Archive for May, 2014

Protect your scarce fundraising time with this proven tool

We’ve been using scorecards for decades for everything from education and sports to job evaluations and customer satisfaction ratings.

Companies use scorecards to rate their sales clients so why shouldn’t development directors and nonprofit CEOs use them for gift prospects?

Ellen Bristol, author and principal consultant at Bristol Strategy Group has just released a new book, Fundraising the SMART Way, which celebrates the power of the prospect scorecard. The chief benefit?

You don’t waste valuable development time on donors that are wrong for your organization.

Fundraising the SMART Way™

This methodology is based on the durable and proven disciplines of performance management. It provides the management controls “…so sorely needed to acquire and sustain funding in a significantly more rational, objective, and productive manner,” claims the author.

Bristol defines the acronym SMART this way:



Donor-Action focused


Time defined

The SMART Way™ model establishes two critical components that are typically ignored or undervalued. There are the two components that are the centerpiece of this model. In this article, I’m going to highlight the first component—Bristol’s prospect scorecard.

The Ideal-Funder Profile/Scorecard

The ultimate goal in fundraising is to have long-term engagement and quality time investment in order to raise the most money in the most efficient manner. The SMART Way™ Prospect Scorecard, tells you “which funding prospects justify the investment of your scarce and precious development time. The Scorecard ranks each major prospect as an A, B, C, or D for his/her potential lifetime value. As and Bs offer more potential at less cost.

Bristol offers nine principles on which to base your Scorecard:

Many minds make light work: Glean perspectives from varying staff members when brainstorming.

Analyze past successful relationships first: Clone your best funders.

Seek the answers you want, not questions: Try to determine if your funder has the qualities you seek.

Choose a few vital indicators, like the donor’s passion for the cause and past giving, not his/her birthday.

Create once; use often.

Develop one benchmark for all solicitors in order to gain objective insights.

All statements are required—values, facts, dangers.

Pay attention to rank (A, B, C, D) and score (points within the rank that include subtracting for dangers). (See examples below.)

Decide when to Scorecard, when not to bother: Only Scorecard for major funders.

The Scorecard is based on these three items:

the value statements given by your prospects on why they are interested in your charity and giving,

fact statements about giving capacity and wealth profile, and

danger signs that deter you from pursuing a prospect who will offer less return on your investment.

The Scorecard helps you ask the right questions of potential donors to see if they match well and market potential donors more effectively.

Value statements

The scorecard should include 5-10 of your most important value statements. These are created from your descriptions of ideal donors that exchange value. They should include how the value-sought from your donors matches with your value-added. Staff pursuing the donors should develop questions to get to the answers needed in the Scorecard. They can start with versions of the questions listed in the “value-sought analysis” bullet above about positive and negative motivators (what they want to achieve and avoid with their money) and choice of charity. Helpful sentence starters are “Funder prefers…,” “Funder is committed to…,” and “Funder is passionate about….” Examples of value statements developed by an arboretum are, “Donor is passionate about gardening and wants to inspire younger people to feel the same way” and “Donor is concerned about plant species and habitats.”

Fact statements

Next, create 5-10 specific fact statements, such as, “Donor has capacity to give at least $100,000 per year” and “Donor has volunteered, taught classes or written articles for our membership magazine.”

Danger signs

Then, list 5-10 danger signs, such as, “Big talk, no action” and “Over-committed to too many organizations.” The development staff should discuss how to rank the answers on a scale of 1-5 (e.g., 5=prospect’s net worth is $10 million or above; 4=net worth is $5 to $9.9 million, etc.), “5” meaning the
prospect fits the criteria well and is a close match.

Weighting and scoring

With all three categories, you need to assign importance weights on a scale from 1 to 5, where “5” is “most important.” Thus, your Scorecard will give an actual and, when multiplied by the weights, a weighted score. When scoring an actual donor, the danger signs’ weighted scores are subtracted
from the value and fact statements to steer clear of the most taxing donors.

