Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Bristol’

[Podcast] Much of what we do in fundraising is counterproductive

Regrettably, history and results show we do a lot in fundraising that is counterproductive. We recorded a podcast with Ellen Bristol, author of Fundraising the SMART Way, which provides you with tactics from the classic disciplines of performance management.

The SMART Way is a methodology containing the guidelines, benchmarks, reporting methods, performance metrics, analytics and business intelligence needed to generate fundraising results. Highlights include improving time management through prospect-rating, managing move opportunities, and using root-cause analysis to optimize efficiency and connectivity to the mission.

Ellen Bristol’s Fundraising the SMART Way involves revolutionizing the way fundraising is managed versus the way fundraising is done. Bristol contends that if you apply her process management principles, you can greatly increase your productivity and sustainability.

According to Bristol, this process entails 1) identifying the results desired from the fundraising effort, 2) establishing performance targets and indicators, 3) developing methods of doing it that honor the organization’s values, and 4) holding the “do-ers” accountable.

We asked Ellen Bristol to talk about what exactly she means by characterizing many of our fundraising efforts as counterproductive: Ellen Bristol on counterproductive fundraising

We also asked Bristol to explain why the performing management approach is more effective for fundraisers, volunteers and leadership: Performance management and engagement

Learn more about Bristol’s Leaky Bucket Study and how the results apply to you. Find Ellen Bristol on Facebook and Twitter @BristolStrategyGroup or at

Learn more about Fundraising the SMART Way and other related books and summaries.

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CausePlanet’s Choice Awards–Top Books for nonprofits from 2014

Here they are — our favorites from 2014. We read so many compelling, insightful books last year on a variety of essential topics, but the final choices came down to originality and applicability.

Each of our Choice Book Awards had either a fresh perspective on an imperative competency or broadened our thinking by tackling new territory. Additionally, all the authors brought their content to life through helpful case stories, exhibits, tools and evidence. These favorites are sure to help you work smarter; we hope you delve into them soon.

CausePlanet’s Top Five Choice Awards from 2014:

1) Fundraising the Smart Way: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website by Ellen Bristol

Bristol gives you an innovative, concrete way to track and monitor your donors’ progress toward making donations. No more guessing about a prospect’s ability and desire to give means you can confidently meet and surpass your fundraising goals. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

2) The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving by Jeff Brooks

Brooks shares an unvarnished, refreshing look at how to captivate more donors with accessible ideas that specifically work for nonprofits. He delivers new ways to connect your brand with your donors in a manner they won’t forget. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

3) The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide by Tom Adams

Adams establishes an irrefutable link between effective leadership and organizational impact. What’s more, he comprehensively illustrates numerous advantages and opportunities bestowed upon nonprofits that engage in proactive training, succession planning and transition management. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

4) Fundraising with Businesses: 40 New and Improved Strategies for Nonprofits by Joe Waters

The organization of this book is what really caught our attention. Waters gives you specific cause (pronounced “khaz” by Waters) marketing strategies, how to implement them, ideas you’re encouraged to steal and success stories at every turn. His approachable format is chock-full of applicability. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

5) The Abundant Not-for-Profit: How Talent (Not Money) Will Transform Your Organization by Colleen Kelly and Lynda Gerty

Kelly and Gerty reveal a transformational method for utilizing your community’s expertise. At the center of this transformation is a new breed of volunteer—a “knowledge philanthropist.” The abundance model will revolutionize your use of talent, cultivate a renewable resource and be a welcome relief on the budget. Learn more about the author, book and Page to Practice summary.

Thank you to all our authors who give us reading pleasure and professional inspiration every day. It’s a pleasure to promote your smart advice at CausePlanet.

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Is your bucket watertight? Nine fundraising plugs and leaks

“Fundraising is strategic and mission critical, yet it does not receive the appropriate level of attention it justifies from organizational leadership … With government support for nonprofits waning, the failure to upgrade the management of the fundraising initiative could compromise the long-term viability of nonprofit organizations and NGO’s around the globe.”

