stream

If you are unsure about whether or not you're ready for this Storytelling Live Stream, I've got a quick little quiz for you:

  • Do you want to raise more money from individual donors?
  • Would you like your board members to talk about your organization and be engaged ambassadors?
  • Would you like someone to help you find and craft the stories you tell about your organization so you can get support to do more?

If you answered YES! to any of these questions than you are totally ready for Advanced Storytelling: Blending Your Money & People Stories for Greater Impact! Register today! 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

5 Ways Nonprofit Fundraisers are Like Olympic Athletes

The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off Friday, February 7 with Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, Russia. The best athletes around the world will gather together to compete for a gold medal that will label them “the best in the world.”

Over the years I’ve watched hard-working Executive Directors, Major Gift officers and Development Directors strive for excellence every day, just like Olympic athletes.

The journey to be the best is often long and made up of tiny successes to reach a big goal.

So, in between watching hockey, figure skating, bobsledding, and alpine skiing, I invite you to take some time to see how your work may qualify you for a fundraising Olympic gold medal.

Five ways I believe nonprofit fundraisers are like Olympic athletes:


It takes time and energy to do important work. The passion that brought you to your work is the foundation of your success. Whether what you care about is being the very best hockey forward or making sure no one in your community goes hungry; it’s your passion that keeps you going, taking one step after another to reach your goal.


No one gets to the Olympics alone. From parents who drive children to practices to coaches guiding athletes through competitions, it takes a village to raise an athlete. It also takes a village to raise funds.

YOUR team must include volunteers, staff, board members, and even your program participants to provide you with stories, open doors, give you a high-give after the big fundraising event, and more.

Remember: Nobody reaches a big goal alone.

Engage the people around you to do the tasks, small and large, to secure the funds it requires to do your important work.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This one is a no-brainer. A downhill skier doesn’t jump on a ski slope and know how to nail the Giant Slalom the very first time. It’s the same for our sector. We are rarely able to walk into a nonprofit organization and know the stories and the numbers to instantly raise thousands of dollars.

Fundraising and Olympic athletes practice over and over again. That kind of practice takes time and dedication. From honing your client stories to writing your fall appeals letter to making “the ask” for a $1 million gift, the more you practice the better you get. The better you get, the more money you raise.

Doesn’t the “yes” from a donor FEEL like a gold medal sometimes? It should.

Competition and Tiny Wins

I often remind people the best way to cut through the clutter in the competition for charitable dollars and for attention is to share stories of your impact. Those stories, what I call “mission moments” can be stories of tiny moments of success, or near success or even failure.

  • A student is the first in his family to get a college degree.
  • A veteran finally gets a part-time job.
  • A young father gets a scholarship to cover the cost of new tires on his car so he can drive to night school to better his families’ life.
  • The Somali family that was turned away because your affordable housing program is full.

The competition can feel fierce. I know.

I promise you, it’s the tiny wins and “mission moments” your supporters want to and must hear in between the requests for contributions. Those examples of your impact will cause you to stand out in the competition for funds.

Olympic athletes compete not just with themselves for a better time or better score, but it's also the competition with other athletes that makes them stronger or skate further. I can assure you Olympic athletes share stories with their community of a tiny moment that felt exhilarating or felt scary or like they won’t ever get to their gold medal.

Celebrate those tiny wins, and even failures with your supporters so they KNOW they are on YOUR team.

Love the Goal AND the Path

While a gold medal is the singular goal of an Olympian, you might have many goals as a fundraiser. Whether your big goal is meeting a fundraising target this year or expanding your services, or getting the board engaged in making donor thank you calls, remember that each step along the way gets you closer to reaching the end goal of having sufficient funding.

This is where it truly is the journey AND the destination that are critical. It’s rare that a very young first-time competitor gets a win at a big competition. But when it happens it was because they followed and embraced the path of continual practice, focusing on their passion and acknowledging the tiny wins along the way.

Fully embracing the journey will make the big win much sweeter.

Here’s to an Olympic-size fundraising year for you and your organization!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Using Clear, Bold Language That Inspires Action

Today I’m delivering a training called Fundraising: Imagine What’s Possible at the Global Ties>U.S. National Conference in Washington, D.C. Global Ties is formerly NCIV: The National Council for International Visitors.

The Global Ties>U.S. conference theme: Integrate, Innovate, Impact, calls on participants to help build deep, lasting ties between people and nations and to play a part in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Just reading those words inspires me to do the best I can to be a part of their vision of creating a more peaceful and prosperous world. And who doesn’t want to play a part in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world?

Today I’m talking with participants about communication, raising more money from individuals and most importantly, being clear and bold in language choices.

I believe that support of all kinds (time, talent, stuff and money) will indeed move toward your organization when you are clear and bold.

Harper Collins dictionary says:
Clear = Free from doubt, easy to see or hear, distinct.
Bold = Courageous, confident, immodest, standing out conspicuous

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Image Source: Free Arts Minnesota

Ho hum language:
We really need your help! Please help us reach our goal of ______ so we can grant more scholarships.

You = Hope

Ellie, age 19, received a $500 scholarship to cover book costs that completely changed her life. YOU made that happen. With 748 more Ellie’s who've applied for a scholarship, what are you waiting for? Make a life-changing gift TODAY!