Finally, to rank your donors, add the total possible (ideal) actual scores for the fact and value statements and divide into four quadrants (A, B, C, D) to determine the ranks. Bristol encourages you to test the Scorecard with current donors and fine-tune as necessary. Learn more about this tool and others at

See also:

Yours for the Asking

The End of Fundraising

Naming Rights: Legacy Gifts and Corporate Money

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Evaluation frameworks offer starting point for grantmakers

There is growing interest in both strategic grantmaking and evaluation, as foundations and nonprofits become progressively more aware of how focused attention in these areas can serve their mutual best interests. Organizations such as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the United Way have been trailblazing this path since the late 1980s. Indeed, many grantmakers and nonprofits have made considerable strides towards demonstrating accountability and public benefit, but there’s still a long way to go, and there are some significant trends worth watching.

Evaluating grantees

One is that foundations increasingly want not only to assess the effectiveness of the programs they support, but also to understand the broader community impacts resulting from their efforts. This type of inquiry goes beyond looking at the performance of one grantee or a cluster of grantees; rather, it aims to understand grantmaking strategy in its entirety.

Other foundations ask their grantees to conduct evaluations and report on their work, but rarely reflect on these results themselves in order to improve their own programs. Indeed, there is inherent difficulty in measuring community-level change, and foundations are wise to settle for recognizing their contributions to public benefit, rather than seeking attribution. Wishing to “improve – not prove,” funders are learning to adopt more systems-oriented views that consider factors such as socio-economic and political climate, as well as what other foundations are, or aren’t, doing.

Two frameworks for evaluation

To this end, two frameworks that are used to underpin much of the work of philanthropy – “Logic Models” and “Theory of Change” provide a base for evaluation plans. These frameworks link resources to results – they clarify goals, inform strategy and are important framing tools for both foundations and
nonprofits at two levels: programmatic and organizational.

Speaking at the Conference of Southwest Foundations 2008 Annual Conference, Peter Frumkin, director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas in Austin, explained that Logic Models first build a case for why one believes funding choices will lead to desired results. “What these models all share in common are causal claims about value creation: If we have these resources, we can do these activities; if we do these activities, we can generate this volume of work; if we do this work, we can achieve this level of outcomes; and if we have those outcomes, we’re going to have this social impact. All these models have in common an attempt to causally, clearly depict value creation.”

Used at the program level, Logic Models further support strategic planning and evaluation efforts. According to Frumkin, Logic Models “drive planning, guide implementation, connect to performance measurement, improve internal alignment and commitment, and secure external support. As funders, you want to have a clear claim about how you are going to make a difference. The second use of philanthropic logic models is to use them at the grantee level to help them clarify their work.”

Theory of Change

At the same conference, Nancy Csuti, director of Research, Evaluation & Strategic Learning at The Colorado Trust, presented her organization’s recent evolution through a Theory of Change process: “For about 20 years, the foundation did initiative-based grantmaking. They picked an area, researched it, developed the idea, and selected grantees who were going to work in that area. At the height of this effort, there were 25 different initiatives, each with lots of different grantees. There were advantages to this approach – it spread funding across the state, it addressed lots of different issues and we were able to respond to emerging issues.”

However, one disadvantage, according to Csuti, was that after conducting a communications audit of grantees and key leaders in the community to find out the impact of its grantmaking, the foundation discovered its efforts were incongruent and its ultimate goal unclear. As a result, the foundation has now articulated one clear overarching goal, which is “Access to Health for all Coloradans by 2018.” Future initiatives will now be tied more distinctly to that goal, and grantees will need to articulate within their applications how their work is going to lead to the goal of Access to Health. According to Csuti, “The Theory of Change built the case that funding is going to make the change we want to see.”