This quotation by Ellen Bristol, Fundraising the SMART Way, is representative of data The Bristol Strategy Group’s been collecting through the free online Leaky Bucket Assessment since 1995. Organizations of all sizes and levels of sophistication around the world have responded to this online assessment and Bristol is sharing the results in a full and condensed report below.

The assessment “measures the level of maturity of nine basic business practices that either contribute to or detract from the productivity of the fundraising effort.”

Nine business practices surrounding fundraising effectiveness:

  1. How you qualify donor/grantor prospects
  2. How you acquire new donors
  3. How you retain donors
  4. How you develop donors through “up-selling” and “cross-selling”
  5. How you manage funding diversification
  6. Your staff resources for fundraising
  7. How you measure fundraising performance
  8. What you include in your fundraising “toolkit”
  9. What techniques you use when fundraising results fall below desired levels

We’ve highlighted some of Bristol’s report below in the areas of overall performance, and acquisition, retention and upgrades. We also included her thoughts on qualifying prospects with an excerpt of our Page to Practice™ interview.

Overall performance: How does your leaky bucket compare with others?

Complete the assessment and read the full or condensed report below to find out how your fundraising productivity compares with your organizational peers on the nine areas above. For example, only four percent rate their productivity bucket as “Watertight,” while 21 percent report their bucket as “Leaking Like a Sieve.” Seventy five percent in the middle report a need for help and productivity maintenance. This means 96 percent of all nonprofits that completed the Leaky Bucket Assessment need to apply basic management tools to improve their fundraising results.

Acquisition, retention and upgrading

In fundraising competencies two, three and four from above, Bristol highlights the assessment results in the areas of acquisition, retention and upgrading:

Acquiring new funding sources: 62 percent had no targets or were merely “encouraged” to acquire new funders

Retention: 72 percent had no targets, or were merely “encouraged” to retain new funders

Upgrading current funders (upgrades and multiple gifts): 77 percent had no targets or were merely “encouraged” to upgrade

Qualifying prospects

From our Page to Practice™ summary, we’d like to share Bristol’s interview answer about competency number one, “How you qualify donor/grantor prospects.”

CausePlanet: In applying the Scorecard practice, what common pitfalls have you observed that fundraisers should try to avoid?

Bristol: The SMART Way™ Prospect Scorecard is a method for describing the criteria your agency holds for selecting donor prospects offering the most potential. Our approach is specific enough to score the prospect as an A, B, C, or D, where A’s offer the most potential for lifetime donor

value. One major pitfall comes at the beginning of the process, and that’s the idea that your fundraising team already knows which funders are worth your development team’s efforts. In our Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising, about 76 percent of our 600-plus respondents said either they had no standards or criteria, or they had undocumented preferences. That’s an enormous number of nonprofit agencies winging it when it comes to selecting candidates for cultivation. Unfortunately, a lot of fundraising professionals and nonprofit executives seem to think it’s perfectly OK not to go to the fuss and bother of establishing such criteria. They assume they already know what they’re looking for or they fall prey to the myth that the development pro with the biggest Rolodex, the one with connections to the rich and famous, is the right person for the job. As it turns out, it takes a whole lot more than connections–or giving capacity–to succeed in raising predictable, consistent levels of income.

The second pitfall comes at the end of the process, after the qualifying criteria have been developed, vetted and documented, and that’s not bothering to use it. I’ve been surprised and dismayed to find that agencies with their own homegrown qualifying benchmarks, or even our Scorecard profiles, simply ignore them. And then they wonder why they’re not getting much value out of their efforts to acquire new donors. They rely on connections, guesses, assumptions that the individuals’ alma maters, the cars they drive, the jewelry they wear, or the zip codes they live in are all they need to know to justify investing time and energy to cultivate them. Sometimes a more insidious force is at work, when well-meaning board directors intervene and demand the fundraising team pursue their friends or relatives. If the friend or relative passes the Scorecard test, that’s just fine, but if not, you end up wasting unrecoverable time attempting to cultivate a DOA, a prospect who’s “dead on arrival.”

