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How to Achieve Gold Medal Fundraising

in Fundraising, Nonprofit, Planning by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment


Sochi 2014 Russia Olympiad Winter OlympicsBy Sara Lundenberger – Director of Fundraising Consulting 

I am a self-identified Olympics fanatic. I spend hours watching sports I don’t completely understand, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into each of these disciplines. For two and half weeks, athletes from around the world become famous celebrities. After the Olympics end, though, the cameras and the eyes of the world go away.

Your fundraising campaign may have the same problem. You focus on events, campaigns or grant requests when they are in front of you; however,  when the campaign is over, you don’t think about them again until the next event, campaign or grant has to be done.

The work of Chloe Kim, Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu does not end once they leave the Pyeongchang Games. They will continue to train, compete and win – and you, through your fundraising initiatives, should do the same.

As you watch the remainder of the Winter Olympics, consider just how many similarities there are between fundraising and the sports. I guarantee it’ll be a fun way to do some homework for the year ahead! Here are a few to get you started.


Events: Snowboarding halfpipe

If you are a fan of the halfpipe, you know that the entire event lasts about 45 seconds. In that 45 seconds, snowboarders do the best tricks and show their best skills to score the highest points. Sound familiar? Planning an event takes tons of time and resources for a relatively short time period.

Nonprofits do their best to tell their stories to raise the most money they can in one night. What they can learn from the halfpipe is this: snowboarders are calm, cool and collected all the time. They see their events as fun and always push the envelope to come up with a new trick. They would NEVER say, “But I did it that way last year” –  and you shouldn’t either!

Annual fund: Figure skating long program

In the long program, skaters are not required to do specific moves as they are in the short program. They are given the latitude to do what works best for them, with some minimum requirements.

Much like an annual fund campaign, do what works for you! If I can’t land a triple axel consistently, I’m not going to add it in to my program. If you only have a few email addresses for your donors, don’t do an email campaign. The important part of the long program is this: it is a marathon, not a sprint. Your annual fund should encompass many pieces and different types of communication, and it should last all year.

Grants: Four-person bobsled

There aren’t a lot of team sports in the Winter Olympics, but one that relies on teamwork is the bobsled. In the four-person bobsled, there is a driver, two pushers and a brakeman. These four athletes have specific jobs; some are more important in the beginning (the pushers) and some are used at the end (the brakeman).

Writing a solid grant proposal also takes a team. The finance team, program team, executive director and grant writer all have to be on the same page in order for a grant program to be successful. Some may be more important in the beginning, like the executive director and the grant writer, while the program and finance teams are needed at the end.

Although the bobsled team is made up of four individuals, they all have the same goal: to win. Organizations that receive a lot of grant funding have clear goals and objectives, implementation plans and excellent budgets. This shows funders they are prepared, organized and willing to use the funding efficiently and for its intended purpose.

Planned Giving: Biathlon

The biathlon is a cross country skiing race with periodic shooting stations. Skiers must stop at the stations and fire five rounds at very small targets with special rifles. For each missed shot, the skier is required to take penalty loops. This race is long and exhausting and has a staggered start. The staggered start means the racers don’t know what place they are in until they cross the finish line – and this is important. They have no idea if they are ahead or behind. Add in the uncertainty of missing your rifle shots, and you can go from ahead to behind very quickly.

Biathlon, Athlete, Olympics, WinterLike biathlon, you don’t always know where you are when it comes to planned giving. Donors don’t always share if or what they have left your organization in their will. Through time, they may change the amount or take you out altogether. Like the biathlon, your planned giving team needs to work as hard as they can to educate donors on their options, despite the fact that they may not actually see where they finished until years later.


Overall, your fundraising plan should be agile and strong. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself head first down an icy track on a little sled (that’s actually the sport of skeleton – watch it!) and try something new this year! A small change in your fundraising plan could make a huge difference in your bottom line. Enjoy the 2018 Winter Olympics and go for the gold in your 2018 fundraising!


Data and You: Why organized information is essential to your nonprofit

in Consulting, Fundraising, Nonprofit, Planning by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

By Amy Wong – President 

I recently participated as a panelist for a professional development program for our local Association of Fundraising Professionals Chapter. The session, “Data – A Fundraiser’s Best Friend,” focused on the importance of collecting and managing data, and how to use that data to effectively raise money.