Evaluating strategies still evolving

Theory of Change and Logic Models also serve as a constructive base for evaluation design. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, over 900,000 nonprofit and religious organizations deliver many of our public services today – and many of these, through government or other funders’ requirements, are charged with monitoring and measurement. Unfortunately, many nonprofits and foundations have been scared off from more meaningful evaluation due to the rigor of “randomized control trials” and similarly severe research methodologies. Though far less stringent evaluation designs have been acknowledged as important and valid ways to collect and analyze data, the field on the whole is still a mystery to most. Yet, particularly in today’s economic climate, trends towards demonstrating efficiency and effectiveness are only likely to strengthen as funders continue to seek measurable results and return on investment.

There is no single way to conduct an evaluation or to measure outcomes. Rather, there is a full array of methodologies and tools suitable for various situations. It is strongly advised that foundations themselves seek expert advice and offer technical assistance to their grantees. In truth, grantmakers have been somewhat slow to accept evaluation as a value-added component of their work. According to Csuti, “I really want to encourage you [foundations] to examine your grantmaking and what you are doing – because in the busy-ness of just doing this work every day, critical thinking often is the thing that gets shoved to the bottom of the list. Most of us are used to doing what is urgent, not what is vital.”

See also:

Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results

The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising

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This article was originally published at CausePlanet on 7/16/09.

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Battle of the appeal letters: Four-pager versus two-pager

If I’ve heard this one once, I’ve heard it a thousand times…

Dear Tom:

My boss wants to know which is better, a four-page letter or a two-page letter?

Signed, Direct Mail Novice.

This is one of those great “it all depends” questions.

First, you need to distinguish between acquisition letters and renewal letters. Which are you sending out?

Four-page letters, I would venture to say, are not all that common when you’re renewing gifts from current donors. But they are common for acquiring new donors, especially when professional writers are running the show and there’s a lot at stake. It’s pretty axiomatic in the direct mail industry that a four-page letter will outpull a two-page letter, when you’re trying to acquire new donors. For this simple reason: a four-pager gives you four times as much space to fill with interesting stuff as a one-pager.

Current donors already know who you are, thanks to your newsletters and other “relationship- building” communications. Assuming you’ve done a good job keeping your current donors informed of your cause’s accomplishments and needs, a brief appeal letter should work.

But people who don’t know you at all (those whom you’re trying to acquire as donors) need a lot more convincing to take the plunge.

For the average person (a boss who hasn’t read up on direct mail fundraising, say), the idea that a four-page letter often gets a better response than a one-pager is painfully counterintuitive. The average person thinks, “Four pages? That’s crazy. I wouldn’t read one. It’s far too long and a big waste of my time.”

This is the place for a caveat: true enough, a four-page letter filled with uninteresting stuff and tedious writing will not work. But professionally written four-pagers are marvelous experiences, filled with drama, human interest, surprises, and hope.

People do not read direct mail in the way one might read a novel or news story. With direct mail, they skim. And if your mission and organization is new to them, they will skim your letter to see if you have anything to say that interests them.

Which, incidentally, puts a high premium making things easy to read. Use lots of bullet lists, short paragraphs, etc. Successful direct mail writers favor one- and two-sentence paragraphs for that reason: because people can speed through them.

Do four-pagers always work better in acquisition mode? Nothing always works in direct mail. It’s an empirical medium. You test, test, test. And on some rare occasions, a one-page acquisition letter ends up outpulling a four-pager. Rarely, but it does happen.

This is a brief answer to a complex question. For those who want to learn about direct mail letter writing from a real expert, I highly recommend Mal Warwick’s How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters. Good direct mail fundraising is a sophisticated form of advertising; it is only superficially similar to ordinary correspondence. The more training you have, the more effective you’ll be.

See also:

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes

Content Marketing for Nonprofits

Image credit: GettyImages,

This was originally cross-posted at CausePlanet on 4/26/2011 with special thanks to Tom Ahern.

