BeTheCauseI was fortunate to be able to attend the recent Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) conference for fundraisers in San Antonio. I enjoy the inspiration, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Many of my positions during my career have been in small nonprofits, which usually have not allowed the professional development budget to attend – maybe yours is like that – or there are other ways you get professional development (PD).

Mostly, I wanted to share with you what I learned, because that is the great thing about fundraisers – they are always willing to share their successes and learnings (sometimes you fail, and when you do, fail fast, take a failure bow, learn and move on).


My first session was The Pulse of Donor Relations with Lynne Wester (@donorgurublog). She was so good! If you are a fundraiser, I strongly recommend you follow her about all things donor relations, which is important no matter what area of fundraising you focus on. You can scroll through my Storify of the session here. A few key takeaways:

  • Donor relations and stewardship are not the same. You can steward a gift, but not a donor.
  • Donor relations is: stewardship & impact reporting, acknowledgement, recognition, engagement. These are the building blocks.
  • Good donor relations directly and positively impacts donor retention, growth of resources and growth of influence.
  • “Bless and release your non-donors.” It is 7 times more expensive to keep chasing your non-donors than to retain current donors.
  • Fix the basics – like thank you (TY) and acknowledgement turn around time – before you move on to the fancy stuff.
  • For thanking donors…. her method:
    1. Send a postcard TY immediately (she has them printed up in bulk to immediately send out with logo, etc.)
    2. Make a phone call TY (the most appropriate person to do it quickly)
    3. Send a TY letter
    4. Send a gift acknowledgement letter (IRS/ CRA requirements, detailed with gift)
    5. Send a handwritten note (from the solicitor/ volunteer/ project lead – whoever is most meaningful to the donor)
    6. 11 months after the gift (just before 1 year anniversary) send a letter stating the impact of the gift
    7. Send an email with a short video
    8. Invite the donor on a tour
    9. Engage the donor with the beneficiaries
Liberté, égalité, sororité, philanthropie - Simone Joyaux and me

Liberté, égalité, sororité, philanthropie – Simone Joyaux and me

My next session was cancelled, so I went to What Do We Really Know About Philanthropy and Fundraising? I had an interest in this session because they were talking about philanthropy from a global perspective, what motivates philanthropy, issues and trends, and diversity in philanthropy. Jan Brazzell (@JanBrazzell) opened the session with introductory comments and then Melissa Brown (@NPOwriter), Russell James III and Krishan Mehta (@MehtaKrishan) presented. Key takeaways for me:

  • Melissa spoke about The World Giving Index (infographic and full report) and some of the differences in giving between countries and why (tax structures and policies, how newly-wealthy countries differ in philanthropy, etc.)
  • Russell talked about studies that discovered that giving stimulates oxytocin (a family bonding hormone), which basically means philanthropy gives us “synthetic families” and many of the feel-good qualities associated with that. (Since oxytocin stimulates giving as well, there was some joking about having an oxytocin atomizer at certain events.)
  • Russel noted that charitable giving IS rewarding! It activates perspective and empathy.
  • Looking at the younger demographic Krishan noted:
    – donor trust is declining (along with trust in places of faith, labor unions and other public organizations),
    – postal mail is making a comeback (so charming!), and
    – some younger supporters are choosing to through things like TimeRaiser.
  • Krishan noted that diversity, inclusion and equity are complex concepts, but most of us can relate to culture. We must think about our donors from their cultural orientation: from where do they hail? (national or global geography) what is his/her career? does he/she care for family full-time? Is he/sh a parent?
  • Tap into the cultural issues that resonate with your donor (and for new immigrants, what is happening in countries of origin matters too). Issues are now GLOCAL – at once both local and global.
  • Krishan also noted that 68% of the new millionaires are self-made vs. inherited wealth. Most times, their giving is to things that offer social capital – the large and exclusive local institutions where they can find their social space (think museums, opera, etc.)

The panel: Rachel, Frank, Pam, Shanon.

Next up was Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Supporters. Another great panel session!  Hosting was Frank Berry (@franswaa), with speakers Rachel Muir (@RachelMuir, blog), Pamela Grow (@PamelaGrow, blog) and Shanon Doolittle (@sldoolittle, blog). It came out of this little e-book you can download here. I made a Storify to read. Key takeaways:

  • Rachel detailed what donors want: To make a difference, to feel appreciated, to be in the know, to have access to organizational leadership, and to have confirmation that their gift went to work as intended and had impact.
  • Pam talked about how important it is to survey your donors to find out what is meaningful for those who are supporting your group.
  • Pam also mentioned that big gifts are great, but recognizing donor loyalty is even better – those great donors who have been supporting your nonprofit faithfully.
  • Shanon’s  best quote was, “Saying thanks is not an obligation, but a privilege.”
  • Shanon gave actionable tips:
    – Start your thank you with a compliment.
    – Schedule time to plan and execute stewardship on your calendar (and copy your boss, so you are held accountable).
    – Always end your letters to donors with an offer to help (“Is there anything I can do for you?”).
    – Never let a donor out give you; lavish your donors with gratitude.