Plug those leaks

One of the first steps in upgrading the management of your fundraising efforts is to understand not only the areas you can measure but also where you fall on the spectrum of productivity. Bristol’s assessment can help you with this answer. If you are leaking like a sieve or perhaps dripping occasionally, consider reading the full report and how you might plug some of your leaks.



See also:

Fundraising the SMART Way

Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

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Make a home for root cause analysis in your fundraising

There’s an exercise many of us are familiar with called root cause analysis. However, where we’re most likely to see this method used is on the programming side of nonprofit organizations. Performance management expert and nonprofit author, Ellen Bristol, argues that root-cause analyses are supremely useful in the fundraising arena—specifically with an approach called “Plan, Do, Check, Act.”

Bristol asks an important question: How do you know where your fundraising system is breaking down when you’re not reaching your targets? She states that according to Robin Tyndhall, a contributor to, continuous improvement involves 1) meeting or exceeding the needs of external and internal customers, 2) looking at process problems that usually drive most business problems, 3) involving employees, and 4) using good data to drive good decision making.

To address these factors and use the data to find places needing improvement, the author suggests the combination of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle and root-cause analysis.

Root-cause analysis

Root-cause analysis provides systematic methods to complete PDCA: Plan for your goals; Do the plan; Check the results by comparing them to the original plan; and modify the plan (take Action or take no Action). In continuous improvement, you are trying to identify undesirable results, justify improvement initiatives, implement improvement plans and reevaluate to see if the improvement produced the desired results.

Start with a problem statement to move away from blame

Root-cause analysis tries to discover the earliest point where productivity is lost. First, you need to write a specific problem statement that arises from the data, such as “Improve conversion ratio from Move Four to Move Five from 5:1 to 3:1.” In other words, if you’re using a Moves Management fundraising system, this problem statement means one out of every five prospects that come into Move Four has proceeded to Move 5. Your organization wants to change that to one in three. As you can see, this problem statement removes blame and focuses on improvement. The wrong problem statement sounds like “How come Stacy isn’t getting more prospects past Move 4?”

Three considerations for gathering input on root cause

To find the root cause, Bristol provides three categories of input in fundraising. Each category contains three or four subcategories. (See below.) Going through each subcategory and category methodically to identify the root cause can be done in review meetings to glean more input from everyone. Then, the group can decide on changes and who is accountable for the changes.

Below are the input categories and subcategories. Bristol provides helpful questions/observations in each to assess if this area is your problem. Sample questions are given for each.

1. Fundraising skills and behaviors:

Scorecard accuracy and application: Have we scorecarded each prospect we added to the pipeline? Is our Scorecard accurate or does it need some revisions?

Questioning skills: Did we rely on the suggested probing questions (what the donors want to achieve and avoid with their money and their choice of charity) to find the desired answers to our Scorecard statements? Do we need to revise the questions?

Adherence to the Donor Moves process: Did we move the targeted number of gift opportunities to the next Donor Move? Why or why not? Did we update the data regularly?

Level of execution: Did we track all major opportunities through the Donor Moves process? Did we set our targets or conversion rates at the right level?

2. Operational considerations:

Technology: Has everyone been trained on the constituent relationship management (CRM) platform? Do you have IT support and up-to-date, useful technology?

Unclear lines of authority: Do you know to whom you report? Are your performance targets clear? Do you have silos in your organization that make coordination difficult?

Misaligned goals: Does the budget allow for new initiatives you have planned? Does your fundraising department focus on donor acquisition and retention for growth?

3. External market conditions:

Local market conditions: To what extent do local-market conditions affect our fundraising results?

State-, provincial-, or regional-market conditions: If we discovered some negative pressures in the regional market, what should we do to respond?

National-, international-, or global-market conditions: To what extent do global conditions affect our fundraising results?

Try the Plan-Do-Check-Act and root cause analysis for your next fundraising review meeting. With Bristol’s guidelines, you can identify where the hiccups are in your cultivation process as well as keep meetings positive rather than blaming.

Bristol acknowledges that we as leaders can seek “better, more cost-effective and more innovative ways to achieve the mission and fulfill the vision. And that includes moving fundraising onto the same disciplined platform.” She adds, “I have always contended that acquiring income is the single most strategic function in any business, regardless of sector. Now that there are reliable ways to assess the effectiveness and efficiency—the productivity—of the fundraising function, let’s use them.”