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Break your fundraising paradigm with these SMART tools

“On the whole, I would argue, the entire nonprofit sector suffers from our collective difficulty with measuring, managing, and improving fundraising through the use of certain business disciplines and management controls considered mission-critical by successful commercial companies. Too bad those disciplines seem to have bypassed the nonprofit sector overall,” says fundraising consultant and author, Ellen Bristol.

Why is it so hard to measure and manage fundraising?

No one feels the absence of these business disciplines and management controls Bristol mentions more acutely than those of us in development. We’ve all been there–especially in staff meetings dedicated to reporting out on fund raising progress. The time passes with a lot of questions and answers wrapped up in fuzzy anecdotal information, but strangely, no sense of tangible progress toward the much-needed big gifts.

There is a way out of this paradigm

In Fundraising the SMART Way™, Ellen Bristol argues the only way out of this paradigm is to improve the management of the development shop. She adds that while you might get a bump in your results by adding new tactics such as another event or online giving module, it’s difficult to figure out what’s working and what’s not sustainable. The solutions are further upstream, connected to the mission and embedded in fundraising process management. One of those solutions is the preparatory work you do before prospecting.

Create a shared context

This week, I want to introduce Bristol’s management process with a focus on her recommended tools to help you select funders that will exchange value with you and assist with targeting your marketing and outreach. Bristol assures you that if you begin with a more thoughtful pre-prospecting approach, your solicitations will yield better results and you will have a shared context from which to measure and manage fundraising in your nonprofit.

Bristol suggests the following tools, most of which have templates on the book’s website, but I’ve provided links to her consulting site when available:

Take the Leaky Bucket Assessment where you assess how your fundraising is going, including such measurements as qualifying prospects, acquiring and retaining funders, upgrading donors, etc.

Perform a Cost Assessment in which you try to increase your income rather than cut your budget. You can’t figure out which funders are right for you if you don’t understand what it costs to achieve your mission.

Calculate your Opportunity Risk Factor: “the amount of potential income you put at risk for every hour invested in fund development,” which involves subtracting your non-development hours from your total hours and dividing your annual fundraising target by the number of hours available for fundraising. If your risk factor is $1000 or more, you need to carefully decide which prospects justify your time.

Complete a Value-Sought Analysis in which you ask your best donors (individual, grant-makers and corporate sponsors) what they want to achieve and avoid with their money and how they know if they’re choosing the right charity. Then, match these motivations with your value-added, resulting in an exchange of value.

Carry out a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of your organization to determine which strengths most appeal to donors and comprise your UVP or unique value proposition.

Next week, I’ll talk about Bristol’s Prospect Scorecard, which is a critical tool for protecting your scarce fundraising time for the most rewarding prospects. Stay tuned.

Having lived through many development meetings that Bristol is trying to help us avoid, I’m delighted to report that her book is a must-read for fundraisers and nonprofit leaders alike. I found her approach refreshing, well-researched and grounded in time-tested principles.

See also:

The Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Influential Fundraiser

Ethical Fundraising

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Build a board culture that advances fund development

One of the most frequent frustrations for nonprofit executive directors is their board of directors’ lack of involvement in fund development activities. Not only is it often challenging for nonprofit staff members to engage board members in fund development, the idea of the board advancing fund development activities is laughable to some executive directors and fund development staff. Because one key aspect of a nonprofit board and an individual board member’s responsibilities is fund development, building a board culture that supports and advances an organization’s fund development is essential for organizational effectiveness.

Start with personal contributions.

Expecting board members to make a personal contribution to the organization, especially a personally significant contribution, is typically considered an essential board member responsibility[i] Giving a personal gift often helps a board member feel more directly connected to an organization’s work because he/she has made a personal investment in advancing the mission. Also, it is difficult for board members to have credibility in asking others for money if they do not make a personal contribution on their own. Having a board leader communicate this expectation is a first step in building a culture that supports fund development.

For new board members, start off on the right foot.