Then there was the opening session with Steve Wozniak. He was inscrutable. #thatisall

The most famous site in San Antonio... The Alamo

The most famous site in San Antonio… The Alamo


First session of the morning: Soliciting Major Donors and Getting them to Yes with Jill Pranger and Steven Smith. I was sitting on the floor, against the back wall (SRO!) so it was a bit harder to feel engaged. But here is what I’m sharing:

  • What holds us back from soliciting? Fear, Lack of Time, The Gatekeeper, Procrastination, Lack of information on the door, Lack of information on the project. All that creates uncertainty, which creates paralysis.
  • How to get unstuck and inspired? How often do you get to see your front line staff (those working with clients, whether that is in a hospital, zoo, art performance, classroom, etc.)? Being there will inspire you. You will hear and see the stories. Think about how and why your organization makes a difference… that will help you get into the right frame of mind.
  • The 6 questions you need to be able to answer before you solicit the donor:
    1. What are the donors needs, interests, motivations, desire for recognition?
    2. What is the expected gift range?
    3. Can you accept less than the ask amount?
    4. Does the gift opportunity match the donor’s interests?
    5. What payment timing options will your nonprofit accept?
    6. What questions might the donor ask?
  • Find your phrase to make the ask: “We would like you to consider…” “We think you share this vision…” “We believe you feel as passionately as we do about this…” “As a partner in our mission…”
  • Then be sure to ask… be short and sweet and then let the donor speak! S/he may have questions or objections; give him/her your full attention. Then keep the conversation going (at this moment and beyond.

Kaleidoscope2Kaleidoscope of Philanthropy (or Everything You Wanted to Know About Fundraising But Were Afraid to Ask) was an amazing show and story and very inspiring – check it out here! My friend Rory Green (@RoryJMGreen) had a starring role.

Next up: Journey Deeper Inside the Donor’s Brain by Leah Eustace (@LeahEustace, blog) and Scott Fortnum (@sfortnum).  They did a great Prezi you can find here. (Be sure to click on the photos, or what appear to be photos, to start the embedded videos.) Their premise is this: each of us thinks and behaves differently; in fundraising, we want to try to figure out what are the commonalities on how people think and behave. Two books that they suggested: Thinking Fast and Slow (by Daniel Kahneman) and The Storytelling Animal (by Jonathan Gottschall)


I was very excited to spring out of bed for The Female Philanthropist session presented by Mary Kate Andris (@MKTA6874). So much great information! (all US stats)

  • Women are 52% of the population and are 43% of the wealthiest Americans (single women holding $1.5 million or more in assets).
  • Women control 83% of household spending and they control 50% of the family wealth.
  • Women are more likely to give (particularly women head-of-households), but they give less per gift. Men tend to concentrate their giving among fewer charities, but give bigger gifts.
  • Women want to connect and collaborate. They want to feel a part of a movement. This gave rise to giving circles in the 1990s.
  • Women embrace change and change agents; they’re attracted to new and different causes. They have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to create new enterprises.
  • Women commit… when they are ready and sure, they are ALL IN! Ask them to be an investor as that will engage them more.
  • Women like to celebrate. They enjoy getting together to share their success, the success of the group and the success of the charity. Offer them opportunities to come together, and appreciate their volunteer effort since women enjoy being recognized and thanked.
  • Don’t forget about generational differences: Your younger and older supporters will respond to different events and communications. Those working and those staying at home caring for family will also have different needs and expectations.
  • In the intergenerational transfer of wealth we fundraisers have heard so much about, women will likely inherit from both their family of origin and because they usually outlive their spouses (in traditional male/female marriages). Something to keep in mind.
The birth of a case... mapping out the emotions, finding the headlines.

The birth of a case… mapping out the emotions, finding the headlines.

I love hearing Tom Ahern (@ThatTomAhern, blog) present. So I scrambled into the front row for Writing a Fabulous Case for Support. Tom is very smart about donor motivations, so even though I don’t write lots of cases, there is so much to get out of a presentation. Of course, I put this in a Storify, so you can follow here and glean quite a bit. But I can’t resist giving you more:

  • Every case needs a main promise.
  • Every case has to answer 3 Big Questions: Why this nonprofit? Why now? Why would the donor care?
  • Remember you are simply trying to connect to what is already in your donor’s heart.
  • People want to change the world. They want to save something. They want to make a difference. Tell them how they can do that in your case.
  • If you can’t explain it in 50 words, you won’t be able to do so in 500. And by the way, “the elevator pitch is a dead doggy” (and Seth Godin tells you why).
  • Consider going corny (read: obvious). Cut out jargon and don’t make it sound academic. Remove your insider knowledge. Your prospective supporters likely skim the headlines.
  • It isn’t about YOU (the nonprofit) it is about THEM (the donor).

The final session I attended was Becoming a Global Fundraiser with Penelope Cagney (@PenelopeCagney).

Some charities working overseas who are great to watch and follow.

Some charities working overseas who are great to watch and follow.

This was pretty good – there were fundraisers from around the world, fundraisers working in various regions in the world and people like me raising money for other regions in the world. I had already read the book she co-authored with Bernard Ross called Global Fundraising: How the World is Changing the Rules of Philanthropy. Which is a great read to better understand cultural and legal differences of giving and philanthropy (and the differing governmental structures) from different regions of the world. However, some of her talk replicated what I had read.

Trends she noted:

  • There is great growth in wealth around the world
  • Nonprofit innovation is coming from everywhere
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are growing everywhere and some giant International NGOs (INGOs) are emerging
  • Debate continues about the role of philanthropy and the State in many countries
  • Fundraising is becoming more professional across the globe
  • Philanthropy thrives best in structured, regulated environments

Her suggestions on becoming a better global fundraiser:

So, there you have it! I hope you find many things that will help you in your fundraising practice.

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