New Year’s Resolution, Round 2

writingLast year my professional resolution was to volunteer or attend 12 fundraising events in an effort to overcome my events burnout.  I am happy to report that I was successful, and that a new job has given me a new outlook.

This year I am resolving to improve my handwriting.  At its best, my writing is legible.  At its worst, it would be mistaken for that of a 6 year old.  As a fundraiser I firmly believe in the power of the (hand)written word.  I address envelopes and postcards whenever it is practical.  I send tickets with handwritten invitations.  I write a note on pretty much everything I can. And yet, practice has not made perfect.

I recognize that my handwriting, in this context, is a reflection of who I am, the quality of my work, and the brand of my organization.  When people flip through their mail and see an envelope I addressed I want them to think “hmm, looks fancy, I wonder what this is” – not, “oh my God it’s a ransom note!”

And so, very soon, I will be taking a calligraphy workshop and selecting my professional script.  While it will certainly take time to make the new style flow, I am committed to shaping up and I will share my progress along the way.

Event Sponsorship Template (Or the Best Spreadsheet Ever)

Conventional wisdom tells us that sponsorship revenue can and should make up a sizable chunk of the revenue stream for most fundraising events. At United South End Settlements we have two sponsored events, a gala with levels starting at $50,000 and a craft beer tasting event that starts at $5,000. In both cases, we determine our goal and track our progress using this Event Sponsorship Pyramid (will download as an Excel doc). This is a great tool to use with committee members, as it helps you lay out the strategy for your goal and also demonstrates how much work is required. The example filled into the chart, which is actually the plan for our upcoming Brewers Helping Neighbors, shows that to earn $22,500 we are shooting for 15 sponsors. To secure 15 sponsors, we are pitching to over 50. With all those moving parts, it is great to have such a simple tracking system. Sadly, I can take no credit for it. the pyramid was designed by our Vice President of Advancement Tom O’Toole, who super generously allowed me to share it.

What’s in a name?

I must confess that naming opportunities is an area in which I have absolutely zero experience.  The idea has come up from time to time, but never under the guidance of someone who can lead the charge.  It all seems so tricky – if related to a capital campaign, the window of opportunity is short.  If you sell yourself short, you don’t get a second chance.  And what if the donor is a total jerkface and every day you go to work and you have pass by the Ms. Jerkface honor plaque?  I am pretty much the most decisive person you will ever meet, yet the prospect of a naming campaign causes me to prance uneasily.

However, my outlook has been completely changed by The Mütter Museum, which will allow you to adopt a skull for 1 year (technically that is a “foster,” but whatever).  For $200 you can pick out your specimen, fund a customized mount, and have your name displayed with your new friend for 12 months.  I sincerely hope that he/she would also send you a selfie from the new display.


I met this skull in the crypts under King's Chapel.

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Well Played, MSPCA!

I have been dabbling in donor involvement with USES publications, which began by starting a “letter from a donor” column in our fall newsletter.  I have always wanted to do a donor spotlight because it is obviously a great way to honor a long-term supporter while leveraging their engagement to inspire others.  However, my desire to walk that line graciously has prevented me from moving ahead.  To that end, I am sharing some good examples to inspire all of us.


Well Played, Brattle Film Foundation!

Annual appeal season brings a lot of inspiration if you take the time to read all the messaging.  I received an appeal from the Brattle Film Foundation, best known as The Brattle Theatre, presumably because I supported their Kickstarter campaign back in the spring.  I will admit that I had no connection and had never been there, but a friend shared the campaign on Facebook and $20 got me two tickets and popcorn – win/win.

As you can see, the letter tells a personal story about the Theatre.  I appreciate that this letter is a narrative, relying on a sense of nostalgia rather than a laundry list of statistics from the past year.  While I am not making a donation right now, I did finally go to their website and make plans to use my tickets.  And so it begins.


“Tis the Season

Well folks, it’s that time of year again. Annual Appeal season is just coming into full swing and already I have…

  1. Invented a new cuss when Excel WOULD NOT carryover the zeros in the zip code field into my letters in Word (if you are reading this from outside New England, you won’t understand)
  2. Said goodbye to Old Reliable (my favorite pen), who perished while slaying a stack of major donor appreciation notes
  3. Felt the beginnings of what is sure to be a vicious case of Mail Merge Elbow

The point is, this time of year is monotonous for development staff and it is easy to get bogged down in the endless stream of letters going out and the check processing that hopefully follows. It’s often tough to manage time and the paper cuts are brutal. And so I am happy to share some  suggestions for keeping up morale on your development team until your year-to-date actuals come in in January.