The challenges with getting a board of directors engaged in fund development activities often stem from the recruitment process. Because an organization does not want to scare away potential board members, those overseeing the recruitment process sometimes downplay the importance of board member involvement in fund development. Additionally, some boards have the expectation that board members participate in fund development but do not specifically articulate what “involvement” means. One of the best ways to get board members engaged with fund development is to articulate expectations and then ask potential board members how they would see themselves meeting those expectations – before asking the individual to join the board. Then once that person joins the board, another board member should meet with that individual to discuss involvement in fundraising as part of the board orientation process.

Help board members customize their commitment to fund development.

For board members who came onto the board without the interest in, understanding of, or comfort with fund development, customizing a board member’s involvement with fund development is one key to success. Instead of setting the same expectations for all board members, especially expectations that involve asking for money in person or from their circle of contacts, an organization’s leadership on the board and staff can likely identify 15 to 25 ways board members can participate in fund development (including cultivation, stewardship and direct fund development activities). Then, with encouragement from the board’s leadership, each board member can choose five to seven ways he/she can personally support and advance fund development activities in a way that is comfortable for each individual. Customizing a board member’s involvement with fund development can significantly increase involvement with fund development because each board member is able to select the options that make the most sense for him/her. Then, the board can recruit new board members with a specific focus on filling any gaps that exist.

Build shared accountability.

Building shared accountability with the board as a whole can also help develop a culture that supports and advances fund development. An important first step is having board members individually identify and share their commitments with the rest of the board and then having the board as a whole identify its own goals for advancing fund development. For example, a board could agree to raise $5,000 through its members’ own direct contributions, $10,000 in additional support, and meet 85 percent of the board members’ personal commitments to advancing fund development. By setting goals for itself, the board can start taking responsibility and ownership of some important aspects of an organization’s fund development activities.

With a few small successes, positive encouragement and support from the board’s leadership, a new culture around fund development should start to emerge. While this is not an overnight process, following these steps can over time move a board from fear and dislike of fund development to one that helps develop significant resources for the organization.

[i] In working with dozens of organizations on fund development as a consultant, I have only come across one good reason for not asking board members to give. An organization had representatives of partner agencies on their board, most of whom were government employees, and those individuals were strongly discouraged by their employers to make charitable gifts to organizations with whom their departments had business relationships. I have found that almost all other reasons for why board members cannot give money to an organization on whose board they sit are simply excuses.

See also:

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This post was originally published at CausePlanet on 3/7/2011.

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The influential fundraiser: two most common persuasion pitfalls


The world of fundraising is changing. After being deluged for so long by email solicitations and direct mail campaigns, donors are demanding a more personalized approach when being asked for money. They want fundraising messages that motivate them to support a cause and fundraising professionals who understand the way they make decisions.

Your ability to communicate your cause in a way that persuades donors and others to take action and give support is your competitive edge in the crowded world of fundraising. The approach I discuss with my co-author, Clare Segal, in The Influential Fundraiser is about using the psychology of persuasion and developing a competitive edge, so that you can become a powerful and effective influencer.

Influence is a special kind of communication skill you probably already have, but that must be improved in order to be a successful fundraiser. There are three main reasons why it is more important than ever to hone your influence skills:

1.      Today’s donors and supporters are more sophisticated and demanding. It follows, then, that our techniques for persuasion also need to be more sophisticated and targeted. Influence skills can help you provide information to donors in a targeted and appropriate way to secure the result you want and need.

2.      Donors don’t want to feel that they are part of a mass-marketing initiative. They want to feel special and important. Donors and fundraisers alike are moving away from mass fundraising to one-on-one and more personal contact.

3.      Influence skills can help you engage an exceptional individual donor in a way that will allow him or her to make a transformational gift. You will need access to influence skills to engage and enthuse in these one-to-one, high-payoff situations.