I’m certain there is some version of clear, bold language waiting to be shared at your organization. When you choose language that’s clear AND bold you’ll inspire action that will exceed your goals. I promise.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If You're Only Sharing Boring, Unclear Data, What's the Point?

How to Use Good Data to Make Things Happen

True confession: I can be something of a nonprofit data nerd. I love how numbers can tell a story when they are presented well.

I’m a long-time advocate of using visual displays of your data to get people to take action. And, as I've mentioned before here in this blog, when you combine storytelling and data, I'm in heaven.

Sharing your data with your board or supporters IS important, critical even. I sometimes worry that people share data that few read and it certainly doesn’t cause people to take action.

Often I see board packets with information about the work done in the past — lists and spreadsheets — but the information doesn’t compel me to do anything any different.

The use of dashboards and other visual displays is one of my “soap box” topics this year. Please don’t share data that is meaningless. If the data is boring, unclear, or only talks about the past, what’s the point?

If you want to cause some action, (board members to make more thank you calls, or to have a meaningful discussion about the cash-flow situation) your dashboard must show what is so AND ignite conversation about what actions to take to change it.

At my trainings and in coaching sessions, when I show visuals like those below, staff and board members get a totally new perspective on sharing their data differently, more clearly. You can click on each of the graphics below to see a larger size.

By sharing data that tells a story board members are more engaged, donors give more, and volunteers are clear what actions to take. . . good dashboards actually make things happen.

This bar graph shows Individual Giving by Category for a nonprofit organization that wanted the board to understand that there was more work to do to close out their fiscal year and reach a higher level of giving that matched previous years.

The graph was created three months before the end of the fiscal year. The good news: They exceeded their year-end goals because everyone was on board with the dollar amounts they were wanting to reach in each donor category.

To accompany the Individual Giving graph the nonprofit organization also produced a graph showing HOW MANY DONORS were in each category.

This made it much more “doable” for the board to see how many donors to keep connected via email, phone calls, notes and invites to events.

A plan was made to engage the top 22 donors, a % of the 68 donors at the $100-$499 level and 20 or so donors who had been giving for more than four years. Each board member and key staff took responsibility for a few names/people. Giving levels increased at year-end due to their focused efforts.

The next two examples were provided by a colleague and friend of mine, Nancy J. Lee, who is a master at helping organizations with their financial and numbers story.

Nancy believes, as I do, that financials should tell a story.

These two charts make it much more clear for the board and staff to see trends over time and to ask important governance questions about what to do to deal with the cash at month end trend and the sources of revenue.

This Income Dynamics display allowed the board to see clearly that state support was declining in time to make some changes with their contributed income revenue sources.

Decisions about staff and allocation on a major gifts program, by an engaged board kept their income from dipping into crises levels.

I'd love to see what kinds of dashboards you are using. Here are two resources to help you create effective dashboards:
Blue Avocado: A Nonprofit Dashboard and Signal Light for Boards
Beth Kanter: Dashboard Design Principles

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

You’ve Got An Awesome Donor Communication Plan, Right?

These Tools Will Help You Get Your Communications In Order

It’s the beginning of a fresh new year.

Last year you learned a lot about keeping your supporters engaged and making gifts of time, talent, stuff, or money. And you’ve put that knowledge into a communication plan to make 2014 spectacular, right?

Or not.

You’ve been busy with thank you letters and calls. You’ve been making sure to complete the data entry on all the contributions that arrived via mail. You have a spring fundraising event coming up that is tugging at you.

It's still January and you already feel like you’re behind this year. That's more your reality, right?

If so, I encourage, no, I strongly recommend you and a few team members take the time to put your communication calendar down on paper. Making a plan for your donor communication WILL allow you to weather the inevitable crises and last minute requests from others.

By scheduling when emails and mailings need to be sent you can then plan to have things written ahead of time, and keep them “in the can” so-to-speak. You can rely on your plan to guide you through the busy year-ahead.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post: Keep Track of Donor Communications With this Awesome Tool. The post has an excellent Excel sample communication plan you can download for free.

Today’ I’m adding to that plan with this year-one communication plan for first-time donors. I've added to the Free Resources section (and you can click here to download the PDF directly).

Remember: be relevant, interesting, and put both the “talking” and the “listening” into your communication.

The goal of your communication with your supporters, especially your first-time donors, is to determine if there is a relationship there that you can build on.

Multiple contacts are they key ONLY IF they are not all asking for money.

According to Penelope Burk and Cygnus Research, only 6% of donors thoroughly read communications charities send them; a dismal statistic, for sure.

What donors DO read is*:

  • Information about your impact
  • Information about costs of programs
  • Information about the social issues you are addressing
  • And they want to see more detail on specific projects where funding is needed

*Source: Root Cause Report. Informed Giving. Information Donors Want and How Nonprofits Can Provide It.

Here are two more great reads to help you with your communication plan for 2014:
How New Donor Communication Plans Can Improve Donor Retention
Slides & transcript from Kivi Leroux Miller: Creating A Donor Communications Plan

Subscribe to Withism's

OR  Subscribe to Withisms via RSS

Recent Posts



Search Blog Posts

Like Lori on Facebook

Fundraising Thought Leaders

Recommended Products

Click here for free weekly movies to help you fundraise


• Required