1. Broaden your horizons. Last week we all took a break to meet with a Director of Development from an organization whose marketing we had been admiring from afar. It turns out that she had some interesting thoughts about volunteer management and a chart for tracking donor stewardship that is EXACTLY what we need for our major donors. We left the meeting with a collective spring in our step.

2. Get out of the office. Next Friday we are leaving mid-afternoon for a mini retreat at my house. We plan to spend a few hours doing an analysis of our current stewardship practices and then set 3 goals for immediate improvement in light of the appeal season. This may not sound like fun, but there will also be beer and steaks.

2. Connect with donors. i am going to lobby hard for Goal #1 to be “call every $100+ donor and thank them for their gift.” Aside from the obvious reasons why this is a good revenue building strategy, I am looking forward to learning tidbits about our donors and trying to one-up my co-workers by harvesting the best anecdote.

3. Keep your goal in sight. Get a roll of butcher’s paper and draw a giant thermometer to track your progress. Updating the chart will quickly become everyone’s favorite time of day.

4. Celebrate ridiculously. I keep a vuvuzela on my desk that is brought out for checks of $5,000 or more. We – quite literally – toot our own horn to note a job well done. I have a really fond memory of sneaking up on our CEO with it to inform him of an unexpected $20,000 grant. Immature? Yes. But in our office it works. Figure out a fun way to give yourselves a pat on the back.

Volunteer Sign Ups for Dummies

One perk of my New Year’s resolution to attend 12 fundraising events this year has been the opportunity to learn how others are managing volunteers. As I am now supervising a VISTA Volunteer Coordinator,  we are both taking lots of notes and trying to up our game in the area of volunteer recruitment and engagement.

One thing I have found to be helpful is an online registration like this one from Community Servings and Sign Up Genius, used by the Myles Standish Marathon. For a no cost and low time investment option, there is also always EventBrite with each volunteer opportunity being a different “ticket” type. As a volunteer, I appreciate knowing exactly what i am getting into, such as signing up to direct runners at the ranger station from 9:45-10:30 a.m. It avoids the back and forth that would otherwise occur with every interested volunteer about what is needed and when. From my end, I am more likely to commit to a concrete task in the moment when I am considering volunteering and I also think that the knowledge of serving a specific purpose can keep folks committed when the big day comes and they are faced with an overwhelming desire to flake out and go home to their dog. (Yes, I did do that once.)

In the end, it really comes down to our desire to feel needed, and these registration systems immediately assign us a much needed job to do. Sounds like a great first step towards longer-term engagement, eh?


All Together Now, or, A Campaign for an Online Community

Are you following the Word of Mouth blog? You totally should be. One recent post explains a social media campaign, “My 4 Words” by UCB Pharma, with a video explaining how they create an online presence that is actually about community and the constituent, as opposed to pushing a product or message.

I have been seeing articles here and there that suggests that the modern day donor has a connection to the cause, more so than the nonprofit. A quick look around Facebook gives this theory credibility. My nonprofit is in a bit of a reflection phase as we consider how we currently talk about our organization, and how we would like that message to change. The UCB Pharma campaign is the equivalent of branding the cause, as opposed to the organization.  For me – at United South End Settlements – that might mean a campaign to engage folks around the importance of education or what they love about the South End, as opposed to what they know about our organization.

The campaign is described around 12 minutes into the video, but this is definitely worth the full half hour if you can spare it. happy viewing!

Well played, Camp Fire!

Did i take one? Hell yes!

Did i take one? Hell yes!

I just wanted to share this amazing promo item that Camp Fire was giving away at a recent Volunteer Fair. This is an indoor s’mores kit, complete with microwave instructions. What better swag could their be for a camping program?? I bet they have super fun house parties with s’mores martinis.

I hope this inspires people to really get creative about giveaways and merchandise!

One Simple Thing

The time has come to start planning your annual appeal(s). In my office that means 3 letters: a Friends of Camp Hale appeal, a Friends of the Children’s Art Centre appeal, and the general appeal for everyone else. This year, I am embracing the concept of “One Simple Thing.” If you have read a few of my posts, you know that I am a proponent of fewer words and simpler hooks to make a bigger impact. So of course I am always happy when I find an “expert” who agrees! On Monday, our development team is getting together to watch the following video and begin the process of pinpointing United South End Settlements’ “One Simple Thing.” I am hoping that this process will get the creativity flowing and result in appeal letters that make a strong, simple case for support.

P.S. Check out the other videos in this series to hear Chris Colbert’s thoughts on how to identify your OST and how to connect it to your target audience. You can get the full scoop on