I define influencing as: the managed relationship of helping others to understand, accept and act on your point of view. These components are further defined as:

Managed relationship: In order to achieve a specific outcome with an individual or group, you must be clear on the result you want and have a flexible plan about how to achieve it.

Helping others: Influence is different from negotiation or coercion in that with influence, you are trying to help someone change his/her mind or to come around to your point of view (as opposed to feeling manipulated).

Understand, accept and act: Successful influence must contain these three elements. You want people to really know what the challenge is, agree that they have a responsibility to help, and do something concrete to help.

Points of view: An important point to remember with influence is that the way we see the world or feel about issues may be very different for other people.

There are two common reasons why many fundraisers go wrong in their attempt to influence:

1.      Mechanistic thinking and advice about fundraising: This approach emphasizes one “right” way to solicit donors; much of this approach is drawn from old-fashioned sales techniques. The reality is that much of this method just doesn’t work anymore – today’s donors are more sophisticated and demanding in what messages they accept or reject.

2.      Fundraisers make incorrect or inappropriate assumptions about the beliefs and behaviors of others: This often leads fundraisers to draw the wrong conclusion about how the donor will respond to a specific technique or approach; the result is that donors often say no because the fundraiser’s “obvious” logic isn’t always theirs.

The 5 Ps of Influence

We have developed a systematic approach to influence called the 5Ps of Influence. The five elements are interrelated and interdependent – none is effective by itself. Fundraisers need to take the time to work through the whole framework. The 5Ps of Influence are:

1.      Passion: identifying what you want and why it’s important

2.      Proposal: shaping your idea in a way that’s compelling

3.      Preparation: organizing your ideas and thinking

4.      Persuasion: using psychology to frame your influence messages

5.      Persistence: dealing with challenges and objections

In this article, I’d like to discuss the first of The 5 Ps of Influence, which is passion.

Passion involves both emotional engagement – your commitment to the cause – and emotional intelligence – managing your emotions. The starting point for passion should always be simple and direct communication. Use straightforward language, and other people will understand what you are saying. One way to do this is to create and practice an elevator pitch about your cause and/or organization. Every elevator pitch should have three elements: think, feel and do. These elements are designed to help you shape your thinking and to answer some specific questions:

Think: What is it you want your audience to know or understand as a result of this communication?

Feel: What emotion do you want them to have as they receive the communication?

Do: What specific action do you want them to take as a result of the communication?

When preparing your elevator pitch, reverse this order as follows:

1.      Begin with the people you want to influence and be clear on exactly what action you want them to take.

2.      Imagine the emotion or feeling in those people that is most likely to move them to take that action.

3.      Finally, select and shape the information or data that you think is most likely to create that emotion.

Emotional intelligence (EI) – managing your emotions –is the ability to successfully manage your internal and external relationships. Internal means the security and confidence you have about yourself, your needs, your values and your beliefs. External means the way in which you interact and engage effectively with others in social and professional settings. Emotionally intelligent fundraisers are simply more successful. There are five dimensions to EI. Working through these five dimensions and assessing your competence in each will give you’re a more rounded view of yourself and your own passion:

1.      Self-awareness: understanding what you want

2.      Self-regulation: controlling your feelings

3.      Motivation: having the energy and commitment to do something

4.      Empathy: understanding how others feel

5.      Social skills: being able to get along with others

The ability to influence donors to support your cause or your organization is your competitive advantage – especially during this economy when donors are more selective about who they give their money to and how much. The 5Ps of Influence are designed to help you achieve the results your organization needs in the fast-changing and more competitive fundraising environment that exists today. Those fundraisers who learn to hone their influence skills will not only make themselves more valuable to their organizations – they will ensure the viability of their organizations for the future.

Watch for my next article when I’ll discuss what five questions you must address in your fundraising proposal.

See also:

Charity on Trial

Ethical Fundraising

Fundraising When Money Is Tight

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This post was originally published at CausePlanet on 2/1/2011.



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