When I talk about data with clients and in discussions like at the AFP session, I always say the same thing. “Data is one of the most valuable things your nonprofit owns. If possible, it should all be in one place and should be looked after with great care.” The initial response is usually a perplexed look. But as I start to explain why, that look morphs into an “ah-ha” moment.

The value of good, readily available data 

Most nonprofits rely on volunteers and philanthropic income to advance their missions. Managing both requires keeping information up-to-date and readily available. Yet many nonprofits fail to keep accurate records that are easily accessible.

Why is good, readily available data valuable?

  1. You save time– Chasing down lists from colleagues, cleaning up addresses, merging files, correcting typos and manually calculating financial information for the business office all take up valuable time. Having access to information with a simple query or report can save you hours a week, giving you more time to focus on nurturing important volunteer and donor relationships.
  2. You spend less money– We all have been on the receiving end of mailing gone bad. Consider the cost of multiple, accidental solicitations to the same address. At roughly 50 cents per piece to mail, plus printing (often around $1 or more per solicitation package), a poor mail merge or data disaster could be costly, not to mention the ill will you cause with donors or prospects.
  3. You are less likely to be embarrassed– Even the best kept databases have some information that isn’t 100 percent up-to-date. Make sure you track information such as marriages, divorces, deaths, job changes and other key information that can save you from embarrassing situations later. The last thing you want to do is to mail an invitation addressed to a major donor and his/her deceased spouse.
  4. You get valuable information that helps drive your fundraising strategy –Many organizations keep their donor information on spreadsheets. While we applaud their effort to keep records, it is difficult to extract information that can be valuable to your fundraising strategy. Having easy access to reports for lapsed donors, outstanding pledges, giving by constituency and other key metrics can tell you where you need to spend your fundraising energy.


Collecting your data

Collecting the right data is just as important as keeping it clean and easy to find. What you collect is often tied to the resources available at your nonprofit. For larger nonprofits, there may be a team dedicated to managing the database, whereas a smaller organization may have a person managing the data along with other tasks. So it is important to be specific on what data you collect on a regular basis.

What data should you collect?

  1. Constituent information – The types of constituents are specific to each organization, but key constituents often include board members, donors, volunteers, media, prospects, alumni, etc. At the very least, you should strive to capture title, name, address, salutation, email, phone, spouse/significant other, giving history, deaths of spouses and any preferences for being contacted (i.e. no mail, no email, no phone calls).
  2. Just the facts– Never track anything you don’t want the donor to see in their file. A donor can request to see the information at any time. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you have added information that the donor may find offensive or is untrue.
  3. Information that matters– Every organization needs access to specific reports and information. Work with your business office, campaign committee, board and others to determine what information they need and when. These conversations will help determine what you need to collect in your system and streamline your reporting process in the long run.


Taking care of your data

Collecting, managing and capturing accurate data is a long-term investment and should be a priority for every nonprofit organization, regardless of size. So, take the steps necessary to ensure that your data-collection efforts are sustainable. Once you’ve made the commitment to improve your organization’s data, maintaining it is the next step.

How do you maintain good data?

  1. Invest in a system– All constituent data relevant to volunteer and fundraising activities should be housed in one place. Invest in a donor management system specific to nonprofits. There are many options. Make sure that you get a system that will work for your organization. Not every system is right for every nonprofit. Don’t over- or under-buy. Hiring a consultant specializing in databases can often help you determine what is best.
  2. Have a written process to enter the data – I can’t stress enough how important this is. Having a system to define how certain data is entered and by whom helps avoid clean up later. This process will include things like how you want addresses to be entered. (Do you use “Street” or “St.?” Do you enter phone numbers as 555.555.1212 or (555) 555-1212? Do you include salutation as a required field? Dear Mrs. Smith vs. Dear Carol?) If your key data person leaves for a new job, this guide helps staff maintain integrity until a new person is in place and gives guidance to a new person.
  3. Put restrictions on who can enter data– It seems like it would be productive to let as many people as possible enter data. But the more hands you have in the data, the more chances there are for mistakes and inconsistencies. Put restrictions on who can enter data to maintain data integrity, consistency and accuracy.
  4. Manage what you can handle– If you have limited staff and time, determine what information is most important to your organization. Maybe all you can do on a regular basis is enter names, addresses and gifts. That’s okay. Just make sure you enter that data accurately consistently.