Bristol offers a webinar to explore some of these specific performance strategies and methods for measuring what’s always felt like the “unmeasurable.” Learn more about her July 10 engagement for CausePlanet readers.

See also:


The Influential Fundraiser

It’s Not Just Who You Know

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

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Lighthouse experiences fundraising “light bulb moment” thanks to Bristol’s model

“I’m not as tired as I used to be!” is what executive director Elly du Pre of the Lighthouse of Broward County had to say when asked if the SMART Way™ fundraising approach was working for her. I had to chuckle when I read this the first time because if there’s any challenge that can bring on exhaustion, it’s funding your nonprofit budget.

Thanks to Ellen Bristol, we’ve been exploring her new book Fundraising the SMART Way over the past few weeks. In particular, we discussed her Prospect Scorecard, the Leaky Bucket Assessment, Calculating Your Opportunity Risk Factor and other essential tools for maximizing your fundraising efforts. This week, we excerpted our interview with Bristol so you can share in Elly du Pre’s exuberance over her newfound success with board fundraising.

CausePlanet: Would you tell us about a nonprofit you’ve observed that is using the SMART Way™ model effectively in its fundraising efforts? What does it appreciate most about the method?

Ellen Bristol: One of our recent success stories is the Lighthouse of Broward County, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Its executive director, Elly du Pre, did a Leaky Bucket Assessment with us and then asked her entire board and staff to do the same. I then presented the entire team’s findings to the staff and board, which really helped the board, in particular, identify their collective need for improving the fundraising culture at the agency. It’s a relatively small agency at about $1.7 million in annual income with only one full-time development officer, a support person and Elly doing all the fundraising. Until it started its SMART Way™ project, the agency had struggled to make its annual budget and had gone through several development directors, none of whom had performed terribly well. The ED was convinced there were many more blind and low-vision people in her area needing services than the agency was able to support, but the money was simply not available.

Elly did it the right way. First, she proved to the board there was a real need for improved productivity. The board immediately approved the investment. Elly and her team then developed their SMART Way™ Scorecards, opportunity-stage performance indicators, and success targets during an intensive workshop lasting a day and a half. They then began to implement the new approach, meeting with us once a week by webinar to put their new learning into place. First, they validated their Scorecard. Then they learned some new techniques for questioning their prospects, starting out with interviewing their board chair and other directors to gain confidence. By the way, they got lots of support and admiration from their board chair who was consistently enthusiastic about the new approach.

Finally, the team began to document its progress using a simple Excel spreadsheet. At first, it aimed for very modest gifts of just $1,000 or more but soon realized it had earned the right to ask for considerably larger gifts. At that point, it began pursuing gifts worth $5,000 and more, a first for the organization. Soon, its pipeline of gift and grant opportunities showed more than twice as much potential as its stated fundraising target for the current fiscal year.

One of the most exciting breakthroughs came when the fundraising team understood the idea that once a gift has converted from potential to actual–once it’s no longer on the forecast because the check has been received–the forecasted amount of that gift reverts back to ZERO. This simple insight led the team
to recognize its first fundraising task is to keep the pipeline of potential activities at no less than twice as much as the total income it desires at the first day of the fiscal year.

Now that the Lighthouse produces significantly more predictable and consistent income from fundraising, the team is beginning to raise its sights and consider taking on more aggressive fundraising targets. For me, the change in attitude has been as meaningful as the change in results. The board chair told me, “We’ve been asking for this for years, even though we couldn’t really say it the way we wanted to–and now the reports we get are even more insightful than we ever hoped.” When I asked Elly if the new approach was making a difference, she said, “Yes! And I’m not as tired as I used to be!”

You can read the full interview in our Page to Practice™ summary of Fundraising the SMART Way. Additionally, CausePlanet subscribers can download Ellen Bristol’s webinar archive.

See also:

It’s Not Just Who You Know

The Influential Fundraiser

Fundraising with Businesses

Image credits:,,, Ellen Bristol

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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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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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