It is quite possible that your organization has some work to do to get its data in order. Know that you aren’t alone. We have even seen nonprofits with the best data professionals have their own struggles. Just keep in mind that having good data is a long-term commitment and fixing data isn’t going to happen overnight. As we tell our clients in our consulting practice at Dot Org, take one step at a time toward getting the best data possible. You will definitely see how it helps you do your own job better and how it benefits your organization in the long run.

Annual fund planning in January – WHAT?!

in Fundraising, Planning by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

By Sara Lundenberger – Director of Fundraising Consulting 

You rushed around in November to get an annual fund appeal out the door. I’m guessing that the last thing you want to think about right now is your next annual fund appeal. I mean, you’ve got until November, right?  Wrong. To avoid all that rushing around and to make your appeal that much more effective, there are things you can (and should) do now, and throughout the year, to prepare for that big push in the fall. Whether you increased giving this year, stayed the same as last year or fell short of your goal, here are a few ideas to help jump start your efforts to make a difference in your annual fund giving this year.

Make a plan

I’m a planner. I have spreadsheets, checklists, to-do lists, etc. You name it and I’ll plan it. Not everyone is like this and that’s okay. However, take some time to put some thought into your annual fund plan. Successful annual funds consist of more than one letter, once a year. In fact, the most successful campaigns make some contact with their donors at least 10 times before an ask is made. Now is a great time to sit and think and plan different ways you can connect with your donors throughout the year. For example, use your newsletter, e-newsletter and social media stories and posts to engage with your audiences.

Writing it down doesn’t mean you have to follow through on everything you thought of, but it will get you moving in the right direction. You can use a pencil if it makes you feel better, but if it isn’t even on your radar, what is the likelihood that you’ll do anything at all?

Look at more than dollars raised

Hitting your fundraising goal is going to be important to your board, executive director and program staff. But it doesn’t always tell the whole story of how successful your campaign really is. Take some time to consider how many gifts came in, what the average gift amount was, how many new donors you had, how many donors you lost and identify opportunities for larger gifts. Knowing where your money came from is just as important as how much came in.

If your database has a LYBUNT (last year but not this year) report – run it! Then personally contact each and every person on that report. If they gave you a donation last year, find out why they didn’t give again this year.

Combat donor churn

For every donor you lose, you need to gain four to take their place. That is tough to do, so you need to do your best to keep the donors you have. Donors want to hear from you more often than once a year. They want to be thanked properly and timely, and they want to know what their donation did for your organization. Thank your donors, invite them to volunteer, send them information about your organization (that doesn’t ask for money); i.e., keep them informed! Especially with the new tax laws, a larger standard deduction eliminates the ability to deduct charitable gifts, which may change the way donors act in 2018, making it even more important to communicate with your donors throughout the year.  They’ve already given to your organization so they are interested in what you’re doing. If they don’t know how their donation helped, why would they give to you again?

Thank them

Did I mention thanking your donors? I did – twice. A proper thank you letter with the correct name, donation amount and any restrictions should be sent within 48 hours of receiving a gift. Especially when it gets to the end of the year, donors are keeping track of receipts for their taxes. Do not make them call you for their thank you!

Collect new names

I think the most difficult thing to do in an annual fund is to find new names to add to your list. Purchasing lists can be expensive, time consuming and usually have a very low return on investment. But if you are sending to the same people over and over every year, your annual fund will suffer. First make sure you are soliciting your “inner circle.” This includes your board, employees, vendors, volunteers and committees. Then start thinking. Add event participants, clients or grateful families (depending on the type of service you provide) and other people who are close to your organization and keep working outwards. If you have their name, address or email – add it to your list.


Individuals are the largest segment of donors, giving more than 70 percent of all donations. Too many times, nonprofits focus on grants and fundraising events throughout the year while ignoring their annual fund until they send one mailing in November. Make some of these small changes now to make your annual fund more successful.